The Ultimate Guide to Tea

It’s tasty, it’s comforting, and it comes in a variety of flavors – and it’s also the second most popular drink in the world, after water.

Tea is so popular for a variety of reasons, including its many health benefits.

Traditional teas – more on that label later – have been widely consumed in Asia for thousands of years, and they’ve enjoyed tremendous popularity in the West, too.

However, Europe and America have really started enjoying the lovely traditional teas (don’t lose your patience, we’re getting to that label soon) relatively recently – we’re talking centuries here, mind you – roughly 2,000 years after it was first invented in China.

And some places such as the US are still not enjoying their tea as much as the rest of the world. In fact, tea is well below water, soda, coffee, beer, and milk, when it comes to the most popular drinks.

After all, you don’t ask your friends out “for a tea”, do you?

Considering the many benefits tea has to offer, you probably should.

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Table of Contents

What is tea?

Tea is basically a drink made from boiling plants.

Nothing too complicated, right? Nothing you didn’t already know.

It’s not like you’re going to mistake it for soup, anyways (though some varieties do look pretty thick).

Traditional tea – we’ve mentioned it a couple of times already – is really only that drink made from the leaves of Camelia sinensis. Only these teas are tea in the proper sense of the world.

Oh, and Camelia sinensis – the plant – is known as tea, too.

But there’s more to tea than just hot water over leaves – there’s plenty of history, culture, and even a drop of blood here and there – and the little details are about as savory as a good lemon and cinnamon earl gray early in the morning.

In fact, get a cup ready, make yourself comfortable, and get ready for a sweet little story.

Tea history

Legend has it that one day, as he was sipping hot water under a tree, the Chinese emperor Shennong had a pleasant surprise: a leaf had fallen into his cup, and he was so impressed with the flavor and the invigorating properties, that he began using it regularly.

Now get this – legend also has it that water so filthy in China around that time (about 2700 BC) that the emperor had to order that everybody boil their water before drinking. Isn’t it nice that they found a way to spice up – or tea up, to be precise – that dull hot water?

And it made it much healthier, too.

Of course, this whole emperor-and-the-cup stuff is just a myth – but the fact remains that tea as we know it today originated in Ancient China, with the oldest evidence dating back to the 10th century AD.

What we understand here by tea – and what the Chinese drank – is only made from the leaves of a plant called Camelia sinensis. This is what’s used to make white, green, oolong, and black tea.

Traditional tea, remember?

But more on that later.

For now, you should know that the Chinese loved tea so much that they even wrote a book about it – and writing books was far less popular than it is today! The Ch’a Ching (Tea Classic) was the first book written entirely about tea, and it lead to the popularization of tea in Japan.

In fact, the Japanese tea ceremony – one of the most elaborate drinking rituals in the world – may have been inspired by the prescriptions laid out in Ch’a Ching. It includes everything from how you should boil tea – thick or thin, soup-like or water-like – to when the guests should arrive, how to lay out the table, how to serve the tea, what to say etc. It’s really amazing how detailed every little aspect of the tea ceremony is, showing that the Japanese placed plenty of value on the social aspects of serving tea.

It wasn’t until the 16th century that tea reached Europe, via the Portuguese merchants coming back from China. It soon reached Britain, too, and, once a tea-loving Portuguese princess became the queen, tea became very popular among the British.

And it became an integral, trademark part of British culture, too.

But it wasn’t until it got to the US – well, it wasn’t the US then – that tea began to have an impact on world history – and it led straight to the American Revolution.

At that time – around 1760 – the British had decided to impose a tea tax on the American colonies – which, of course, the Americans didn’t really appreciate.

So, in 1773, a group called The Sons of Liberty decided to take action and destroy a boat full of tea. The British government took additional restrictive measures – such as ending local self-government and shutting down Boston trade – which, in two years’ time, led to the glorious American Revolution, which eventually created the United States of America as we know it today.

So there you are – it was tea that led to the American Revolution, surprising as it may be.

What types of tea are there?

