Tea Aficionado Information


Insider Info

dotOnce an afternoon pastime savored by Britain's upper crust, high tea has become a ritual practiced by many people at all levels of society. Just as specialty coffee shops are enjoying a boom, more and more people are discovering the soothing benefits of a relaxing cup of tea.

Whether you prefer a strong-bodied Ceylon or the fragrant nuance of a herbal, new research shows that some tea is low in caffeine and a good source of healthful antioxidants. So warm that teapot and boil the water, it's time for a cup of tea.

dotIn this age of coffee-induced angst, it is interesting to learn that there is a quiet but growing movement of tea drinkers. People of all ages are learning that tea not only tastes good, but has psychological and physical health benefits as well.

While coffee houses may rule North America right now, going out for tea may be the social occasion of the future -- whether people go out to one of the growing number of tea houses or invite friends to their own home to chat and relax over a cup.

dotTea is made from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, which was found growing wild in India and first cultivated in China. As legend has it, this 5,000-year-old beverage was discovered in 2737 BC by a Chinese emperor when some tea leaves accidentally blew into a pot of boiling water.

In the 1600s, tea became popular throughout Europe and the American colonies. Since colonial days, tea has played a role in American culture and customs. Today, American students learn about the famous Boston Tea Party protesting the British tea tax -- one of the acts leading to the Revolutionary War.

During this century, there have been two major North American contributions to the tea industry. In 1904, iced tea was created at the World's Fair in St. Louis. In 1908, Thomas Sullivan of New York developed the concept of tea in a bag.

dotThere are three basic types of tea: black, green and oolong. In North America, over 90 percent of the tea consumed is black. Black tea has been fully oxidized or fermented and yields a dark and hearty brew.

Green tea skips the oxidizing step. It has a more delicate taste and is light green or golden in color. Green tea, a staple in the Orient, is gaining popularity in North America due in part to recent scientific studies linking it with reducing the risk of cancer.

Oolong tea, popular in China, is partly oxidized and is a cross between black and green tea in color and taste.

While flavoured teas come from these three basic teas, herbal teas contain no true tea leaves. Herbal and "medicinal" teas are created from the flowers, berries, peels, seeds, leaves and roots of different plants.

dotToday, there are more than 3,000 varieties of tea, each having its own distinct character and named for the area in which it is grown (like Darjeeling in India).

Getting Started

dotYou may already be a tea fanatic, or only enjoy a cup when you're visiting grandma. But if you want to be considered a teetotaller, you've got to have the right equipment.

  • Pure, fresh water (spring or purified, if possible) -- using very hard or artificially softened water can significantly change the flavour of tea
  • A saucepan or kettle in which to boil the water (preferably glass or enamel-coated metal)
  • A ceramic, glass or enamel teapot -- to be true to the brew, steep western teas in glass or ceramic pots, and Asian teas in ceramic or enamel teapots (to steep means to let the tea simmer or brew in the hot water for a few minutes)
  • Quality black, green or oolong tea leaves, or herbal leaves and flowers; one teaspoon per cup, plus one for the pot
  • (optional) A fine mesh strainer or tea ball -- these can be found for less than $5 at specialty kitchenware shops
  • (optional) A tea cozy: a kind of warm hat for your teapot.

    Cozies are deemed essential in places where the temperature will chill the water in the pot to the point that it's too cool for proper steeping and enjoyable drinking. Cozies are sometimes hard to find in North America. Your best bet would be to search out craft fairs or specialty kitchenware shops.

How to brew the perfect cup of tea:

  1. Start with a preheated pot or cup (simply fill your teapot or cup with very hot water and let it stand for a moment).
  2. Use fresh cold water. In areas with poor tap water, use bottled or filtered water. Never use water from the hot water tap. Let the tap water run for a few seconds until it is quite cold; this ensures that the water is full of oxygen to release the full flavor of the tea leaves.
  3. Bring water to a rolling boil. Don't let it boil too long, as it will boil away the flavor-releasing oxygen and result in a flat-tasting cup of tea. Pour boiling water on tea leaves or a tea bag.
  4. Brew three to five minutes (for green teas, water should be a bit cooler and only steep for one to three minutes).

Now you're ready for the fun part -- serving and drinking the tea. Specific teas are traditionally served certain ways.

Serve black tea with milk, lemon or sugar, if desired. Never serve black tea with cream -- it's too rich, and overwhelms the flavor. Green tea is served without anything at all. Herbal teas are usually served as is, with honey or with lemon.

Now that you're a teetotaller, keep these tips in mind:

  1. While using loose leaves in a pot is definitely recommended, using a tea ball or strainer is acceptable. Be sure it is large enough to hold the amount of tea needed for the pot.
  2. Stir before serving.
  3. Try to draw the line at pre-packaged tea bags. Some large companies hide substandard ingredients in the bags, and some retailers don't throw out old boxes that have been sitting around for way too long.
  4. If you must use tea bags, try to buy them from a retailer that is known for its appreciation of tea -- or at least one that has a high turnover of product. Take as much care in preparation as you would if using loose leaves; you'll notice the difference for sure.

Remember this is just what the tea experts recommend. The important thing is to find a brew that works for you. Don't be afraid to experiment and to try things. And remember, it's always time for tea!

Publications

A Cup of Tea,
by  Amy Ephron
The Tea Companion,
by  Jane Pettigrew and David Prebenna
Let's Have a Tea Party!,
by  Emilie Barnes, et al

Links

A World of Tea
Lots of links here

Tea and Health
Contains information about healthy drinking and fluid replacement

The Perfect Pot of Tea
Learn how to make tea from eHow