A Taste for Tea: Some Facts About the Drink
Over 2 billion Americans drink tea instead of coffee every morning. Sales of tea reach over 15 billion dollars a year. Looking at these figures proves tea leaves are giving coffee beans a run for their money.
One of the factors is the price tag. Tea is a more economical choice with bulk-purchase options that run on average $10-12 per pound. You will pay $11.95-14.50 for a higher-end coffee, or $9-10 for a lower-end brand such as Maxwell House or Folgers. This means that it will cost you around 75 cents per cup.
History of Tea
The Chinese have enjoyed drinking tea for over 4,000 years. According to legend, one of three leaders during the time of the ancient Yan discovered its potential while searching for various herbs for medicinal use. It is said that after being poisoned by one of these ingested herbs, one single drop of water from a tea tree saved his life.
For many years, tea held its place primarily as an herbal medication, and over time, it began to evolve. The Zhou Dynasty used it for religious offerings, and during the spring and autumn months the people ate fresh tea leaves as vegetables to supplement their diets. As Buddhism gained popularity among the Northern and Southern regions of China, it was used by monks in Za-Zen meditation.
The Tang Dynasty introduced tea to Japan, bringing tea seeds from the Chinese province of Zhejiang. The Song Dynasty acquainted Arabic merchants to tea and by the Ming Dynasty, it was being sold in the regions of Southeast Asia and South Africa. In 1610 it made its way into Europe via Macau aboard a Dutch merchant ship. Tea quickly became an international beverage bringing us into the 1.42 million pounds consumed by Americans alone. Yearly, over 3,000 million tons of tea is now produced worldwide.
Tea or Coffee?
Do you prefer tea over coffee?
Four Basic Types of Tea
The West classifies four basic types of tea: black, green, blue (oolong) and white.
- Black. Most common in the West with a bold, full flavor, it pairs well with Western foods, particularly sweets. Black tea is oxidized and its flavor profile has notes of tannin, chocolate, stone-fruit, grape and/or citrus.
- Green. Made popular by baby boomers, largely due to its health properties, green tea is making its way onto American shelves. This type of tea is non-oxidized and can range from sweet and mild (e.g., long jing) to vegetable/grassy and lemony (e.g., sencha). Flavor profiles for green teas range from notes of nuts and flowers to wood and/or vanilla.
- Blue (oolong). Blue tea, popular with foodies because it pairs well with various foods and wines, has a wide range of flavors. Its flavor profile is complex and can contain notes of honey, orchids, lychee, fruit, wood, buttercream, vanilla and coconut. Recently, oolong tea has been marketed for help with weight loss, although there is no scientific proof to support this claim. This tea is partially oxidized and often hand-rolled.
- White. Gaining popularity for their antioxidants and lower levels of caffeine, white tea has a delicate and nuanced flavor. White teas can be air-dried, sun-dried and/or oven-dried. Its flavor profile is light and delicate with nuances of flowers, field grasses, dried wood and cocoa.
A Great Morning Boost!
Regardless of your palette preferences, tea seems to offer a greater health benefit and flavor variety then America's well-loved java. Whether you alternate or become a tea convert, it seems to be a good addition to any pantry. Some people prefer not to have the wait time or longer preparation time loose-leaf tea requires, but tea bags are available. Using a tea bag is actually a quicker cup of morning boost. All of the types and flavors listed above are available in the tea-bag variety, but you will sacrifice freshness and the full-bodied flavor that comes from using loose leaf. Contrary to public belief, it doesn’t take any more time to fill a loose leaf tea infuser than it does to hit your brew button on your coffee maker. Also, a good steep takes less time than waiting for your coffee to brew.
Steeping Tips for Loose Leaf Teas
- Quality matters. Try to find a good tea within your budget.
- Quantity. Use the same proportion of leaves as water used.
- Ceramic mugs or kettles are best for steeping a good cup of tea.
- White and green tea leaves steep 2-3 minutes.
- Blue (oolong) and Darjeeling tea leaves steep 2-4 minutes.
- Black tea leaves steep 3-5 minutes.
- Always steep to your preference and remember to keep your filled tea infuser. It can be re-used possibly for two more cups.
Using Tea for Health Purposes
Many studies have been done in regards to the healing properties of tea. Microbiologist Milton Schiffenbauer, PhD, of New York City’s Pace University, studies the polyphenols in white tea. Polyphenol is an antioxidant that may help inhibit the growth of oral bacteria, like those that cause tooth decay.
Another study done showed that green tea contains tannins, which can act as a natural antiseptic. It can be used topically to help relieve itching and swelling. Next time you get a sunburn, try applying (cooled) green tea bags to the affected areas.
Even if You Are a "Tea" Totaler...
Even if you are a hard-core coffee drinker, tea can be a pleasant change. Like wine, it can be savored. Aromatic, warm and soothing, it does have its place in the echelon of hot beverages. Teas like chamomile can reduce stress levels and even help with those sleepless nights. More commercial grocery suppliers are beginning to jump on the tea bandwagon and have begun offering tea in bulk to lower the cost even more. So "sit a spell," and sip on some tea. It may not be a life-changing experience, but I can guarantee it will be an enjoyable one.