With such a rich history spanning all five continents, there’s no wonder tea comes in many tastes and varieties.

However, not all of them are popular – and those that are, really aren’t that many.

Pretty interesting, right?

Traditional tea

In the true sense of the word, tea is only that beverage obtained from the boiling leaves of Camelia sinensis. This is basically the tea bush (also known as tea) that the Chinese originally used to make their traditional drink.

However, over the years tea came to signify every drink obtained from boiling plants – including chamomile, vanilla, berries, fruits etc.

For practical purposes, we’re going to use tea in the broader sense of the word – though that’s not technically accurate.

Now that you know what we’re going to be talking about, let’s move on to the traditional types tea.

White tea

White tea is the first type of traditional tea we’re going to be discussing.

The thing is, white, green, oolong, and black tea are all made of the same plant – the Camelia sinensis we’ve already mentioned. The only difference is the processing and fermentation.

White tea, for instance, is the purest type of tea – it’s made from the unprocessed young leaves of the tea plant. As a result, it’s the lightest type of traditional tea, and it’s the best preserver of the natural properties of the tea plant.

Getting the tea leaves ready for making white tea is quite an arduous process; the buds and young leaves are only ready to be picked at certain times of the year – mostly in spring – and the weather needs to be mild.

The fact that the leaves aren’t processed means that white tea has the mildest flavor in the traditional tea family, with slight floral notes. It’s really the most aromatic traditional tea.

White tea is the least caffeinated traditional tea, and it’s also got very few tannins. This makes it the least bitter tea out there. It’s also full of antioxidants, which means it’s great for preventing cancer.

It’s healthy, tasty, and quite difficult to make – naturally, it will come at higher price. In fact, it’s only recently been imported into the West, though it’s been consumed in China for thousands of years.

The Organic White Silver Needle Loose Tea is a great choice when it comes to white tea, and you can find it on Amazon for about 6$/ounce. It’s really pretty expensive, but it’s one of the highest-quality white teas out there, and you’ll definitely be impressed by the splendid aroma!

Green tea

Green tea is made from party oxidized (about 70%) tea leaves. Some varieties are made from unoxidized leaves, but that’s not the traditional sort of green tea.

This variety of tea contains more caffeine than white tea, but less than black or oolong. This makes it ideal for those who want to get their caffeine buzz while not getting all jittery.

Green tea has a specific grassy flavor, but the floral aroma is not as strong as that of white tea. However, commercial brands usually add vanilla or lemon to green tea, which makes for a pretty tasty drink.

Like all traditional teas, it’s got plenty of antioxidants, which is a great thing if you want to minimize your chances of getting cancer, and it’s also helpful in fighting cardiovascular disease and reducing cholesterol levels. In fact, daily consumption of green tea is positively associated with a reduced risk of death from any cause – just the more reason to start including it in your diet.

The Bigelow Green Tea is a great choice when it comes to quality green tea – and at less than 2$ per ounce, it’s pretty affordable, too. Customers have reported a great taste and a satisfying smell – there’s really nothing wrong with this Bigelow product!

Oolong tea

This variety of tea is obtained through a distinct means of processing: the tea leaves are dried, withered and fermented, after which they’re exposed to high temperatures before being rolled. The quality of the oolong tea is dependent on precise timing and exact temperatures, which means that getting it right is a real art.

Typically, the oolong is darker in color than green tea. Its distinct flavor is that of burnt vegetation – but don’t imagine that this burnt, smoky aroma is unpleasant. Depending on the variety, oolong teas range in aroma from sweet to roasted, giving the tea enthusiast plenty of tasty drinks to choose from.

The caffeine content of oolong tea is also dependent on the way the tea has been processed, but all oolong teas contain at least some caffeine.

Oolong tea is also rich in antioxidants, making it a good way to prevent cancer. It’s also efficient against cardiovascular disease and inflammatory disorders, and it contributes to increased bone strength and better teeth.

