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The history of tea is murky as a splash of milk in Earl Grey. Its most popular origin story traces back 5,000 years, when it’s said that camellia leaves drifted into a cup of hot water being drank by Shennong, the Emperor of China. Other tales point to different eras and different accidents of discovery, though scholars generally agree that southwest China is where it all began.
While the true beginnings may never be known, the popularity of tea is undeniable. It is the most consumed beverage in the world outside of water, beloved for its taste, health benefits, and the way it brings people together. Our round-up is just a pinprick in this vast and rich tapestry, but it includes delicious options for all kinds of tea lovers. From bagged to loose leaf, green tea to black, here are the best teas to buy.
Value for money
Long shelf life
Available in decaf
Black tea is generally considered the most popular type of tea in the world, known for its bold flavor, variety of blends, and long shelf life. But with all those different black tea varieties, it's hard to know where to start. That's where Twinings English Breakfast Tea comes in. It's a standard, straightforward black tea that is beloved by many—and for good reason.
Twinings English Breakfast has a strong taste, and it's available in both caffeinated and decaf varieties. It’s sourced from a medley of top tea regions, including China, Indonesia, Kenya, Assam, and Malawi. And, like most kinds of black tea, you can store it in your cupboard for months without losing freshness and flavor.
Twinings is easy to find online or at your local grocery store, and you can purchase their English Breakfast blend in boxes of 20, 50, and 100 tea bags. Their tea is also available in loose leaf and K-Cup varieties, so you can enjoy a cup no matter how your normally brew your tea.
Comes in storage tin
Low caffeine content
On the pricier end
The Republic of Tea Honey Ginseng Green Tea makes a downright tasty cup. This blend has all the health benefits of green tea—lower cholesterol, greater alertness, improved weight loss, and a reduced risk to a number of diseases—with some added flavor from ginseng and full blossom honey. The tea even provides a little pep, with just under one-fourth of the caffeine in an average cup of coffee.
Available in sachets and loose leaf
Some people may say that herbal tea is not actually tea since it’s produced from a mishmash of leaves, fruits, and flowers instead of the tea plant itself. But if you're looking for a warm, flavorful drink that won't smack you with loads of too much caffeine, this Rooibos blend from Harney & Sons is the perfect fit.
This organic, caffeine-free blend gets glowing reviews for its flavor. Steep for five minutes and you’ll get a tea that tastes clean and earthy, and never bitter.
You can find this blend in a variety of serving options, including tea bags, sachets, and loose leaf—the latter being the most cost-effective per serving.
Comes in storage tin
May require sweetener
Matcha has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years, gaining attention for its taste, health benefits, and culinary versatility (not to mention its signature green color). Whether you’re a seasoned matcha veteran or looking to try the drink for the first time, Jade Leaf’s matcha should be your go-to choice. It’s all-natural and packed with flavor.
The leaves are sourced from organic farms located in the Uji and Kagoshima regions of Japan, and this matcha is ceremonial grade, which is best for general drinking purposes, as opposed to culinary grade, typically used for cooking and baking. Expect a little boost of energy when drinking, as one serving contains roughly one-third the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee.
Matcha usually costs a little more than other kinds of teas, but the price per serving is still lower than you would expect to spend in a coffee shop. You can find this pick in a size that fits your matcha needs: a 1-ounce tin, a 3.5-ounce tin, or a 10-pack of individually wrapped servings.
Leaves can steep multiple times
Only available in loose leaf
Not USDA organic
White tea is the least processed type of tea, known for its delicate taste and high antioxidant count. One of the most highly praised white teas on the market comes from Tealyra. Their Bai Hao Yin Zhen Silver Needle blend is a loose leaf tea that combines notes of sweet apricot with a slightly earthy fragrance. If you're looking for bold flavors, this might not be your tea, but white tea lovers will find it delicious.
This white tea, harvested from the Fujian province of China, is naturally lower in caffeine than most black or green teas, but it is not caffeine-free. It's best served plain, without sweetener or cream.
Size options vary depending on the site you buy from, but Amazon offers the item in bags of 2, 4, and 8 ounces.
