Fancy a spot of tea?

Did you know that tea is the second most consumed beverage on earth next to water? Most tea is made from the same plant, Camellia Senensis. It is an evergreen indigenous to China and can grow up to 30 feet tall, but is often pruned to about two to three feet.

Legend has it that tea was discovered by accident by the Chinese Emperor Shan Nong, in 2737 B.C.  Apparently, the emperor had a habit of boiling his drinking water. One day while he was under a tree in his garden doing this, a few tea leaves fell  into his boiling water, which then gave off a rich, alluring aroma. The emperor discovered this brew to be refreshing and energizing and the custom of brewing fresh tea leaves in hot water began.

Categories of tea derived from this plant include black, oolong, green and white. Black tea is the one most people are familiar with. It is fully fermented and has approximately 20 per cent of the caffeine in a cup of coffee. From a health perspective, it helps maintain cholesterol levels that are already in the normal range, maintains cardiovascular function and aids in healthy circulation.

Oolong tea, sometimes referred to as wu long, is a full-bodied brew with a flavourful sweet nose. Semi-fermented, it contains about 15 per cent of the caffeine found in a cup of coffee. The majority of people associate this tea with the hot beverage served in Chinese restaurants. It can be a healthy supplement to any weight loss program.

Green tea is the most popular as it is the beverage of choice in most of Asia. Some of these are scented with flowers or mixed with fruits to create flavoured or scented concoctions. It generally contains about five to 10 per cent of the caffeine found in a cup of java. This style of tea contains healthy antioxidants and can maintain cholesterol levels in the normal range, is good for teeth and skin and beneficial in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.

The purest and least processed of all these teas is white tea. This loose-leaf tea has very little caffeine and makes a lightly coloured and flavoured brew. Also containing healthy antioxidants, it s great for the skin and complexion.

There are other teas not derived from the Camellia Senensis. Herbal tea is very popular and sometimes referred to as  tisane. It can be divided into three categories: rooibos, mate and herbal infusions.

Rooibos or red tea, is made from a South African red bush. Caffeine-free, it’s got lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, helps promote digestion, healthy skin, teeth and bones and it supports the immune system.

Coffee drinkers love mate because it tastes similar to coffee and provides the same boost without the jitters. Made from the leaves and twigs of the yerba mate plant, it is chock-full of 21 vitamins and minerals and helps curb the appetite. Great for calorie watching!

Herbal infusions consist of pure herbs, flowers and fruits. With the exception of mate, herbal teas are typically caffeine-free and most are rich in vitamin C.

Whatever your choice of tea, brewing the perfect cup is important. Here are some helpful hints on achieving that. Use fresh water each time you prepare it. Artesian spring water is best. Avoid tap water, if possible. Generally, using loose tea, add 1 to 2 tsp per 8 oz cup and add more to achieve the briskness and body desired. It is best to let the water circulate between the leaves for best results regardless of what brewing apparatus you use (loose leaf in a teapot, teaball, stainless steel mesh infuser, basket filter, tea sock, tea press, brewing machine). Water temperature is the most critical element in preparing the perfect cup. Heat the water in a glass, ceramic or clay teapot until it boils (212˚F/100˚C), then allow the water to cool (180˚F/82.2˚C for green tea, 190˚F/87.7˚C for Oolong, 200˚F/93.3˚C for black tea). Steeping should be still as excess motion can cause the release of more tannin from the leaves, which results in bitterness. Steep for one to three minutes and gradually increase the time to your taste.

Edward Finstein a.k.a. The Wine Doctor, wine writer, educator, judge & consultant.

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