All teas, excluding herbal varieties, come from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Variations in flavor, color, and strength are based on factors in growing, harvesting, and processing. Tea leaves fresh from the bush are harsh and bland. Processing methods largely determine the end flavor of the tea. Teas may also be blended to create variations on flavors, and may be flavored with other ingredients, such as jasmine or bergamot. Black, green, and oolong are considered the basic types of teas, but thousands of varieties exist.
Black tea is the most common form of tea worldwide. It is prepared from green tea leaves that have been allowed to oxidize, or ferment, to form a reddish brew.
Oolong tea is a lightly fermented tea, between green and black tea on a continuum.
Green tea is an unfermented, dried tea, widely drunk worldwide and known for its fresh taste and health benefits.
White tea is the uncured and unoxidized tea leaf.
Herbal tea—technically not “tea” at all—uses a blend of dried plant flowers, stems, roots, or leaves for a hot brew. Yerba maté, made from an Argentinian evergreen shrub, is a popular herbal tea.
Preparation, Uses, & Tips
Tea preparation is an art. For the best tea, start with a ceramic teapot with a lid. Rinse the teapot with hot water to warm it, then add one teaspoon of tea or one tea bag for each cup (250mL) of water. In a tea kettle, bring water to a full boil—water at a bubbling boil agitates the tea leaves and causes them to open, for the full extraction of flavor. Pour boiling water over the tea bags or tea leaves in the teapot, and steep for a full three to five minutes. Flavor and caffeine are dissolved earliest, and the longer the tea is allowed to brew, the more tannin—the compound that gives tea its pungency and body—is allowed to dissolve into the brew. After steeping, remove tea bags or strain tea through a fine mesh tea strainer. Serve tea piping hot with sugar or honey and milk or lemon, or straight.
Preparation methods also add character. Try yerba mate—the potent Argentinean favorite—with a touch of vanilla and milk to soften the vigorous flavor. Karkade, a traditional Egyptian tea, consists of brewed hibiscus flowers and copious quantities of sugar. Moroccan mint tea—a strong, heavily sweetened brew of spearmint leaves—is traditionally served after meals in the Middle East. White coffee, a Lebanese favorite, is a tea-like concoction made with orange flowers and sugar, and served hot in demitasse glasses.
Store tea bags in a cool, dark cupboard for up to one month. Store loose tea in tightly sealed glass containers in a cool, dark cupboard for two weeks. While tea doesn’t go bad, it loses its flavor and aroma as the volatile oils evaporate. You can tell if tea is stale when it no longer has a noticeable aroma.
Tea (black), 1 cup (170g)
- Calories: 1.7
- Protein: 0.0g
- Carbohydrate: 0.5g
- Total Fat: 0.0g
- Fiber: 0.0g