Care for a spot of tea? Second only to water in worldwide volume consumed each year and dating back to 1500 BC, drinking tea is a timeless tradition that’s worth participating in. There’s more to this soothing beverage than tea parties and fancy cups, and being aware of what you’re ordering, what its effects will be, and what taste you’re in for can considerably raise the enjoyment you get while sipping it. We’ll take a crash course through some tea history and characteristics and then get down to the business of knowing how to pronounce and order different varieties like an old pro.
Some fun little facts:
- Tea is thought to have originated in China around 15oo BC during the Shang Dynasty, though some legends date it even further back.
- Tea drinking spread to Europe in the 17th century.
- It was so popular in the American colonies that taxation on it made a significant impact, and rebellion against that taxation (the Boston Tea Party) helped set the stage for the American Revolutionary War.
- In England, they distinguish between afternoon tea, high tea, cup of tea, and spot of tea. Afternoon tea is a light midday meal with finger foods and tea. High tea is later- maybe 6ish- and is technically just a meal with meat. It doesn’t always have tea with it, and if you’re lower class it may mean dinner. A cup of tea is simply a cup of tea. A spot of tea usually means tea with food.
- Tea originated as a medicinal drink and ancient writings attest to its ability to sharpen mental acuity.
- Black, white, oolong, yellow and green tea are made from the same plant. They are just picked, dried, and processed differently. The darker the tea, the longer it dried before being processed.
- Herbal tea isn’t really tea, as it’s not made from the tea plant. Herbal teas are actually classified as tisanes or herbal infusions, but most people still just call them tea.
- In many languages chai means tea. So when you say chai tea, you are being redundant.
What tea has that’s good for you:
Studies show that green tea in particular protects against cancer and prevents it from spreading or reoccurring. It also has been implicated in treating many virus, namely herpes simplex. Green and Black tea also may reduce cardiovascular disease. White tea has recently been shown to be 10% more effective at boosting immunity than even green tea.
- flavonoids-work against inflammation and allergies, antioxidants may help reduce risk of cancer
- amino acids- aid in metabolism and nutritional absorption
- vitamins- B,A,C,D,E and K are all found in very small quantities in tea. Many of these vitamins help in strengthening immunity, maintaining healthy skin and eyesight, and aiding blood cell functions.
- caffeine- In moderation, this can be beneficial as a stimulant, and is implicated in reducing effects of some diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- polysaccharide- enhance digestion
Herbal teas (which we’ll look at in a bit) are often used for the herbs’ medicinal properties. They are also used for being either relaxing or stimulating, depending on the variety.
How to order the tea you’re looking for:
Choosing which tea fits your preference or your mood is easy once you get some basic principles down. We’ll look at the four most popular types of tea and some tisanes then break it down into some common varieties of each.
White tea- Good for a midday refresher
- the lightest colored and most delicate flavor of tea. It often comes as a sort of hybrid tea mixed with herbs or fruit flavors. White peach is always a safe bet. This is a tea for those who want to avoid any bitterness.
Green tea- Good for winding down
- You have to be careful here. These teas can become very strong or almost vegetable flavored if you steep them too long or choose a very strong flavor. If you’re at a coffee shop, it may be helpful to smell the tea before you choose it. They taste exactly like they smell.
- I’ve found there are three pretty distinct types of green tea tastes- smoky, vegetal, and lightly herbal. Gunpowder and Sencha are notably smoky. Jasmine and Jade are vegetal. Hybrid green and floral or herbal teas are usually more delicately flavored.
Oolong tea (wu-long) Good for a chat with a friend
- This group can be really delicious. They come in all sorts of varieties and have a flavor that resonates. Vanilla, almond, spices, herbs… really anything. This tea is characterized by it’s long, careful processing and the full flavor that comes with it. Think warm and cozy.
Black tea Good for a morning wake-up
- Chai (or chai masala)- this is black tea mixed with Indian spices and herbs. It’s traditionally made with milk, water, sugar, cinnamon, and powders of other spices simmering together until a small amount of black tea is added and allowed to steep for 10 minutes. Though most tea we’ll come across isn’t prepared in any way near this, in hot chai masala, the spices are very similar.
- Earl Grey- one of the most common teas served in the US, earl grey is what you probably think of when you think of tea. It is characterized by its citrus undertones, and commonly comes in cream and lavender flavors (both varieties considerably change the flavor). I strongly recommend trying a “London fog” made with Earl Grey cream. (London fogs are served with whipped milk or soy milk and vanilla)
- Darjeeling- this is a very strong tea with some bite to it. It comes mixed with different flavors, but is named for the area of India where it is grown, and thus always has that strong-background.
- Ceylon- This is a particular type of tea grown in Sri Lanka known for its golden color and unique flavor. Ceylon teas are usually a bit more expensive and considered more of a delicacy than other black tea.
- Rooibos (roy-boss)- named for the African plant it comes from “red bush,” rooibos have a sort of juicy undertone. They are usually combined with a rich flavor like almond, hazelnut, or vanilla. Sometimes they mix fruit in there also. I have yet to meet a rooibos I haven’t liked, but those that feature vanilla or almond are my favorites. Good for a temporary escape
- Chamomile- known for its calming effect, this tea flavor is light and flowery. Good for sick days
- Fruity, orchard flavors- many of the zingers and fruity store-bought teas you find are actually these herbal infusions. Good for a late night cup
- Blooms- Here you get some entertainment with your drink. These are flowers that are sewn shut. When you put them in your cup of hot water they open up and release their delicate floral flavors. Good for a treat
So now we can strut up to that coffee counter with confidence. Explore different varieties of teas and tisanes. Find out what you like and don’t like, so when you meet someone for a coffee date, you can make a quick decision and have a satisfactory choice.