Written by Julie
Reading time 8 minHow to choose the right tea? When it comes to choosing tea, it’s easy to get lost among the bewildering range of different brands, “flavours” and styles on offer. But fear not, for today I’m going to tell you all you need to know in order to choose the right tea for you! I started my own tea journey out of curiosity, and without knowing too much about it. I just began trying out new flavours: some I liked, some I hated, and many were a complete surprise. And that’s the great thing about it, for me at least: the joy of discovery! But enough about me. Without further ado, let’s set off on our exploration of the colourful world of tea.
A short history of tea
Regardless of the variety – be it green, black or oolong – all tea comes from a plant species known as Camellia Sinensis. It was first brought to Europe by the Dutch in the 17th century. These days, the infusion of tea leaves in water, above all in the form of black tea, is one of the most consumed drinks in the world. For their part, the Japanese are by far the biggest consumers of green tea. For many of us, tea is a relaxing and sociable drink. Whether you subscribe to the “quicker the better” tea philosophy or prefer a meticulously prepared infusion, it can be hard sometimes to know which of all the different tea styles and origins to choose. Does this ring a bell? Do you find yourself getting lost among the vast expanse of tea available? Well, here are a few pointers to help you on your way:
Choosing your tea: full-bodied, strong or subtle?
Natural teas are made up of 100% tea leaves and nothing else. More often than not, infusions of natural teas present very recognisable tasting notes (in terms of both aroma and flavour). And aromatic strength, body and tannin levels are actually all determined by several different factors related to the provenance of the tea: terroir, altitude, soil, climate, country and oxidation method.
Types of tea
More often than not, black tea (which is completely oxidised) offers a very full-bodied infusion in comparison with green tea (slightly oxidised), which has more vegetal notes and a slight astringency. Oolong tea (semi-fermented) is full of body and presents a hint of chestnut on the palate. Lastly, white tea (not oxidized), is the most delicate and freshest category of tea.
A question of “terroir”
The geographic origin of the tea leaves has a significant impact on their flavour: for example, black tea grown at low altitude in Assam or Kenya is the most robust, giving off powerful aromas that envelop your palate while also retaining a certain fullness of body. On the other hand, Darjeeling tea grown in the foothills of the Himalayas has a more subtle, delicate flavour. Chinese and Japanese green teas are also more subtle on the palate and offer a hint of bitterness. There are also natural tea blends that offer either more balanced or, on the contrary, more distinctive flavours. For example English Breakfast tea, originally a blend of Assam (for its strength), Ceylon (for its body) and Darjeeling (for its delicacy), is the ideal choice for all lovers of strong, tannic tea. It goes perfectly with a splash of milk. The same goes for English blend and African Breakfast: the key is to select a tea that matches your personal preferences!
Earl Grey, Mint Tea and Beyond
Flavoured tea is created by suffusing tea leaves with taste agents (both natural and synthetic): pieces of fruit, flower petals, essential oils, leaves, spices… The best known are the famous Earl Grey, a blend of black tea and bergamot oil, and mint tea, which is traditionally consumed in North African countries, often very hot and very sweet. Different flavoured teas can be split into categories:
Gourmet teas: vanilla, caramel, chocolate…
Fruit teas: red fruits, exotic fruits, orchard fruits…
Floral teas: jasmine, rose, lavender…
Spicy teas: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom…
There is a huge range of flavoured teas, which can be confusing and makes it difficult to choose the right tea for you. My advice: try as many as you can.
Is there pesticide in my tea?
Please bear in mind that tea leaves are never rinsed (from the moment they grow until they reach your cup), since this would alter the tea’s flavour. Therefore, if a field has been treated with pesticide, it stands to reason that there may be traces of it in your drink. There are several ways to approach this:
Firstly, you can try out organic tea. More and more tea producers around the world are moving towards organic farming methods. Tea from Japan tends to have a lower concentration of pesticide content, since Japanese fields are among the least treated in the world.
By choosing tea grown at smaller farms, you can more easily trace its provenance and find out which cultivation methods were used in its production.
Some tea brands have starting making reports available (on request) that provide more information on each batch of tea. Dammann Frères, George Cannon and Comptoir Français du Thé are among those who are committed to giving us a clearer idea of whether or not there are pesticides in their teas.
Tea for Breakfast?
Tea can be consumed at any time, but there are some teas that are particularly suited to certain moments in the day. The main reason why your should choose the right tea and time of day, is that you’re more likely to fully appreciate it. Remember that these are just suggestions, however: everyone is free to enjoy a tea whenever and wherever they please.
Assam is the perfect way to ensure an invigorating start to the day! Its natural strength, fullness of body and rich flavour will give you just the kick you need in the morning. Other blends such as English Breakfast – combining the strength of Assam, the body of Ceylon and the sweetness of Darjeeling – would also do the trick. If you’re looking for a flavoured tea, a “gourmet” option (with chocolate, caramel or vanilla notes) serves as a perfectly able substitute for a bowl of hot chocolate.
If you’re looking for something to accompany a brunch, smoked tea fits the bill perfectly. Lapsang souchong goes well with both sweet and savoury dishes, as does Pu’Erh tea. To drink alongside a more traditional lunch, you may wish to try a green tea with vegetal notes and a hint of astringency. And after a heavy meal, a mint tea bursting with antioxidants will ease your digestion (just so long as you don’t add any sugar).
A subtle and refreshing white tea is the perfect way to quench your thirst throughout the day. Floral and fruity teas are another way to get a quick pick-me-up if you’re feeling drowsy. When it comes to an afternoon snack, gourmet teas go very well with sweet treats. Naturally sweet and full of body, Ceylon and Oolong teas go deliciously well with chocolate and biscuits.
In order to avoid insomnia or sleep disturbance, it’s best to stick to Rooibos and Carcadet in the evening. They’re not technically teas, since they contain neither theine nor tannins. But this means they can be consumed without affecting the quality of your sleep, and will even help you to wind down at the end of a long day.
Great tea at affordable prices!
It’s true that the rarest and most exceptional teas tend to have a price to match. And it’s no less true that, in the current economic climate, people are understandably shying away from spending crazy amounts of money just for the pleasure of tasting new teas. However, there is one rule to follow to ensure the quality of the product you’re buying: be sure to stick to whole loose leaf tea (unless you’re buying broken leaf tea). Although it may be cheaper, it’s best to avoid broken tea sold in bags, which is often of lower quality. If you’re working on a tight budget, Chinese teas are a safe bet. They offer better value for money than more expensive options from Japan. Flavoured teas are also cheaper because they are often made from a blend (of Chinese and Japanese leaves). If you’re a fan of Darjeeling, bear in mind that the first flush (meaning the first harvest) will be more expensive because it’s more sought-after and of higher quality. Tea that grows at high altitude (like tea from Taiwan) is more delicate and rarer, which is also reflected in its higher price.
That’s all for my quick tour around the different varieties that make up the complex world of tea! Obviously, the best way to choose the right tea is by tasting as much as you can! With that in mind, I point you in the direction of the vast selection of teas available on our website. Don’t forget that, to make a delicious and richly flavourful tea, you’ll also need to have a good kettle and to stick to the advised water temperature and infusion time given for each type of tea. Please share your own preferences with us in the comments section below, and feel free to browse our vast range of loose leaf tea, boxed tea, tea bags and tea gift sets.