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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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, 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, Matcha Konomi's Akira Organic Ceremonial Matcha should be your go-to choice. It’s all-natural and 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.
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 and high antioxidant count. 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 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
Best Loose Leaf Tea: Harney & Sons Paris Flavored Black Tea
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.
Best for a Sore Throat: Traditional Medicinals Organic Throat Coat Seasonal Tea
Licorice flavor not for everyone
Nothing feels better for a sore throat than a warm cup of tea, and Traditional Medicinals makes the most 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
Best Chai: Vahdam Teas Original Masala Chai Tea Loose Leaf
Value for money
Packaging keeps tea fresh
Other chai varieties available
Loose leaf only
Some say high caffeine content
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 all natural 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.
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 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.
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 of the best tea’s to enjoy before bed is Tradtional Medicinals Organic Nighty Night Extra Relaxation Valerian Tea.
Research indicates that the herb valerian can help people fall asleep a little earlier and even improve sleep quality, especially if used consistently over time. That’s why 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 for best results.
There are two things to keep in mind, however. First, several benefits claimed to come from valerian consumption are not generally supported by the health community—reduced anxiety being one of them. Second, 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 because of its noticeable effects on getting a good night’s sleep.
The best tea will always depend on personal preference, but Twinings English Breakfast (view at Amazon) 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 (view at The Republic of 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 (view at Amazon)—by consulting articles published by Verywell Health, WebMD, and Healthline. His selection of Matcha Konomi Akira Organic Ceremonial Matcha (view at Amazon) was informed by researching the different grades of matcha.
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. 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.
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.
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.