Everything you always wanted to know about tea

A beginner’s guide with ALL the answers to the most common tea questions

Pouring plain black tea from a teapot into a cup

Tea is the world’s second most popular drink, after water.
But at the same time, there is so much to tea, that sometimes it might seem too complicated.
Do you wonder what’s the difference between the many sorts? Or would you like to know how to prepare tea properly?
This article will teach you all these fundamental questions and many more in a simple and easy-to-understand way so that you can truly ENJOY this delicious beverage every time!

What is tea?

The word “tea” is often used to designate any type of drink that is made by infusing a plant in water, but strictly speaking, it refers only to brewed from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.

Tea plantation and close-up from tea plant leaves

So, while generally speaking there are three categories of “tea”, only the third category in the list below (real tea) is truly tea:

  1. herbal tea (tisane)
  2. flavored teas (blends)
  3. real teas (from Camellia sinensis)

1- Herbal teas like mint tea or chamomile aren’t real tea but tisanes.

Four different blends of flavored teas

2- Flavored teas are produced by combining true teas with spices, herbs, flowers or fruits to add nuances to the teas.
Earl Grey and chai are examples of well-known flavored tea blends.

3- Now we come to the real teas.
All of these teas are made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis; the treatment of the leaves determine the type of tea it becomes.
Most lists say there are 5 types of real tea; 6 when counting yellow tea (which is quite rare out of China):

  • white tea
  • green tea
  • yellow tea
  • oolong
  • black tea
  • pu-ehr

There is a seventh type of tea known as purple tea, which is also prepared from the same plant but has purple leaves due to a genetic mutation.

Infographic about different types of tea

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TEA SORTS

Do you want to know about a specific sort of tea? This list has more than 70 TEAS LISTED ALPHABETICALLY so you know what to expect from them and how to prepare them.

What’s the difference between green und black tea?

As we just mentioned, black tea, green tea (and also white tea, oolong or pu-erh) are made from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis.
It is the way the tea leaves are treated that determines the aspect, flavor, and other characteristics of the resulting tea.

Tea leaves and tea liquor of different types of tea (white, green, oolong, black and pu-ehr)

The most determinant procedure in tea processing is called oxidation, and it includes the drying, rolling, and heating of the leaves.
This transforms the green tea leaf into a variety of shades of green to brown and black:

  • Black teas are fully oxidized, turning the leaves black and raising the caffeine content.
  • Green and white teas are not oxidized, which keeps their original flavor and antioxidant levels.
  • The oxidation of oolong tea is between that of green and black tea. Yellow tea (quite uncommon outside of China) is also partially oxidized.
  • Pu-erh tea is processed in a similar way as green tea. The difference is that once dry, pu-ehr is fermented and aged for several months (sometimes even years in the case of raw pu-ehr).

How much caffeine is in tea?

Caffeine formula written with tea images

The amount of caffeine in tea varies considerably depending on its origin, type, quality, time of harvest and preparation.

The longer and hotter you steep your tea, the more caffeine it will contain, as a general rule.
In addition, tea prepared from tea bags usually contains more caffeine than infusion made with loose tea because teabags include crushed pieces of smaller-sized tea leaves.

Let’s take a look at the amount of caffeine in certain tea types compared to coffee and mate (a caffeinated herbal tea):

Comparative chart about caffeine in different types of tea
Remember these values are only estimated

Is the caffeine in tea good for you?

While some people are highly sensitive to caffeine and it should be used cautiously throughout pregnancy and nursing, some studies have shown that modest amounts of caffeine (up to approximately 400 mg per day for healthy adults) provide some benefits, such as:

There are claims that some of the antioxidants in the tea slow down the body’s absorption of its caffeine, but we were unable to find any supporting data.
However, the combination of caffeine and L-Theanine (a tea component) may have particularly strong benefits in enhancing brain function.

Hat tea more or less caffeine than coffee?

Did you know that coffee beans have a caffeine concentration of 1–2%, whereas tea leaves contain 3.5%?
These numbers may lead you to the assumption that tea has more caffeine than coffee, but the coffee brewing process involves hotter water, extracting more caffeine from the beans. Also, you usually use more coffee beans than tea leaves during the preparation process.
As a result, one cup of coffee generally contains more caffeine than a cup of tea.

