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- Tea is the most popular beverage in the world after water. It’s also one of the oldest, and it’s the center of a wide range of traditions all around the globe.
- There’s a variety of tea that’s perfect for every time of the day from the first cup of the morning to your before-bed relaxation brew.
- Because there are so many different types of tea out there, we gathered up a collection of the 10 best teas to carry you through the entire day.
- Our top picks include teas from Bigelow, Vahdam Teas, Guayaki, Twinnings, Harney & Sons, Tealyra, Celestial Seasonings, and Traditional Medicinals.
All true teas, including black, green, white, and oolong, are brewed from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. This evergreen shrubby tree is native to China, where tea originated several thousand years ago, but now grows in many areas of the world, especially in semi-tropical climates.
The leaves take on a slightly different flavor depending on where they are grown, and there are quite a few cultivators of Camellia sinensis as well, each with its own unique characteristics, so although all tea is from the same plant, there are seemingly endless varieties to choose from.
There are four main categories of true tea. While all are made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, they differ in the way the leaves are processed.
- Black tea, the most common and popular type in the west, is brewed from withered, oxidized (exposed to oxygen to break down the plant’s cells), and dried tea leaves. It’s dark in color, strong in flavor, and contains roughly 60-90 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce cup. By comparison, coffee has approximately 100 milligrams of caffeine per cup.
- Green tea is not oxidized but simply withered and dried, producing a pale gold or green tea with a mild flavor. There’s around 35-70 milligrams of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup. Matcha is made from powdered green tea leaves.
- White tea is the least processed. The leaves are picked and dried without first withering. White tea has a delicate, fresh flavor and roughly 30-50 milligrams of caffeine per cup.
- Oolong tea is somewhere between black and green tea in flavor and caffeine content. It’s only partially oxidized before it’s dried, and the leaves are often rolled or stretched.
Note that herbal brews, while commonly called herbal teas, aren’t technically tea at all, but rather, herbal infusions. And of course, there are several other plants brewed into “teas,” including yerba mate and rooibos.
As a tea enthusiast, I would be remiss in not adding a caution that the water you use is nearly as important as the tea. For the very best results use filtered or pure bottled water rather than tap, which tends to unpleasantly alter the flavor of the brewed tea. And don’t pour boiling water over your teabag. You’ll get the best taste from water that’s below 200 degrees for most types of tea.
Here are the best teas you can buy:
- Best teas for early mornings: American Breakfast or Guayaki Traditional Yerba Mate
- Best teas for late morning: Twinings Irish Breakfast or Vahdam Original Chai
- Best afternoon teas: Harney & Sons Paris or Tealyra Imperial Dragon Jasmine Green Tea
- Best after-dinner teas: Harney & Sons Peppermint Herbal Tea or Decaffeinated Constant Comment
- Best before-bed teas: Tension Tamer or Organic Chamomile with Lavender
Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.
The best teas for your first cup of the morning
Why you’ll love them: Wake yourself up with a mug (or two) of Bigelow’s American Breakfast or Guayaki Traditional Yerba Mate.
When morning hits you hard, a cup of hot, steaming, liquid caffeine is the antidote. I’m a tea drinker. A big tea drinker. None of those dainty six-ounce teacups for me – I prefer my morning brew in a mug that holds at least 15 ounces. And the tea that is usually filling up that mug is American Breakfast from Bigelow.
This strong black tea is basically English Breakfast, but with 50% more caffeine. That gives American Breakfast the same kick as a cup of coffee. The extra caffeine is from concentrated black tea extract, it’s not an artificial additive.
While it’s a classic black tea, with the characteristic somewhat malty flavor, American Breakfast lacks any unpleasant bitterness. Even if I forget to take the teabag out at the five-minute mark, it tastes great. I prefer mine with sugar and half- &-half, but a squeeze of lemon is also good. It’s also a delicious iced tea, if you prefer a chilled beverage.
If you want a naturally caffeinated alternative to black tea or coffee, give Guayaki Traditional Yerba Mate (pronounce it yer-bah mah-tay) a try. Yerba mate is a traditional drink of South America, where the shrubby yerba mate tree thrives.
For many outside South America, yerba mate is something of an acquired taste. Newcomers to the drink often describe it as tasting like smoky grass, or as earthy. But once you take to it, you’ll appreciate the smooth kick of the caffeine – around 30 to 40 milligrams per cup – which doesn’t give you the jitters or an after-caffeine crash.
Steep it no more than five minutes to avoid bitterness. Many people add honey, sugar, or agave to sweeten the brew, and a dash of milk is another option. It’s also good iced.
Guayaki Traditional Yerba Mate is organically grown in South America and fair-trade certified.
The best teas for late morning
Why you’ll love them: Looking for a pick-me-up before lunchtime, or a clear head to help you tackle a tough work project? That’s exactly what you’ll get with Twinings Irish Breakfast or Vahdam Original Chai.
When it’s time to sit down at my desk and start writing, my “coworker” is generally a mug of Twinings Irish Breakfast. This bold and just a bit smoky brew is a mixture of Assam, Kenyan, Chinese, and Indonesian teas, creating a smooth, strong, traditional black tea flavor.
