A couple years ago, I was at Delirium, the famous bar in Brussels known for having literally thousands of beers. I was never a fan of beer, but the guy there said to me, “people who say they don’t like beer just haven’t found the right one. There’s a beer out there for everyone.” His words express how I feel about tea. For every person, every occasion, every mood, there is tea.
That said, I remember the first time I walked into David’s Tea years ago and was immediately overwhelmed by their selection. I tried a raspberry herbal tea, didn’t like it, and didn’t try anything again until a close friend started working there. With her guidance, I quickly fell in love and started finding my favourites. So if you feel just as intimidated by tea as I did, here’s hoping this guide will help.
The most caffeinated types of teas are matcha and maté — both taste divine. Though both contain less caffeine than coffee, that’s not a bad thing. If you’re trying to cut down your coffee intake, or are sensitive to caffeine as I am, these make good substitutes.
Matés have a strong earthy flavour that took me a while to warm up to; I used to only drink them flavoured (chocolate flavoured matés work really well). David’s Tea and Bampot House both offer good selections.
Good matcha is harder to come by. Most stores can’t afford to sell pure matcha at reasonable prices, so they add sweetener or flavouring, which dilutes the quality. David’s Tea’s Matcha Matsu isn’t bad if you’re looking to balance cost and quality. However, my favourite is Genuine Tea’s, offered at Caffiends for $2 a cup.
Black teas, including most chai, are also higher on the tea caffeination scale, but they probably won’t do much if you’re used to coffee. Personally, black teas are my absolute favourite and are particularly good flavoured. I’ve never gone wrong with earl grey. Chocolate or rose flavoured black teas usually win me over as well. In fact, I am currently drinking a white chocolate rose black tea while writing this piece.
Rich in antioxidants and nutrients, green teas are top in health benefits and excellent for calming down after a long day. They contain less caffeine than black teas but more than whites. I personally prefer green teas straight rather than flavoured. Sencha and Genmaicha are popular and safe choices, as are Dragonwell and Jasmine (jasmine is usually green, but can occasionally be white or black). These common types can be found in most stores. Their benefits have been touted for centuries.
For getting to sleep
Rooibos and herbals are the non-caffeinated teas, and nothing is better for getting to sleep. Chamomile especially has been called the “superstar of nighttime teas,” and it can put me to sleep within minutes. Lavender and peppermint are also among my favourites for winding down. I’m not usually a fan of rooibos, but it pairs well with a bit of hot milk and agave. Many herbal teas also contain antioxidants, nutrients, and similar health benefits as green teas.
Around Toronto, my favourite tea places are Caffiends, Bampot, and David’s Tea (not always the best quality, poor selection of straight teas, but cheap, and I like a lot of their flavours). Tea-drinking requires experimentation to find what you like — for example, I quickly learned that I don’t like fruity teas — and Caffiends is particularly good for that. One cup there is only $1.50 and $1.25 for the featured “tea of the week.” One final tip: I’ve heard bagged tea described as “tea dust,” which is pretty accurate, so get loose-leaf when you can.
For me, a hot drink is one of the most calming and wonderful experiences of life. If you’re open, give tea a try, and I hope you fall in love as I did.