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Nothing beats the satisfaction and simplicity of a good cup of tea – all you need is a kettle and the best tea bags to elevate your daily brew. Besides being a pleasant-tasting drink, many varieties of tea also have mild health benefits, giving our immune systems a boost and helping to fight off inflammation with their bevy of antioxidants. It’s easy to see why drinking tea is something close to a religious affair in many countries and why discussions about whether to put the milk in first or last can get quite heated.
That said, choosing what to drink for your morning cuppa has become a little more complex in recent years; supermarket shelves are flush with new brands, and more varieties of tea than ever are now available in the UK. This abundance of choice is, however, a great opportunity to taste some exciting new flavours and find the perfect tea for you.
So, if you want to know what differentiates Darjeeling and Earl Grey or need to make sense of green tea and oolong, our handy buying guide explains it all below. A little further on you’ll find our mini reviews, where we pinpoint the strengths of our favourite tea bags. All that’s left to do is to pop the kettle on – we’ve taken care of the rest.
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The first question to get out of the way is what we mean when we say tea. What springs to mind for most people in the UK is black tea, usually a breakfast blend. But alongside black tea we have green, white and oolong varieties, with types of tea existing within these categories that differ based on blend, region and processing methods.
Black tea: Tea products all come from the same plant: camelia sinensis, to use its fancy latin name. What makes each variety unique is how it is processed. Black tea is made by harvesting tea leaves and then allowing them to fully oxidise by exposing them to air. This turns the naturally green leaves a darker colour and allows a rich, malty flavour to develop. Black teas can come in many types and blends, common ones being Earl Grey, which is flavoured with bergamot, and Darjeeling, which is made from plants grown specifically in the Darjeeling region of India, akin to Champagne.
Green tea: Originating in China and Japan, green tea is produced by heating the tea leaves soon after harvesting them to minimise oxidation – in China the leaves are pan-fired, whereas in Japan they are steamed. This process preserves their bright green colour and nuttier, more vegetal flavour. Green tea can come in many forms and flavours, a common one being matcha, which is a bright green powdered form made using delicate shade-grown leaves. For more info and suggestions, check out our full lists of the best green tea and the best matcha powders.
White tea: While there is some disagreement on the exact definition of white tea, it’s generally taken to mean a tea made with immature tea leaves and minimal processing. Usually, white tea is made from the buds and leaves of young tea plants, which have yet to flower – the name coming from the fine, white hairs less developed plants have. It’s usually neither heated nor oxidised, but quickly dried so as not to disrupt its natural flavour. This is what gives white tea its incredibly light and natural flavour profile.
Oolong: Somewhere between a green and a black tea, this semi-oxidised traditional Chinese tea can bring you the best of both worlds. Produced by withering the plant under strong sunlight, this tea variety can have a range of flavours based on the degree of oxidation it undergoes in processing, ranging from the light, earthy flavours of green tea to the dark, rich flavours of a black tea.
Herbal: Okay, we’re maybe cheating a bit here – but everyone does. Most herbal teas aren’t technically tea, as they aren’t made with any variety of the camelia sinesis plant. Made using different herbs and spices, the technically correct term for them would be infusions. But they’re called herbal tea by most people and they produce a warm, flavoursome cup, so we’ve put one on the list below.
This can vary and your best bet would be to follow whatever instructions are on the packaging. But if you’ve already thrown out the box or it’s not stated, generally accepted brew times for the main varieties are: black tea, three to five minutes; green tea, two to four minutes; white tea, one to five minutes; oolong, one to five minutes; and herbal teas, up to 15 minutes.
Another important factor that newcomers to varieties such as white or green often aren’t aware of is brewing temperature. While black and herbal teas prefer boiling water, these more delicate teas often need to be brewed at slightly cooler temperatures (60ºC to 85ºC), to avoid burning them and producing an overly bitter flavour.
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Price: £6 | Buy now from Amazon
Nothing shakes off the cobwebs and wakes up your palate quite like a robust cup of breakfast tea first thing in the morning. And for this most classic of blends, our top pick is Twinings English Breakfast. A favourite across the UK, this tea is enjoyed for its full-bodied flavour and subtle finish, which earned it a Great Taste Award back in 2019.
The tea’s bold taste comes from its blend of Indian Assam, Kenyan and Sri Lankan Ceylon tea leaves. The mountain-grown Ceylon is what sets it apart in particular, adding a welcome sharpness and depth that rounds out its flavour.
Key details – Size: 187g; Variety: Black
Price: £2.40 | Buy now from Amazon
The Darjeeling district in India, which sits 2,000m above sea level, produces teas that are famed for their complexity of flavour. This single-origin offering from Ahmad Tea is a fine example of a traditional Darjeeling blend.
Combining leaves from the spring harvest, which introduce fresh, floral notes, and more mature summer leaves with rich, fruity flavours, this tea has a satisfyingly complex yet balanced taste. Winning a Great Taste Award in 2018, this tea was praised for its long-lasting finish and distinct Darjeeling character. One thing to note is that, unlike breakfast tea, Darjeeling is best enjoyed without the addition of milk.
