Once 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
In 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
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.
Tea 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.
There 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.
Today, 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
You 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.
How to brew the perfect cup of tea:
- Start with a preheated pot or cup (simply fill your teapot or cup with
very hot water and let it stand for a moment).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Stir before serving.
- 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.
- 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!
A Cup of Tea,
The Tea Companion,
Jane Pettigrew and David Prebenna
Let's Have a Tea Party!,
Emilie Barnes, et al
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