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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Tea

Why tea is part of the tapestry of life around the world.

It doesn’t matter your ethnic background or your taste cravings, tea is one of those rare if not singular beverages that is probably a part of your lifecycle. Tea can warm you, energize you, calm you and serve as a cultural bridge to any nation you enter.

Tea principles are defined by the country you live in, the way you make and serve your tea and the aesthetics surrounding tea drinking. The production, growing and brewing of teas all vary. Tea is both a cultural divide and a cultural coming together of all people of the world.

Now, tea is also a means of maintaining and even changing your health. See Time Magazine, “How Drinking Tea May Change Your Genes” by Amanda MacMillan; June 2, 2017. However, the impact of tea appears to differ for men and women. A new study, published in Human Molecular Genetics, looks at the epigenetic effects—the behavior or environment that can trigger chemical modifications in the body. For women, tea was associated with epigenetic changes in 28 different gene regions but these changes were not found in men who drank tea. The study noted that this could be because tea affects women differently (through estrogen-related pathways), although they pointed that out as there were fewer men on the study drawing a significance is difficult.

A sip can be life changer
That afternoon or evening cup of tea could be changing your life in all kinds of ways!
The list of herbal teas can go on and on because almost any herb can be brewed into tea. Different herbs offer different varieties of health benefits, which can greatly improve your health in a holistic manner. How about tea from Alfalfa? Arabs call it the “father of all foods” while we in the west treat it as cattle feedstuff. It is rich in minerals and nutrients, and is said to be very useful against heart disease and cancer, cystitis or inflammation of the bladder, and rheumatism. Angelica root and anise (star anise) are native to parts of China and Vietnam. Star anise has been used to treat the flu and flu-like symptoms and also has been served after meals to alleviate any digestive ailments. Kava is a Polynesian plant that when brewed into tea produces a minor sedative, which is said to calm nerves; perfect after a long and stressful day.

Cultural customs
Whether you enjoy a nice hot cup of tea to unwind your day and relax or it’s how you start your morning, tea carries this sense of care and nurture. Many cultures have incorporated tea into their customs because of the inviting nature of tea.

Travel to Morocco and you will be treated to three cups of refreshing mint tea. The three cups of mint tea represent life, love, and death and it is customary to drink all three cups. Moroccan mint tea isn’t your typical steeped bag of peppermint tea, for this traditional drink hot green tea is poured over fresh spearmint leaves offering a bright and refreshing tea.

From Morocco take a trip to India where you will see thousands of street vendors known as wallahs making their signature blend of Chai tea. There is no exaggeration when it’s said that on every street corner around India there is a Chai wallah. Imagine the Halal food stands in New York City and multiply that by 100; that’s how many Chai wallahs there are in India. Chai tea is India’s national drink, which is a black tea steeped in milk with regional aromatic spices and sweeteners. Since spices vary in different parts of India, it is very unlikely to get two of the same tasting Chai teas, and Chai wallahs pride themselves in their original Chai tea recipe.

Afternoon or high tea
While Morocco and India use specific teas in their tea culture, having tea is much different in a place like England, which has two main occasions for tea—classic afternoon tea and high tea. Classic afternoon tea originated as a mid-day snack between lunch and dinner back when dinner was typically served around eight o’clock. Today, dinner is usually served earlier and thus the popularity of afternoon tea has declined and is used to celebrate special occasions rather than an everyday event. Afternoon tea doesn’t have a specific tea; instead guests have the opportunity to choose from a variety of tea, accompanied by sandwiches, scones, and cake.

To afford afternoon tea meant that you could afford to stop working mid-day to have tea. For those who couldn’t afford it or weren’t allowed to stop working, high tea was created. The name high tea comes from having tea at the “high table” which is the dinner table. Simply put, high tea is tea served with dinner, which was more practical for the blue-collar workers. Regardless of profession or societal standing, time was always made for tea in England.

Whether you are traveling near or far, tea creates a welcoming environment that is sought after. Travel to any country and you will most likely be offered some sort of custom involving tea.

And even if you’re not traveling, a soothing cup of hot tea might be exactly what you need to end the day or start or energize your day.

