The Wide World of Teas

I am an avid tea drinker. I can’t quite remember exactly when I began drinking tea, or who introduced it to me for that matter….but now I’m a believer, and even more so, I’ve become a proselytizer. Give me 30 mins. and I will show you the world that can exist in a tea cup, in all its wonderment and subtlety.

Now, let me also say that if you’ve never had tea that didn’t come in a cardboard box, or sit in your cup in a little bag, you’ve never had tea. You’ve had s**t in a cup. And s**t is not tea.

That stuff…it isn’t tea. It’s not real tea. More accurately, it’s not good tea. Lipton, Celestial Seasonings, etc….those are the McDonald’s and Burger Kings of the tea world. They’re not toxic waste, but if the only hamburger you’ve ever eaten is a McDonald’s burger….oh my!!! You’ve never had a hamburger!!!

So, some time ago, I was wandering with a friend of mine. I mentioned that I wanted to stop at Argo Tea for some caffeine.

Now, I will occasionally drink coffee-based drinks. I love a good latte, or Mocha, and even a flavored ice coffee, but those are only occasional vices…tea is my mainstay. So, we went to Argo tea.

I greeted the young man and woman behind the counter. I told them that I wanted something with a higher caffeine content, but was sweet to the taste. I tasted a few options. I finally settled on my drink, and looked over to my friend, “what are you having?”

“I don’t drink tea. It tastes like burnt leaves!”

WTF?!?!?!?! Huh????? Excuse you??? Oh hell no!

“You obviously haven’t had tea before.”

She went on to tell me how people have attempted to give her tea before, but she’s never liked it, didn’t like the taste, etc., etc.

So I look at the two people standing behind the counter.

“We have a non-believer in our midst. Could you work your magic. Can we get a few tastes of something fruity, and sweet.”

After a few tastes, she actually says “Mmmm” and perks up at the taste of a sweet hibiscus tea, and she settles on a Hibiscus Tea Sangria.

Let me just tell you she loved that drink. It even came topped off by fresh fruit. You could have easily added a little alcohol to it and gotten a nice buzz.

So from there, I took her to Teavana. Now, Argo Tea is where go for my drinks, but Teavana is where I go when I want dry tea for home They have  a much larger and varied selection in my opinion.

Now, normally when you go to Teavana, they have little tasting stations with a large variety of teas to taste and choose from. Well, this day was no different, and the selection did not disappoint.

We were both blown away by the extremely tasty samples. She couldn’t believe that a few of them were tea, and didn’t have juice or any other additions.

And I can assure you, we hadn’t even scratched the surface. There are quite a few types of tea. Tea isn’t always about flavor. It has a large array of health benefits…and sometimes, tea can be a thing of beauty. Allow me to give you a slight introduction to the wide world of tea.

a history of tea

The history of tea is fascinating and offers great insight into the history of our world. Since tea was first discovered in China, it has traveled the world conquering the thirsts of virtually every country on the planet. Tea is the most popular beverage in the world as well as one of the healthiest. If you have ever wondered where tea comes from and how we got to the point where tea is served in virtually every corner of the world, steep a hot cup of tea and explore the history of the simple tea leaf over the centuries!

One legend claims that the discovery of tea occurred in 2737 BC by the Emperor of China.  For several hundred years, people drank tea because of its herbal medicinal qualities.  By the time of the Western Zhou Dynasty, tea was used as a religious offering.  During the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), tea plants were quite limited and only royalty and the rich drank tea not only for their health but also for the taste.  As more tea plants were discovered during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), tea drinking became more common among lower classes and the Chinese government supported planting of tea plants and even the building of tea shops so everyone could enjoy tea.

Also during the Tang Dynasty, tea spread to Japan by Japanese priests studying in China.  Similar to the Chinese adoption of tea, tea was first consumed by priests and the rich for its medicinal properties.  Tea is often associated with Zen Buddhism in Japan because priests drank tea to stay awake and meditate.  Soon, the Buddhists developed the Japanese Tea Ceremony for sharing tea in a sacred, spiritual manner.  The Emperor of Japan enjoyed tea very much and imported tea seeds from China to be planted in Japan, making tea available to more people.

