You probably already know coffee: It’s that dark liquid found in a travel mug or a paper cup, procured from a drive-through or maybe your preprogrammed home coffee maker, slurped on the road or at least on the go.
Now meet tea: Fragrant amber steaming in a china cup, poured from a teapot after steeping long enough for you to catch your breath, sipped slowly between tidbits of conversation with a friend.
While coffee evokes stress, tea conjures relaxation. Which is why local tea connoisseurs aren’t surprised by increased interest in America’s runner-up for hot morning beverages. Last year, Americans consumed 2.25 billion gallons of tea, according to the Tea Association of the USA. Sales have tripled since 1990.
“Will it ever pass coffee? No one in tea-land thinks it will, but the growth is phenomenal,” said Jennifer Petersen, who opened Vancouver’s Carnelian Rose Tea 10 years ago.
Since then, her clientele has expanded, as has interest in the body of research that tallies tea’s many health benefits. Yet the beverage’s allure goes beyond polyphenols and antioxidants.
“Tea is a linger longer experience,” Petersen said.
A report by the Sage Group, a market research firm, backs up her observations. Consumers are paying more attention to the healthfulness and quality of their food and beverages, and they enjoy the social aspect of sharing tea.
“People lead really busy, frazzled lives,” said Jane Brink, manager of Yacolt’s Pomeroy House Tea Room, which has served tea for 18 years. “It’s a way to slow down and reconnect with friends.”
Reading the leaves
Whether green, oolong or black, tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Everything else sold on the tea shelf is actually an herbal tisane or infusion.
Cyrilla Gleason makes that point early in the tea classes she offers at churches, schools and sometimes her own home. The self-described “farm girl” from Randall, Wash., and former teacher cultivated her etiquette expertise at the Protocol School of Washington.
A potted tea plant rested near her feet as she gave a private lesson to about a dozen women at Judy Sullivan’s Ridgefield home on a recent afternoon. She passed around a variety of teas for the women to sniff.
They wrinkled their noses as they inhaled the grassy scent of green tea, which is not allowed to oxidize, and instead is immediately steamed, rolled and dried. Oolong is partially fermented tea that withers, and then is partially oxidized and dried. And black tea is allowed to oxidize the longest.
She set the women straight on the correct pronunciation of orange pekoe (PECK-o), tea from large Camellia sinensis leaves, and the proper way to enjoy a scone.
Apparently, scarfing it in two bites while driving is not an option. Nor is slathering the whole scone with jam.
“You break off a bite, dot on some clotted cream and jam, take a sip of tea, turn and talk to your friend,” she said. “It can take a long time to eat a scone that way.”
Healthier than water?
Slowly savoring tea and the accompanying treats offers one set of health benefits – moderation and relaxation. The tea itself offers others.
Green and white teas have grabbed headlines, but even oolong and black teas are loaded with flavonoids, naturally occurring antioxidant compounds that neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. Studies have indicated that tea tames germs, lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol, strengthens bones, inhibits cancer growth and subdues inflammation.
Researchers at London’s Kings College go so far as to say that tea is healthier than water.
Did you know?
- All true tea – from white to black – comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, a warm-weather evergreen.
- You can decaffeinate your own tea by steeping it for 30 seconds or so, dumping off the liquid and then steeping it again to the desired strength. But you may not need to. A cup of black tea has about 40 milligrams of caffeine, compared with 100-plus in a cup of coffee.
- Although Americans often use the term “high tea” for a fancy tea party, the proper term is “afternoon tea.” High tea refers to the full meal served in the evening after work.
- The Irish drink the most tea per capita.
Tea is served at Judy Sullivan’s Ridgefield home after a class taught by Cyrilla Gleason.
Types of tea
- White: The most tender and unprocessed of teas. Steep for 1 to 3 minutes in water that’s just starting to steam.
- Green: Tender, unoxidized tea. Steep for 1 to 3 minutes in water that’s just starting to steam.
- Oolong: Partially fermented tea. Steep for 3 to 5 minutes in water starting to bubble.
- Black: The most processed and oxidized. Steep for 5 to 7
All these Teas are available on our website Teas.com.au