How to enjoy tea while cutting back in caffeine

Woman pouring tea from a tea pot

If you want to drink tea but at the same time you are trying to reduce your caffeine intake, consider one or more of these tricks:

  • Steep it for less time
  • Use the cold brew technique – cold brew tea has significantly less caffeine than when hot infused
  • Choose decaf tea – they have been decaffeinated to just a few traces of caffeine
  • Switch tea for a herbal alternative – the majority of them are caffeine-free (with the exception of yerba mate, guayana and guayusa, which contain caffeine)
  • Choose a tea type with low caffeine content like:
    • Genmaicha – contains around 4 mg caffeine per cup
    • Hojicha – contains around 8 mg caffeine per cup
    • Bancha (specially Sannenbancha) – contains around 10 mg caffeine per cup
    • Kukicha or Bōcha (or any Japanese blend made of twigs and stalks as Kuki-hojicha) – it barely contains caffeine, around 3 mg per cup
Lowest caffeine tea types
The best thing: these are all very mild and taste delicious!

What is tea good for?

Tea has been enjoyed since ancient times as a health-promoting habit. Is it, though?
It turns out, recent research is backing this up.
Let’s take a look at some of the advantages of this drink.

Benefits of drinking tea

Iron teapot and tea cup

Tea consumption has been linked to some health benefits thanks to the strong anti-microbial and antioxidant properties of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis).

While all tea types provide health benefits, non-oxidized varieties (white and green) appear to have more of antioxidant effects than oxidized ones like black tea.
This might be why there is more research on green tea than other types of tea.

In a nutshell, here are some reasons for drinking tea (besides for its taste):

  • It’s rich in NATURAL ANTIOXIDANTS: the polyphenols in tea (such as flavonoids, tannins and cathechins)may help prevent cell damage, lower “bad” cholesterol and reduce blood sugar levels.
  • Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a special type of catechin found in green tea, has been linked to benefits such as better cardiovascular and metabolic health.
  • Tea makes you FEEL RELAXED WHILE REMAINING MENTALLY SHARP thanks to its L-theanine, an amino acid that increases the frequency of alpha brain waves.
    Also, while tea provides less caffeine than coffee, it still has enough to offer its benefits.
  • GOOD FOR YOUR MOUTH:
  • Tea may reduce bad breath, prevent cavities (as long as you don’t sweeten your tea with sugar) and fight plaque thanks to the antibacterial properties of its polyphenols and tannins.

  • The cathechins of green tea may help improve gum health by reducing inflammation, preventing bone resorption, and inhibiting the formation of certain bacteria linked to periodontitis.

  • Tea also contain fluoride, which is known for promoting enamel remineralization and protecting against tooth decay.
Woman enjoying cup of tea by a window

Disadvantages of drinking tea

Tea is overall a great drink, but like every other food product, it has some drawbacks:

  • CONTAINS CAFFEINE – which is a habit-forming stimulant some individuals are sensitive to and that may create dependence. [1]
  • STAIN TEETHUnfortunately, due to its tannin content, tea stain teeth: green tea leaves a dull gray stain on teeth, while black tea leaves yellowish stains.
    Some claim that adding a splash of milk to the tea may slightly reduce the discolouration of your teeth when drinking black tea. [2]
  • Drinking tea could lead to EXCESSIVE FLUORIDE INTAKE – while low fluoride doses strengthen and protect the tooth enamel, high levels of fluoride are harmful and can lead to health problems like fluorosis.
    The most fluoride was found in black tea, with the lowest amounts in white tea. Older and lower-quality tea like cheap tea bags or instant teas have more fluoride, so they’re best avoided. The country of origin and environment is also a factor in the fluoride content of tea. Sources: [3], [4], [5]
  • BINDS IRON – teas tannins can reduce the amount of iron your intestines absorb [6].

Because of these reasons, it is usually advised that healthy adults do not consume more than 3–4 cups (710–950 ml) of tea each day, although some people may be sensitive to lower doses.

Loose leaf tea or tea bags?

Loose leaves tea vs. tea bags

Tea bags are very convenient and widely available, but tea experts recommend to use loose leaves.
These are the main reason for that:

  1. SIZE OF THE TEA LEAVES
    The leaves of loose tea are generally larger than the tea leaves in a regular tea bag.
    Most tea bags include smaller or broken tea leaves and tea dust and fannings (small pieces left over from the processing of regular tea).
    This has a few disadvantages:
    • when tea leaves are broken or crushed, they loose some of its essential oils so you won’t be able to enjoy the tea’s flavor and fragrance as much.
    • the smaller the tea leaf particles, the faster they loose its freshness
  2. TEA QUALITY
    Loose leaf tea is usually of a higher quality than tea from tea bags.
    High-quality teas not only have a better flavor, but they also tend to contain less fluoride. That said, both loose leaf tea and tea bags can be of high or low quality.
  3. SPACE DURING STEEP
    Tea leaves need some room to swell and release their flavor.
    Loose leaves tea can flow freely in the water and expand, but the space in a tea bag is tight.
  4. PACKAGING
    Paper tea bags aren’t only a source of waste; they can also give a “paper” flavor to tea, particularly more delicate types such as white and green tea.