It has enough caffeine to clear my head without any jitters and tastes wonderful with a bit of sugar and a splash of milk. A squeeze of lemon is another option, as is icing the tea on a hot day. I let it steep for five minutes, which produces strong flavor and dark color without bitterness.
If chai tea is your thing, you’ll love the traditional flavor of Vahdam Original Chai. Chai is the favored drink of India, where Assam black tea grows. While recipes vary, the typical blend of spices that give the tea its characteristic flavor include cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, and cloves. Vahdam Original Chai is grown and packaged in India and is certified fair-trade.
The authentic way to make chai tea is to boil the tea in one part milk to two parts water, but you can just as easily use water alone, or steep the tea in water the usual way, and then add milk once it’s ready (my preference). The rich spice flavor is perfect on its own, or you can add just a little bit of sugar to heighten the taste. So good. It makes a perfect chai latte, as well.
The best afternoon teas
Why you’ll love them: A flavorful blend like Harney & Sons Paris or Tealyra Imperial Dragon Jasmine Green Tea is just the thing to overcome that afternoon slump.
You don’t have to be English to love the tradition of afternoon tea. I don’t always have an afternoon cup of tea, but when I do, these days it’s usually Harney & Sons Paris.
The wonderfully smooth and creamy flavor almost makes me feel like I’m sitting at a little café in France, instead of my much more humdrum desk in California. Paris is a black tea enlivened with a touch of vanilla and caramel, as well as the lightest touch of citrus. The result? A complex-and-yet-delicate flavor that’s the perfect accompaniment to a cookie or biscuit.
As with all my teas, I like to add a bit of sugar and half & half, but this is a delicious tea all on its own. Packaged in a silky sachet, rather than the usual paper teabag, the tea brews to perfection in just five minutes or so.
Green tea sweetly scented and flavored with jasmine blossoms is a favorite drink in Asia, especially China, and Tealyra’s Imperial Dragon Jasmine Green Tea makes the perfect cup of this traditional brew. Like all green teas, it’s somewhat delicate in flavor, with a fresh, uplifting taste and a wonderful fragrance. Brew it with water that’s hot but not boiling, and let it steep for just three or four minutes for the best flavor.
The teabags contain tea “pearls,” which are small balls of rolled tea leaves. They’ll unfurl as the tea steeps. Tealyra’s tea is organically grown, and is best enjoyed without any additional sweetener or milk, although it that’s your preference, have at it.
The best after-dinner teas
Why you’ll love them: You can’t go wrong with a cup of Harney & Sons Peppermint Herbal Tea or Decaffeinated Constant Comment – neither will keep you up past bedtime.
A cup of tea is the perfect ending to a delicious meal. But stay away from caffeine this late in the day.
Peppermint’s tummy-soothing properties have been valued for hundreds of years, to say nothing of its refreshing flavor and aroma. That’s why my favorite after-dinner drink is a cup of Harney & Sons Peppermint Herbal Tea. This isn’t a brew for those who aren’t crazy about peppermint – it’s strong stuff.
Let it steep for just five minutes, and wow, what a fragrant and minty cup of perfection. Add some honey, squeeze in a bit of lemon, or drink it straight – it’s delicious whichever you choose. And of course, it’s naturally decaffeinated, so no disturbed sleep.
Sometimes, however, only a cup of black tea will do, even though it’s late in the day. When those times strike, my favorite blend is the tried-and-true goodness of Decaffeinated Constant Comment from Bigelow.
A black tea flavored with orange rind, cinnamon, and other spices, Constant Comment is a warming, comforting cup of spicy-sweet tea. It doesn’t really need any additions, but if you want it a little bit sweeter and creamier, add some sugar and milk. For true happiness, enjoy your tea with a cookie or two. Mmm.
The best before-bed teas
- Traditional Medicinals
Why you’ll love them: When you sip a cup of Tension Tamer or Organic Chamomile with Lavender, you’ll feel your troubles melt away and your brain gently shift into ready-for-sleep mode.
A cup of herbal tea with relaxing properties is the perfect addition to your bedtime routine.
Tension Tamer from Celestial Seasonings is a unique blend of several herbs that are said to aid with relaxation and stress relief, including eleuthera (Siberian ginseng), peppermint, cinnamon, ginger, chamomile, licorice, and catnip. The result is a fragrant, pleasant tea that isn’t too strong or too sweet, but hits the spot with a bit of honey.
I let mine steep for 10 minutes – less, and you’ll get a weak cup of tea. It’s a very pleasant way to end my day and a nice accompaniment to curling up on the couch with the hubby to watch an episode of whatever our current favorite show is.
For a switch, I sometimes turn to Traditional Medicinals Organic Chamomile with Lavender. While there are many herbs that are said to promote sleep and calmness, few are as backed up with hard science as lavender and chamomile. If you’re wondering what lavender tastes like, the answer is that it tastes pretty much the way it smells.
A 10-minute steep produces a cup of tea with a mild, floral flavor that tastes best with a teaspoon of honey. Such a nice close to a busy day.