Their taste, in the end, is local.
Whether you're headed to a raw bar or to the market (see How to Shuck Oysters if that's the case), this guide will help you decipher the world of oyster labeling and oyster types.
1. Crassostrea gigas - Pacific Oysters
Today Pacifics are usually named after where they are grown, such as Totten Inlet and Fanny Bay, but some are trade names such as the justly well-known Sweetwater oyster from Hog Island Oyster Company.
2. Crassostrea sikamea - Kumamoto Oysters
Kumamotos used to be lumped in with Pacific oysters, but it ends up they are their very own species.
3. Crassostrea virginicas - Atlantic Oysters (Bluepoints, Wellfleets, and More)
True bluepoints are raised in Long Island's Great South Bay where they were first found. Today "bluepoint oyster" is often used as a general term for any Atlantic oyster served on the half-shell (i.e. "New Jersey bluepoints" and "Virginia bluepoints"), which, if you know they are all the same species anyway, is amusingly absurd.
Wellfleet oysters are grown in Wellfleet Harbor in the northeastern part of Cape Cod. Enthusiasts correctly detect many differences between oysters grown in different parts of the harbor.
4. Ostrea edulis - European FlatsEuropean flats are often called Belons. While Belons are, indeed, European flats, not all European flats are Belons (Belons must be grown in the Brittany region of France). Once the most common oyster in Europe, Europeans are increasingly appreciative of Pacific oysters while Maine and Washington state oyster farms are increasingly charmed by European flats.
European flats are characterized by their smooth flat shell (no surprise there!) and lovely seaweed and sharp mineral taste. They have a meaty texture and, for those used to different kinds of oysters, almost a crunch to them.
5. Ostrea lurida or Ostrea conchapila - Olympia OystersOlympias make the tiny Kumamotos look like giants, often coming in about the size of a quarter. They are the only oyster native to the West Coast of the U.S. Their popularity in San Francisco during the Gold Rush almost wiped them out, and they were believed to be extinct for decades. Wild populations still exist, however, and are strictly protected. Olympias at the market and in restaurants are cultivated, mostly in the Puget Sound and British Columbia.
Olympias are sweet, coppery, and metallic.