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Tea User’s Guide: 10 Teas to Know

A user’s guide to 10 teas, from the aristocratic, pure pu-erh to the populist blended teas like chai and scented ones like Earl Grey.

The Tea Plant: Camellia Sinensis

Tea owes its complexity to subtle variations in the leaves.

Leaf Buds Prized white teas are made from newly sprouted, fuzz-covered leaf buds of Camellia sinensis.

Young Leaves Quality producers handpick only the most recent growth: the top two leaves and the leaf bud.

Lower Leaves Commonly machine-plucked, the tea plant’s lower foliage is used for mass-market teas.

10 Tea Names to Know

Pu-erh

An aged, fermented Chinese tea sold in cake form, it has earthy flavors.

Earl Grey

Oil of bergamot, a citrus fruit, is used to flavor this blend of black teas.

Matcha

This powdered form of Japanese green tea is whisked in after the water is heated.

Genmaicha

Green tea combined with roasted brown-rice kernels, some of which have popped.

Lapsang Souchong

A black tea from China’s Fujian province that’s dried over pine fires to impart a smoky flavor.

Chai

For chai, black tea is blended with Indian spices like cardamom and cinnamon, then boiled with milk and honey.

Iron Goddess of Mercy

This curled-leaf oolong from China has a sweet, musty taste. Also known as Ti Kuan Yin.

Rooibos

South Africans refer to nutty, earthy rooibos as “red tea”; technically not a tea at all, it comes from a native African bush.

White Peony

The flowerlike shape of the two leaves that cradle the bud of this toasty Chinese white tea inspired its name.

Chamomile

A popular caffeine-free herbal drink, it’s brewed from the daisylike flowers of the chamomile herb.

Published March 2008
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