Find yourself feeling lost in the world of tea? You’re not alone. Millions of new tea drinkers find it difficult to navigate the basics. From choosing between different flavors to executing conflicting brewing techniques, it can be overwhelming for people who are new to tea drinking.
That’s why we’ve created a beginner’s guide to tea. Here, we’ll cover everything from the different tea types and flavor profiles to proper brewing methods using the right teaware. With this guide to tea for beginners, you’ll have no problem selecting and brewing the perfect cup of tea for your tastes.
Looking for an easy way to start drinking tea? Check out our Starter Bundle right here. It comes with a tea of your choice (green, black, herbal, or no tea), a tea tin, a strainer, and a measuring spoon so you can brew the perfect cup every time.
The world of tea can be divided into three categories: true teas, herbal tisanes, and flavored teas. Read on to find out more about each of the different tea types, their characteristics and what makes each one unique.
True teas are made from the leaves of the tea plant known by its scientific name Camellia sinensis. There are only five true teas in the world; all other tea types are considered flavored teas or herbal tisanes since they are not derived from the Camellia sinensis plant. The five true teas are white tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea, and pu-erh tea. These teas are all made using the same leaves of the tea plant. Their differences arise during the production process which affects their color, flavor, and aroma.
White tea is the most minimally processed true tea. This type of tea is made using only the youngest buds and leaves of the tea plant. The plant parts are harvested by hand and then dried in direct sunlight. Once all of the moisture is removed from the leaves, the tea is sorted, graded, and packaged for sale.
White teas feature a light body, subtly sweet flavor, and long finish. While the tea is light and airy, it is also complex and nuanced as the tea lingers on your taste buds. White teas can have floral, nutty, or mildly fruity notes depending on where and how it is produced. This tea is typically pale yellow or lightly golden when brewed and emits a soft aroma.
The best white teas come mainly from the Fujian Province of China. The tea is also produced in Africa — including Kenyan Safari White Tea —though those tend to have stronger nutty tones than classic Chinese white teas. The highest quality white teas are called Silver Needle, which is made using only the youngest and healthiest tea buds. The second best white tea is known as White Peony, which features a blend of tea buds and leaves.
White tea is a delicate tea that should be brewed using water just under 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not use boiling water, as the high temperatures can ruin the nuanced taste of the tea. To brew white tea, it's best to use a temperature-controlled tea kettle or thermometer to ensure the right brewing temperature. Use 1 to 2 teaspoons for every 8 ounces of water and steep for 1 to 5 minutes. The longer the tea steeps, the stronger the flavor will become.
Green teas also undergo a minimal production process though it includes an additional step compared to white tea. Tea leaves are harvested by hand and then dried using one of two methods. The first method is known as pan-firing and is most common in the production of Chinese green teas. The leaves are placed in a large wok and heated over large fires. Once the leaves are dried, they are shaped, sorted, and packaged.
The second heating method is steaming, which is characteristic of Japanese green teas. The leaves are plucked, washed, steamed, and then dried. The duration of the steaming process varies by the tea master, but both longer and shorter steaming times have a direct effect on the flavor and quality of the green tea.
The flavor of green tea can range from earthy and grassy to umami and floral. Steamed green teas tend to have more of a vegetable or herbaceous flavor while roasted or pan-fired green teas tend to be nuttier and more earthy. Green teas are also described as oceanic, buttery, and floral.
The best green teas include Japanese and Chinese varietals. On the Japanese side, sencha, gyokuro, genmaicha, and matcha are among the most popular.
Sencha tea is the type of green tea found in most Japanese restaurants. It offers savory notes, a mild body, and notes of melon and pine.
Gyokuro is unique as the leaves are shade-grown for a few weeks before harvest. This increases nutrient production, thus boosting the health benefits of green tea and offering a richer flavor and creamier body.
Genmaicha is a Japanese green tea brewed with popped brown rice kernels. The rice lends the green tea a toasted flavor and a fuller body. The rice also helps to even out the bitter notes that can develop in green teas.
Matcha tea is one of the most famous Japanese green teas. The tea is a fine green powder made by crushing the green tea leaves. It offers a rich grassy flavor and a full body that is creamy and frothy. The tea is commonly consumed as a latte with the addition of dairy or nut milk.
Longjing green tea is also known as Dragon Well tea and features nutty notes that contrast nicely with the sweet and vegetal flavors. This type of green tea has been described as having notes of chestnut and sweet peas.
Gunpowder green tea is named after the shaping of the green tea leaves. Once dried, the tea leaves are rolled into tiny pellets that resemble small pellets. This type of tea enjoys a rich cultural history in China and was enjoyed by the rulers of the Tang Dynasty. Gunpowder green tea offers a roasted flavor.
To brew green tea it's important to use the proper water temperature. Boiling water will cause the tea to develop bitter flavors. Instead, use water between 175 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Steep one teaspoon of green tea leaves for every 8 ounces of water for 3 to 5 minutes.
Oolong teas are produced mainly in China and Taiwan and are considered semi-oxidized teas. This means that enzymes in the tea leaves are allowed to interact with oxygen, creating a chemical process that darkens the tea leaves and alters the flavor of the tea.
