[Image by Flickr user mpieracci and used under the Creative Commons license.]

Look, coffee is great and all, but it just doesn’t hold a candle to the variety and flexibility of tea. I am a dyed in the wool tea drinker, and I can’t write a word without a cuppa. But tea can be tricky; just choosing the generic bagged tea off the shelf rarely results in a triumphant tea experience. Recently, we at GradHacker have posted guides for wine and coffee, and it is high time that delicious teas were given their due.

Equipment

Technically, all you need to make tea is hot water and a mug. Pour the water over the leaves (or the bag, if you choose to ruin tea forever), wait a minute, and voila! Delicious tea. However, having a few key pieces of equipment on hand will make your tea experience even better.

Tea Infuser: When drinking looseleaf tea, you need a way to immerse the leaves in the water without ending up with a mug full of sludge. There are a wide variety of infusers, from simple mesh balls to infuser spoons to infusers shaped like the Death Star. The kind of infuser you choose will depend on the type of tea you tend you prefer, as well as your own personal style. There are also teapots with infusers already in them, which are convenient, especially if you drink more than one cup at once, or are brewing for company.

Tea Kettle: Although you can boil your water in a pot on the stove, or stick your mug of water in the microwave, you a tea kettle can boil your water faster and will taste fresher. Electric or stove top are both good options, depending on what space you have!

Storage Tins :Airtight storage tins will keep your tea delicious longer, as tea generally loses flavour after 6 months. These are a must, particularly if you are only an occasional tea drinker. Teavana has many different sizes to suit your tea needs.

Timer: Different teas need to steep for different lengths of time. If a tea is steeped for too long, then it will become bitter or overpowering. Have a small kitchen timer on hand to make sure that you brew your tea just right!

Mug: You have to put the tea somewhere. May I suggest this BatMug?

Understanding your Tea

True teas are brewed from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, and contain small amounts of caffeine. The different varieties result from the ways that this plant is processed, blended, and prepared. White, green, oolong, and black teas are all examples of true teas. Herbal teas do not contain these leaves, and are instead made from a mix of other plants and herbs. Herbal teas are rarely caffeinated. Mate are high caffeine teas made from the yerba plant, which is actually a species of holly.

Loose leaf teas are generally preferable to bagged teas because they contain fuller leaves of higher quality, which leads to a more robust flavour, and are a must for any serious tea drinker.

Types of Tea

There are a number of different types of tea for you to try. Each kind of tea carries different benefits and tastes, and each tea should be brewed slightly differently.

Black teas are probably the teas that you are the most familiar with, and include English Breakfast, Orange Pekoe, Earl Grey, and Darjeeling. These are full bodied, strong teas with a small caffeine kick!
Brew Time: 2-3 minutes
You should try: Earl Grey Creme from Teavana

Green teas are light and delicious, and contain a host of health benefits, including anti-oxidants. It is delicious as iced tea, or with a splash of honey.
Brew Time: 1-2 minutes
You should try: Vanilla Green from Adagio

White teas are subtle, with delicate flavours that are great for mixing. They should be prepared with water that is not quite boiling.
Brew Time: 1-2 minutes
You should try: Drum Mountain White Cloud Tea from The Tea Table

Oolong teas, in addition to being delicious, contain small amounts of caffeiene, are often part of weight loss programs, and are the kind of tea you will most likely be served in Chinese Restaurants.
Brew Time: 2-3 minutes
You should try: Toasted Nut Brulee Oolong from Teavana

Chai teas are black teas which have been mixed with Indian spices, and are perfect during crisp fall weather. Chai teas are traditionally brewed in a pan of milk, but adding milk and sugar to your tea can get the same effect!
Brew Time: 3-4 minutes
You should try: Masala chai from Adagio

Herbal teas there are a wide variety of these, from sweet to spicy to fruity to chocolatey. These caffeine free teas are great before bed or when you’re feeling under the weather.
Brew Time: 5-6 minutes
You should try: CocoCaramel Sea Salt Herbal Tea from Teavana

Rooibos teas are a South African red herbal tea, and are caffeine free and delicious iced.
Brew Time: 5-6 minutes
You should try: Georgia Peach Rooibos from The Tea Table

Mate teas are flavourful teas that a stimulant similar to caffeine, providing you the same kick as a cup of coffee without side effects. They are a perfect breakfast tea.
Brew Time: 5-6 minutes
You should try: Raspberry Riot Lemon Mate Tea by Teavana

Make Your Own Flavours!

One of the very best things about tea is the flexibility to mix and match flavours and types of tea. As you drink more, you will get a sense of what different teas go well together. For example, I love mixing the herbal Honeybush Vanilla with a black English Breakfast tea. Adagio allows users to upload their favourite blends so that other tea drinkers can purchase them (I am particularly fond of the Captain America and TARDIS blends). Starting here can give you a good sense of tea blends before you start making your own!

Add-Ins

So now that your tea is steeped, what kind of stuff should you put in it? For many people, the standard for tea is black, particularly for green or herbal teas. However, there are a number of options for tea-fixins. Most teas prefer milk instead of a heavy cream, especially black teas. Honey and sugar are often added for a little sweetness. I prefer German Rock sugar, which is a low calorie way to add a subtle flavour. Honey is also perfect for colds and sore throats. Likewise, lemon helps when feeling under the weather. Finally, brandy, because sometimes, you just need that extra kick.

So there you go! You are now fully equipped to begin enjoying the perfect cup of tea.

Do you have any suggestions not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below.

 

4 Responses to Grad Student’s Guide to Good Tea

  1. deanna wynn says:

    I would really love to try this “mate tea”. It seems good to have it first thing in then morning. =)

  2. Andreas says:

    Nice guide.

    It would have been nice if you had made a distinction between artificially flavoured teas (like all the ones you mention, save English Breakfast), and pure teas.

    I think people are really missing out on a lot by only drinking teas + flavour, as the tea leaves themselves generally offer more subtle complexity and variety.

    I suggest a Golden Yunnan or a First Flush Darjeeling.

    – That is real tea! :)

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  4. James Murphy says:

    People have been using herbs as tea from ancient times and nowadays every culture or region has its own herbal tea recipes. I love to drink herbal teas which have made by yerba mate, kava, and chamomile herbs as these have numerous restful or stimulating properties. Affordable ESSIAC Tea

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