Discover The Best Tea in the World Plus the 5 Most Expensive Varieties
There's something truly indulgent about a cup of tea. The subtle scent that wafts from a piping hot mug draws in the senses. The flavors ranging from robust to mild and fresh to piquant offer something for every taste bud.
Selecting the best tea in the world can be extremely difficult. The wide range of flavors and the influence of terroir make each different tea type unique in its own right. Here, we'll highlight some of the best teas in the world and introduce you to the ones that are the most expensive.
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The Best Tea in the World
1. Green Tea
Green tea is derived from the tea plant known as Camellia sinensis. The tea leaves are harvested, withered, and dried immediately to prevent oxidation. As a result, these tea leaves retain their natural green color and are packed with healthy plant nutrients.
Green tea is considered one of the healthiest teas in the world thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants. Green tea contains the highest amounts of EGCG among the true teas. EGCG is also known as epigallocatechin and is a powerful antioxidant that has been linked to cancer prevention and better overall health.
Green tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid found naturally in only tea plants and one type of mushroom. L-theanine slows the release of caffeine, offering a smoother and longer-lasting energy boost. Drinking green tea can make you feel more alert and focused, without the drop offs in energy associated with a cup of coffee.
Green tea is also a potent weight loss aid. It is often sold as green tea extract or supplements, which are simply a concentrated form of the green tea leaves. Green tea helps to speed up metabolism and encourages the liver to process fat stores more quickly and efficiently.
Types and Characteristics
There are two main types of green tea: Chinese and Japanese. Chinese green teas are typically roasted to prevent oxidation, which results in tea that tastes toasty.
In Japan, the green tea leaves are steamed during the drying process. This creates a green tea that is vegetal and herbaceous. This Japanese tea is a staple of tea culture throughout the country. It is integral to the tea ceremony and used in formal celebrations and hosting foreign dignitaries.
The most popular Japanese green teas are gyokuro, sencha, matcha, and kukicha. Matcha tea is a unique green tea as the leaves are ground into a fine powder, which is brewed using a bamboo whisk. The most popular Chinese green teas are Longjing and Biluochun.
Green tea is typically light yellow to light green in color. It emits an earthy aroma and can have notes of seaweed and grass. The flavor of green tea is mild, but can taste bitter when brewed improperly.
When it comes to drinking tea for health, green tea is king.
2. Black Tea
Black tea also comes from the tea plant, but is far more processed than green tea. Black tea leaves are harvested, withered, rolled, oxidized, and dried.
The main difference between green and black teas arises during the oxidation process. Black tea leaves are rolled to create tiny scratches that allow enzymes to react with oxygen. The leaves turn a deep brown or black color before they are dried to end the oxidation process.
Black tea has fewer health benefits compared to green tea due to the oxidation process. Black tea still contains a high concentration of antioxidants, particularly thearubigins, which are tea catechins responsible for health benefits. Regular consumption of black tea can help regulate cholesterol, blood pressure, and reduce the risk of neurological disease.
Types and Characteristics
Black tea is known as red tea in China. Most black teas are identified by the region in which they are grown. The main producers of black tea are China, India, and Sri Lanka. Recently, Kenya has begun producing black teas as well. The most famous black teas from India are Assam and Darjeeling while black tea from Sri Lanka is known as Ceylon tea.
Tea lovers and connoisseurs rate the second flush Darjeeling tea from the Mornai tea estates as one of the best in the world. The tea leaves are plucked between June and August and feature a deep, rich black hue. The tea is strong and often consumed with a dash of milk.
Chinese black teas are grown largely in the Yunnan province. The best varietals include Dian Hong, Yingdehong, and Tibeti. Chinese black teas boast a rich, malty flavor with a slight undertone of cocoa.
Black tea offers a robust and bold flavor that is similar to coffee. Black tea has the highest overall amount of caffeine among the true teas. A standard cup of black tea contains about half the amount of caffeine of a standard cup of coffee.
Black tea is deep brown or black when brewed and has strong earthy flavors. It is often malty and has hints of chocolate and vanilla. Black tea is often used as the base tea for tea blends like masala chai. It's commonly part of flavored teas such as English Breakfast teas and Earl Grey, which is infused with bergamot.
3. Oolong Tea
Oolong loose leaf tea is considered the happy medium between green tea and black tea. The tea is harvested from tea plantations and undergoes a partial oxidation process. The leaves are allowed to oxidize for a predetermined amount of time, which is carefully monitored by tea masters.
Oolong teas can be oxidized between 8 and 80 percent depending on the tea industry producer. The leaves are typically rolled into long spindles, from which it derives the common moniker Black Dragon tea.
Types and Characteristics
The wide oxidation ranges means that oolong teas boast a wide range of flavors as well. Some oolong loose teas are fruity and tart while others are roasted or woodsy. The flavor profile tends to become more earthy and robust the longer the tea is oxidized.
One of the oolong teas beloved by tea drinkers is known as Iron Goddess of Mercy or Tieguanyin. This tea comes from tea plantations in Taiwan and can be found in tea houses and tea shops from England and the Americas to Singapore and Asia. Another popular Taiwanese oolong is milk oolong tea or Jin Xuan. This tea has a creamy texture that is highlighted by a buttery flavor.
The majority of high quality oolong teas come from China including Red Robe and Dan Cong. Red Robe tea comes from the Wuyi Mountains and boasts a sharp, smoky flavor. Dan Cong tea is produced in Gunagdong province and offers a floral and fruity flavor.
4. Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh tea is also made from the Camellia sinensis plant, but is distinctive because of its production process. Pu-erh tea is often aged to further develop flavor and aroma. In China, pu-erh tea is known as black tea. Pu-erh tea is commonly sold in tea cakes, bricks, and rolls.
