teas include, clockwise from top left, pu-erh, sencha,
oolong, gunpowder, darjeeling and Assam.
cooler weather coming, warmer beverages sound better every
day. Still, you can drink only so much coffee, and some of
us are perhaps already a little, um, over-caffeinated. Maybe
it’s time to consider a cup of tea, the world’s
second-most-popular beverage (after water), according to the
Tea Association of the U.S.A., with about one-third of
hundreds of teas out there, you might reasonably conclude
that they must come from many different plants. Fact is, all
tea actually comes from one plant: Camellia sinensis, a
species of evergreen that grows worldwide in warmer
climates. Tea’s wonderful variety results from the terroir
— where the plant grows — and the way the leaves are
processed. All tea leaves start out green and become darker
as they oxidize, a process that brings out and concentrates
are six classic teas to check out:
If you’re transitioning to drinking less coffee and more
tea, Assam is a good gateway beverage that’s hearty and
deep-flavored. Named after its home region in northeastern
India, this malty brew is used in Irish and German breakfast
teas, an indication of its potential, like coffee, to
A reddish-black Chinese tea from Yunnan province, pu-erh is
aged, hardening as it dries, then pressed into regular
shapes for shipping. Like wine, pu-erh improves with age.
You’ll sometimes see vintages on the packaging, and
because pu-erh’s so dry, you can hold it for a little
longer than most teas, and it may even continue to improve
A product of West Bengal, India, darjeeling is usually a
black tea, but when the leaves are very young, they can be
used to make a white tea, which is much lighter in taste.
Compared with Assam and pu-erh, Darjeeling tea leaves yield
a lighter liquor, with a flowery nose and slight
A rich, fresh-tasting green tea from Japan with low
astringency, sencha, as with most green teas, can be
re-infused two or more times. Aficionados appreciate the
changes the tea goes through after each successive infusion.
Several types of tea may be called "gunpowder,"
which refers to the tight balls into which the tea is
sometimes rolled to preserve the fresh taste of the tender
leaves. This is rare green tea, sometimes with a grayish
cast and an almost sweet aroma and taste.
Kind of a cross between green and black tea, oolong leaves
are more oxidized than green, less oxidized than black,
which means it’s somewhat stronger and more astringent
than green tea but less strong and astringent than black
tea. If you usually prefer black tea, oolong is a fine place
to start experiencing what green tea offers.
good teas come in bags, and we’ve liked Rishi and Mighty
Leaf, both available at Whole Foods. We prefer to shop for
whole leaf tea at smaller tea shops, where you can discuss
personal preferences with the tea merchant.
brew whole leaf tea, use a tea ball or preformed tea bags
(T-Sac is a reliable brand). Fill about halfway, so that all
the leaves will be exposed to water.
tea and oolong require boiling water and should be steeped
3-5 minutes; if your black tea is getting too strong, don’t
steep it less time; rather, use less tea because adequate
steeping in boiled hot water is needed to bring out black
tea’s flavors. Green tea requires not-quite-boiling water,
175-180 degrees, and should be steeped about 2 minutes.
White tea is steeped at a lower temperature — 160 degrees
or so — for 7-10 minutes.
are a lot of teas out there, and it could be a long winter,
so you’ll have plenty of time to learn about teas as you
enjoy their immense, incredible variety.