Steeped in tradition, tea drinking is an ancient art form, from the making of the tea itself to the drinking of it. In Japan, learning to perform a traditional tea ceremony takes a lifetime of study. And attending one, which can take 6 hours to perform, is almost as difficult. Fortunately for us, tea drinking in America is much more casual, with store shelves stocked with so many different varieties of tea that it could take years to sample them all. Still, oddly enough, most of us don’t really know that much about tea. So here’s a tasty sampler of stuff that all tea lovers, or soon to be tea lovers, should know about their favorite potion.
TYPES OF TEA
First, let’s delve into the differences between teas. True tea is tea that comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. There are four types of “true” tea (the tea you know and love): white tea, green tea, oolong tea and black tea. The difference between each of these types of tea lies in how they are made. Also, there is herbal tea, or “tisane””, which is tea infused with fresh or dried flowers, leaves, seeds or roots (better known as chamomile, rose hip, lavender, etc.)
You might not realize this, but once the tea lives are removed from the tree, they must be processed. The leaves may be Steamed, Dried, Processed, or Fermented. What does it all mean?! These processes not only separate tea into types, but also taste, processing time, and even health benefits.
White tea must be mentioned first because it is picked the earlier than the other types of tea—before the buds open fully—and is the least processed. Therefore, because white tea undergoes the least amount of processing, it is the healthiest. White tea leaves are steamed dry, rather than air dried. The C. sinesis plant contains polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant used to fight cancer. Also, according to a recent study by Pace University, white tea helps your immune system, effectively fighting off bacteria. Even though it is the least processed, this type of tea is generally more expensive.
Green tea is the least processed of the fully grown teas. It goes through only two or three steps. After plucking, the leaves “wither” by oxidation and lose moisture. The oxidation process of green tea is stopped after a minimal amount of steaming, the traditional Japanese method, or by dry cooking in hot pans, the traditional Chinese method. In addition to polyphenols, the C. sinesis plant contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another powerful antioxidant. Our bodies need antioxidants to fight diseases, and therefore, green tea helps prevents a number of them, including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular disease. Green tea even prevents cavities!
Oolong tea and black tea aren’t as healthy as green tea because they have been fermented, and the less processed a tea, the healthier a tea. Oolong is somewhere in the middle between green tea and black teaa. The tea is only partially fermented, whereas black tea goes through the entire fermenting process.
Black tea is the most common tea. Black tea is formed from green tea leaves that have had a chance to oxidize, or ferment, making reddish-colored tea (in fact, in China, black tea is referred to as “red tea,” not to be confused with herbal tea).
Herbal teas are a completely different animal (or should I say plant?). This type of tea is made from any herbal infusion other than from the leaves of the tea bush. It is made by steeping herbs in hot water.
There are many health benefits associated with drinking herbal tea. Herbal tea can help with digestion problems, insomnia, nausea, concentration and headaches. They can also be used for skin cleansing and boosting your immune system. Tea containing lemon balm are ideal for calming your nerves and soothing away any stresses and strains. This type of herbal tea is also believed to have some anti-depressant properties too.
TEA IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Tea drinking isn’t just a tradition for British ladies wearing the most expensive dresses and gossiping around a plate of crumpets. There are a lot of countries with their own traditions of tea drinking.
First, we travel to Japan, where drinking tea has been strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism and is therefore quite a ritual, called Cha-no-yu (translated as “hot water for tea”). In this ceremony, powdered green tea leaves, or “matcha” must be prepared using very special implements, by a trained practitioner and served to a small group of people. Becoming a tea practitioner is not an easy task, and often takes many years to learn. The ritual involves a number of prescribed movements and tools. A bamboo whisk is used to stir the tea in a bowl that is shared by everyone. The bowl is passed around the circle of guests, during which time they express great admiration for the decorations on the bowl and simplicity of the event. The Japanese term Cha-no-yu usually refers to a single ceremony, while Sado or Chado (or “the way of tea”) refers to the study of these ceremonies.
From how it’s brewed to the drinking utensils, such as tea pots, tea drinking in China is an art form. For over two thousand years, the Chinese have cultivated tea, and therefore tea is extremely important to them. In fact, all tea trees have their origins directly or indirectly in China, and Asian countries account for 90 percent of the world’s total tea output.
Tea plays an important role in Chinese day to day life. For the Chinese, tea drinking and tea tasting are not the same. Tea drinking is for refreshment; tea tasting has a cultural meaning. Like most countries, different items are popular in different regions of the country. Scented tea is popular in northern China; green tea is preferred in eastern China and black tea is the most admired for people in Fujian and Guangdong.
And, of course, there’s England’s tradition of “afternoon tea.” Afternoon tea is rumored to have been started by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. Apparently, she would grow tired and hungry between lunch and her late dinner (usually not served until 8 pm). In late afternoon, she began to order treats from her cook (wouldn’t that be nice?), and a copious array of desserts and tea were served. Since she invited her many friends to dine with her, afternoon “high” tea quickly became popular. Soon, it became a social affair, with all the best hostesses competing with the best dresses, tea and pastries. This lavish tradition is no longer a daily affair, but you can experience it in several fancy British (or British inspired) hotels.
By the way, tea isn’t only for drinking! We’ve found some exciting tea-inspired goodies for anyone wanting to feel the full benefits of tea in lots of unusual ways.
Crazy Rumors Brew Tea Balm
This wonderful vitamin-enriched, tea flavored lip balm is perfect for keeping your lips oh-so-smoochable! This product is all-natural and Vegan friendly (no petroleum!), but still makes your lips feel oh-so-soft. Crazy Rumors offers five tasty tea flavors: Apple Spice, Ginger Peach, Orange Bergamot, Peppermint Lemongrass, and Spiced Chai ($3.49). For more information about how to make your lips feel soft, supple, and healthy, visit www.crazyrumors.com
Earth Science Chamomile and Green Tea Eye Makeup Remover
Hate that stinging feeling when you remove your eye make-up? Earth Science Chamomile & Green Tea Eye Makeup Remover is pH balanced for those sensitive eyes and is rich in antioxidants to prevent skin damage. Extremely mild, yet effective, the remover doesn’t leave a greasy film behind! ($7.50) For more information about the entire line of Earth Science’s products, visit www.theNewES.com
Bidwell Green Tea and Wasabi Soap
Bidwell Botanicals offers a creamy long lasting bar that will gently cleanse your skin and enhance your bathing experience. Once you have indulged in these tea-enhanced skin pampering bars and delight in their wonderful fragrances you will never go back to the commercial variety. Leave the detergents in the dishwasher! ($6.50) For more information about Bidwell’s entire product line, visit www.bidwellbotanicals.com
Molo Tea LanternHere’s a cool new way to brew tea- the “Tea Lantern” from the Molo Float collection. Float is a line of thermally resistant glassware designed to emphasize the expressive colors and charms of tea, scotch, juice, or whatever beverage you prefer. The suspended bowl design of the float pieces creates a lens of liquid color that projects a play of colored light onto your table top ($120-$150).
Here’s a surprisingly tasty summer cocktail, perfect to beat the summer heat!
- 4 teabags steeped in 1 cup boiling water
7 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 large can orange juice concentrate
1 small can lemonade concentrate
? cup bourbon (or more…)
Mix ingredients together in a plastic pitcher. Freeze overnight and garnish with orange slices, mint or pineapple. This recipe serves a lot of people, so be sure to invite everyone you know to share it with you!