Hama Hama, Beau Soleil, Kusshi. The names of these briny, succulent oysters delight. And they can confound, given that there are dozens of varieties available. The reality is there are only five species of oyster, and at most restaurants you’re likely to find only three: Kumamoto, Atlantic and Pacific. (The other two—intense European flats and tiny Olympias—are far more rare.) The next time you order a dozen, ask the server to split them up according to the categories shown here. Keep this up and pretty soon you’ll know a Lone Point from an Olde Salt.KUMAMOTO
With a fluted shell and a deep cup, this diminutive and delicious Japanese oyster stands apart from other species. It’s the best bivalve for first-timers.
TASTES LIKE: Sweet, tender and not too salty, Kumamoto oysters are fruity and evoke the flavor of a fresh cucumber.ATLANTIC
Oysters grown on the Eastern seaboard are the most widely available—think Wellfleets, Malpeques and Blue Points.
TASTES LIKE: These typically have a seawaterlike saltiness and tend to be firm in texture. PACIFIC
The past decade has seen the farming of more varieties than ever before in the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Ocean’s lower salinity lets more true oyster flavor come through.
TASTES LIKE: Creamier and sweeter than Atlantic oysters, Pacifics can taste of butter, melon and minerals.
If you’re bold enough to shuck your own oysters, equip yourself with a steel-mesh glove and a good oyster knife. The New Haven knife by Massachusetts-based R. Murphy is the gold standard. ($14, rmurphyknives.com)