Types of Tea: 6 Main Types
Oolong* (most diverse, from China)
Iron Buddha (Tie Guan Yin) – subtly sweet and floral flavors
Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao) – a toasted fruity flavor with distinctive dark cocoa notes
Dan Cong Tea – “champagne of oolongs,” intense apricot and honey flavors
Ali Shan – bright floral flavors, with a hint of apricot

Green Tea (Japan)
Sencha – most common variety of green tea,
Fukamushi Sencha
Gyokuro – lower astringency and rich flavor, an aroma similar to nori seaweed
Kabusecha – full-bodied flavor and lower astringency
Matcha – Tencha that is stoneground m Tencha – mainly used for Matcha
Genmaicha – Sencha mixed with roasted brown rice, rich toasted rice flavor
Hojicha – Roasted Sencha, less bitter with a smooth roasted flavor
Shincha – fresh tea leaves steeped, less bitter and astringent than Nibancha and Sanbancha
chibancha, Nibancha, Sanbancha –

Black Tea
Darjeeling (the “Champagne of Tea”) – delicate, fruity, floral, light (India)
Keemun – wine-like, fruity, floral, piney, tabacco-like (China)
Assam – bold, malty, brisk (India) m Yunnan – chocolate, dark, malty (China)
Ceylon – varies by origin, but generally bold, strong, rich sometimes with notes of chocolate or spice (Sri Lanka) Earl Grey – bold, often citrus flavor (UK)
Nilgiri – fragrant, floral (India)
Bai Lin Gong Fu – sweet, smooth, toasty with hints of caramel and cream (China)
Lapsang Souchong – smoky almost savory flavor (China)
Taiwanese (Ruby Black, Red Jade) – sweet flavor profile (Taiwan)
Kenyan – bold, astringent, dark (Kenya)

White Tea (China)
Silver Needle – light, sweet and delicate
White Peony – more full-bodied than the Silver Needle m Long Life Eyebrow – left over leaves from the Silver Needle and White Peony harvest
Tribute Eyebrow – the darkest of all white teas and stronger in taste

Yellow Tea (rarest, China)
Jun Shan Silver Needle m Huoshan Huangya
Junshan Yinzhen
Mengding Huangya
Pingyang Huangtang
Weishan Maojian
Huoshan Huangdacha

•While there are different variations of yellow tea, the taste stays pretty similar across the board. It is considered a mature tea with sweet, clean, bright, floral tastes with a medium body.

Puerh (Pu-Erh)**
Green (raw) or Sheng – more bitter and astringent
Black (ripe) or Shou – deep, woody, sweet flavor

Sub Types
Herbal Tea
Green Rooibos
Valerian Tea
Passion flower tea
Thyme Tea
Hawthorn Tea
*any herb really can be steeped and turned into an herbal tea Fermented Tea
Kombucha – taste depends on the tea being fermented, it is carbonated and often a bit acidic

Scented Tea adding aromatics (flowers, herbs, spices, fruit) to any tea can enrich and complement the flavors of the tea (ex: Earl Grey, Chai, Ceylon & Rose, Jasmine Pearls)
Flowering Tea Taking a good quality tea and pairing it with whole flowers is stunning to appearance and adds great flavor.

*Oolong tea is partly oxidized Green Tea. Taste and aroma often compared to fresh flowers or fresh fruit. Flavor is typically not as robust as black teas or as subtle as green teas. From China.

**Aged black tea from China prized for its medical properties and earthy flavor. Until 1995 it was illegal to import to the US, process of production is unknown because it is one of China’s most guarded secrets. It is a very strong tea with rich and deep flavors with no bitterness but almost peaty (smoky) in flavor.

