The wonderful world of tea can be a daunting place for a newcomer, yet it needn’t be. When people ask me for tea advice, I always ask this first question:
Caffeinated or non-caffeinated?
All forms of true tea, that is, the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant all contain caffeine. While some teas may contain higher caffeine than others, it’s not safe to generalize the caffeine content of tea types. For more info on tea and caffeine, read this.
If you’d like to avoid caffeine, it’s best to stick with an herbal infusion (called a tisane). Herbs steeped like tea, but are not tea, that are naturally caffeine-free are: Rooibos, Honeybush, mints (peppermint, spearmint, catnip), fruit, and flowers (chamomile, lavender, rose petals).
Tisanes that resemble coffee or malty breakfast teas are dandelion root, chicory, burdock, and/or roasted barley. For an energizing kick, perhaps add a touch of ground maca root.
Honeybush is also naturally caffeine-free and goes well with milk and honey.
There are also the options of green or black tea that have gone through the decaffeination process.
If you are selecting tea for the health benefits, always choose high-quality teas. It’s important to know the source of your tea to avoid environmental toxins.
All teas are abundant in antioxidants, including black teas, yet the minimally processed teas like white teas and shade-grown green teas will retain more antioxidants. Again, while it is easy to generalize, tea is chemically complex, and some of the health benefits are dependent on the way tea is prepared at home (including antioxidant activity!)
Some options to consider are Silver Needle white tea, gyokuro, and matcha.
Shade-grown teas like gyokuro and matcha also contain higher levels of L-Theanine, an amino acid that promotes a sense of alertness and relaxation. L-Theanine also promotes alpha brain wave activity.
White teas will have more delicate herbaceous flavors, sometimes with fruit or floral notes.
The flavors of green tea are dependent on the processing style.
Japanese green teas that are sweet vegetal and grassy: sencha, kukicha, gyokuro, and matcha. Japanese green teas that are heartier, with roasted qualities: genmaicha (contains roasted rice), bancha, and hojicha.
Chinese green teas with hints of smoke are Gunpowder and Chun Mee.
The flavor of oolongs differs widely. Iron Goddess (or Ti Guan Yin or Ti Kwan Yin depending on who you talk to) and Monkey-Picked oolongs will have brighter green and floral flavors. In contrast, Big Red Robe is bold, with rich rock mineral, and pit fruit flavors.
Black tea tends to be bold and hearty, yet a first-flush Darjeeling can be delicate and floral.
Citrusy black teas like Ceylon work well as iced teas, as well as smooth black teas with undetectable astringency such as Nilgiri.
Assam black tea is full-bodied, malty, and can set a firm foundation to spices and milk.
Royal Golden Yunnan is also malty, with chocolate and caramel notes, as is Golden Monkey.
Pu-erh is a whole other world of flavors, but if you are new and adventurous, I’ll say go for it!