If you’re looking for a top quality oolong blend, the Prince of Peace Organic Tea is a great choice. Not only is it the best-selling oolong Amazon, but, at 1.30$ an ounce, it’s also ridiculously cheap. It’s also know to help with weight loss, so you should definitely check out this tea.

Black tea

The most popular variety of traditional tea – more than 90% of all tea sold in the West – black tea is also the strongest when it comes to taste and caffeine content.

Its particularly strong taste comes from the high oxidation to which the tea leaves are exposed. The leaves are also fully fermented and rolled, resulting in the characteristic black, wiry look of this type of tea.

Black tea contains plenty of caffeine – but still less than coffee. It’s got a pleasant, albeit strong smell, with nice floral overtones. If you steep it too long, however, the tannins will make it bitter.

Black tea consumption is scientifically associated with a reduced risk of cancer, and it also reduces the risk of strokes.

The English Breakfast from Twinning Tea is one of the best blends of English black tea you could get, and, at 1.45 an ounce, it’s pretty cheap, too. It’s made of the best Kenyan and Assam leaves, and customers have reported high satisfaction with the way this tea holds its flavor over time, and with the beautiful bergamot flavor that comes off after a lengthier infusion.

Herbal tea

Aside from the traditional tea, many herbal infusion – technically known as tisane – are also called tea.

Tisanes are also commonly made from dried fruits – including apples, strawberries, pineapples and so on. These are highly popular for their great taste and flavor.

There’s no surprise that people have been drinking herbal infusions for ages – they smell great, taste amazing, and are a great opportunity for socialization.

The fact that they have no caffeine makes them a great choice for late night drinks, too.

Herbal teas have commonly been associated with medicinal properties – peppermint tea for bloating, ginger tea for nausea, chamomile tea for insomnia, lemon tea for apathy, and rosehip and rooibos for boosting the immune system.

Herbal teas are also very popular for their aromatic properties – they’re pretty common among those who practice aromatherapy.

Finally, most herbal teas also offer plenty of minerals, making them a great choice for the cold season, especially if you’re short on fruits and vegetables.

The Stash Tea Peppermint Single-Cup is a great choice for those looking for a great herbal tea, though, at 15.53$ and ounce, it might be a bit expensive.

The Prince Of Peace Instant Korean Panax is a great ginseng tea that will refresh you after a hard day’s work – or help you start one on the right foot. You can find it on Amazon for about 1.5$ an ounce.

The Alvita Organic Rosemary Herbal Tea is a wonderful tea for those who love rosemary. It’s priced at 6.41$ per ounce, making it one of the pricier tea brands around, but it’s well worth the money.

Finally, the Stash Tea Chamomile Herbal Tea comes in a solid 100 count box of pure relaxation. It’s also extremely cheap, at only about 0.14$ per count. This chamomile tea comes with a slight apple flavor, making it a great drink for those who want their chamomile with a bit of added freshness.

Loose leaf and tea bags

Moving beyond what’s into your cup of tea, the way you get that cup done is also important.

Loose leaf teas refer to those drinks made from pouring water directly over the leaves. This is the traditional way tea’s been made in China, and it’s preferred by most tea specialists.

Tea leaves need to expand in your cup in order to release the full flavor. This is only possible if you’re using loose leaves. Tea bags will typically collapse over the minced leaves when coming in contact with water, drastically reducing the flow of tea from the tea bag into the water.

Another thing that makes tea connoisseurs look the other way when it comes to tea bags is that what’s inside them isn’t exactly the best tea out there. You mostly get something called “dust and fanning”, which is basically just broken, minced bits of leaves, that will give away their flavors and essential oils faster.

Additionally, tea bags – especially those extremely low cost types – sometimes taste of paper. That’s going to ruin your tea drinking experience, so it’s perhaps better to avoid dirt cheap teas and go for pricier brands.

One way tea companies avoid the problems we’ve described above is by creating roomier, less dense bags, usually made from materials that are both more resistant and less water-absorbing than paper. This allows the leaves inside to flow more freely, thereby increasing the overall quality of the brew.

