Photo by Haneburger / Public domain (CC by SA)
Just like grapes and wines, the taste of tea is dependent on where and how it is grown. We are providing this guide as a quick reference for flavor notes, countries of origin and notes of interest.
The altitude, the soil, and the climate all have a marked effect on the flavor. Varieties grown at the highest altitudes, for example, mature more slowly and have a lower yield, resulting in a higher quality.
The main tea-producing countries are China, India, and Japan; however, there are a few other regions worthy of mention. Kenya is home to some very fine varieties, particularly those cultivated east of the Great Rift Valley, where some of the gardens are at altitudes of 1 1/4 miles (2 km) above sea level. The teas are all black, with a brisk flavor. In Georgia, it is grown on the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, and the leaves are fermented to produce a black variety that gives a very mellow brew.
The way in which tea is harvested, dried, and processed will affect the flavor of the brew: Indian tea tastes quite different to that from China or Ceylon, and teas from Assam in Northern India differ in flavor to those from Nilgiri in the South. Some are blended according to special recipes.
Most familiar as the tea served in Chinese restaurants, these are all mild, with a pleasant fruity flavor.
This is a classic brew that uses tightly rolled, unfermented leaves. It yields a very pale drink with a light flavor.
In general, these are stronger than green, but milder than black.
Taiwan (Formosa) Oolong
Considered by some experts to be one of the finest of teas, this has a natural fruity flavor that is not too strong.
Formosa Oolong Peach Blossom
This does not contain peach blossom-it takes its name from its unique peachy flavor that is found only in the best-quality teas.
These range in flavor from mild, to smoked, to strong.
A delicate and aromatic tea from Northern China, this is low in tannins with a deep, rich flavor.
A large-leaf tea that is rich and full-bodied, this has a very distinctive but delicate smoky, tarry flavor.
Contains a high proportion of the youngest leaves, this has a sweet taste and a light golden color.
All of the varieties produced in this country are black.
One of the classic Indian varieties, this is grown in the Brahmaputra Valley in northeast India. The taste is strong and malty. The best quality Assam contain the “tips,” or unopened buds, from the bushes and are known as Tippy Assam.
Another popular choice from Northern India, this type is noted for its distinctive, delicate flavor. The small, broken-leaf grade produces a light, golden drink with a subtle flavor. Bushes from the highest gardens in the foothills of the Himalayas have large leaves that produce teas with a unique “muscatel” flavor of perfumed grapes. The most notable of all the various Darjeelings is Darjeeling Broken Orange Pekoe, which is sometimes called the champagne of tea.
The varieties produced in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) are all black.
Grown at altitudes reaching 11/4 miles (2 km) and over, this has a fine quality and, like most Ceylon tea, a rich color and flavor. Orange pekoe and broken orange pekoe are the usual leaf grades, resulting in a drink with an aromatic fragrance and a delicate, fresh taste.
This variety is noted for its full-bodied quality and strength, appealing particularly to those who like a robust beverage.
Light and “bright” with a fragrant flavor, this is excellent when served with lemon wedges.
This is a fine-flavored tea from the eastern slopes of the central mountains.
Japanese Green Teas
These are quite different from Chinese green teas because the flavor of some can be decidedly strong.
These long, green leaves make a light, bright easy-to-drink tea that is good for everyday drinking.
This is a combination of tea leaves and rice that results in a drink with a nutty flavor.
Produced for the most part in China, white teas are made from the buds and young leaves, where others are made from more mature leaves. The buds and leaves may be shielded from the sun, so no clorophyll may be formed in them. Flavor is sweet and light.
Most packages of commerical tea are made up of a blend of fifteen or more leaves from different areas. There are also some rather special traditional teas that are blended.
English Breakfast is a blend of strong Indian teas that gives a full-bodied and fragrant drink.
Earl Grey is a blend of Keemun and Darjeeling flavored with oil of bee balm. The recipe was given to the diplomat Earl Grey by a Chinese mandarin, and the earl took the recipe back with him to England.
Russian Caravan Tea is a blend of fine teas from China, Taiwan, and India. It was originally transported to Russia from India via camel caravan; hence its name.
There is also a wide range of flavored teas. They are flavored with flowers or fruits or with extracts such as chocolate, mint, or brandy. Many are flavored naturally with dried fruit, flowers and spices; some are flavored artificially. Herbal teas generally do not contain any caffiene (unless blended with other teas), though some wil still stimulative while others act as sedatives. They are often drunk for their effects or medicinal propertie. Most herbals are best on their own, without the addition of milk, lemon or sugar.
Traditionally served with dim sum dishes, this is a classic Chinese tea. It is a green variety, exotically scented with the addition of real jasmine flowers.
Rose Pouchong Tea
From the province of Guangdong, this is made by interspersing flower petals with the tea leaves during drying. It makes a pale, soothing beverage. Rose Congou is another rose-scented tea.
This is medium strength black China tea blended with chrysanthemum flowers.
This is obtained by blending a semifermented oolong tea with crushed orchid flowers. It makes a light, delicate, and fragrant brew, considered to be the tea of connoisseurs.
This is a traditional Chinese blend that is perfumed with the husks of the Lychee fruit.
Modern blends are produced using varied fruits: apricots, black currants, apples, wild cherries, passion fruit, oranges, lemons, and mangoes. The producers of fruit teas carefully blend their own mixtures of China, Indian, and Ceylon teas to go with the chosen fruit.
Teas from Grains
Roasted barley tea, known as bori cha in Korea and mugicha in Japan, has a coffee-like taste and is usually served cold. Roasted wheat tea also tastes like coffee. Roasted corn and toasted rice teas are also served in Korea.
Tea from other Herbs:
Catnip and chamomile are used to calm, echinacea used to alleviate and help prevent cold and flu symptoms, Essiac is used to treat cancer, fennel, hibiscus used for longevity, honeybush, gentian, horehound, labrador, lapacho made from the inner bark of the Lapacho tree, lemongrass, coca tea made from coca leaves, mint teas, European mistletoe, nettle leaf, raspberry leaf, rooibos AKA red tea touted for its antioxidants, rose hip, sage, sassafras, skullcap, thyme, tulsi, vetiver, wong logat, woodruff, yarrow, yerba mate, and yuen kut lam kam wo tea.
Rooibos, colloquially known as Red Tea, is an herbal plant that grows in South Africa. Because of its recent popularity we wanted to mention it separately. Rooibos is a flavorful, caffeine-free alternative for those seeking to eliminate caffeine intake.