Types and Characteristics
There are two types of pu-erh tea: Sheng (raw) and Shou (ripe). Sheng tea is similar in flavor to green tea and is typically pressed. Shou pu-erh is aged pu-erh and can be aged for 50 years. Most aged pu-erh begin to develop the best flavors after five to seven years.
Pu-erh tea is most commonly cultivated in the Yunnan province of China. Most tea plantations are located in the high mountains. One of the highest quality pu-erh teas comes from the Menghai Tea Factory and is known as DaYi. This tea company is said to have created the aging process for pu-erh teas and offers some of the best ripe pu-erhs.
5. White Tea
White tea is derived from the Camellia sinensis plant and is the least processed of the true teas. The leaves are simply harvested and dried immediately before being packaged for sale. This type of organic tea is made using only the youngest tea leaves and buds. White tea gets its name from the silver-white hairs on the tea leaves.
Types and Characteristics
Silver Needle is considered the highest quality white tea. It is made solely of the young tea leaves of the tea plant. This white tea offers a delicate flavor profile that is subtly sweet and silky in texture. The flavor has hints of melon.
The second highest quality white tea is known as White Peony. This tea is made using both buds and leaves of the plant. White Peony has a bolder flavor than Silver Needle, but is also more readily available and affordable.
6. Best Herbal Tea
This South American beverage is used to celebrate community and foster connections. Yerba mate contains high amounts of caffeine, making it a natural alternative to coffee. It is popular among indigenous societies in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. The dried leaves are steeped in hot water and traditionally consumed in a gourd using a metal straw.
Yerba mate boasts a strong flavor profile that is an acquired taste. It has hints of bitterness that are enveloped by a rich, earthy flavor. Depending on the production, yerba mate can taste slightly sweet to overwhelmingly bitter.
This mint tea is famous in Morocco where it is consumed as part of the country's tea culture. The tea is made using nana mint leaves and is often the first beverage offered to guests and tourists. It offers a delightfully refreshing flavor with a fresh, tingling finish. The traditional brewing method of mint tea was also developed to showcase artistry and add dimension to the tea drinking experience.
Rooibos tea is an herbal tea that comes from the leaves of the red bush plant. This plant grows exclusively in the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa. Rooibos tea is naturally caffeine-free, making it a great choice for a base tea in herbal blends.
Types and Characteristics
There are two types of rooibos tea: green and red. Red rooibos tea is considered the original variety and is lighter in flavor compared to green blends. Red rooibos tea offers an earthy flavor similar to yerba mate with floral hints that are reminiscent of hibiscus tea.
Green rooibos tea is more rare and slightly more expensive than red rooibos. It tastes more similarly to green tea and features notes of grass and is more malty than red rooibos.
The Most Expensive Teas In the World
1. Da Hong Pao
Da Hong Pao tea is notoriously the world's most expensive tea. While you can find cheaper versions of the famous oolong tea, the highest quality varieties can cost more than $1 million per kilo. Da Hong Pao translates to "big red robe' and is often called robe tea or red robe tea.
The tea is made from the leaves of three bushes in the Wuyi Mountains that are over a thousand years old. Knock-off versions of Da Hong Pao are far cheaper and cultivated from young plants that grow on the rocky outcrops of the Wuyi Mountains.
2. PG Tips Diamond Encrusted Tea Bag
This tea is not expensive because of the rarity or quality of leaves, but rather for its exquisite and indulgent packaging. The tea bag is adorned with 280 diamonds and was created to mark the 75th anniversary of the PG Tips tea company. The extravagant display was meant to honor the British love and tradition of tea consumption.
The diamond-encrusted tea bag was designed by Boodles jewelers and contains Silver Tips Imperial Tea. The tea bag was painstakingly developed by hand and took more than three months to complete. The tea bag costs upwards of $15,000 and was donated to a charity auction to raise money for Manchester Children's Hospital.
3. Panda Dung Tea
Panda dung tea is the tea world's response to kopi luwak—the coffee beans that are digested and excreted by the Indonesian civet cat. Pandas consume a diet of tea leaves and bamboo, which is then excreted and used to fertilize a certain type of tea plant. The leaves from these tea plants are then harvested and processed to make one of the world’s most expensive teas.
Panda dung tea is cultivated in the mountainous region of Ya'an in the Sichuan province of China. It first hit the market in April 2012 and can cost as much as $7,000 per kilo. Panda dung tea is said to have a mature and nutty flavor and antioxidant content similar to green tea.
4. Vintage Narcissus
Vintage Narcissus is an oolong tea from the Wuyi Mountains of the Fujian province of China. The tea was first created in tea gardens more than 500 years ago. It is named after the Greek goddess Narcissus and can fetch more than $6,500 per kilo. The tea is extremely rare and often sold in boxes that are more than 50 years old.
Tieguanyin is commonly known as Iron Goddess of Mercy and can fetch up to $3,000 per kilo. Tieguanyin tea derives its name from the Buddhist deity Guanyin and is an oolong tea hailing from China. This Chinese tea is a potent beverage that boasts extensive health benefits. The tea leaves can be steeped up to seven times without losing flavor or aroma. Some Tieguanyin teas are scented and roasted after drying for added flavor characteristics.
Discover the Best Teas
The world of tea is exquisitely varied to offer something for everyone. Finding the best teas means trying new flavors and experimenting with blends. Don't be afraid to mix things up and try something new. You never know when you're going to discover your next new favorite.
This guide can help you navigate the huge world of tea and point you in the right direction. Whether you’re looking for a new afternoon tea or are discovering new ways to drink tea, you’re sure to find something you love.