The tea leaves are harvested in late spring and early summer and placed in wicker or bamboo baskets. The leaves are gently bruised to release the enzymes. The leaves are then spread over bamboo mats and dried in direct sunlight. The leaves are turned and stirred multiple times to ensure even oxidation.
The oxidation process varies from producer to producer but can be anywhere from 8 to 80 percent. Once the leaves reach the desired oxidation level, they are heated using a pan-firing method to end the oxidation process. The leaves are then sorted, shaped, and packaged.
Heavily oxidized oolong teas tend to have a stronger, earthier flavor, while lightly oxidized oolongs are lighter and more floral. Lighter oolongs feature an airy body with sweet and floral notes. Darker oolongs have a full body, toasted notes, and a long finish.
The best oolong teas include Iron Goddess of Mercy, Wuyi oolongs, and Milk Oolong tea. Iron Goddess of Mercy is a Chinese oolong cultivated in the Anxi area of Fujian Province. The tea features a light body with hints of honey and floral flavors.
Wuyi oolong teas are grown in the Wuyi Mountains of China. Also known as Da Hong Pao and Red Robe tea, the highest-quality varieties are among the most expensive teas in the world. The sharp, smoky flavor is reminiscent of caramel and toasted butter.
Milk Oolong tea does not contain any milk. Instead, it derives its name from its creamy body and flowery flavor. The buttery, smooth finish makes it a delicious tea for people who enjoy lattes.
To brew oolong tea use 1 teaspoon or 2 grams of oolong tea for every single cup serving — typically 6 to 8 ounces. Oolongs develop flavor best when brewed with water between 180 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Steep the leaves for 1 to 5 minutes depending on your desired flavor. Longer steeping times increase the flavor and body of oolongs so it’s a good idea to taste the brew every 30 seconds or so to find your perfect cup.
Black tea undergoes one of the most extended production processes of the true teas. The tea leaves are harvested and then withered using direct sunlight or air to speed up the process. Once the leaves are withered, they are processed using one of two methods: the CTC method or the orthodox method.
The CTC method — Crush, Tear, Curl — is used mainly in the production of tea bags and uses lower quality leaves. The method uses machines to crush and grind the tea leaves into smaller pieces known as tea dust and tea fannings. These are then packaged into tea bags and shipped for sale.
The orthodox method is used to produce higher quality teas and can be done using machines or by hand. This method typically produces loose leaf teas and tea balls. During the production process, tea leaves are fully oxidized. This develops the rich flavor and dark color of the dried loose tea.
Black tea offers a bold, earthy flavor that is strong and potent. It is a great choice for coffee drinkers and tea lovers who enjoy bold flavors. Depending on the production process, black tea may have floral notes or nutty undertones and can also have savory or sweet hints.
Black tea is a popular drink in China, India, and Britain. Each country adds its own spin to black tea leaves and has its own flavor preferences, but the best black teas generally include English Breakfast, Lapsang Souchong, and Darjeeling.
English Breakfast Black Tea is made up of a combination of black teas‚ usually a tea blend of Keemun, Ceylon, and African black tea leaves. The tea has a full body with mild floral notes. This black tea tastes even better with a splash of milk as it creates a warm, honey-like flavor.
Lapsang Souchong is a special Chinese black tea that delivers a powerful flavor. The tea leaves are dried by roasting them over open pine fires. Opening a bag of this tea is like stepping into your favorite campground and inhaling the smoky notes of a campfire. The crisp, smoky flavor is balanced by floral undertones.
Darjeeling tea is a black tea that is less oxidized than most other black teas. It is commonly called the “champagne of teas” and features fruity and citrusy notes. The flavor is characterized as muscatel and boasts mildly astringent notes thanks to the high concentration of tannins. The pale golden hue and sweet flavor make it the perfect breakfast tea.
Boiling water is the best choice when you want to brew black tea. The hot water helps to draw out the strong flavor characteristics of this tea. Use 1 teaspoon of black tea leaves for every 8 ounces of water and steep for 3 to 5 minutes.
Pu-erh tea is post-oxidized tea. That means it undergoes an oxidation process that is more similar to aging. There are two types of pu-erh tea: raw pu-erh and ripe pu-erh. To make raw pu-erh tea, the leaves are harvested and withered to reduce moisture content. The leaves are then pan-fired or roasted to complete the drying process. The tea leaves then undergo an oxidation process that can take anywhere from 1 to 50 years. The longer the tea is aged, the more nuanced the flavors become.
Ripe pu-erh is also an aged tea, but the process is sped up using micro bacteria. This enables the pu-erh leaves to develop rich flavor in less time. The leaves are harvested and dried then lumped into large piles. The piles are covered with wet linens that promote the growth of healthy microorganisms. These organisms work to ferment the tea leaves. A tea master decides when the leaves have reached the desired oxidation level and then the loose tea is packaged for sale.
Pu-erh teas feature a woody and earthy flavor. Ripe pu-erhs are smoother and have a fuller body compared to raw pu-erh. As the leaves age, the flavor becomes more nuanced and complex.
