"Christopher Robin was home by this time, because it was the afternoon, and he was so glad to see them that they stayed there until very nearly tea-time, and then they had a Very Nearly tea, which is one you forget about afterwards, and hurried on to Pooh Corner, so as to see Eeyore before it was too late to have a Proper Tea with Owl." ~ A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
There are so many lovely things one can say about tea. Though not romantic, I’d venture that one wonderful thing about tea is its versatility. It can be enjoyed hot or cold, and it travels well; it comes in thousands of flavors.; it can be the center of both highly social and extremely personal events.
According to Japanese scholar, Okakura Kakuzo, who wrote The Book of Tea, "The tea ceremony is more than an idealization of the form of drinking—it is a religion of the art of life."
Some say formal tea service is an art, even a religion, while others find informal tea drinking, curled up with a good book or favorite movie, close to therapeutic.
I usually drink tea in a casual setting, but that’s not to say it’s a simple process. I’m known for having a tea cupboard, containing at least thirty different kinds of teas, various size tea pots and strainers, and a small collection of cute tea cups. And, yet, I don’t really consider myself a “tea drinker” like my mother, who drinks the same Orange Pekoe tea every morning. In fact, I drink as much coffee as I do tea, often alternating one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. So, what is with the cupboard full of teas, you ask?
First of all, I am hooked by the packaging, especially the Zen-styled ones visually promising Nirvana and the colorful holiday boxes with grinning Nutcrackers. Secondly, I love customizing my tea choice to my mood or current health needs. It never ceases to amaze me that when I’m coming down with a cold, or feel dehydrated, my body automatically craves tea over coffee first thing in the morning. At times like those, I reach for a green tea, and the best surprise I’ve had this year is discovering that Kirkland Signature Green Tea (Costco) is quite good! the individually-wrapped packages advise tapping the Matcha (green tea powder) from the package onto the top of one’s tea, a nice note to consumers that one doesn’t see often, and the mesh tea bag hooks to the side of the cup via a notch on the tag. Cute. While I don’t know the grade of this tea’s leaves, it is made by a reputable Japanese tea company, Ito En. I must say it, tastes good and is an amazing value for families on a budget.
In the Tea Leaves
by Beth Ann Hilton
With so many teas to choose from at both supermarkets and health food stores, it is a given that one can choose teas based primarily on flavor, while also receiving an additional desired effect, be that relaxation, energy boosting, or a particular health benefit. Brands like Yogi Tea and Tazo are excellent at clearly identifying such effects on the front of the packaging.Some of my favorites include “Detox” and “Ginger” by Yogi Tea, and “Throat Coat” by Traditional Medicinals. In my personal experience over the last five years, I’ve found that “Throat Coat” helps to ease sore/scratchy throats by incorporating slippery licorice root, and “Ginger” uses said root to ease indigestion and tummy aches, even when traditional medicines do not seem to be working. “Detox” gently cleanses, and is a great value; I noticed that the 1810 mg of herbs were very similar to those on a $40 bottle of supplements I have in the vitamin cupboard.
A word of caution on “diet teas.” I’ve found “Detox”, “Smooth Moves” by Traditional Medicinals, and “Allegra Dieter’s Tea” by Prince of Peace to be relatively gentle, if not left to steep too long. However, I’ve had bad experiences with lesser brands in which the “super slimming” blend was much too strong for my system and really over did it, so to speak. Just start with a lightly-steeped cup, increase the tea’s strength over the days of your cleanse, and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
On sleepless nights, Celestial Seasonings “Sleepy Time” tea, Tazo’s “Calm”, and Yogi Tea’s organic Chamomile usually do the trick. If plain Chamomile tastes too mild, I recommend trying Tazo’s “Calm” Herbal Infusion, a blend of Egyptian chamomile blossoms, pink rose petals, hibiscus flowers, and about 10 other herbs.
Speaking of Celestial Seasonings, I discovered by accident this Christmas their “Nutcracker Sweet” tea, which is the first time I’ve ever had vanilla in a tea. I usually shy away from black teas and fruity teas (except for raspberry tea for female issues), but this caffeinated black tea with vanilla and cinnamon really hit the spot for getting me through the busy holiday season with a bit of flavor. Overall, I’ve chosen not to comment on black teas because I rarely drink them, but it is an understatement to say the market offers a wide variety of tastes and grades for those who do.
This may be a tea faux-pas, but, as of late, I’ve taken to mixing pots of healthful decaffeinated green tea with a caffeinated flavored tea of choice. I simply prefer more flavor than many of the green teas provide, but I do want to ingest its health benefits without adding milk or sweeteners. For summer, iced green tea with a dash of juice is perfectly refreshing. Blend your tea cocktails to your own tastes!
As for new teas I discovered this year, the healthful White Tea from Trader Joe’s and the gentle Oolong Tea by Choice Organic Teas are both delicious. However, for some reason, both of these brands suffer from neutral, uninspired packaging (I’m a packaging fan, remember?!) but are enjoyable nonetheless. Numi’s flowering teas boast the most interesting packaging and presentation in the business, but Trader Joe’s Jasmine Pearls Tea with whole leaft green tea and Jasmine flowers is much more affordable and is competitive in taste. The Peony White Tea by Prince of Peace is very smooth, and boasts significantly greater antioxidant properties than green tea. Also known as Bai Mu Dan, this was for centuries, a rare tea reserved for Chinese royalty.
Wondering what to do on your next vacation or staycation? Well, just as there are wine tours, one can find fascinating tea tours. In fact, Numi Tea is running a sweepstakes until March 31, 2009, giving away a trip for two to the organic tea gardens of China. Enter to win at http://www.numitea.com.
This wonderful beverage has inspired worldwide commerce for centuries, and we’re now blessed with access to a wealth of fine teas from around the world. Today, why not linger over your tea a bit longer, and enjoy all the good fortune that is already in those tiny tea leaves?
"In my own hands I hold a bowl of tea; I see all of nature represented in its green color. Closing my eyes I find green mountains and pure water within my own heart. Silently sitting alone and drinking tea, I feel these become a part of me." -- Soshitsu Sen, Grand Master XIV, Urasenke School of Tea