Vegan Grandma

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tea 101

I am a confirmed tea drinker, and that’s a good thing with all the latest research showing how healthy tea is for you. Well, today I attended a program at the library called "Tea 101", and I learned some interesting things that I would like to share with you. I also won a cup because I knew the answer to the question, "When is a tea not a tea?" (I’ll tell you the answer later on), and I learned why my green tea never tastes very good.

Did you know that all tea comes from the "Camellia sinensis", an evergreen shrub that grows in China? The tea is processed in different ways to produce the four basic types of tea, black, green, oolong, and white.

Black tea is the most processed. It is withered, fully oxidized and dried. Black tea has a hearty taste and makes an amber-colored brew. Some of the popular black teas include English Breakfast, and Darjeeling.

Green tea skips the oxidizing step. It is simply withered and then dried. It has a more delicate taste and the brew is a pale greenish golden color. Green tea provides the most anti-oxidants.

Oolong tea , popular in China, is withered, partially oxidized, and dried. Oolong is a cross between black and green tea in color and taste.

White tea is the least processed. It is simply withered and dried by steaming. White tea is rare and expensive. At the program we tasted a white tea with rose flowers. I thought it was delicious.

When is a Tea not a Tea?

Here is the answer which won me a cup. Herbal "teas" are not teas. They are " herbal infusions" or "tisanes"( I knew this because my chef son told me this a while ago). Herbal infusions are packaged and prepared like tea, but the herbs do not come from the camellia sinensis bush and therefore are not teas. Herbal infusions are made of grasses like lemongrass, barks like cinnamon, fruits like orange peel, flowers like chamomile and hibiscus.

Tea is Good for You

All teas have health benefits. Tea has antioxidant and anti-disease properties. Tea helps to prevent cancer, heart disease, and pre-mature aging (now they tell me!). Natural florides in tea helps to prevent tooth decay and inhibit plaque. Tea has more resveratrol (the stuff in wine that’s good for you) than does red wine.

Why my Green Tea Always Tastes Bad

I thought I didn’t like green tea until I tasted the green tea at today’s program. I liked that tea. It turns out I have been over steeping my green tea. Over steeping causes too much of the tannins to leach out into the water. Green tea should be steeped for 2 to 3 minutes, black and oolong tea should be steeped for 3 to 5 minutes, and white tea for only 1 to 2 minutes.

How to Brew Tea

The water for tea should not be over boiled because this drives out the oxygen from the water. Heat the water to a boil, then remove the water from the heat. Always use fresh water rather than water that was sitting around because there is more oxygen in fresh water. Use 1 teaspoon of tea per cup of water, and one teaspoon extra "for the pot". Steep for the allotted time (see above).

How to Store Tea

Tea should be stored in a cool, dark place in a tin. Keep moisture away from tea. Do not store tea in the freezer or fridge. Do not store tea near coffee, herbs, or spices because tea absorbs flavors easily. Black tea and oolong can be stored for one year, green and white tea for 3 to 6 months.
Supermarket teas are already past their prime when you but them, so the best teas should be bought at speciality shops.

Flavored teas should also be purchased at speciality shops because some of the supermarket teas have chemicals sprayed on them.

And if some of the tea leaves get into your mouth, no problem. Tea leaves are also used as a vegetable. Some Chinese dishes are made with tea leaves.
By-the-way, tea and coffee can interfere with the absorbtion of iron in the body, so it's not a good idea to drink these beverages with food.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy a cup of hot tea. I'm going to go try to make a cup of green tea that tastes good for a change.


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