Tea for Newbies: A Complete Guide with Alphabetical List

woman sitting in chair by window sipping cup of tea with eyes closed.

So, you wanna be a tea drinker? Well, friend, you’d be in good company. Tea is a cultural staple in many countries around the world. Almost half the people in the US drink tea every day. I’m one of them!

Tea is somewhat of an equalizer. People of all ages, races and income levels enjoy it. Some people can even be a bit snobby about it.

Here, I’ll lay out some of the basics about tea as a good foundation – no snobbery required. After reading this, you’ll definitely have enough information to get started on your tea journey.

Types of Tea Drinkers

Tea drinkers fall into four main categories: connoisseurs, those who drink as part of rituals or events, those who drink for health benefits, and casual tea lovers. Each has its own reasoning and people often fall into more than one category.

Connoisseurs

Tea connoisseurs are people who have deep knowledge about tea. They’ve spent time studying its origins, and the culture and history associated with different types.

You’ll know when you’ve met a tea connoisseur because they are usually quite proud of this knowledge, and won’t stop talking about it. Remember the snobbery I mentioned earlier!? Not all of them are like that, but a fair share of them are.

You can even pursue certification to be a tea sommelier if you’re so inclined. Yup, that’s a thing. It’s similar to a wine sommelier … but for tea.

Rituals and Events

For some, having tea is a whole experience. Tea rituals are a big part of their lifestyle or culture. A tea ritual is a ceremonial way of preparing and drinking tea. Rituals for tea are quite common in China, Korea and Japan. Tea is also a growing part of the culture in other places such as the UK and the US.

Examples of tea rituals are Japanese tea ceremony, English high tea and afternoon tea, and American iced tea. That’s right! Iced tea is so pervasive in our culture that we don’t even think of it as a ritual. But, if you’ve ever been to the south, you know they take it seriously. I can attest to this as a southern girl myself.

There are also people who create their own personal tea ritual as a practice of mindfulness and self-care. The biggest appeal is the calming effect experienced by the process of preparing, pouring and drinking tea.

Also included in this category are folks who enjoy tea as a social experience. I do love an adult tea party!

Health Benefits

Tea has long been touted for its health promoting properties. Studies have shown it to help boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, and prevent certain health conditions like cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure. A simple, and common, example is drinking tea when you’re sick to help soothe a sore throat.

How does it do this? Partly, because caffeinated and herbal teas have naturally occurring substances called polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants which have been found to help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases. Green tea has been found to have the most antioxidants – which is partly why it’s so popular.

It’s worth noting, decaffeinated teas, tea powders and bottled teas may not be as effective. The polyphenols are usually destroyed in the processing of these products.

Casual Tea Lovers

Lastly, casual tea lovers are those of us who enjoy tea just for tea’s sake. We may prepare ourselves a cup at the end of a long day, when we’re relaxing, or just whenever the mood strikes us. We enjoy learning and trying different types and flavors but will probably never bring it up at parties. Unless it’s a tea party 😉

Loose Tea vs Tea Bags

There are four forms, if you will, of tea – whole leaf, loose leaf, fannings and dust. Whole leaf is the highest quality made of whole, unbroken tea leaves. Loose leaf is second and, basically, is any tea not brewed in a tea bag. Tea bags contain the lowest quality tea – fannings and dust.

Don’t get me wrong, tea bags are a great entry point for newbies. Just be aware that you do get better nutrients, flavor and aroma with whole leaf and loose leaf tea. There’s also a difference in caffeine levels.

It’s all about surface area. Tea bags use dust and fannings because they provide a larger surface area. This is beneficial for larger production and mass market appeal. Afterall, not very many whole tea leaves would fit into a small tea bag. Which means you wouldn’t have a very flavorful cup of tea.

Larger surface area leaves more room for the leaf to absorb water as it expands during brewing. The more water the leaves can absorb, the more nutrients, flavors and smells you get in your cup.

The downside is the larger surface area means more opportunity for the tea’s essential oils to evaporate. Essential oils are what makes tea flavorful and aromatic.

Lately more companies are opting for different types of tea bags that will fit higher quality tea in them, such as the pyramid tea bag.

How to Brew Tea

Brewing tea is relatively simple. All you need is hot water, tea and a cup. Some people get tripped up on the difference between a teapot vs a tea kettle. Don’t! A tea kettle is used to heat water, a teapot is used to put hot water into (with your tea).

If you’re using a tea bag, you just pour hot water over it directly into your cup or a teapot. For loose leaf tea, you will need something to put the tea leaves in to infuse them (pour hot water over them). You can use an infuser or a paper tea filter for this (much like a coffee filter).

Water temperature, amount of tea, and steeping time (or brewing time) can vary for different teas. To get started though, just bring the water to a rolling boil on the stovetop. Or, until you hear the whistle for tea kettles with this type of spout.

A note about iced tea. Some people think you can make iced tea by using cold water. This does not allow for infusion of the tea leaves so you won’t get all the goodness out of them that you should. It’s best to brew the tea with hot water, then allow it to cool or pour over ice.

