When you ask someone to think of “tea,” the image that gets conjured up in their mind is likely that of a steaming hot cup of tea, and probably with a tea bag resting inside the cup. Chances are, unless you’re already a tea enthusiast, that most of the tea you drink was brewed using a tea bag.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking tea bag tea, as all varieties of tea taste great in their own way (to the right person). But, occasionally, — or all the time, if you love tea — it can be pleasant to sip tea made from high-quality leaves and herbs — so-called “specialty tea.”
What is “Specialty Tea”?
The definition of specialty tea is somewhat controversial. There are some kinds of teas that some include in the definition that others do not think qualifies as specialty tea. The one thing everyone agrees on is the fact that specialty tea is not what you find in a tea bag.
Generally, tea bags contain very small, chopped up pieces of tea leaves — the “excess” or extra parts of high-quality teas. Because it is so fine, the tea in tea bag teas usually doesn’t taste as flavor-filled as its high-quality counterpart.
The quality of the tea contained within tea bags varies from variety to variety, but is still the lowest quality tea one can acquire. For example, some tea bags, made from exceptionally high-quality leaves, can be more expensive than some specialty teas, but this is an exception and not a rule.
If we’re inclusive, specialty teas include the following types of tea:
- Loose-leaf tea – Loose-leaf tea is tea that is made by brewing whole (or nearly-whole) tea leaves, rather than little pieces, or dust that comes from tea leaves. Loose-leaf tea does not come in tea bags, so it must be brewed using an infuser or some other accessory.
- Single-estate teas – These are teas that come from a single tea estate and are unique to the region they are grown in, unlike other varieties of tea that come from many different locations despite being labeled as the same flavor.
- Fair trade & organic teas – Teas are classified as fair trade or organic based on how they are grown rather than for their flavor. Fair trade teas are classified as such if the individuals responsible for growing and maintaining the tea garden are paid and treated according to certain standards. Organic tea must be grown in soil fertilized only by natural, organic additives.
- Rare teas – Teas such as “white tea” or “pu’erh tea” are rarer than other kinds of tea, and so are often classified as specialty teas.
- Uncommon tea flavors – Though disputed, uncommon or holiday tea flavors sometimes are classified as special teas.
Examples of Specialty Tea
As you can tell from the above list of teas, there are a few different kinds of teas that can be considered specialty teas. We’ll describe some of them for you here in greater detail and provide you with information showing you how to find specialty teas available for purchase.
One of the most sought-after varieties of tea, white tea acquires its name from the way it is harvested. Though the definition varies from place to place, white tea commonly describes tea that is made with a minimal amount of processing or tea that is made from leaves picked before the buds have fully opened.
White teas don’t taste as strong as black or green teas, instead offering drinkers with a mellower, fruity taste.
Pu’erh tea is tea made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Though this plant is also used to make other kinds of tea, a different process is used when preparing Pu’erh tea.
Pu’erh tea’s specific preparation process involves fermentation and aging which contribute to Pu’erh’s unique taste. Many describe the taste of Pu’erh tea as “musty” or “earthy,” something that may or may not suit you. However, if you can overlook its funny taste, Pu’erh tea provides health benefits such as increased mental alertness and reduced cholesterol.
Sharing just one single-estate tea would do you injustice, because the thing that makes single-estate tea special is its uniqueness. Single-estate teas are often some of the most expensive available, due to their exclusivity and production — these teas are not mass-produced like some teas.
You may be able to find single-estate teas at a local tea shop, but be wary of tea shops that stock a large number of single-estate teas. Single-estate teas are often acquired by negotiations made directly with the tea-growers, which means that a shop with true single-estate teas will often only have a few of them at a time.
Online retailers are typically the best place for most people to acquire single-estate tea leaves. With careful research, you could stumble upon unique tea varieties that are literally in a field of their own.
Who is Specialty Tea For? (or, Reasons to Drink Specialty Tea)
Specialty tea obviously isn’t for everyone. Everyone can enjoy the different flavors that specialty teas have to offer, but it certainly doesn’t have to be an everyday occurrence for all people.
Tea-lovers may cringe at the thought of drinking tea that comes from a tea bag, but many people will get along fine with tea bags. Tea bags are less expensive, and much simpler to prepare, making them ideal for anyone in a hurry or who wants to consume large amounts of tea without spending too much money.
Health-oriented consumers may also opt for specialty teas due to the higher quality leaves the tea is brewed from. Many restaurants and specialty tea stores offer loose-leaf specialty teas to customers, as the popularity of specialty tea continues to rise.
Health Benefits of Drinking Tea
Tea can have a variety of benefits depending on the tea variety.
- Green tea reduces stress and may help prevent aging.
- Black teas are full of antioxidants and reduce your blood’s cholesterol levels.
- Both black and green teas may help prevent cancer. They may also have other benefits that scientists are still in the process of discovering.
- Ginger tea can reduce inflammation and soothe arthritis.
- Turmeric tea also reduces inflammation, and can also help your body prevent ulcers, indigestion, and other ailments.
- White willow bark can be made into a tea that functions similar to ibuprofen — it reduces pain and can alleviate headaches and migraines.
- Feverfew tea is a popular tea that prevents migraines and reduces pain.
- Comfrey root tea is another tea that can reduce pain.
Enjoy a Cup of Tea
Whether you drink tea for its health benefits or its taste, you’re in good company — both are great reasons to consume one of the world’s most popular drinks.