As Autumn enters full-swing, the idea of savoring some hot tea with a good book (or blog!) becomes more and more appealing. I love drinking tea whether I’m working, writing, or relaxing. It’s an amazing beverage!

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But did you know that different teas ought to be steeped at different temperatures, for different lengths of time? I was not aware of this until more recently! Furthermore, a real “tea” is anything that contains the Camellia Sinensis plant– the tea plant! Anything that’s herbal or fruit-infused is technically a tisane.

What is tea, then?

Several types of tea can be made with the camellia plant. Some of the most common include black tea, green tea, and white tea, and oolong. In each of these processes, the Camellia plant is picked during a certain season, and usually roasted and/or fermented. In the case of white tea, the plant is picked when the buds are young. Black tea is always withered, rolled, oxidized and dried, yielding its dark color. Depending on whether it’s Japanese or Chinese, green tea is made by steaming the leaves (Japanese) or pan fired (Chinese). Oolong teas, on the other hand, are only semi-oxidized; then they are often processed over charcoal or wood to give them the rich, fragrant flavor they’re known for.

So if you’ve ever had peppermint tea, chamomile tea or raspberry-vanilla tea, then what you really had was a tisane. These herbal and fruit infusions don’t contain the Camellia plant but can be equally delicious and especially calming. Given that tisanes can be put together with dried herbs, flowers, and fruit, the flavor possibilities are endless!

Left: oolong. Right: black. Far: green.

Left: oolong. Right: black. Far: green.

A delicious rose-petal tisane!

A delicious rose-petal tisane!

Why worry about how long we steep teas?

I used to dunk a teabag into boiling water and let it sit there until it was cool enough to drink– which for me was a really long time. Then when the tea tasted too strong, I would throw out the teabag and–admittedly–add some water to dilute the strong, sometimes bitter taste. This is not how we’re supposed to do it! When the water is too hot, we risk burning our teas and sipping a bitter, sour brew (speaking of which–Starbucks, anyone?).

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Instead, check out this cool chart I found at the Art of Tea (and their website for more tea wisdom). This chart will tell you how long you should steep your favorite teas so they don’t just taste good, they taste amazing.

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Some of my favorite tea companies

  • Mariage Frères: a delicious French tea company.
  • Mighty Leaf Tea: a great place to start if you’re exploring quality teas, with some organic options too.
  • Two Leaves and a Bud: their loose-leaf greens are wonderful.
  • Harney & Sons: a wide array of lovely teas and tisanes, including fun ones such as Cherry Blossom or SoHo.
  • Yogi Tea: a budget-friendly company that makes a peppermint tea that I love.
  • Whatever we buy in Asia, the original tea capital– sorry, friends!

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Are you a tea drinker? What are your favorite types of tea? I’d love to know!