Go Get Tea-ed Off!
By Melissa Conroy

Whether it is a steamy mug of red rooibos on a cold winter day, a fragrant spot of Earl Grey in an elegant tea house, or a misty glass of lemon verbena on a hot summer day, tea hits the spot every time. Tea can be comforting, thirst-quenching, bracing, warming, cooling, healing and addictive!

While the history of tea is somewhat unclear, we know that the Chinese were enjoying tea as early as the 10th century B.C. The tea they drank was brewed from camellia sinensis, a species of plants that originated in southern Asia. The delicious taste of tea and its reported medicinal qualities caused tea-drinking to spread to other Asian countries and eventually to Europe. When Charles II married the tea-loving Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganca, she helped popularize tea in Britain. Today, tea is drunk around the world, and it is an important part of many cultures.

The standard tea bag you receive in your cup at a restaurant or buy in bulk at a grocery store is a black tea known as Orange Pekoe, and is widely available. However, there is no reason for you to limit yourself to just one type. Tea has become a huge focus as of late, particularly because of tea’s health benefits. Growers around the world are producing a staggering amount of different varieties and blends. In fact, the time and weather in which a tea is picked will determine the type of tea: a single tea garden can be picked multiple times a year and can produce up to 200 pickings! A novice tea drinker can easily become bedazzled by the sheer amount of teas available: Gunpowder, Second Flush Darjeeling, Yerba Mate, China Oolong and that is not counting blended teas and special creations such as Chocolate Jasmine or Vanilla Coconut White Tea!

Luckily, teas are broadly divided into several categories. They are as follows.

White tea: The most health-beneficial and expensive of all teas, white tea is produced from the sun-dried buds and leaves of the tea plant. White tea is not oxidized (the method of exposing teal leaves to the air) and is the least-processed of all teas. Popular white teas are White Peony, White Pu-erh and White Silver Needles.

Green tea: Similar to white tea, green tea is also not oxidized, but it is usually dried through heat as opposed to sun and it is made from the leaves only, not the buds. Green tea drinkers enjoy a variety of green teas such as Zu Ch, Sencha and Matcha (powdered green tea).

Oolong tea: This type of tea is partially oxidized. Some oolong varieties are lightly oxidized, which gives them more of a floral taste while heavier oxidized oolong teas have a more toasted, intense flavor. Popular oolong teas are Pouchong, Monkey Picked and Rain Flower.

Black tea: The most highly oxidized and caffeinated of all teas, black tea is bracing, strong and full-bodied. It also is typically the tea that people are most familiar with: ask for tea in a restaurant, and you are sure to be served black tea. While most people know black tea in its form of Orange Pekoe, other black teas such as English Breakfast, Assam and Darjeeling are also very popular.

Herbal teas: Although not technically tea since they are not made from camellia sinensis plants, herbal teas are brewed from other plants and widely enjoyed. There are many wild plants and herbs such as mint or lemon balm that make wonderful teas, and tea herbs are usually quite easy to grow. Some herbal teas (such as echinacea or horehound) are brewed mainly for their medicinal qualities, while others are drunk simply because they are delicious. Popular herbal teas include Chocolate Mint, Chrysanthemum and Rose Hip.

Whatever tea you choose to indulge in, it will need a little care in preparation. Here are some tips to keep in mind when making tea.
Make sure you brew tea in fresh, oxygenated water. Don’t use water that has been sitting in the tea kettle.
Lighter teas (such as green teas) generally need one tablespoon of tea per cup while heavier teas (black tea) need about one teaspoon.
Different teas have different brew times and water temperature requirements. In general, white and green teas should have cooler water (160-180 F) and shorter brewing time (two to three minutes), while black teas needs higher heat (190-200 F) and longer brewing time (three to five minutes). Herbal teas may need four to eight minutes. Be sure to follow the instructions on the package.
If you are brewing tea in a teapot, first slosh some hot water around in the pot to warm it up. Dump the water out, then add the tea and water.
Use tea cups and mugs when you can because cardboard and Styrofoam cups can affect the taste of tea.

Drinking tea is wonderful for the soul and spirit, and your body also will benefit from the health benefits of tea, such as the following.
Tea contain polyphenols, a type of antioxidant.
Green tea is the best way to consume another type of antioxidant called catechins, which are more effective at stopping cellular damage than Vitamin E and C.
Green and black tea reduce your risk of heart disease.
White tea is rich in fluoride and helps prevent tooth decay.
Green and white teas are powerful disease-fighters.
Black tea can help lower your cortisol level, which reduces stress.

After the teapot is drained, you will have tea bags and loose leaves left. While you can rebrew them, there are other uses for old tea bags and leaves.
Plants love tea! Mix tea with potting soil, add tea bags/leaves to your compost pile, and pour old tea on your houseplants.
Make a treasure map with your grandchildren. Crumple up a piece of paper, then smooth it out somewhat. Daub a wet tea bag over the paper to make it look old. Have them design a map on the paper.
Sooth your skin. Cold tea bags can relieve tired eyes, heal sunburns, and calm bee stings.
Dye white or linen fabrics with tea to give them some new color and life.

Now, it’s time for you to go put the tea kettle on, find your favorite mug and investigate some new types of tea. With the last days of winter blowing itself out, now is the perfect time to warm up with a soothing, healing cup of tea.

Please support OutLook by the Bay with a subscription.

OutLook by the Bay magazine and this website are made possible through the support of our advertisers and subscribers. We guarantee you’ll learn something new each issue. Please subscribe today.