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Finding the Perfect Cup: A Beginner’s Guide to Tea

a beginner's guide to tea image

So you’re ready to be a tea connoisseur, but you don’t know where to start. Well, you’re in luck! Being a fan of the art of tea drinking, I’ve made it easy for you by putting together everything you need to know about tea, including types of tea, origins, caffeine content and how to prepare the perfect cup. By the end of this post, you’ll be ready to take on the world, one cup of tea at a time.

types of tea infographic

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Tea History and Facts

Black
The history of black tea is uncertain, but it’s been enjoyed in China since at least the 16th century. Black tea is created by rolling the leaves and allowing them to oxidize. The resulting flavor is bold, hearty and slightly bitter. Black tea has the most caffeine of all the tea types with 40-60 mg, about half as much as a cup of coffee.

White
White tea dates back to the Tang Dynasty in China (618-907 A.D.). Initially a delicacy for royalty, white tea eventually became more common and is today enjoyed by many who appreciate its mild, subtly sweet and delicate flavor. With a small caffeine content (10-15 mg), it can be enjoyed throughout the day.

Green
Green tea wasn’t enjoyed by the general public in China until the 1400s, but it had been around much longer for the more elite. It is still produced mostly in China and Japan today, but it is enjoyed by people around the world for its smooth and fresh taste as well as its many health benefits. Green tea is known for assisting in weight loss goals and maintaining stable energy levels.

Herbal
The Chinese have been using tea and herbs for thousands of years, so it was only natural that they brought two forces together to create herbal tea. Herbal teas are made today with dried fruits, herbs and flowers. They are preferred by many for being caffeine free. Rooibos and mate are just two of the popular types of herbal tea.

Oolong
Oolong is the underrated tea that deserves to be recognized. While only 2 percent of all tea consumption worldwide is from oolong tea, it’s been linked to benefits such as increasing metabolism. This delicate, sweet and smooth tea has been around since the 16th century. The fermentation and oxidation processes of oolong tea give the leaves a yellow surface with a reddish edge.

Pu’erh (Pu’er)
Pu’erh (pu’er) tea has been cultivated in China since the Han Dynasty (25-220 CE). This aged tea can be made black or green depending on the leaves. It offers a rich and earthy flavor. Pu’erh was illegal in the United States until 1995, and today the cultivation remains a guarded secret by the Chinese. It contains one-third the amount of caffeine as coffee.

Yerba Maté
Love coffee but don’t love the high caffeine content? Try yerba maté. With just 35 mg of caffeine (one-third the amount in coffee), people swear by its bold, coffee-like flavor. This tea was discovered in South America in the 16th century. Most of this unique tea comes from Argentina today where it is harvest, blanched, dried, aged and milled or cut. The long creation process is worth it with this delicious tea.

Rooibos
It was first discovered in 1772 that the Cape of South Africa people were creating tea from the rooibos plant. Harvesting this red bush plant results in a sweet and nutty flavor. A form of herbal tea, rooibos tea is caffeine free and has a lighter flavor due to a lack of fermentation. Try it with fruit or cinnamon.

Loose-Leaf vs. Tea Bags – Which Is Better?

Not all tea is created equal. Loose-leaf tea comes from the natural source whereas tea bags are oftentimes filled with broken down tea pieces known as dust and fannings. The more tea is ground down, the less quality you receive. Loose-leaf tea generally offers a fuller, richer flavor with the best possible benefit. Some tea bags are also made with bleached paper material that can damage tea quality. That isn’t to say all tea bags are bad, but I highly recommend looking into how bagged teas are made and the type of paper being used.

 

10 Tea Preparation Tips

1Try Organic
Organic tea offers a delicious enhanced aroma of your favorite tea without any synthetic ingredients or pesticides. Tea cannot be washed like other non-organic crops, so what is sprayed on the tea stays on the tea. Avoid this entirely by choosing an organic version. Your body and taste buds will thank you for it.

2Measure Your Leaves
If you’re going the loose-leaf tea route, make sure to add the right amount of leaves. Each 8 ounce cup needs 1-2 teaspoons of leaves. Avoid weakening your tea by measuring responsibly.

3Use the Right Tools
Tea strainers and infusers are essential for loose-leaf tea drinkers. Strainers rest at the top of the mug for a simple steep, while infusers keep the leaves packed in a tea ball or creatively shaped container, typically made out of mesh or stainless steel.

4Watch the Water
Make sure to use cold, fresh water when beginning to brew your tea. Also, never re-boil old water. The only thing that comes from stale water is stale tea. Start fresh every time.

5Temperature Is Key
Some teas require being brewed/steeped at a boiling temperature while other flavors would be ruined at such high temperatures. Black, herbal, oolong, pu’erh, yerba maté and rooibos teas should be brought to a boil whereas green and white teas should not.

6Timing Matters
Most teas need at least three minutes to obtain the right flavor. Over-steeping can cause some teas to taste bitter and undesirable. Herbal and rooibos teas steep the longest. As George Orwell said, “One strong cup of tea is better than 20 weak ones.” Refer to the infographic above for specific steep recommendations.

7Skip the Milk
Tea enthusiasts argue the effect milk can have on a cup of tea. Milk proteins bind with the polyphenols (antioxidants) in tea and can therefore reduce the amount of active antioxidants. If you insist on adding milk, wait until you’re about to consume it to ensure the highest possible amount of antioxidants. My personal philosophy is “when in doubt, leave it out.”

8Add Flavor, Enhance the Benefit
Several tasty additions can go into your tea to boost flavor and benefit your health. A squeeze of lemon helps enhance tea’s antioxidant absorption potential, thanks to vitamin C. This also works with orange or grapefruit. Also, not all additions are the same. For example, lemon goes well with white tea tea, while oolong and herbal teas love being sweetened with honey or agave.

top 11 tea additions graphic

The most popular additions to tea include agave, honey, lemon, basil, ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, mint leaves, peppermint oil, lavender oil and coconut oil.

9Reduce, Reuse, Re-Steep
Save your leaves! Loose-leaf teas can be re-steeped a number of times. Rooibos and herbal teas can be re-steeped an extra 1-3 times; 2-5 times for green, black, white, oolong and yerba mate; and go big with pu-erh for up to 10 additional re-steeps.

10Store Safely
Find an airtight container to store your teas in. Keep the tea store in a cool, dark place away from sunlight, like a pantry shelf or drawer. The heat from sunlight can change the tea’s flavor over time. Also, be sure to keep your tea away from food with strong aromas such as cheese, onions, spices and other pungent items.

 

Now that we've covered all the basics on tea types, how to brew tea, caffeine content and so much more, you're ready to begin your lifelong commitment to this glorious beverage. Don't forget to add the biscuits. Pinkies up!

What’s your favorite tea? How do you prepare it?

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