In part one of Tea Time, we learned a little about the history of classic black tea and how British “tea time” came to shape American culture. Today, we are going to delve into the types of teas available around the world and what makes them so wonderful. Let’s go!
So Many Teas – So Little Time
These days, Americans are lusting for that perfect cup o’ tea and are going to great lengths to create new and interesting beverages using it.
To the uninitiated, the dizzying hierarchy of tea types, flavors and classifications can be quite confusing – especially when you are standing in front of a wall of teas at your local grocery store. To simplify matters a bit, just keep in mind that all teas except herbals are either made of one or more of these tea types: black, green, white, mate, or rooibos.
The most common teas on the market are the black and green types. These teas, along with their sub-types, are made specifically with the leaves of the woody shrub, Camellia sinensis. The teas made from this plant include black and green teas. Their color is directly related to the way the leaves are handled after harvest. Most teas are carefully fermented and depending on how long the teas are allowed to process before enzymatic action is halted through steam or heat drying, determines a tea’s caffeine content, flavor and color.
Dark teas such as Ceylon, Assam, Early Grey and Darjeeling are produced through a more thorough fermentation process, while lighter white, green and oolong teas are either lightly fermented or not fermented at all. While all Camellia teas have nutritive and medicinal value, green and white teas are often considered to be the most healthful.
With the increasing popularity of tea drinking in the Western world, simple black and green teas are also frequently blended with other botanicals such as fruit, flowers, herbs and spices to create new and interesting ‘flavors’.
Mate (mah-tay) is tea made from the leaves and twigs of the Yerba mate tree, a relative of the common holly. A regional favorite, mate is found primarily in the South American countries of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile where it has attained a sort of cult status. Where mate is popular, you will find people walking around with their favorite mate cup (a specialized tisane cup with built in straw) in hand and a thermos of hot water tucked beneath their arm. With a practiced elegance, the mate cup is quickly and repeatedly filled with hot water for an endless cup of tea.
Always taken straight (no milk or sugar added, please!), mate has an addictive tangy bitterness to it that takes a little getting used to for most newbies. Some people believe that mate is preferred by coffee drinkers because it is typically strongly brewed. Whether that is true, or not, mate is definitely a more healthful drink than coffee and contains 21 different vitamins and minerals. It also generates a less jittery buzz than coffee. One fun thing about mate-drinking is that in order to get the most out of your sipping experience, you will need to obtain a special mate mug that comes complete with a signature – and stylish – stainless steel straw! (see the photo above)
Another unusual form of tea is Rooibos (roy-bos). This tea is derived from the needle-like leaves and twigs of the shrub Aspalathus linearis. Commonly referred to as Red Bush, this unusual evergreen is a Legume family member of the broom group of plants that are native to the dry mountainous region of the Western Cape of South Africa.
Like black and green teas, Rooibos is fermented to varying degrees through enzymatic oxidation. This is what gives Red African Tea its distinctive color. Unlike mate, Rooibos is often taken British-style, with milk and sugar or a wedge of lemon for sweetness. Totally caffeine-free, Rooibos is also thought to be both nutritive and medicinal, helping improve digestion and strengthen the immune system. Because of its health benefits and versatility, Red Tea is gaining in popularity around the world and can sometimes be found in trendy coffee bars where it is prepared and served in the same way as traditional coffee drinks are.
Although “Herbal Tea” it is the last form of tea on our list, it is anything but last in popularity, healthfulness and flavor. In fact, one could argue that all of the teas just mentioned are in fact “herbal” in nature. That being said, a true herb consists only of the airy parts of non-woody herbaceous plants. I’ll let you decide for yourself which of your favorite teas fall into this definition.
Over the last decade, the consumption of herbal teas around the world has skyrocketed. Sometimes referred to by herbal medicine practitioners as a tisane, herbal teas are incredibly diverse and can be made up of one to many dried herbs, fruits, flowers and spices or blended together with more traditional green and black teas. Unadulterated herbal teas are naturally caffeine free and have numerous medicinal and nutritive qualities, but what those benefits are depends entirely upon the herbs being used.
Some of the more traditional tea herbs include peppermint, chamomile and lemon balm. Whether taken hot or iced, plain or sweetened, when it comes to herbal tea the sky is truly the limit. You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about how to grow and make your own herbal teas, tinctures, and other herbal preparations in my book, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs.
Next week, I’ll wrap up this series on tea with a whole bunch of recipes for a super easy and delicious tea brunch that would make even a British Nanna proud! See you then!
(This series was first published in Llewellyn’s 2015 Herbal Almanac.)
Show Me Oz | Living and loving life in the Ozarks!
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© Jill Henderson
Learn how to grow and use the world’s oldest, safest, and most medicinal herbs with this easy step-by-step guide! From starting seeds to preparing home remedies, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a treasured resource that you will turn to time and time again.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons and Illuminati Agenda 21 can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a featured columnist for Acres USA and a contributing author to Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.
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