 

Tea finally arrived in England during the 17th century when King Charles II married a Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza.  The Queen made tea the drink of royalty and soon tea became a popular import to Britain via the East India Company.  Afternoon tea or tea parties became a common way for aristocratic society to drink tea.  Though tea was regularly imported to Britain, the taxes were so high that smugglers would get and sell tea illegally for those that could not afford it.  In attempts to turn profits during the tea smuggling period, the East India Company began exporting the tea to America.  The American tea was also taxed heavily and contributed to the cause of the Boston Tea Party.

loose leaf vs. bag tea

There are a number of reasons, but they all come back to quality.  Though loose leaf teas and teas in bags (particularly the commercial supermarket brand tea bags) originate from the same plant, there are a few factors that influence the quality, taste and longevity of the final tea

High quality loose teas are made from the Camellia sinensis plant’s finest hand-picked buds, whole tea leaves, large pieces of leaves or a combination of these parts.  The time of year and growing conditions greatly affect the quality of tea.  When all of these factors are taken into account, much like a fine wine, the tea retains its distinctive flavors and characteristics.

In contrast, the tea found in tea bags usually consist of smaller pieces of tea leaves or tea fannings (also referred to as dusts) which may give a quicker brew, but lack the subtlety and full flavor of the larger loose leaf teas.  In fact, some loose leaf teas can even be re-steeped yielding multiple cups of flavorful and healthy tea.  Tea bags can also release more tannins than loose teas giving a harsher flavor to the tea.

Both loose leaf and bagged tea have expiration dates.  Generally, tea will lose flavor after six months and become stale after one year if not stored properly.

types of tea

Types of Tea

All tea is produced from a plant called Camellia sinensis. The thousands of different varieties of teas available in the world only vary by the region it was grown, the time of year picked, and the processing method. Each type of tea has its own characteristics including a different taste and differing health benefits.

White Teas

White tea is the purest and least processed of all teas.  This loose leaf tea brews a light color and flavor.

Green Teas

Green tea is the most popular type of tea, mainly because it is the beverage of choice in Asia. Some loose green teas are scented with flowers or mixed with fruits to create scented or flavored teas.

Oolong Teas

Oolong tea, also known as wu long tea, is full-bodied with a flavorful fragrance and sweet aroma.  Most people commonly recognize oolong tea as the Chinese tea served in Chinese restaurants.

Black Teas

Black tea is the tea most people know since you likely grew up dipping tea bags of black tea in your cup (or enjoyed this tea from an iced tea pitcher in the South).

Herbal Teas

Herbal tea does not contain any leaves from the Camellia plant family, so it is sometimes referred to as a tisane. Herbal teas can be broken into three categories: rooibos teas, mate teas, and herbal infusions. Herbal infusions consist of pure herbs, flowers, and fruits. They can be delicious hot or iced

Rooibos Teas

Rooibos tea, or red tea, is made from a South African red bush. Rooibos teas can be delicious hot or iced.

Mate Teas

Mate tea is considered the coffee lover’s favorite tea. Made from the leaves and twigs of the yerba mate plant, mate tea is a particular favorite of coffee drinkers because it tastes like coffee.

Blooming Teas

Also called artisan or flowering teas, these teas actually ‘bloom’ as they steep. They are hand tied by tea artists and often include some type of flavor or scent along with the beautiful design.

Blooming lavender tea. Romantic right?

Blooming lavender tea. Romantic right?

Tea Blends

Tea blends often have the best of both worlds since they combine more than one type of premium tea.  Mixing teas in a blend is one of the best ways to get great flavor.

Tea is more than just a drink. It is a connection to the past, and to nature, and to a higher state of being. If you haven’t given tea a chance, I encourage you to do so today. Why yes, coffee does have health benefits, but it just doesn’t have the character of tea.

Give tea a chance.

*The source of all the above material is http://www.teavana.com unless otherwise noted.

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