I had plans to start a series on stocks and sauces this week, but instead I want to talk about tea. Over the holidays we inherited a beautiful La Pavoni Espresso Machine from some dear friends. In all the excitement of pulling espresso shots, and my feeble attempts at making latte art, my daily tea ritual fell a bit into the background.
Then, this week we lost our beloved family cat. She was a Manx, with no tail and a hopping gait. She preferred to be in the middle of everything, and looked like a little black bear so we gave her the Ojibwe name for bear, Mukwa. She was as much a part of our family as any pet could be. If we were sick, she knew it and would station herself on the bed like a guard just watching us with her thoughtful little gaze. But when my son River was sick, she preferred to lay on top of him like a hen guarding her eggs. She cared for us just as much as we cared for her. I mention this because throughout the week I felt myself craving tea even more than usual, and I am reminded of the revitalizing, nurturing, and clarifying essence in a cup of tea.
Once upon a time, I spent a lovely year working in a tea shop, where I occasionally heard people say that they didn’t like tea because “it’s too much like drinking water”. Sure, it is more like drinking water compared to drinking a strong cup of coffee. This is the thing, and it really did take me over 30 years to discover it, but our taste buds and palates adapt. The more you taste wine for instance, the more you can actually taste the flavorful characteristics of wine. The same is true of tea, especially with certain delicate white and green teas. The more tea you try and explore, the more your palate opens and your capacity for tasting and enjoying all the intricacies found these exquisite brews increases.
Tea is known to be native to southern China and was first prized for its botanical and medicinal properties. The story goes that in 2737 B.C., the Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea while sitting under a wild tea tree and a breeze blew a few leaves into a pot of water he had simmering over a fire.
Japan and China perhaps have the longest history and are most well known for their mindful and stunning tea ceremonies. But the fact remains; tea is the most consumed beverage in all the world.
A ritual can be found in any task, if you want to find it. Tea just naturally happens to be a lovely way to access this state of mindfulness. From choosing your cup,
to boiling the water,
to touching the leaves,
to watching the steam as the tea brews,
to sharing with a friend,
to feeling the warmth of the cup in your hands,
to breathing in the delicate scent,
to taking the first sip–
these are all access points to enter the present moment. When I think of tea, I think the Persian scientist and philosopher, Omar Khayyám gets it right:
Be happy for this moment, for this moment is your life.
All real tea comes from the same tea plant, Camellia Sinensis (camel-lia sinen-sis). What makes each tea unique is where it is grown, when the leaves are picked, and how the leaves are handled. Once the leaves are harvested, they are set out to wither on trays for drying. What happens next determines what kind of tea it will become.
There are five basic types of tea:
White Tea (unfermented)
New tea buds are picked before they open. Then they are withered and dried resulting in the most unprocessed of all teas. Sometimes thought of as an acquired taste because of its gentle and delicate flavor profile, the subtlety and wonder of white tea is a true adventure.
Green Tea (unfermented)
The picked leaves are dried and heat-treated to stop any fermentation. In China, green teas are mostly processed by roasting and in Japan they are usually steamed. Flavor profiles of green teas range from earthy hay and mineral, to bright and grassy depending on where and how the leaves were handled.
Oolong tea (semi-fermented)
Oolong is mostly produced in China and Taiwan. The leaves must not be picked too soon and are wilted in direct sunlight, shaken to just slightly bruise the leaves and then dried for an hour or two before firing to stop the oxidation process. Oolongs are beautifully mellow teas with flavor profiles ranging from musty, wet leaf notes to floral.
Black Tea (fermented)
This process includes four steps: withering, rolling, fermenting & firing. There is a vast variety of black teas from the delicate darjeeling to the bold Assam. From India to China, black teas range in flavor and color depending on the production process.
Herbal and Fruit Teas (aka Tisanes)
These teas may not contain any actual “tea” but are no less soothing. These teas are made of various parts of dried herbs and flowers (leaves, fruit, root, flower, bark, stems & seeds).
There is a lot of science out there that digs deep into how and why tea is so good for us. As with anything food related, quality matters. If you drink a high quality loose leaf tea, the health benefits will be more abundant. Green tea is believed to have the most health benefits out of all the tea varieties. All tea has less caffeine than coffee, and includes L-Theanine, an amino acid that neutralizes the jittery traits of caffeine, helping you feel relaxed and focused.
Tea is also packed with antioxidants, and is widely believed to reduce inflammation, boost memory, strengthen the immune system, lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of dementia, improve heart health, reduce the risk of stroke, lessen depression, mitigate allergy symptoms, and balance hormone levels.
Choose one: White tea, Green tea, Oolong Tea, Black Tea, Herbal or Fruit Tea
High quality tap or filtered water (black teas will tolerate hard water, but white and green teas brew more as themselves with soft, filtered water)
Brewing Tea is not an exact science. If you like stronger tea, let it brew a little longer. Like a lighter cup? Use less tea and less time. White, Green, and Oolong Teas can be re-brewed many times, each brew bringing a new flavor experience. You might discover that your favorite tea is a green tea, on the fourth brew–a true magical elixir<3. Some teas will include specific brewing instructions, but here are some general guidelines:
- Spoon tea into whatever vessel you are brewing in (cup or teapot).
- Pour in hot water.
- Let tea steep and move freely in the water for correct amount of time depending on type of tea.
- Strain tea through a fine mesh strainer into cups or a clean pot and serve immediately.
Component in Action
-enjoy hot or cold.
-use in a marinade or dressing
-add a bit of honey and freeze into popsicles
-use dried tea in a rub (smoked teas are great for this)
-certain teas can be steeped in milk (like earl grey) to be used in a variety of desserts