We talk about coffee a lot here at Plated (see here, here, and also here), but it’s time that tea got its time in the spotlight. Tea plays an important role in many countries’ social and spiritual cultures, and there are many different varieties (and preparations) to make this hot, soothing drink your own. If your idea of tea is limited to the colorful boxes of fruit-flavored packets in your grocery aisle, you’re missing out on a lot of great flavors.
In general, there are three main variations of tea—green, black, and white—which each have their own flavor profiles, preparation methods, and caffeine levels. While white and herbal teas are usually caffeine-free, most black and green tea varieties have between 25 and 50 mg of caffeine, which is only slightly lower in caffeination than a shot of espresso. Keep this in mind as you choose the best tea drink for your mood and the time of day!
Join us on a world tour of delicious, unique teas and traditions from around the world. Who knows, maybe you’ll find one you like enough to swap for your morning cup of joe!
While matcha may be having a moment here in the U.S., this bright green, earthy flavored tea has been a culinary and cultural staple in Japan for centuries. Drinking tea is a huge part of Japanese culture, and preparing matcha lies at the heart of many official Japanese tea ceremonies.
Matcha comes in the form of a fine powder (matcha actually means “powdered tea” in Japanese), which gets whisked with hot water until it becomes frothy. If you want to be really official, you should whisk your matcha with a traditional bamboo brush. As with coffee and other tea varieties, there are a wide range of matcha products on the market, ranging from commercially produced to the high quality, ceremonial grade matcha powder used in formal tea ceremonies.
As a variety of green tea, matcha does contain caffeine. In fact, because matcha is made from crushed, whole leaves, its caffeine content is nearly twice that of bagged green tea—around 68mg per cup.
Argentina: Yerba Maté
Though yerba maté is officially the national drink of Argentina, you can find travelers sipping this potent tea out of the classic drinking gourd all over South America. Preparing the tea involves filling ¾ of the gourd with the dry maté leaves, and then pouring hot water over the leaves until the gourd is filled. Adding sugar is a matter of preference—many prefer to drink the strong, grassy, vegetal flavored tea straight up.
Drinking yerba maté often becomes a social, bonding event in South America, as friends and family pass around the gourd to sip tea and exchange stories (much in the same way of Japanese tea ceremonies or Parisian coffee shops). Yerba maté is one of the most caffeinated tea varieties, with one cup containing nearly as much caffeine as a cup of coffee! Avid drinkers often mention that it delivers the energy levels of caffeine, without the jitters, making it a perfect all-day, social tea.
Many South American cities have hot water taps installed around the urban center and along major roadways, specifically for yerba maté lovers to fill their gourds while on the go. Now that is a commitment to getting your caffeine fix!
Chai is one of the teas that most Americans are familiar with—though the kind of chai tea you get in a box from your local grocery store or from your coffee shop (hello, chai latté) is likely nothing like the traditional Indian preparation of this magnificent, aromatic leaf.
Masala chai, as it’s officially called in India, is made by brewing black Assam tea leaves with ground Indian spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and black peppercorns. Assam tea is known for its deep, robust color and flavor, which balances out the warm, sweet flavors of the masala spices. With that said, many Indian families have their own variations on the spices and proportions used, so a family’s chai recipe becomes a point of pride and identity (like Italian mothers with their meatballs and the French with their bouillabaisse).
While chai does contain caffeine, it’s a relatively low amount—you’d need to drink three large cups of brewed chai to equal the caffeine in one cup of coffee. Which is great news, because cozying up with a cup of chai in the evenings is a true
Morocco: Mint Tea
Moroccans are relative latecomers to the tea scene (tea was introduced in the country in the mid 18th century, while Japan started its tea traditions as early as the 9th century), but they’ve more than made up for their late adoption with their devotion to attay, or, mint tea.
Moroccans prepare their attay by infusing green gunpowder tea (which looks like tiny, shriveled capers before it is brewed) with fresh mint leaves and sugar. The green gunpowder tea is very strong and bitter on its own (read: caffeinated), so the addition of a little sweetness is definitely needed. In fact, many people brew the tea leaves twice, tossing out the first round of tea produced in favor of the second, more diluted batch.
If you prefer a caffeine-free version of the drink, you can soak the tea (using a resusable tea infuser) for 30 seconds in boiling water, then discard the water and steep the tea again in a fresh mug of boiling water. The initial soak will reduce the strength of the resulting cup of tea.
England: Earl Grey
The United Kingdom is big on tea—they’ve even created a whole meal centered around the drink, which can range from a small bite between lunch and supper (afternoon tea) to a full evening meal (high tea). In fact, the U.K. has held the title of the world’s highest tea consuming country since the early 18th century—now that’s commitment.
There are many varieties of tea consumed in the U.K., but Earl Grey—a black tea blend flavored with bergamot orange—is among the most popular. To infuse, oils are extracted from the rind of the bergamot, giving the tea its signature citrusy, punchy flavor. As a black tea, Earl Grey has a higher caffeine content than its green and white tea counterparts.
No matter which variety of tea you are drinking, however, the addition of milk (and sometimes, sugar), is necessary to make it a proper English tea.
Tibet: Butter Tea
If you’ve ever tried bulletproof coffee, which calls for adding butter or coconut oil to your morning java, you’ll be familiar with the idea behind Tibetan butter tea.
The tea is traditionally prepared by mixing black tea leaves with salt and yak butter in a special tea churn to create a super filling drink that doubles as a savory meal and energy-replenisher, thanks to the strong dose of caffeine. A simpler version is made with salt and yak milk is much less intensive to produce than its butter counterpart, but still creamy and delicious. Tibetans traditionally offer bowls of butter tea to guests as a hospitable gesture of welcome, especially on cold days.
As butter tea grows in popularity and expands beyond Tibet, many have chosen to supplement cow or goats milk for the yak’s milk to create the butter for the drink.
South Africa: Rooibos
Though now popular around the world, rooibos tea has its roots in South Africa, where it’s also referred to as bush tea. Loose rooibos tea leaves look like tiny fir needles, which are cultivated from wild rooibos plants. In contrast to the black and green teas popular in many countries around the world, this “red” tea has a lighter, nuttier, more refreshing flavor, with very little bitterness.
Rooibos is prepared much in the same way as black tea, but many traditional preparations include lemon slices and honey in place of milk and sugar. Though, unlike black tea, Rooibos is caffeine-free, so you can feel free to brew yourself a cup any time of the day.
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