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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Best tea bags: At a glance
How to choose the best tea bag for you
What are the different varieties of tea?
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, 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. Its 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.
How long should I steep my tea bag?
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 fifteen minutes.
Another important factor that newcomers to varieties like 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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The best tea bags to buy
1. Twinings English Breakfast Tea: Best breakfast tea
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 Srilankan Ceylon tea leaves. The mountain-grown Ceylon is what sets it apart in particular, adding a welcome sharpness and depth which rounds out its flavour.
Key details – Size: 187g; Variety: Black
Buy now from Amazon
2. Ahmad Tea Darjeeling: Best Darjeeling
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
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3. Whittard Earl Grey Traditional tea bags: Best Earl Grey
Price: £5.50 | Go to Source