Caffeine and Nutrients

Most true teas (we’ll get into that later) contain some amount of caffeine. Caffeine levels also depend on brewing time – longer brew equals more caffeine. All teas typically have less caffeine than coffee.

Black tea, green tea and oolong tea have the most caffeine, with black tea having the most of all three. Even in their decaffeinated forms, these teas still have a small amount of caffeine. Herbal teas are typically caffeine-free.

Caffeine comparison for an 8 ounce cup of coffee, black tea and green tea in milligrams.

Caffeinated and non-caffeinated (herbal) teas have small amounts of minerals such as magnesium, sodium, potassium and zinc. Amounts can differ depending on the type of tea and how it was grown.

Teas to Be Cautious About

Weight Loss and Detox Teas

Weight loss and detox teas are ones to watch out for. Studies have shown teas to have some impact on weight loss but there is still a lot to be learned. Many people who have used these have only found marginal effects – like a couple of pounds for weight loss. You could probably get that by cutting out sugar or dairy for a few weeks.

It’s also important to note these teas are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Many teas marketed as weight loss or detox come with added laxatives and other ingredients that may be harmful.

Sugary Teas

Some of our beloved, finely-crafted teas such as tea lattes and bubble teas are loaded with sugar. They also have tons of calories and very little nutritional value. On average, a 16 ounce boba tea drink has almost 300 calories and 38 grams of sugar!

For reference, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of sugar per day for women. That’s out of everything you eat in a day, not just one drink. The takeaway here: enjoy these drinks as a treat on occasion but, don’t make them a part of your daily routine.

Allergies

Allergies are a particular concern for herbal teas since they often include a mixture of different plants, roots, fruit, herbs, spices and/or flowers. Make sure you read the label for ingredients if you have allergies.

How Many Types of Tea Are There?

There are thousands of tea types. Teas come in an enormous amount of variety. Even the main types of tea come with different levels of intensity and different flavoring profiles. The options grow even more with the many different types of herbal infusions.

Although this list will not cover every single tea type, we’ll look at the main types of tea and many of the varieties that are made with them.

Primary Types of Tea

All teas fall into one of two categories – true teas or herbal teas and tisanes.

True Tea

True teas are any tea that originates with the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. The tea plant is native to East Asia, but is grown in many places. Most commercial cultivation happens in Asia.

The way the plant’s leaves are processed dictates what kind of tea you end up with. For example, the difference between black tea and white tea is the Camellia Sinensis plant leaves are left to oxidize longer to produce white tea.

Herbal Teas and Tisanes

Herbal teas and tisanes are blended teas made from infusing the roots, leaves, flowers, stems or fruits of any kind of plant. The flavor possibilities of herbal teas are endless.

Main Types of Tea (Most Popular)

The most common types of teas are black, green and oolong. Although all three are very popular, green tea is most popular around the world.

Green tea is particularly popular in Asia. Southern China is where oolong tea is most popular. And black tea is way more popular than both green and oolong tea in the US.

What Are Tea Names?

Typically, tea gets its name from the place it originates. They are also commonly named for the plant they are brewed with, or the place where that plant originates.

Other factors that often contribute to tea names are its color, aroma and flavor profile. There are even a small amount of teas that are named for their specific function in certain ceremonies or treatments, such as ayurvedic medicine.

You’ll see this play out in the list of tea names below.

Different Types of Tea Alphabetical List

Assam Tea

Assam tea is a true black tea originating in Assam, India.

Black Tea

Black tea is a true tea and one of the world’s most popular, particularly in the US.

Boba Tea

Boba tea is a tea drink that combines black tea with milk, sugar and tapioca pearls.

Ceylon Tea

Ceylon is a black tea originated in Sri Lanka.

Chai Tea

Chai tea is black tea mixed with different spices. Cloves, ginger, cardamom and black pepper are common spices included in the mixture.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is an herbal tea you may be familiar with due to its high popularity. It is well known as a calming tea.

Darjeeling Tea

Darjeeling is a black tea that is considered to be very high quality. It is nicknamed the champagne of teas.

Early Grey

Early grey is flavored with oil from the bergamot which is a citrus fruit. Earl grey tea is a popular choice at afternoon tea and high tea.

Fennel Tea

Fennel Tea is an herbal tea often used for digestive issues. It is also used as a supplement for breast milk supply. Nursing mothers will know the example – Mother’s Milk Tea.

Ginger Tea

Ginger tea is a popular herbal tisane often used for upset stomach or nausea. A favorite among pregnant women.

Green Tea

Green tea is a true tea that is wildly popular around the world, especially in Asia. It is infamous for its many perceived health benefits. It has been found to help reduce inflammation and joint pain.

Hibiscus Tea

Hibiscus tea is an herbal tea that is red in color coming from infusion of the hibiscus plant flowers.

Irish Breakfast Tea

Irish breakfast tea is a black tea blend that sometimes has a reddish color. It’s closely related to English and Scottish breakfast teas.

Japanese Green Tea

Japanese green tea is a very aromatic tea getting its scent from jasmine flower blossoms mixed with green tea.

Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented tea made with black or green tea, yeast and bacteria. It’s the most popular of fermented teas. It is considered to be very healthy and promotes digestive health.