"It's easy to get white tea wrong because its flavor is too subtle to benefit from sugar or honey, and it's easy to overpower with sweet fruit. Silver needle is your best bet for tasting white tea's minimalist earthy, floral, naturally fruity notes, and I find myself drinking more of it because Tealyra does it so well." — Jess Kapadia, Food Editor, The Spruce Eats
Comes in storage tin
Available in sachets and tea bags
Floral notes not for everyone
On the pricier end
There is a multitude of reasons to buy loose leaf tea rather than tea bags. Loose leaf is generally fresher, crafted from finer ingredients, and can be more cost-effective when purchased in bulk. Brewing loose leaf tea also produces less waste than using tea bags for every new cup.
Harney & Sons' Paris blend is a one-of-a-kind tea that combines black and oolong teas for a beverage that smells like Earl Grey but tastes wondrously unique. In addition to the oolong and black tea flavors, notes include Bergamot, vanilla, and caramel.
The tea has between 40 to 60 milligrams of caffeine per cup and takes four to five minutes to brew. It comes in a gorgeous black tin with gold accents, making it a great gift option.
Licorice flavor not for everyone
Nothing feels better for a sore throat like a warm cup of tea, and Traditional Medicinals makes the perfect soothing blend. Throat Coat is organic, caffeine-free, and crafted from slippery elm, which works wonders on sore throats and upset stomachs.
Slippery elm infuses the tea with a taste that’s described as both sweet and earthy. It helps soothe sore throats and can help with digestive issues. Throat Coat also contains organic licorice root, which is added to calm digestive issues.
Each box of Throat Coat comes with sixteen individually wrapped tea bags. Steeping takes longer than normal—ten to fifteen minutes—but it’s worth the wait to enjoy the tea’s rejuvenating effects.
"I drink Throat Coat in a mug even when I don't have a sore throat. I love licorice (send me any black jelly beans you don't want). Slippery elm does sound somewhat magical, but rest assured that this tea is not at all slippery." — Heather Ramsdell, Editorial Director, The Spruce Eats
Wide variety of tea
Packaged in an elegant box
Includes an informational guide
No decaffeinated options
Take your favorite tea lover on a trip around the world, one blend at a time. Asia, Africa, America—this gift set sources ten of the finest loose leaf teas from ten different locations. The recipient has the chance to sample everything from Long Jing, a delicious green tea harvested in China, to Assam Hattiali, a spicy black tea from India.
The gift set is made by Palais des Thés, a specialty tea manufacturer founded in Paris, and comes in a gorgeous green box. The teas come with a handy booklet with information about each blend and detailed brewing tips. Each tube of tea brews about six to eight cups, which is just enough to get a true sense of the various flavors.
The best tea will always depend on personal preference, but Twinings English Breakfast is likely to satisfy thanks to its strong, traditional flavor, along with a low price point. If you're looking to shake up your tea routine, The Republic of Tea's Honey Ginseng Green Tea offers a sweeter and gentler flavor profile.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This piece was written by Derek Rose, the coffee and tea expert for The Spruce Eats. Before recommending these products, he gathered information from customer reviews, third-party articles, and brand websites' details on tea sourcing. He researched the benefits of slippery elm bark—a main ingredient in Traditional Medicinals Organic Throat Coat—by consulting articles published by Verywell Health, WebMD, and Healthline. His selection of Jade Leaf Matcha Green Tea was informed by researching the different grades of matcha.
What to Look for in Tea
Variety: The most important factor in deciding what tea to buy is knowing the varieties you like and, perhaps equally important, knowing the ones you dislike. Four of the most common tea varieties are black, white, green, and oolong. Each category has its own distinct flavor profile, but within these categories are even more varieties. A person might love Earl Grey, for instance, but not Irish breakfast, even though both are black teas. So if you’re in the dark about what tea to buy, think about the flavor notes you find appealing.
Packaging: It may seem minor, but the way your tea is packaged affects how it’s brewed and, subsequently, how it tastes. You'll likely see tea packaged in one of three ways: tea bags, sachets, or loose-leaf form. If you prefer quickness and convenience, tea bags might be the way to go. If you want to adjust tea strength to your specific taste, try loose leaf. Sachets strike the middle ground, storing loose tea in large, usually pyramid-shaped bags.
Health benefits: Along with tea’s great taste, the beverage can also deliver myriad health benefits. Some teas help in a pinch when you have a cold. Low-caffeine options are a common way to wean off coffee. Long-term benefits exist too, like lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more. After a little research, health benefits can be just another bonus with your favorite cup of tea.