However, these bags – also known as pyramid bags or tea pouches – are usually a bit more expensive than traditional tea bags. For their convenience and low cost, most people still prefer tea bags over full leaf tea – it’s really easy to just drop the tea bag into your cup, pour hot water over, and enjoy a cup of tea in just a few minutes.

By contrast, fixing a tea the right way using loose leaves involve having some basic tea tools such as a tea strainer, and waiting a few minutes for the tea to infuse completely. The extra quality you get doesn’t come without an effort, after all.

What are the health benefits?

From the common cold to cancer, teas have been known to help in most ailments, whether we’re talking cure or prevention.

However, not everything you’ve heard stand up to the test of science – but that doesn’t mean a good cup of tea will hurt you.

In fact, teas have been used for pretty much any disorder – some more successful than others. However, the real value – and perhaps the most scientifically proven – lies in preventing a wide range of diseases, rather than curing them.

Cardiovascular disease

Traditional teas are all effective in preventing cardiovascular disease. Anywhere from one to three cups of tea a day (especially green tea) will significantly reduce the risks of getting heart disease, and black tea is especially effective in preventing strokes.

Traditional teas are also effective blood thinners, making them great against cholesterol deposits.

Hibiscus tea is also pretty effective in lowering the blood pressure, provided you drink about three cups a day.

Cancer

Though there’s not enough evidence to suggest that tea is effective against cancer, numerous studies have reported that daily consumption of tea – especially black – is positively linked with a reduced risk of developing different types of cancer.

The reason why tea reduces the risk of cancer is that it contains antioxidants, which target the negative bacteria in your organism. Tea is also effective in destroying free radicals, which minimizes the DNA damage sustained by your cells. Free radicals are also linked to higher risk of neurological degeneration and heart disease, which makes it all the more important to fight them off.

Chamomile tea is also helpful for cancer patients in that it reduces the growth of cancer cells, and the flavonoids in rooibos tea might also prevent cancer.

Parkinson’s disease

Caffeine, flavonoids, and theanine (essential compounds found in tea) have been shown to be effective against cell loss in the areas affected by Parkinson’s.

There’s a positive correlation between tea consumption and reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease in both men and women, regardless of how much tea you drink per day.

Diabetes

Some compounds in green tea might help the processing of sugars in patients suffering from type II diabetes.

Chamomile tea also reduces the extent of the complications commonly associated with diabetes, such as loss of vision and kidney damage.

Weight loss

Just like with cancer, there’s no conclusive scientific evidence that tea helps with losing weight. However, factors such as waist circumference – a great issue with people worrying about getting too fat – are closely linked with tea consumption.

Specifically, tea drinkers seem to be slimmer around the waist than those who prefer other beverages. This might be related to the fact that tea isn’t famous for stirring up your appetite, but the exact causes of why tea reduces fat around the waist aren’t known.

Digestion

Some herbal teas are particularly effective when it comes to boosting the digestive system.

One of them is linden flower tea. Drinking a cup of this tea before bed is a great way to help your body digest better. You’ll not only have better digestion, but you’ll sleep better, too!

Chamomile is also great in soothing the stomach and promoting better digestion. It also helps with bloating.

Ginger tea is another great drink for people suffering from indigestion. Not only does it work great in soothing the stomach, it also promotes a faster digestion, helping you get rid of the toxins in your bowels.

Lavender tea works well in treating flatulence and bowel infections, as well as an upset stomach, as does lemon balm tea. If combined with peppermint, the effect is that much more powerful.

Rosemary tea is another great herbal drink that will help you digest more effectively.

Liver function

Dandelion and milk thistle teas are great for improving the functioning of the liver. Not only do they help the liver regenerate – especially if you’ve been consuming alcohol recently – but they also help in producing bile, speeding up the digestive process.

Bone density

Tea is great when it comes to improving bone density. This applies to teeth, as well, which means that getting your regular servings of green or black tea will change your teeth for the better.

