I grew up largely in the southeastern United States. Accordingly, I’ve been known to harbor certain “southern” traits-the use of the word “y’all”; a profound and enduring love of the film Steel Magnolias, not to mention an ability to quote it when the situation merits (I have used Clairee’s line to Ouiser “You know I worship the quicksand you walk on” many, many times on a widely varied body of individuals); and a penchant for black tea. No meal was complete without a pitcher of mom’s super sweet iced tea growing up. It didn’t matter if we were sitting down to Tuesday night’s dinner or the Thanksgiving meal. If we were eating, we were also drinking sweet tea. We downed it with thirsty devotion, as though it was the only beverage available; on many occasions, it was.
I don’t remember when the shift to hot black tea occurred (an ex-boyfriend and his British mom might have had something to do with it), but I do recall moving away from cloyingly sweet tea when I started becoming interested in health and nutrition (and became aware of the fact that heart disease and Type 2 diabetes run in my family). While I left the heavy sugar behind, I retained an appreciation for Orange Pekoe, embracing all of its kin along the way. Most mornings now find me with a mug of hot tea in hand. As January is “National Tea Month”, today’s “Small Measures” acknowledges the importance of tea, tea time, and all of its attendant pleasures.
Tea has multitudinous benefits. We’ll begin with the obvious, health. Research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital , along with Harvard University, indicates that the amino acid L-theanine found naturally in tea bolsters the body’s immune system. Drinking five 20 ounce cups of black tea daily for 2-4 weeks showed an increase in both immune system defenses and resistance to disease, the research revealed. Specifically, consumption of tea showed a significant increase in the presence of gamma delta T cells, the body’s first line of defense against disease and infection. As if that weren’t enough to fire up the kettle, this link provides more clinical research on the multifaceted benefits of tea. I’ll drink to that!
Aside from its salubrious effects, tea also offers countless opportunities for aesthetic appreciation. From tea gardens to tea pots (I’m a huge fan of Japan-made Bee House tea pots, mugs, cups, and tea-based accoutrements; find them here in colored offerings or here in black and white), tea strainers to tea ceremonies, the culture of tea invites contemplation, reflection, attention to detail, and, of course, savoring. Teaspoon and Petals maintains a gorgeous blog of all things tea, from artfully designed tea packaging to her own line of Etsy original haiku tea cups .
Tea gardens across the United States are resplendent locales for having a quiet conversation, reading a book, or simply watching clouds. My first tea garden experience was at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Later, on my honeymoon, I had the exquisite pleasure of visiting the Monte Carlo, Monaco Japanese garden, complete with its own tea ceremony house. Up next on my wish list is Portland, Oregon’s Japanese Tea Garden. I’ve heard nothing but glorious praise about it.
It’s also possible to be conscientious of the environment while enjoying tea. If you’re using an electric or gas range to heat your kettle, try filling it up with only as much water as you will actually need. Otherwise, a great deal of energy is wasted heating water you’ll only most likely end up pouring down the drain. If you’ve got a wood stove and it’s already blazing, simply place your kettle atop it. You’ll have a boiling kettle in short order! Alternatively, there are an increasing number of energy-efficient single-cup electric kettles available. The Tefal Quick Cup Kettle produces a cup of boiling water in 3 seconds (!!!).
Furthermore, many tea companies are now promoting fair-trade and organic growing practices. Some of my favorites include Numi , Choice , Rishi , and Mighty Leaf . If I have the time, I also like to make my own custom teas. You can find a recipe for my homemade chai here .
The differences between varying types of tea is based largely on the manner in which it was processed. Black, green, and oolong teas all come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. Differences are accounted for by whether or not the leaves were fermented after harvesting. Black teas are fermented, then left in a cool, dark and damp location for a bit; they’re then heated to halt the fermentation process before packaging. Oolong teas are partially fermented, while green teas are heated right after harvest, with no fermentation occurring whatsoever. Herbal teas are not technically “tea”, in that they aren’t sourced from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Instead, they are a mixture of herbs, spices, flowers, and peels, containing no caffeine. If you’re more of the “cocktail hour” type of tea imbiber, then two tea-based liquors might suit your fancy. Zen Liqueur is the only Japanese green tea liqueur, while Firefly Vodka , made on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, includes tea grown on the only domestic U.S. tea plantation.
If pressed, I’d have to say my favorite tea is smokey, earthy Lapsang Souchang , also known as “Russian Caravan Tea”. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a blazing wood stove on cold winter mornings. What about you? Do you take time for tea?
[*click here for the d*s roundup of our favorite teapots*]