We may love coffee, but tea is still the classic choice: last year, Americans spent almost $8 billion on iced and hot teas, and people around the world have been sipping the legendary beverage for thousands of years. Maybe that's why you see so many varieties, ranging from delicate white teas to robust black versions to spicy herbal blends.
But no matter the name, tea is tea. Well, mostly. Except for the various herbal varieties, all teas come from the Camellia sinensis, a shrub that's native to China and Southeast Asia. Variations in color, strength, and flavor depend on how the plant is grown, harvested, and processed. Here's what's brewing in the tea world today:
Black tea is made by oxidizing Camellia sinensis leaves to develop different colors and flavors, from reddish-brown and flowery to brownish-black with undertones of wine. Teas may also be flavored, or blended to create different flavors. English breakfast is traditionally made from Assam and Ceylon teas; Russian tea typically blends Lapsang Souchong with Assam or Keemun; and Earl Grey is flavored with bergamot, a citrusy flower. Some varieties, such as Puerh, are fermented for months or even years, which creates a bracing brew that's ideal for coffee lovers.
Brews for you:Two Leaves and a Bud Organic English Breakfast Tea; Rishi Earl Grey Supreme; Numi Organic Tea Magnolia Puerh; Choice Organic Russian Caravan Tea.
Oolong is like a mix between black and green teas; the leaves are oxidized for half the time of black tea. The result is a reddish-brown brew with a full, developed flavor that has the brightness of green tea with less caffeine (30-40 mg per cup).
Brews for you: Republic of Tea Dragon Oolong; Uncle Lee's 100% Organic Oolong Whole Leaf; Prince of Peace Organic Oolong Tea.
Green tealeaves aren't oxidized, so they retain their green color, grassy flavor, and more antioxidants. Variations exist in flavor and quality between types, but all are high in antioxidants and modest in caffeine (20-30 mg per cup). You'll find them plain, blended with herbs, or toasted for traditional Japanese flavor (Hojicha).
Brews for you:Yogi Tea Green Tea Super Antioxidant; Tazo Zen Green Tea; Zhena's Gypsy Tea Egyptian Mint Green Tea.
White tea is the least processed variety. It's made from buds and certain leaves of the tea plant that have been steamed and dried. The flavor is delicate with undertones of grass and pine. Silver Needle, made from only the buds, is considered the best (and priciest) version.
Brews for you:Choice Organic White Peony; Stash Premium White Tea; Two Leaves and a Bud Organic Silver Needles Tea.
Red tea is the name the Chinese use for what we call black tea. But when most English speakers say "red tea," they mean "rooibos," which comes from a plant that's native to South Africa. It's not technically tea, but it has its own charms. Rooibos tea is caffeine free with a full, fruity flavor that contains just a hint of honey. Plus, it contains ample antioxidants.
Brews for you:NOW Foods Real Tea Better Off Red Rooibos with Vanilla-Citrus Blush; Tazo Vanilla Rooibos; Yogi Tea Chai Rooibos.
Chai tea is traditionally made by brewing loose black tea with cardamom pods, star anise, ginger, clove, cinnamon, and other spices. Modern versions are also made from decaf black, green, and rooibos teas blended with any number of spices. Serve them hot in the traditional style, blended with milk and honey.
Brews for you: Numi Organic Tea Golden Chai; Rishi Tea Organic Masala Chai; Tazo Chai Tea; Choice Organic Decaffeinated Chai.
Herbal blends technically aren't "tea," but they have other gifts to offer. Made from the flowers, stems, roots, or leaves of dried plants, most are caffeine free. Flavors range from flowery to spicy and strong, and some also contain added herbs with health benefits and healing properties.
Brews for you:Tulsi Tea Sweet Rose; Numi Organic Tea Moroccan Mint; Traditional Medicinals Organic Chamomile; Rishi Tea Tangerine Ginger.
Yerba maté tea comes from a species of holly that's native to South America. It has a distinctive flavor that's grassy, herbal, slightly bitter, and a bit like a robust green tea. Maté is sold loose and in bags, and you'll also find varieties flavored with chocolate, citrus, peppermint, or other ingredients.
Brews for you:Guayaki Yerba Mate Mate Chocolatté; Maté Factor Organic Lemon Ginger; Traditional Medicinals Organic Yerba Maté.
7 Reasons to Switch to Tea
As card-carrying members of the coffee generation, we're not here to slam the bean. But tea does have a few benefits that coffee lacks:
- It's lower in caffeine. A cup of brewed coffee contains 110-180 mg of caffeine. A cup of strong black tea rarely tops 60 mg, and green tea is even lower.
- It protects against cancer. A recent review of studies found that tea slowed tumor growth in cancers of the skin, lungs, mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, small intestine, colon, and prostate.
- You'll have more choices. Even different roasts and blends of coffee taste pretty similar. But there's a world of difference between a delicate jasmine green and a robust smoky Lapsang Souchong.
- It could make you slimmer. In one study, people who drank two cups of black, green, or oolong tea per week had 20 percent less body fat than non-tea drinkers.
- It's good for your heart. Studies have shown that tea helps reduce both overall and LDL cholesterol. And it lowers blood pressure.
- It's cheaper. Even pricey brands average out to fewer bucks per cup than similar qualities of coffee.
- You'll get fewer cavities. Teas contain compounds that kill bacteria in the mouth, which helps prevent tooth decay.