Hot Tea Varieties and Flavors


According to my Culinary Arts I text, tea is the beverage of choice for more than half the world’s population, and 85% of the tea served in the United States is iced. However, hot tea is still a popular choice.

Like coffee, the flavor of tea is derived from the geographic area in which it is grown.  In addition, teas are often named after their place of origin.

The flavor of tea can be described as having three characteristics:

  • Astringency/Briskness – a sharp, dry feeling on the tongue which enhances the refreshing taste of tea.
  • Body – the feeling of thickness on the tongue, ranging from light-bodied to full-bodied.
  • Aroma – the smell and flavors of the tea when it is brewed.

Although tea comes from only one type of plant, there are three general types of tea – black, green, and oolong.  Each has a distinct appearance and taste. These differences are due to the way the leaves are treated after picking.  Let’s take a look at some of the popular types of teas in the three tea categories in more detail.

Black Tea
The strong flavor and amber-brown color of black tea result from fermenting of the leaves.  Black tea leaves are graded and sorted by leaf size, for efficient brewing.  Black teas may be served hot or iced, and are most often accompanied by lemon or milk sweeteners. Types of black tea include:

  • Assam – from northeast India, this tea has a reddish color and a rich taste and is often served for breakfast.
  • Ceylon – this tea has a golden color with a full flavor and a delicate fragrance. Because it does not become cloudy when chilled, it is ideal for serving cold.
  • Chai – mixed with milk, this tea is sweetened and flavored with various spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla. It may be served hot or cold.
  • Darjeeling – from the foothills of the Himalayan mountains in India, this full-bodied tea has a muscat flavor and is considered the champagne of teas.
  • Earl Grey – this blend of black teas is often chosen for an afternoon tea.
  • English Breakfast – a blend of Indian and Sri Lankan teas, this tea has a rich color and full body with a robust taste.
  • Keemum – from China, this mellow and less astringent tea has a strong aroma and is often served cold.
  • Lapsang Souchong – from China, this tarry tea has a smoky flavor and aroma, and is often served in the afternoon or evening.

Green Tea
The bitter flavored and yellow-greenish leaves fo green tea are not fermented.  Green tea is most often served hot, with no sweeteners.

  • Gunpowder – from China, this light straw-colored tea has a pungent flavor and is often served after dinner.
  • Sencha – from Japan, this light-colored tea has a distinct aroma and a bright, grassy taste.
  • White – this delicate tea has a subtle flavor. It is made from new buds picked before maturity and then allowed to wither, so that the moisture evaporates.

Oolong Tea
Oolong tea combines the characteristics of both black tea and green tea, due to the partial fermentation of its leaves.   Often flavored with jasmine flowers, oolong tea is most often served hot, without milk or lemon.

  • Formosa Oolong – this expensive, large leafed tea has a peach taste, appropriate for breakfast or afternoon tea.

Many people are particular about their tea. However, with all the various blends available, and the many ways in which tea can accompanied (milk, lemon, etc.), there is sure to be just the right cup of tea for every taste.

Here are a few of my favorite hot tea recipes:

Source:  “On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals (5th edition)”, Labenski, Sarah et al, Pearson Publishing, 2015

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