Arthritis

Ginger tea has been known to help patients suffering from arthritis, mainly because it’s got anti-inflammatory properties. Traditional tea is also helpful, for similar reasons.

Nausea

Herbal teas such as ginger and peppermint are great in fighting off nausea, including motion sickness.

Exercise

As a result of all the antioxidants normally found in traditional tea, drinking tea regularly improves the body’s ability to burn fat while exercising, rather than muscle. This means that you’ll have an increased effort capacity while jogging or doing other aerobic activities. It also means that you’ll lose fat quicker.

If you suffer from post-exercise muscular cramps, then peppermint tea might help you with that. It’s also great for increasing sweating – so drink some before exercising, if you want to lose some extra weight.

Rosemary tea is also effective in relieving muscles and helping them relax.

Immune system

Compounds in tea have been found effective in speeding up the immune system, helping it to get to the damaging cells more quickly.

Smoking

Black tea seems to reduce the risk associated with regular smoking, protecting your lungs from cancer. This is no excuse for cigarette smoking, though – the effects of tobacco on your body are still terribly damaging.

Colds and lung function

Many teas have traditionally been thought to be effective against the common cold, but there’s still no clear evidence for that.

However, chamomile and linden flower tea seem to work in staving off colds and in stopping coughing, and peppermint tea is great in helping the lungs to function efficiently. Lavender tea is also effective in reducing the body temperature during the high fevers commonly associated with cold and flu.

Relaxation

Most teas have relaxing properties, even the caffeinated traditional teas.

Chamomile tea has been commonly associated with soothing effects on the body, and linden flower tea is a well-known cure for insomnia. Lavender is also great in relaxing the mind and body and inducing sleepiness

Depression

Let’s face it – tea won’t cure your depression, but it sure will make you feel better!

Traditional tea – whether white, green, oolong, or black – has been long known for its invigorating properties, and many herbal teas are famous for boosting up your well-being.

Teas such as lemon, rosemary, vanilla, peppermint, ginger – and the list could really go on all day – have such great tastes and aromas that you can’t help but feel better instantaneously.

Plus, tea is also a great opportunity to socialize.

People in Japan, for instance, have used tea to fuel essential social gatherings, from the friendliest to the most formal.
Turkey is also known for its large tea parties – giving you a cup of tea is a traditional symbol of Turkish hospitality – and the English are similarly famous for enjoying a cup of tea with their friends and families.

Since tea fits the social context so well, enjoying it with your loved ones is bound to make you feel better – whether you’re just minding your own business, sharing stories, or even gossiping!

How do I prepare the best tea?

Brewing quality tea is so important that the ancient Chinese have written books on it, and the Japanese have developed quite an elaborate Japanese tea ritual – including different types of tea making, elaborate instructions on how to boil it, and plenty of tools to get everything done properly.

However, you don’t need all that to get some decent tea yourself – in fact, all you need to do is stick to some basic principles and follow a few simple steps.

The first thing you need to understand is that the way you brew your tea is what mostly counts towards the success of your beverage.

You’ve probably had your fair share of nasty, bitter tea – and if you’ve been blaming the brand, you were probably in the wrong.

The thing is, brewing a decent tea shouldn’t be too difficult, and it doesn’t depend that much on what tea you’re using – assuming it’s not past its expiration date – as on how you’re brewing it.

If you follow the instructions below, you should have no problems getting good tea every time – and while it may not be the best, it’ll definitely satisfy your guests.

The essentials

Water

To make great tea, you need great water. Stale or otherwise smelling water will negatively affect the aroma of your tea.
The best water is spring or purified, since it has enough minerals to get the best aroma out of your tea. Distilled water lacks minerals, which might make your tea taste pretty flat.

The way you boil your water is also important for the quality of your tea. Overheating it may eliminate the oxygen, thus reducing the quality of the final drink, while not heating it enough will not infuse your tea at all. Once air bubbles begin to form and move up, and you notice the first wisps of steam begin to evaporate, you should know that your water is reaching the proper temperature.

