A Beginner’s Guide to Tea

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

For all of you people looking to expand your taste buds beyond your non-negotiable cup of joe: If you haven’t already noticed, the tea trade is booming. According to the Tea Association of the USA, tea sales have nearly quadrupled since 1990. If you’re new to the benefits of tea and wondering where to get started, check out our brief introduction to the rich, nuanced world of tea.

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White tea is the lightest and most delicate of all types of tea. This is the least processed of all teas and has high levels of antioxidants and low caffeine. The youngest, freshest leaves are simply plucked and dried, so there’s no time for oxidation. If the idea of a subtler flavor appeals to you, you might find your best match in white. It offers a fragrant and sweet taste at any time of the day.

Brew time: For best results, steep for two minutes.


Green Tea, similar to black, is one of the most popular types of tea worldwide, and very popular in Asia. Within the green tea world, there’s a wide range of flavor and color, from Chinese green tea, which is yellowish in color and has a toasted taste, or Japanese green tea that has a darker color and tastes more grassy. Green tea undergoes slightly more processing than white tea and has a little more caffeine. The leaves are heated before they’re rolled, then dried. Still very little oxidation, but that extra step brings out more natural flavor.

Brew time: Similar to white tea, green tea is best brewed no longer than two minutes, or the taste turns bitter.


Oolong tea occupies the middle ground between green tea and black tea and is distinguished by highly complex fruit, spice and floral aromas. Bruising or tearing the leaves results in partial oxidation, and a cup with fuller body and richer color. The tea, commonly served in Chinese restaurants, has a seductive floral aroma and smooth finish.

Brew time: Oolong, a heartier tea, fares best with a 3-5 minute brewing period.


Black tea gets its name from the relatively lengthy oxidation period (several hours) that makes it leaves dark. Its color shows up in the cup in pale sienna and red-orange tones. Black tea flavors can be differentiated by region more so than other teas, such as Darjeeling, Assam, and Ceylon. The leaves are rolled and given plenty of time to oxidize before being fired. Black teas are rich, bold, complex and strong and more popular in the West.

Brew time: Same as oolong; 3-5 minutes for optimal taste.


Chai teas originate from India and are dark (typically made with a black tea base) and full of flavor. In addition to tea leaves, chai tea also includes other aromatic herbs and spices, such as cardamom, ginger and cloves that lead to a spicy full-bodied tea experience.

Brew time: Five minutes to bring out the robustness of all the spices.


Herbal teas can run the gamut between Tulsi, mint, and chamomile to fruit and flower flavors. The distinguishing quality of herbal teas is that they contain no caffeine. This category also includes rooibos, a type of reddish herb tea that is acquired from the aspalathus linearis bush plant that is found in South Africa.

Brew time: Can be brewed longer for a stronger taste without turning bitter.