Tea, glorious tea. It’s the world’s favorite drink after water, representing a $10 billion industry in the US and $38.8 billion industry worldwide. With so many kinds of tea and their benefits, this popularity is rightly deserved. Before we look at some of the top types of tea, let’s explore where this hot favorite comes from.
The World of Tea
Tea has been drunk and shared as a beverage for thousands of years. Legend has it that the Chinese emperor and herbalist, Shennong, discovered tea by accident in 2737 BC. He liked to drink his water boiled, and one day the dried leaves of a nearby plant fell into his cup. However, the drink was still considered purely medicinal until around 300 BC.
Drinking tea became fashionable in Britain in the 17th century. However, it was expensive to import so commonly was smuggled to avoid paying customs fees. These illegal teas would contain dry leaves of other plants and pieces of bark to increase profit. Tea taxes were lowered to combat this trade, and in fact, tea bags were invented partly to regulate the supply.
Since this surge into the mainstream, and following a social movement to replace liquor as the working classes’ standard drink, tea shops opened up, and tea has been a firm favorite ever since. Turkey actually consumes the most tea in the world, with an average of seven pounds per person every year.
While Turkey grows one-fifth of the world’s supply to keep up with demand, two other countries dominate. Tea may have been born in China, but India is the other giant of production, with their tea trade second only to tourism. The industry there was actually created by the British to rival China’s monopoly.
Now we’ve found out where tea comes from, let’s look at some of the top types of tea and perhaps discover which is the most popular tea in the world.
Types of Tea
With so many kinds of tea available, you might be surprised to find out that there are only really five types of tea. These are those from the Camellia sinensis plant:
The variety depends on how the leaves are treated after picking. These are the only “true teas”, anything else among the many common tea flavors is actually a herbal or plant infusion. These are sometimes called “tisanes”, but for ease, we can call all these drinks what the world knows them best as – tea.
Within these “true” and herbal teas, different types emerge according to further treatment and where the plants are grown. With so many available, you might be asking yourself, what is the best kind of tea? Let’s explore the wonderful world of the most popular teas.
Most Popular Teas In The World
Black tea, in general, is perhaps the most famous tea in the world and as one of these, Darjeeling is the top Indian tea. It has a light, nutty flavor as compared to the bold and robust taste of other black teas.
Black tea is the most processed of the true teas, being harvested, withered, rolled, oxidized and dried. Its color comes from the enzymes reacting with oxygen, having been exposed during the rolling process.
Darjeeling tea can only come from its West Bengal region, leading to its nickname as the “champagne of teas”. It is plucked over the spring and summer months during successive “flushes”, each lending a different strength of flavor to the tea.
2. English Breakfast
Perhaps unsurprisingly, English Breakfast is the most popular tea in England. In the UK, 84% of people drink some kind of tea or infusion – that’s 165 million cups per day! Much of this is a blend of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan black tea which makes up English Breakfast.
English Breakfast tea actually began in neighboring Scotland, but Queen Victoria liked it so much that she brought it back over the border during the 19th century.
Traditionally drunk with milk and sugar to cut its strength, English Breakfast tea has a rich and hearty flavor.
When it comes to the kinds of tea and their benefits, green tea comes out on top. In terms of processing, it is harvested, withered and dried immediately to prevent oxidation and retain its natural green color and nutrients.
Green tea has been found to have a high concentration of antioxidants and polyphenols – the highest of a variety called catechins among the true teas. These have been found to help reduce the risk of cancer, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure.
Matcha has the unique form of a fine powder, which is actually brewed into the tea, not strained. As the leaves are actually consumed, matcha contains a particularly high concentration of the antioxidants and nutrients associated with green tea.
Chai is not only one of the most popular types of Indian tea, but one of the country’s favorite drinks overall. This milky, sugary, spiced beverage is drunk all day long in India.
The word ‘chai’ actually just means tea, but it has come to signify this best flavored hot tea. Chai often has the Indian teas Assam and Darjeeling as a base, but can, in fact, be made with most black, and even some green teas.
Chai is made by boiling milk, water, and tea leaves together until they form a milky-brown liquid. It is then loaded with spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves; and sweetened with honey or sugar for this staple, comforting drink.
5. Earl Grey
Earl Grey is another popular tea in England. According to the story, it was created by Twinings in 1831 for the then Prime Minister, Earl Grey.
The tea base can be made with most black varieties but traditionally it’s a blend of Indian tea and Ceylon. Added to this is bergamot – a citrus fruit like a blend of orange, lemon, and grapefruit.
Earl Grey tea is best served without milk or sugar. A slice of lemon is the perfect complement to its smoky, fragrant, citrus tones.
Jasmine is one of the most common tea flavors and the most popular type of tea in China. It has a delicate aroma and a light flavor, making a refreshing cup that can be drunk all day.
The base for jasmine tea is usually made from green leaves, but oolong, black or white can be used. The leaves are flavored with jasmine petals for the tea’s slightly sweet taste.
Chamomile is perhaps one of the top teas in the world, especially when it comes to herbal varieties. It is known for its calming and soothing properties.
The tea is made from the edible flowers of the Matricaria chamomilla plant. It has a smooth, floral flavor and is a favorite among many for a caffeine-free hot beverage.
Besides its versatility, chamomile tea has been shown to help with relaxation, is a particularly good option for bedtime. Not only this, but there are studies on how it may relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
8. Oolong Tea
Oolong is one of the five true teas. It is known as the happy medium between green and black tea. Taiwan is one of the main producers of this most popular tea.
The oolong leaves are harvested and oxidized for a selected amount of time, leading to partial oxidation of between 8 and 80%. They are then rolled into long spindles and pan-fried to extract the oil and flavors.
The wide range of oolong’s potential oxidation means that it comes in lots of common tea flavors. It can be sharp and fruity or earthy – this woodsy flavor increasing with oxidation. Popular types of oolong include Goddess of Mercy, Red Robe and Dan Cong.
9. Yerba Mate
Yerba Mate, a herbal infusion, is one of the top types of tea. It may not be as well-known outside South America, but it’s a favorite there for its believed health and healing benefits.
Unlike many teas, Yerba Mate contains high amounts of caffeine, so is a great alternative to coffee. It is used to celebrate community in its natives Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. This tea is said to aid weight loss and improve blood flow.
Yerba Mate also has an interesting serving method – it is drunk through a straw out of a rounded wooden cup called a gourd. The tea is said to be an acquired taste, its bitterness attributed to caffeine.
Rooibos is one of the most popular teas, especially among herbal varieties. Like many other infusions, it is believed to be beneficial for health.
The rooibos is a plant, its name meaning “red bush”, from the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa. There is a rarer, more expensive green variety but red is one of the most common tea flavors.
Enjoying the Top Teas in the World
Even after that cupful of goodness filled with the top teas in the world, there are still so many other common tea flavor favorites. Some others to try are long-aged pu’er, silky white, mint, and lapsang souchong tea, to name a few.
What is clear is that this firm favorite the world over has much more to offer than just great flavors. There is growing research into the health benefits to this thousand-year-old tradition. With such a range of styles and flavors, you’re sure to find the best kind of tea for you.
What’s your best-flavored hot tea?
Tell us about your favorite cup in the comments below!