Coffee is great, but even die-hard coffee lovers might want to give tea a chance. The other beloved warm beverage, tea imparts to its drinkers some formidable health benefits, an extra boost of alertness without the same caffeine slump of coffee, and a considerable variety of choices. Here's how to get started enjoying the best possible tea.
Why You Should Be Drinking Tea
1) Tea's health benefits: Although coffee has been linked to some health benefits such as lower risk of certain types of cancer, there are also some negative effects associated with coffee, such as caffeine dependency. Deep down inside, heavy coffee drinkers suspect there is such a thing as too much coffee.
On the flip side, a great many more studies have attributed health benefits to tea, from reducing cancer risk to preventing obesity, and very few have proven negative tea-drinking effects (you can see a comparison of these two drinks' health benefits in this infographic.)
2) Alertness without the caffeine crash: Tea can provide you with that alertness that coffee is known for—without the later caffeine slump or drop. Both drinks contain caffeine, but they vary in their amounts of caffeine (in general, coffee has more caffeine per cup than tea, but this can differ by tea varietal. In The Book of Coffee and Tea, Joel, David, and Karl Schapira say that the extraction of coffee is nearly complete in the brewing of coffee, whereas a five-minute infusion of tea extracts only three-quarters of the caffeine).
Aside from the concentration of caffeine in a cup of coffee versus tea, there's a difference in the way the caffeine in tea affects you compared to the caffeine in coffee (much like caffeine's effects vary depending on genetics and other factors). One source, citing a coffee and tea industry publication, says that the other chemical compounds in coffee and tea—besides caffeine—can either enhance (in coffee's case) or mute (in tea's case) the effects of caffeine. The beneficial antioxidants, polyphenols, in tea may make the body absorb caffeine differently, over a longer period of time. So, while you might have to stop drinking coffee by noon to avoid sleep problems, you probably can go on drinking tea the rest of the day with no ill effects.
3) With Tea, You'll never get bored: Last but not least, tea is an exquisite and varied drink, ranging from the very subtle white teas to unique flavored teas to more astringent black teas. If you enjoy experimenting with different coffee varietals' tastes—pitting the acidic Guatemalan coffee beans against smoother and fuller-bodied Sumatra coffee—tea can provide you that wide world of exploration too... and then some.
What Teas To Drink?
Black teas in general may be better suited for coffee lovers because they have a stronger taste, but here are some more specific suggestions for teas that could suit your palate:
For bright teas to wake you up: Try some of the so-called "breakfast teas" like English Breakfast or Irish Breakfast. These are a blend of strong-tasting black teas, though there's no consensus between one tea provider or another on what a breakfast blend consists of. Many Irish Breakfast teas use Assam tea leaves (tea from the Assam district in India), which produces a tea that is "pungent, malty tasting, and full-bodied and looks unusually dark," according to James Norwood Pratt's Tea Lover's Treasury. The breakfast tea may make a nice alternative if you drink coffee for it's eye-opening qualities.
Tea made from yerba mate, while not technically tea because it's made from a plant other than Camellia sinensis, has a high caffeine concentration, perhaps even more than coffee, as well as potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits.
For distinctive flavors: No tea will replace the way coffee tastes, but if you want something more unusual and stronger than, say, the Lipton variety, consider Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, or Genmachai.
Earl Grey is a wildly popular and unique-tasting tea scented with the oil of bergamot. In general, Earl Grey teas are mild-flavored and have a delicate scent, yet are at the same time quite distinctive.
If you like nutty coffees like some Guatemalan coffees or nut-flavored coffees (e.g., hazelnut coffee), you might enjoy Genmaicha, a Japanese green tea that adds roasted brown rice to the infusion for a stronger flavor often described as "popcorn-like."
For balanced, healthy teas: Perhaps you don't want a tea that matches coffee in its strong flavor, but is just a good plain tea. If you like the tea you usually get at Chinese restaurants, try Oolong tea, a cross between lighter-flavored green and stronger black teas. Oolong has been called the "champagne of teas" and is characteristically a smooth, all-around refreshing tea.
There are a great many more types of teas, so your best bet is to explore.