Health Benefits of Tea
Oolong Tea:
• Chinese claim it provides vital antioxidants promoting heart, skin, and teeth health
• Helps reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol
• Combats heart disease
• Rich in vitamins and minerals such as calcium, manganese, copper, carotin, selenium, and potassium, as well as vitamins A, B, C, E, K

Green Tea:
• Promotes weight loss
• Reduces risk of cancer
• High in protective polyphenols (antioxidants and anti-cancer agents)
• Contains significant amounts of flavonoids (reduces risk of disease)
• Low in caffeine (compared to coffee)
• Improves blood vessel function • Breaks down cholesterol

Black Tea:
• Low caffeine content
• Reduces plaque
• Lowers risk of stroke
• Similarly to Green Tea, Black Tea also contains antioxidants and polyphenols
• Lowers risk of diabetes
• Stress reliever
• Improves immune system
• Promotes a healthy digestive track
• Increases energy

White Tea:
• Helps reduce premature aging because of its antioxidant property
• Helps improve skin health
• Contains fluoride content which improves oral health
• Provides relief from the common cold/flu
• Reduces risk of various cardiovascular disorders
• Similar to Green/Black Tea it also helps reduce chances of getting cancer

Yellow Tea:
• Helps with weight loss, like green tea, yellow tea contains catechins and polyphenols that can boost your body’s metabolism and fat burning abilities
• Reduces inflammation
• Helps prevent diabetes
• Prevents cancer
• Lowers cholesterol

• Promotes weight loss • Reduces cholesterol
• Help with cardiovascular protection
• Aids digestion
• Reduces stress and helps with sleep
• Helps prevent illnesses Herbal Teas:
*There is probably an herbal tea for any disease, illness, symptom, etc. Some popular herbal teas are:
• Peppermint tea: helps relieve abdominal gas and bloating
• Ginger Tea: curbs nausea, vomiting, or upset stomach • Chamomile Tea: calming and sedative tea
• Rooibos Tea: a lot of antioxidants
• Lemon Balm Tea: helpful for lifting the spirits, “it’s good for the winter blahs”
• Milk thistle and dandelion tea: liver cleansers
• Rosehip Tea: great source of vitamin C

Fermented Tea (Kombucha):
• Helps prevent a wide variety of diseases
• Supports a healthy gut (aids digestion)
• Antibacterial
• Helps maintain a healthy liver • Helps manage diabetes • Helps protect the lungs from disease

• India competes with China for the title of world’s largest tea producer
• 70% of the tea produced by India is consumed by its own people
• Chai is the national drink m Chai means tea in Hindi m Chai tea in India varies based on city, culture, & ethnicity across the country m You can find Chai being served on almost every street corner in India; these Chai tea makers are called Chai wallahs.

• Tea is an important part of their food culture
• When someone mentions tea without being specific of what kind of tea it means green tea
• Historically, tea was ceremonially prepared by a skilled tea master and served to guests in a tranquil setting – it became known as chanoyu
• Tea is served in tea bowls
• The Tea Ceremony
A ceremonial way of preparing and drinking tea
Custom strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism
The ceremony itself consists of many rituals that have to be memorized, each hand movement is prescribed; the tea is prepared by the host and drunk by the guest
The tea in this ceremony is always matcha green tea
Morocco (also in most of Northwest Africa countries)
• Mint tea is the heart of their culture
• As a symbol of hospitality, mint tea is served to guests 3 times representing life, love, and death. All 3 cups of tea must be consumed to show respect for your Moroccan host.
• To prepare the mint tea you’ll need:
Keesan: ornate, jewel-colored tea glasses
Bred: round-bellied metal or cast iron teapot with a cone-shaped top Gunpowder green tea

The hot green tea is poured over the spearmint leaves

• Classic afternoon tea m Usually takes place around 4pm
There is strict tea etiquette
• But can take place in a relaxed setting
Tea is usually accompanied by sandwiches, scones, and cake
Originally meant to fill the gap between lunch and dinner
• High tea
Originally high tea was served later in the evenings after workers had come home, often times missing afternoon tea, high tea made up for it.
High tea is basically dinner with tea, usually heartier dishes are served with high tea as opposed to the sandwiches and cakes served during afternoon tea
The term “high tea” comes from the idea that tea was being served at the table and seated on a high back dining chair rather than the more relaxed setting of an afternoon tea

The US
• The US’s involvement with tea dates back to colonial times
• Tea is much less rooted in cultural customs in the US, rather it is more of a popular trend
• Today, most Americans drink tea because of its health benefits and because it has become “trendy”
• Popular alternative to coffee
• Southern tradition of sweet tea
• Most Americans drink iced tea as opposed to hot tea

Magdalena Grzebyk
Magdalena Grzebyk
Magdalena Grzebyk is a food and beverage writer for Capital Region Living.

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