Now, don't get me wrong for shit-talkin' Teavana. Just because I bash on them doesn't mean I have anything against tea. I love it. I take mine English style--lots of milk and sugar, sweet and creamy, just like me.
In fact, not only is tea cosy and delicious, but it actually does a lot for your body too. Depending on what type of tea you're drinking, it possesses secret powers. Let me explain.
There are four types of actual tea. Tea, in this case refers to the plant tea was originally made from, the camellia sinesis. Let me tell you how it all went down... a very very long time ago in China, the emperor was out on his patio sipping a bowl of hot water for some reason, when a breeze rustled a couple camellia leaves free, and they flitted into the emperor's water, and, alas, tea was born. (Slightly abridged version... I tossed my Teavana handbook).
The rest of the world took it from there and said alright, that's all good and fine, but what if we toasted the leaves a little? And so the leaves were dried and roasted and smoked and fermented and god knows what else. The leaves that were fully fermented were classified "black," as opposed to "white tea" which isn't processed or fermented at all. This leaves us with two in-between teas: green and oolong. Let's take this one tea at a time, starting with:
White: White tea is the lightest in flavor, the richest in antioxidants, and the lowest in caffeine. This is because it is the least process. Like I said, it isn't fermented at all. Instead, it is simply picked, dried, sold, and steeped. Because it isn't fermented, it retains its naturally high antioxidant content, which cleanses your skin and your body. That's no lie, either.
I know I bash on Teavana, but they're not all bad. There's some truth to what they tell you, for instance: Because white tea has such a subtle taste, yet it's so abundant in health benefits, it is sensible to buy some simply to add to whichever type of tea you like to drink. It doesn't distract from the flavor, so you won't even notice, but your body will. Teavana was my first job, fresh out of oily acne-ridden high school, and my skin cleared up entirely in the first two days of working there, because I had to "familiarize myself with the teas" starting with the whites. I probably tried about 5 a day. And I tried everything--every cleanser, toner, butter, cream. So if your skin is atrocious, white tea is your best bet.
If you're buying white tea, it'll look one of two ways. Either it'll look like a bunch of long greenish white fuzzy leaves called Silver Needle [see image above]. That's the kind you want.
Sometimes, you'll see white tea that has some of those silver needles, and then a bunch of crunchy dark leaves that look like someone raked up in their backyard [see image on left].
Next time you're in Teavana and you're asking to see one of the "white teas," White Ayurvedic Chai for instance, take a good look. If there's a single silver needle in there, it's a needle in a haystack of spicy dry compost.
Lastly, white tea, if had by itself is re-steepable. But be reasonable. If you save your tea leaves overnight, and steep the mildewy carcass of those tea leaves tomorrow, it will make for a frightful cup of tea. Only re-steep very recently-used tea leaves. The flavor will be weaker the second time 'round, so this would be a good time to add to another tea.
Green: Green tea is the next least processed after white, and therefore still has most of its antioxidants. It's about 15-20% as caffeinated as an equal amount of coffee.
Green tea ranges from earthy light flavors along the lines of white tea to very dark green, seaweed-esque needles. The latter is Japanese style, Gyokuro and sencha. This particular tea is extremely expensive on account of the leaves need to be shade grown, and are only picked between April and May when they are most rich in chlorophyl, allowing them to retain that deep dark green. Very high maintenance, anyway. People have been known to pay over a thousand a pound for the very best Gyokuro. It's crazy.
I only really like that kind if I can find it with brown rice crispies. They call this kind genmaicha.
The same type of tea is also served in powder form, called matcha. If you've ever seen those green frappuccinos, or green tea pastries, or green tea ice cream, which if you haven't tried you need to because it is delicious, they're all made out of matcha. You know what I really want? A Matcha Macaron! Oh, man...
Oolong: Chinese Restaurant tea, known for its slimming qualities. It is traditionally served with dinner (in China) to help with digestion.
Oolong tea falls between green and black, partially to mostly fermented, caffeinated but not as much as black tea. And although I take my black tea with milk and sugar, I prefer my Oolong plain. Most people do.
Black: Fully fermented, and therefore fully caffeinated. The flavor ranges from smokey to sweet. I mainly get PG Tips, which is an English brand. Five Mountain's also got a great black "Heirloom Ruby" tea. Real sweet and smooth.
But if I get Earl Grey, the best brand is Numi.
When I'm feeling a little more extravagant I sometimes get Ginger Peach (Republic of Tea--they sell it at World Market). That's the only fruity tea I still take with milk and sugar--sort of a peaches n'cream kinda thing.
And if you like yourself a spicy cup of chai, I like to get Good Earth, Vanilla Chai, because it comes with all these little inspirational quotes and sayings.
Herbal & Rooibos:
Herbal infusions don't actually have tea leaves in them, but they're steeped and prepared just the same as any other tea. They're also decaf. Herbal teas can contain anything really--dried or candied fruits, nuts, petals, bird seed, weeds, whatever... (just kidding).
Popular herbal teas include mint and chamomile. Since herbal teas include so many different types of plants, there is quite a wide variety of benefits, depending on what's in your tea. For instance, mint is good if you're congested, chamomile helps you sleep, and rooibos tea helps keep your sinuses clear if you have a cold or allergies, etc. I like red rooibos because it's sweet.
At La Boulange, (where I worked) they serve Mighty Leaf, which has a great rooibos blend called African Nectar. It's almost self-sweetening.