Age is a huge factor in finding the best pu-erh teas. Most pu-erhs begin to develop nuanced flavors after 4 to 7 years of aging. The climate where pu-erh tea is cultivated can also have an effect on the flavor of the tea. Plants grown at sea level have an oceanic and airy note, while mountain-grown pu-erhs tend to be earthier and stronger.
Use spring water heated to a temperature of 195 degrees Fahrenheit to brew pu-erh tea. Use 1 teaspoon for every 8 ounces of water and steep the leaves for 2 to 4 minutes. In traditional brewing methods, the leaves are rinsed once or twice with hot water. To do this, simply place the loose leaves in a tea infuser. Add the strainer to a cup and pour hot water over the leaves. Swirl around and then discard the water before brewing tea as normal.
Herbal tisanes, or herbal teas, are made from the plant parts of plants that are not the tea plant. These plants include everything from flowers and herbs to spices and roots. The plant parts are infused in boiling water and pair well with true teas as well as sweeteners. Herbal teas are caffeine-free and are particularly popular as iced tea.
You’re probably familiar with some of the best tea options in this category whether you drink tea regularly or are new to drinking tea. Lavender, chamomile, hibiscus, and peppermint are some of the most popular herbal tea flavors and for good reason. These teas offer a wide range of floral, fruity, and spicy notes to suit your preferences.
Chamomile tea is renowned for its natural calming properties and is a famous bedtime tea. This herbal tea has a flavor similar to crisp green apples. It blends well with honey and lemongrass and can help you unwind after a tough day at the office.
Rooibos tea is an African herbal tea that is cultivated solely in the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa. The tea is made by infusing the leaves of the red bush plant in hot water. It delivers a mildly sweet and sour flavor, and is packed with nutrients like iron, calcium, and antioxidants.
Peppermint tea is a delicious herbal tea that boasts an invigorating and refreshing flavor. The tea is made from the leaves of the mint plant and offers a tingling sensation with each sip. The cooling effect of peppermint can help boost relaxation and is the perfect beverage to cool off with in summertime.
Hibiscus tea is a floral tea that inspires visions of tropical locales like Hawaii and Fiji. The tea takes your senses on a vacation with hints of sweet and tart flavors. The color of the tea also makes it perfect for hosting backyard tea parties, as it brews into a vibrant magenta color.
Flavored teas are made by infusing true teas with other tastes. Additions can include spices, herbs, and citrus fruits which alter the classic flavor of true teas. These tea blends offer a new way of experiencing your favorite teas.
Earl Grey tea is a classic British favorite. The tea is made by infusing black tea leaves with bergamot orange rinds. Earl Grey features a slightly citrusy flavor that is contrasted by the bold, earthy notes of black tea leaves. You can also try Lavender Earl Grey, which takes taste to the next level with the addition of floral and aromatic lavender petals.
Masala chai tea is an Indian beverage that is enjoyed by people across the globe. The tea is a staple of life in India and can be found alongside street food stalls, at ceremonial celebrations, and in living rooms throughout the country. The tea is made by blending black tea leaves with spices.
The blend varies depending on region and preferences, but most blends include black pepper, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Tea drinkers can add a splash of milk for a creamier texture. You can also try Rooibos Masala Chai. The chai in this combination provides an energizing kick, while the rooibos provides a plethora of health benefits. It’s also naturally caffeine-free, making it the perfect alternative to chai that uses caffeinated black tea as a base.
With this handy guide, you can select the variety of tea that best suits your taste buds. You can choose from one of the popular teas listed here or be bold and try something you’ve never heard of before. By understanding the different types of tea, you can better select a tea that will cater to your preferences — whether you like sweet and light drinks or bold, strong ones.
When brewing tea, it helps to have the right tools on hand. A reusable tea strainer,, such as a pincer strainer or a collapsible strainer, makes brewing loose leaf tea a breeze. The infuser keeps the loose leaves contained making it easy to infuse multiple cups of tea and discard the leaves when you’re done. There are different types of infusers for different brewing styles, but a tea pincer is a universal teaware tool that can help you brew most types of tea.
In addition, you want to use a sturdy tea cup for brewing. While you can use any teacup you have laying around, some teas taste better in special cups. For many Chinese teas, you can use a gaiwan or yixing cup, while matcha green tea is best brewed in a wide-brimmed bowl known as a chawan. For British teas, use dainty tea cups to capture the spirit of English brewing. Do what works for you.
Finally, it’s important to have a sealed, opaque tea tin to store loose leaf tea or tea bags. A proper tin will shield your tea from harmful elements such as sunlight, moisture, and air. Having a tin storage system will help your tea stay fresh for a longer period of time, compared to storing it in a bag.
If you need a little extra help to get started, check out our Starter Bundle. It has everything you need to brew your first cup of tea and ease your dive into the world of tea. The best teas are always the ones you enjoy most. Just because people recommend a certain type of tea doesn’t mean you’ll love it. Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors to discover what you enjoy. With a little luck, you’ll find your favorite flavor in your next cup.
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