Lapsang Souchong

Lapsang Souchong is a Chinese black tea. Its name is just as exotic as its creation. The tea is created by smoking over a pine fire.

Lavender Tea

Lavender tea is a wonderfully aromatic tea. It gets its smell from dried lavender flowers. It is said to have a lot of medicinal properties, and is known for being relaxing.

Lemongrass Tea

This is a very aromatic herbal tea. It’s made from grass native to Thailand, India, and other east Asian countries.

Licorice Root Tea

Not the candy that pops into mind but this is an herbal tea made from the root of the licorice plant. It has been found to have antibacterial properties and to protect against infection.

Matcha Tea

Matcha has grown in popularity significantly over the past 5 or so years. People are throwing matcha in everything – ice cream, sodas, soups … you name it!

Matcha is a fine powder, usually a bold green color, made from grinding whole green tea leaves. It is touted for having lots of nutrients and health benefits, including heart disease prevention. Hence, its popularity.

Nettle Tea

Nettle tea is a tisane and is thought to reduce inflammation and high blood pressure.

Oolong Tea

Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea, a true tea. It contains several vitamins and minerals such as fluoride and theanine, plus lots of antioxidants.

Pu-erh Tea

Pu-erh is a true tea that is fermented. It’s one of few teas that are fermented and, because of this, has a higher amount of caffeine.

Purple Tea

Purple tea is a true tea made from a specific strain of the Camellia sinensis plant that grows in Kenya. Purple tea leaves have a genetic mutation that gives the tea its purple color.

This mutation also gives it antioxidants – the same antioxidants found in blueberries in fact. It’s these antioxidants that also make it popular for having strong health benefits.

Rooibos

Rooibos tea, also known as South African red bush, is an herbal tea made from fermented Aspalathus linearis shrub. This plan is native to the western coast of South Africa.

Rosehip Tea

Rosehip tea is a tisane made from the fruits of the rose bush. It contains lots of vitamin C. This tea has been studied for its many potential health benefits to include reducing blood sugar, heart disease prevention, and strengthening the immune system.

Sage Tea

Sage is probably very familiar to you. It’s an herb that is not only common, but easy to grow, harvest and brew tea from. Sage tea is often used for wound healing, oral health, and healthy brain function.

Sweet Tea

Yup, you read that right. Sweet tea! As I mentioned, I’m a southern girl and this had to be on the list. It’s usually made with black tea and sweetened with sugar or simple syrup. And of course, it’s usually served over ice.

Tamaryokucha

Tamaryokucha is a fancy Japanese true tea. It has a fresh, grassy aroma, and a distinct umami flavor.

Turmeric Tea

Turmeric has become very popular in the tea world lately because of its many health benefits. Studies have found the tea to help with inflammation, cholesterol, cancer prevention, and boosting the immune system. The active ingredient in this tea is curcumin.

Ube Bubble Tea

Ube is a purple sweet potato. It’s used to flavor lots of dessert-like bubble teas.

Vata Tea

Vata tea is part of ayurvedic medicine. It classifies any tea prescribed for the Vata dosha.

White Tea

White tea is the least processed of the true teas. It originates in China and is low in caffeine.

Xian Luo Tea

Xian Luo is a black tea with a name that means silky and fragrant. It originates in the Anhui province of China.

Yellow Tea

Yellow tea is a true tea that is similar to green tea but with one additional processing step – oxidation through steaming. This additional process gives it a yellow color.

Yerba Mate

Yerba mate is a South American herbal drink made from the leaves of the yerba plant. It is naturally caffeinated and centuries old.

Zavarka Tea

Zavarka is a Russian cultural staple. It is concentrated and traditionally served from an elaborate metal container called a samovar.

Where to Start for Newbies

If you’re just getting started on your tea journey, or you found this to be waaaaay too much information for your interest level, I recommend sticking with the basics. Black tea or green tea are the most popular for a reason.

They both come in a variety of flavors so head to the grocery store, visit the tea aisle, and pick one that appeals to you. If you want something non-caffeinated, check out the many herbal tea flavors that will be right next to them. The box will tell you if it’s herbal tea.

Start with bags over loose teas. But once you feel comfortable with tea bags, I highly encourage you to give loose teas a try. I quite enjoy the variety, aromas and brewing process of loose teas. It also makes me look fancy when I make it for my friends 😉

Speaking of brewing, keep it simple. Boil water on the stove top (in a kettle or just a small pot). Pour the water over your tea bag into a mug. Let it sit for 2-3 minutes before removing the bag. Sweeten with sugar or honey to taste. Done!

All You Need to Know About Tea

There’s all you need to know about tea, and then some, to get you started. Take from this what you need, leave what you don’t. As a tea lover, I’m excited for you to begin exploring tea and finding your faves.

If you’re ever feeling adventurous, visit this list again and pick something different to try. Find what you like then, consider trying something else. Happy sipping!

*Quick note: Many of these teas are touted for their health benefits. However, I am not a medical professional. None of this information is intended or should be taken as medical advice. Please speak with your doctor if you have specific health questions or concerns.