Water temperature also depends on the type of tea you’re making. If green tea requires cooler water – one that’s just starting to boil – black tea needs a bit more heat to give off the best flavor.

Infusion

The more delicate the tea, the less you need to have it infused. Green and white tea, for instance, require at most 3 minutes of infusion, while black tea is best infused for 5 minutes.

Teapot

If you love black and other strong teas, get a harder, metal teapot – preferably iron. It will stay hot for longer, allowing the tea to release its full potential.

On the other hand, gentler teas are best kept in softer teapots, such as porcelain or glass. They lose heat easier, which means that your green tea won’t overheat and lose its great taste.

Different teas

Different teas require different types of preparation.

White tea

You’ll need no more than 3 teaspoons for one 6 oz serving. Allow it 3 minutes to infuse in water of no more than 185 F.

Green tea

Use 1-2 teaspoons for a single serving, and allow it about 2 minutes to infuse. The water temperature shouldn’t be higher than 175 F.

Oolong tea

2-3 teaspoons should be plenty for a single serving. The typical infusion time for this type of tea is a bit more than 2 minutes, in water between 185 and 200 F.

Black tea

Use no more than 2 teaspoons for a strong cup of black tea. Allow it up to 5 minutes to infuse if you’re using full leaves, and make sure the water is hot enough – around 200 F should do.

Herbal tea

If you’re opting for a good tisane, you should use about 2 teaspoons per cup. Allow it 2 minutes of infusion time in water of about 210 F.

The Steps

1) Get the water boiling
Using good water – see the water section above – get it boiling until you reach the desired temperature, depending on the type of tea you want to make.

2) Warm the pot
If you’re using one, get some boiling water and rinse the teapot thoroughly. To get the best taste, make sure you repeat this process every time you make tea.

3) Warm the teacups
Get your teacups warm, too. Doing so will make sure that your water stays at the desired temperature for longer, rather than begin cooling instantly.

4) Place the bag/add the tea
The quantities we’ve presented above are for loose leaves. If you’re using tea bags, then one should be enough. Place it in your cup.

If you’re using a pot, place the tea in the pot (remember to count the servings).

5) Add water
Pour the water you’ve just boiled. Again, remember to check the temperature.

6) Allow time to infuse
Using the guidelines above for your desired tea, allow it to steep. Cover the pot (if you’re using one) or the tea cup, to better preserve the flavors.

There you are! You’ve got yourself a perfect cup of tea – chances are it’s not bitter, not too hot, and it’ll stay perfect for a good half hour, too!

Conclusion

One of the most popular drinks in the world, tea is a great opportunity to stay healthy while also having a great time with your friends.

Of course, drinking tea in itself won’t get you healthy, nor will it get you friends – but what drink does, really?

And even if it doesn’t get you friends – or if you prefer to enjoy a cup in a more solitary manner – tea is a great companion for work, reading, or watching TV.

Tea is great for most moments of your life, really.

Perhaps that’s why people have been enjoying it so much.

Each cup you sip is part of a large history spanning millennia and continents, and influencing the course of history in the most decisive aspects – from trade routes from China to Europe, to the American Revolution and the beginnings of the United States of America as an independent country.

And with this much history comes plenty of ways to make a good cup of tea.

You’re not going to be as elaborate as the Japanese when it comes to tea brewing – but taking care of the essentials is … well, essential. Remember to get your water boiling to the right temperature, pre-heat the recipients, and add just the right amount of tea. It all depends on what kind of tea you’re making – use the guidelines above, and always trust your nostrils and your tongue.

Don’t neglect the many health benefits of drinking tea, either – whether we’re talking about lazy digestion, lung problems, preventing cancer, helping with fatigue or muscular pain, improving bone density, getting a good sleep, or simply relaxing.

There’s a tea for every health condition out there – find it, enjoy it, and get better!

Finally, whatever you do, and even if you’re as healthy as a horse, just drink some tea! Chances are you’re going to be much better off than if you were drinking pretty much anything else.

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