The Best Types Of Tea For Every Mood

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After plain old water, tea is the most popular beverage on the planet. Given the current popularity of coffee, that's saying something. Tea has a lot going for it, too. Teas are naturally refreshing and some contain health benefits like the presence of flavanols, those hearth healthy antioxidants that can lower your cholesterol level.

Tea is actually an ancient beverage. Food historians can trace the origin of tea to the Orient more than 3,000 years ago. There's a good chance it's much older than that, too. Although the term tea can be applied to a number of similar beverages, China tea is the ingredient most associated with classic teas. China tea is the dried leaf of a camellia plant, the Camellia Sinensis. The tea camellia isn't that different from the flowering camellias common in many landscape gardens. The Camellia Sinensis plant is native Eastern and Southern Asia. Its dried leaves are the main ingredient in most teas. That doesn't tell the whole story, though. When it comes to the tealeaf, almost anything can happen.

Classics Teas

When and how tea leaves are picked and dried has a big impact on their flavor. These differences account for the major variations in classic tea varieties. You're probably familiar with some of the most common teas. This is how they're produced:

  • White Tea - Uses very young leaves and buds that undergo minimal processing. White teas have a mild flavor and typically contain high concentrations of antioxidants.
  • Green Tea - Immature leaves that undergo minimal processing. Green teas have mild flavor and typically contain a high concentration of antioxidants.
  • Oolong Tea - Made from slightly aged leaves that have been bruised before processing. Some oolong teas are also fermented.
  • Black Tea - Made from leaves that have been fully dried without being heated. As tea leaves dry, they release tannins that give tea a strong, rich flavor and dark color. Heating stops the darkening, tannin producing process.
  • Herbal Tea - Herbal teas may or may not use traditional ingredients. They can be made from almost any plant that can be dried and infused in water. Herbal teas can be made from plant leaves, bark, flowers, seeds or roots.
best types of tea best types of tea

Blended Tea Flavors

Although there are only so many ways tealeaves can be processed, there seem to be hundreds of varieties of tea. There are a couple of reasons for this: Teas grown in different geographical regions can have slight variations in flavor. This can be caused by soil content, weather conditions and harvesting practices. Another reason there are so many types if tea is that almost all popular teas are blended with other ingredients to add flavor, color or fragrance. That's why you can buy two different brands of tea with the same name that don't taste exactly alike. Think of tea as a designer creation that can surprise you with its subtle nuances and unexpected flavor notes. No two are exactly alike. Having said that, there are still some broad similarities in common tea flavors, though:

English Breakfast - One of the most popular black teas on the market, this one is robust and full flavored. If you like lemon in tea or like your tea sweetened with sugar, English Breakfast is the tea for you. It's also often served with milk. Like the name suggests, if you need a pick-me-up in the morning, this tea fits the bill.

Irish Breakfast - Similar to English Breakfast, this black tea blend is very dark and rich. It's usually served with milk or cream.

Earl Grey - Another black tea blend, Earl Grey has a very distinctive aroma that comes from the addition of Bergamot orange essence (or orange peel). The aroma isn't so much citrusy as it is tangy. Orange is a common flavoring ingredient in tea. It imparts a flowery aroma and a bit of a bite that adds interest.

Orange Pekoe - Orange pekoe tea is a classic black tea with a hint of sweetness and a deep, almost resinous flavor. It makes wonderful iced tea.

Green Tea - Often sold simply as "green tea," the dried, immature leaf of the camellia tea plant makes a delicate brew. It requires minimal steeping and less heat. You don't have to use boiling water for green tea as you do with many other tea varieties. Green tea is very mild. It doesn't need any extras like milk or lemon. It is nice when served with a little honey, though.

Exotic Teas

Exotic teas are almost always blended teas, and many of them have ingredients that increase either their color or aromatic appeal:

  • Hibiscus Tea - Also called Roselle tea, this unique brew has a refined aroma and a bright red color. In some areas of the world, hibiscus is also made into a flavorful wine.
  • Jasmine Tea - Jasmine tea can be almost any white or green tea variety to which dried jasmine flower has been added. Often served in Chinese restaurants, jasmine tea is usually very mild and relaxing.
  • Darjeeling Tea - The name Darjeeling refers to the region of India where the tea is produced rather than a distinctive tea variety. Darjeeling teas can be white, green, black or oolong. They typically have mild flavor with a light floral fragrance, though.

Herbal Teas

Herbal tea blends can be aromatic, medicinal and flavorful, too. You can even grow the ingredients yourself. Most herbal teas are prepared by drying the leaves (bark, flowers, seeds or roots) of the herb plant and steeping them for five to fifteen minutes in water that's been brought to a rolling boil. Here are a few favorites:

  • Ginger tea
  • Lavender tea
  • Chamomile tea
  • Sage tea
  • Catnip tea
  • Peppermint tea
  • Rosemary tea
  • Chai tea (a blend of spices like nutmeg and cinnamon
  • Rose hip tea
  • Dandelion tea (made from dandelion root)

Tea can be served hot or cold. It can also be enhanced by the addition of other ingredients like lemon, cream, sugar, alcoholic beverages and honey. The best way to find the right tea for you is to simply try a wide variety of flavors and add your favorite ingredients.

Last Updated: April 27, 2012
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About Sara Elliot Sara Elliott is a freelance copywriter and dedicated blogger. Her popular gardening, cooking and crafting blog, The Herb Gardener, was cited by The Wall Street Journal for its fun and frugal tips. Sara has a degree in English, and you can find her health, crafting, and lifestyle pieces on sites like DiscoveryHealth.com, HowStuffWorks.com, Savvi.com and TLC.com.

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