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The history of tea is murky as a splash of milk in Earl Grey, but its most popular origin story traces back more than 5,000 years, to ancient China. 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 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.
A great cup is not only about finding great tea, but also knowing how to brew tea properly. "Mistakes with brewing tea usually involve time, temperature, or water-to-tea ratio," said Shunan Teng, Founder and CEO of Tea Drunk, which specializes in rare Chinese teas. "This means brewing for too long or too short; using an incorrect temperature; or using too much or too little tea. Being mindful of all three factors will help people develop their tea-brewing techniques."
From bagged to loose leaf, green tea to black, here are the best teas to buy.
Best Black Tea: Twinings of London English Breakfast Tea
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 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 its English Breakfast blend in boxes of 20, 50, and 100 tea bags. The brand also offers tea in loose leaf and K-Cup varieties, so you can enjoy a cup no matter how you brew.
Form: Tea bags, loose leaf, and K-Cups | Size: 4, 20, 50, and 100 tea bags | Origin: Kenya, Indonesia, Assam, Malawi, and China | Caffeinated: Yes
Best Green Tea: The Republic of Tea Honey Ginseng Green Tea
Comes in storage tin
Low caffeine content
On the pricier end
The Republic of Tea Honey Ginseng Green Tea makes a tasty cup. This blend has 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.
This green tea comes at an affordable price and in a variety of options, including a 50-bag tin and a 250-bag bulk option. You can drink this blend hot or iced.
Form: Tea bags | Size: 6, 50, and 250 tea bags | Origin: China | Caffeinated: Yes
According to Shunan Teng, the founder and CEO of Tea Drunk, one tip for making better tea at home is to use hotter water for high-quality tea and lower-temperature water for subpar tea. "Hotter temperatures bring out the flavors in better tea," she says, "and lower temperatures dilute the flaws in lower-quality tea. With bad tea, the bitterness and astringency would come out with higher temperatures."
Best Matcha: Matcha Konomi Akira Organic Ceremonial Matcha
From Uji region of Japan
Also great for lattes
Not highest grade
Matcha has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years, gaining attention for its taste 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, Matcha Konomi's Akira Organic Ceremonial Matcha should be your go-to choice. It’s packed with flavor.
The leaves are sourced from the lush the Uji region 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 large 1-pound bag.
Form: Powder | Size: 30, 100, and 454 grams | Origin: Uji, Kyoto (Japan) | Caffeinated: Yes
Best Gift Option: Palais des Thés Around the World Set
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 10 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.
Form: Loose leaf | Size: Box includes 10 tubes with 2 ounces of tea each | Origin: Varies by tea | Caffeinated: Yes
Best Herbal: Harney & Sons Organic Rooibos Herbal Tea
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 too much caffeine, this Rooibos blend from Harney & Sons is an excellent fit.
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.
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.
Form: Tea bags, sachets, and loose leaf | Size: 20 tea bags | Origin: South Africa | Caffeinated: No
Best White Tea: Tealyra Bai Hao Yin Zhen Silver Needle Loose Leaf Tea
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. One of the most highly praised white teas on the market comes from Tealyra. Its 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 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.
Form: Loose leaf | Size: 25, 50, 100, 200, and 400 grams | Origin: Fujian Province, China | Caffeinated: Yes
"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
Best Loose Leaf Tea: Harney & Sons Paris Flavored Black Tea
Comes in storage tin
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.
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 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.
Form: Tea bags, sachets, and loose leaf | Size: 4, 7, and 16 ounces | Origin: India, Taiwan, and China | Caffeinated: Yes
Best Chai: Vahdam Teas Original Masala Chai Tea Loose Leaf
Value for money
Packaging keeps tea fresh
Other chai varieties available
Caffeine content too high for some
Masala chai, meaning “spiced tea,” is an ancient drink that dates back thousands of years to the Indian subcontinent. Made from black tea leaves, its flavors can range from sweet to creamy to spicy. Today, the beverage and all of its wonderful variations, from chai lattes to dirty chai, are popular in coffeehouses around the world.