Tea bags vs. pyramids

Tea pyramid

Pyramid-shaped pouches, which can contain unbroken tea leaves and are often of higher quality than tea bags, are another option for an easy brew.

However, while they are also known as “silk” bags, many of these high-end tea bags are made of plastic mesh, releasing micro plastics into your cup and contributing to environmental burden.

Fortunately, more and more brands are creating such mesh bags with other environmentally friendlier alternatives as wood pulp, cornstarch or cotton.

How to make the most of a teabag

Tea made from tea bag

Although we just spoke about how loose tea might be better than tea bags, the latter have a few perks of their own: they allow you to make tea quickly without the need for any equipment (just a cup), and they leave no mess.
So, if you choose teabags, here are some tips to enjoy them as much as possible:

  • To prevent the tea from going stale too soon, store them properly (in an airtight container in a cool, dark area) or choose individually wrapped portions.
  • Enjoy the taste of loose leaf tea with the convenience of tea bags by making your own DIY brew bags with empty tea filter bags or re-usable filters.
  • Good tea bags have enough space to allow the tea to swell and come into touch with more water, resulting in a more flavorful cup of tea.
  • Buy the best quality tea bags as possible: not all tea bags are made of low-quality tea.
  • DO – dunk (lift up and down) the tea bag.
  • DON’T squeeze the bag when removing it.

How do you make a good cup of tea (hot)

Every tea lover has its opinion about how to make the perfect cup of tea, whether it’s how long to steep it or when (if) to add milk.
The type of tea you use also determines the temperature of the water and how long to steep it.
There are, however, a few things that everyone agrees on.
Let’s look at the basics of preparing hot tea so you can make a delicious one right now.

What you’ll need to make good tea

Utensils to make tea: tea, big strain and cover
  • TEA
  • Better tea leaves produce superior tea. Loose leaves are commonly the finest option. A tea pyramid is the second greatest alternative, while a tea bag is usually the last choice.
  • As a general guideline, use 1 tea bag or 1 teaspoon (2 g) of loose tea per cup (6 oz. of water).
  • THE TOOLS

Tea lovers have their pick of favorite utensils, ranging from the material of the kettle to the type of pot to the cup or strainer. However, since this is mostly a matter of personal taste, we’ll refrain from making any judgments.
Personally, I prefer things simple, so my must-haves are only:

  • Tea kettle or water boiler – an electric kettle saves time and energy
  • A big strainer or big tea infuser – strainers and infusers reduce waste.
    Big ones provide enough space for the tea to expand and let the most amount of water to swirl around them. Plus, they are easier to wash than smaller infusers.
  • WATER

The better the water, the better your tea.
For some people, this implies using filtered water.
Even if you use regular tap water, make sure it’s freshly drawn room temperature water, not reboiled one. This is because over-boiling or re-boiling reduce the amount of oxygen in the water, making the tea taste flabby.

How to make a proper cup of tea step by step

Time needed: 10 minutes.

Steps to make a good cup of tea

  1. Bring water to a boil

    Use fresh water and avoid heating the water in a microwave, since it may produce unevenly hot water, making your tea taste bitter and unpleasant.

    If making black tea, pour the freshly boiled water over the tea as soon as it reaches boiling.
    Other types of tea may need letting the water cool down before steeping (or not heating it until boiling point).
    Here you have a chart with the recommended water temperature for each type of tea.
    Fresh boiled water in water cooker

  2. Warm teapot or cup (optional)

    This isn’t essential, but it will bring your teatime to the next level.

    To warm the teapot (or cup, if you are making your tea in a cup), simply rinse them with hot water: fill half of the teapot or cup with some of the boiling water.
    Give hot water a few swirls and then discard it.

  3. Cover tea and steep

    The length of time the tea should steep is crucial, but there is no fixed answer: it depends on the type of tea and your personal taste.
    Shorten brew time for milder flavor. For a more robust taste, increase the brewing time.

    Just don’t leave the tea in water after the steep time to avoid it turning too bitter to appreciate its nuances.

  4. Remove tea

    Removing the tea after the recommended steep time stops the brewing process while you wait the tea to cool to a pleasant temperature.

    Don’t squeeze the tea leaves or tea bag (unless you like bitter tea), since this will release extra tannins, which gives your tea an astringent taste.Removing tea after steeping

  5. Serve and enjoy

    Adding milk and/or sweetener is a matter of personal taste.

