A Cup of Tea


Tea has been a favorite beverage for centuries — and for very good reasons!

By Selma Roth

 

We have been drinking tea for thousands of years, enjoying its warmth and rejuvenating powers. Today, it is served both hot and cold, but for most of its history, it was brewed with steaming water and drunk hot or lukewarm.

Tea or Teabags?

Some people believe that the only way to make a cup of tea is with loose leaves, and shun teabags. Loose leaves are to tea connoisseurs what freshly ground coffee is to gourmet coffee drinkers. Anything else is "inferior," they believe.

The best way to savor the full rich flavor of the different kinds of tea is to use high-quality tea leaves. Traditionally, the leaves are placed in a warm teapot and water that has just come to the boil is poured over them. Once the tea steeps, the amber liquid is poured into cups through a tea strainer to rid it of the tea leaves.

When they were first invented in the early 1800s and for many years afterwards, teabags were filled with the bits and pieces leftover from tea processing. In this busy world, not many people make the time to brew their tea from loose leaves and many — although certainly not all — of the teabags sold today are filled with very good tea. This is not surprising given that about 96 percent of all tea brewed in the 21st century is made with teabags.

Types of Tea

There are four primary types of tea: black, green, oolong, and white. They all come from the same plant and the differences among them arise from how they are harvested and processed. (Herbal teas are not actually "tea" but are, in the world of tea, called tisanes.)

Black tea, which is fermented, is the most popular kind of tea, with a robust flavor and amber color most of us associate with “tea.”

Green tea is steamed and dried but not fermented. Many people prefer its bracing flavor and distinct flowery aroma. Plus, it is believed to have numerous health benefits.

Oolong, made from partially fermented tea leave, falls between black and green tea in terms of flavor and intensity and tends to taste slightly fruity.

White tea is the rarest of all teas, as it’s made from the tiny leaves on the very tips of the tea plant. Its mild flavor makes it much sought-after by tea lovers everywhere.

Tea and Health

Drinking tea has numerous health benefits, according to nutritionists and other experts. Tea brewed from loose leaves is said to be more healthful than that brewed from teabags.

Among the claims made for tea, it is said to:

Help guard the immune systems and ward off infections because of its relatively high levels of antioxidants;

Lower blood pressure and cholesterol;

Help in the treatment of some cancers;

Encourage weight loss because of certain innate properties;

Make skin look younger.

To Brew a Pot of Tea

While most of us make tea with a teabag and a mug of hot water, the best way to brew tea is in a warm, ceramic pot. For every cup of tea, spoon a level teaspoon of tea leaves into the pot and then pour hot, filtered water over them. For the best tea, the water should have come to a boil and then been allowed to sit for 40 to 60 seconds before being poured into the pot.

Put the cover on the pot and then allow the tea to steep. The length of time the tea steeps depends on the type of tea and how strong you like your brew. For black tea, most tea drinkers let it steep for three to six minutes. For green and white tea, one to three minutes; for oolong, six to eight minutes.

To make sun tea, put teabags into a quart bottle or pitcher of cold filtered water (not distilled because it will make the tea taste flat). Cover the container and set it in the sun to brew for three to five hours or until it’s the color you want it. (Any longer than five hours can turn the tea bitter.)

Store the sun tea in the refrigerator and drink it within a day or so. You can also add lemon wedges or other flavorings. It will taste somewhat milder than regular ice tea, but is a traditional favorite with many people.

To Store Tea

Tea will gradually lose flavor and become stale when it is exposed to too much air, light, odor, heat, and moisture. To keep moisture from building up and prevent the tea from taking on odors, don’t put it in the refrigerator or freezer.

The best way to store tea is on the pantry shelf away from heat and light.

The best way to enjoy tea is as often as possible!

____________________________________________

Selma Roth is a freelance writer based in Salem, Oregon.