Key details – Size: 40g; Variety: Black
Price: £5.50 | Buy now from Whittard
Historical tea-shop Whittard produces premium teas aimed at enthusiasts, selling a wide range of tea products – infusers, tea pots, tea bags, loose leaf and instant teas of many varieties. A little pricier than your average cuppa, these teas justify their price with stylish, quality packaging and bold, well-crafted flavours.
One of the most highly rated products on the website is this Earl Grey tea bag, offering a classic, deep rich black tea flavour, paired with bright, citrus bergamot. An expertly executed take on a classic tea, these bags also balance the depth and complexity of a well-blended loose-leaf tea with the simplicity and easy clean-up of a traditional tea bag.
Key details – Size: 125g; Variety: Black
Price: £7 | Buy now from Amazon
While breakfast teas reign supreme in the UK, across the sea in Ireland this Gold Blend offering from Barry’s is the most popular brew in households across the country. Using Indian Assam, as well as leaves sourced from Kenya and Rwanda, Barry’s Gold Blend produces a tea with a rich flavour.
This is the brew for you if you prefer the darker, maltier flavours of tea, which Barry’s has in abundance. Fruitier, more floral notes are much less pronounced here. A previous drawback of Barry’s was the use of plastic in its tea bags, but the brand has responded to criticism of this practice and now uses biodegradable bags, as well as fully recyclable packaging printed with vegetable-based inks. So now you can enjoy Ireland’s favourite tea guilt-free.
Key details – Size: 250g; Variety: Black
Price: £2.50 | Buy now from Amazon
Even if you’ve tried a range of black teas and branched out into green tea, white tea might still be new to you. This tea variety is made by picking young leaf buds, which are then processed very minimally, resulting in a light flavour and a refreshing aftertaste.
This tea from Clipper uses organic leaves sourced from China, the original home of white tea, and delivers its subtle flavour in unbleached, biodegradable tea bags. For those of you who enjoy the base taste of white tea but want an extra punch of flavour, there are also peppermint, raspberry and orange-flavoured varieties available.
Key details – Size: 80g; Variety: White
Price: £12 | Buy now from Amazon
These Mao Feng tea bags are a great introduction to the world of green tea. Mao Feng, a high-grade tea leaf variety, produces a light drink, with gentle fruit notes reminiscent of peach and apricot.
While light-tasting, this tea still achieves depth of flavour through Teapigs’ signature bags, which are roomier than your average tea bag. These larger bags allow them to fit whole leaves into their tea, giving you the deep flavour of loose-leaf in handy tea bag form. Plastic-free and biodegradable, these bags will appeal to anyone looking to be more environmentally conscious.
A small thing to be aware of is that the larger leaves in this product mean it will need to steep a little longer, but with the depth of flavour it adds, we’re not complaining. If this tea sounds like your cup of tea, check our full roundup of the best green tea.
Key details – Size: 125g; Variety: Green
Price: £3.50 | Buy now from Amazon
Neither unoxidised like a green tea nor fully oxidised like a black tea, Oolong tea can bring you – to invoke double-lifed songstress Hannah Montana – the best of both worlds. This traditional Chinese Oolong tea from Butterfly has the mellowness and light vegetal flavour of a green tea, with partial oxidation, removing some of that bitterness usually associated with green tea.
These tea bags come individually wrapped, with a handy tab and string for easy removal, and produce a subtle but deeply flavoured cup of tea after just a few minutes of brewing.
Key details – Size: 40g; Variety: Oolong
Price: £7 | Buy now from Amazon
As noted in our buying guide, herbal teas might technically be better classified as infusions as they don’t contain tea plant leaves. But why be pernickety about definitions when you could be having a relaxing, flavoursome cup of herbal tea?
Packaged in unbleached tea bags, this herbal offering is made from a blend of five herbs: golden rod, wild pansy, horsetail, knotgrass and birch – a unique blend, being one of the only herbal infusions made with knotgrass available in the UK. While it may take longer to brew than standard teas, allowing it to infuse for five or more minutes will unlock a strong grassy, herbaceous flavour that’s highly refreshing.
Key details – Size: 50g; Variety: Herbal blend
Price: £3.90 | Buy now from Amazon
If you enjoy brewing cup after cup of tea throughout the day or want to have a relaxing, warm drink right before bed, tea’s caffeine content can become an unwelcome factor. Thankfully, decaf tea has become increasingly available in recent years and with the techniques used to make it always improving, it tastes closer to your regular brew than ever.
Our favourite pick for the caffeine-free spot in your press is this organic decaf tea, as Clipper employs a gentle, more natural extraction process to decaffeinate tea, preserving its pleasant flavour and avoiding any unpleasant aftertaste. Similarly, green tea lovers can enjoy its decaf option for green tea.
Key details – Size: 232g; Variety: Black
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