    Some teas that match specially well with a little added sweetness or creaminess are black tea, blends (as chai, earl grey and lady grey), matcha and roasted green tea (hojicha).

Video showing how to make tea properly

The 2´40´´ video below shows how to make tea, both using loose leaf tea, tea bags, a tea pot or tea bags:

FAQs about making tea

The ideal water temperature to make tea depends on a variety of criteria, including personal preference.
To begin, try following the instructions in your tea package; if you’re not happy with them, consider brewing at a lower temperature or for longer/shorter. As a rule of thumb, choose a lower temperature when unsure.

For general guidance, look at the chart below:

Chart with recommended brewing times

The steep time depends on the type of tea you’re using and your own preferences; the longer you let a tea steep, the stronger it becomes.

Also, the bigger the leaf, the longer it takes to release all its flavor (meaning, tea bags need to steep for much less time than loose tea leaves).

For some broad recommendations, look the chart above (under “What’s the best temperature to brew tea?”).

Warming teapot before making tea

Originally, teapot or cups were warmed up to prevent them from breakage. Specially when made with delicate materials, teapot and cup could crack when pouring boiling hot water into them.
But another important reason to warm the teapot is to keep the water temperature from plummeting too quickly during steep time, as your teapot will absorb heat from the boiling water you just poured into it if it is at room temperature. This will cause the tea to steep in water that isn’t hot enough to extract all of its flavor.

Teapot with cover

Covering your tea is a recommended practice because this will keep the desired temperature in your tea pot or cup.
This ensures that the leaves of your tea unfurl fully, allowing to get a full extraction of the flavors.

You can re-steep almost any kind of loose leaf tea.
Tea bags are generally only steeped once, but if they contain whole tea leaves, you may steep them twice.

Used black tea tea leaves to re-steep

For a second steep:

  • use fresh water that has been heated to a somewhat higher temperature than the first
  • extend the original steeping duration by 1-2 minutes

The number of times you can re-steep tea depends on many factors like type, size and processing.
Green or white teas are typically ideal for re-steeping (better than darker teas).

When it comes to how long you can re-steep your tea, err on the side of caution and avoid leaving your leaves out for too long.
Avoid using tea from the previous day, and if the tea smells odd, throw it right away.

What teas should I try first?

There are so many varieties of tea and tisanes, it might feel daunting to pick the one that is best for you.
So, to end this guide, we’ll offer some suggestions on how to choose tea that suits your taste bud, especially if you are new to tea:

Do you want to switch coffee for another CAFFEINE beverage?
Try matcha, mate (a herbal tisane), or strong black tea like Breakfast blends; they have the most caffeine among teas (although usually less than coffee).

Teas with the highest amount of caffeine: matcha, mate and black tea

Are you looking for a CAFFEINE-FREE tea?
Rooibos is a fantastic substitute for tea since it has a comparable flavor but is naturally caffeine free, like most herbal teas.
There is also decaffeinated tea, which has practically no caffeine.

If you’re looking for a NATURALLY sweet tea…
consider blends that contain fruit, candy tea (stevia leaves), rooibos, licorice root (to avoid if having high blood pressure) or star anise.
Some green teas also have a delicate sweetness.

Sweetest tea without sugar: fruit tea, stevia leaves, licorice roots and star anise tea

In the mood for some MILK or cream in your tea?
Black tea, tea blends with black tea (as earl grey and chai), rooibos, hojicha and matcha are great candidates to make milk tea and tea latte.

Teas that matches well with milk

Wondering which real teas taste MILDEST?
White and green tea taste generally less intense than darker types.
If you are looking for a dark tea that still tastes mild, oolong tea and pu-her tea might be good choices, since these sorts taste robuster than green tea, but not as strong as black tea.
The mildest varieties of black tea are usually Keemun and Darjeeling.

Mildest tasting tea types: white and green tea

Do you enjoy seeing vibrant COLORS?
There are certain kinds of green teas that have a hue that is Instagram-worthy without the need for extra ingredients, such as sunrouge (pink) and matcha (light green).
Herbal teas with spectacular colors are butterfly pea tea (deep blue that changes to purple) and hibiscus tea (crimson color).

Teas with naturally beautiful color: purple tea, matcha, butterfly pea and hibiscus

Did you enjoyed this beginner’s guide to the basics of tea.
I hope this article has helped you decide which type of tea is best for you and how to make the most out of your experience with it.
If you have other questions, feel free ask in the comments below.
Happy sipping!

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2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I love Rooibos, and I’m relieved it doesn’t have any caffeine in it. Thank you for providing such thorough information about tea.

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