Those who want to make the drink at home can’t go wrong with the Vahdam Teas Original Masala Chai Tea. This loose-leaf blend uses spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and black pepper to procure a bold and delicious taste. The item is typically sold in 3.53-ounce bags, which yields about 50 cups. Many happy customers recommend adding a splash of milk for the fully authentic chai experience.
Vahdam Teas was formed in India over 80 years ago and sells a variety of other chai options, including unique flavors like Ginger Chai and Earl Grey Chai. While prices vary, this Original Chai is the most affordable and most popular choice.
Form: Tea bags and loose leaf | Size: 3.53 or 16 ounces | Origin: India | Caffeinated: Yes
Best for Bedtime: Traditional Medicinals Organic Nighty Night Extra Relaxation Valerian Tea
Easy to find
Several cups recommended for best results
Some tea drinkers enjoy a caffeinated cup early in the morning to get going, but many others prefer a soothing cup at night to unwind. One tea to sip before bed is Traditional Medicinals Organic Nighty Night Extra Relaxation Valerian Tea.
This widely available and caffeine-free tea has so many wonderful reviews. The brand recommends drinking two or three cups late in the day and at least one cup 30 minutes before bed.
There's one thing to keep in mind, however. This tea is certainly an acquired taste. Some customers don’t love the hints of mint and licorice, but they may continue drinking the tea anyway once it's part of their daily nighttime routine.
Form: Tea bags | Size: 16 tea bags | Origin: Herbs sourced from various locations | Caffeinated: No
What to Look for in Tea
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. Someone 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.
It may seem minor, but the form of your tea 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.
How do you make tea?
The first step in making a delicious cup of tea is to decide between using tea bags or loose leaf. With tea bags, the process is a little easier. Simply fill a kettle with cold water, bring to a boil (more on the best water temperatures for tea below), and pour the hot water directly over the tea bag into your mug. The amount of time you should let it steep depends on the type of tea you're brewing. Lighter teas like green, white, and oolong only need about one to three minutes. Black tea generally requires three to five minutes, while herbal and rooibos teas should steep anywhere from five to 10 minutes. After the right amount of time has elapsed, take out the tea bag and enjoy!
If you use loose-leaf tea instead, the steps are very similar: boil water, pour it over the tea, and let steep for the recommended time. The main difference is that you need to measure the right amount of loose leaf first. We recommend one teaspoon of loose-leaf tea for every six ounces of water. If you're making a full pot of tea, the general rule of thumb is one teaspoon of loose leaf per cup, plus one extra scoop.
What water temperature is best for brewing tea?
The best water temperature depends on the type of tea you are making. Gentler teas naturally taste best when brewed at lower temperatures, while bolder teas require hotter temperatures. White tea, for example, is best brewed with water that is 160 degrees. Green tea ranges from 150 to 180 degrees. Oolong is best around 190 degrees. Moving into the stronger teas, black tea ranges from 180 to 212 degrees. Finally, herbal teas sit around the 212-degree mark. Many electric kettles can be pre-programmed to reach a specific temperature, and some even come with designated buttons for different tea varieties.
How much caffeine is in tea?
It's not always easy to tell how much caffeine is in a cup of tea. Caffeine content varies depending on the type of tea—even two black teas can have disparate levels of caffeine—and how the tea is prepared. Water temperature, steep time, and the amount of tea used all affect caffeine content. On average, an 8-ounce cup of black tea contains around 50 milligrams of caffeine, which is roughly half a cup of coffee. Some black teas have as high as 120 milligrams of caffeine, however. Oolong averages slightly less caffeine than black tea at 40 milligrams per cup. Green tea ranges from 12 to 75 milligrams, with an average of around 30 milligrams. Some white teas have caffeine levels up to 75 milligrams, but the majority are between 15 to 20 milligrams. Finally, herbal tea is naturally caffeine-free.
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 researched the history of tea, types of tea, and tea sourcing. His selection of Matcha Konomi Akira Organic Ceremonial Matcha was informed by researching the different grades of matcha.
Shunan Teng is the founder and CEO of Tea Drunk and an avid tea educator. Tea Drunk was founded in 2013 and has a brick-and-mortar tea house in New York City. Its teaware and Chinese teas can be purchased online.