In my research I got bogged down on the definition of tea. My best shot is that tea is made by steeping plant parts in boiling water, which if you want to get fancy is called an infusion. Usually when folks think of tea they are referring to a tea made from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), an evergreen tree from which leaves and twigs are harvested and processed to make the ground up material you buy either in brewing bags or sold loosely. Lipton, Tetley, most of your major tea companies use a blend of several types of tea to create a certain flavor and smoothness. The most common kinds of tea you’ll run across is black (exposed to the air for so long to “oxidize”), green (not allowed to oxidize), and oolong (semi-oxidized). And of course there are lots of herbal teas that come from other plants such as mint, chamomile, etc. Your fancy word for the day is a “tisane tea”, a tea made form something other than the tea plant.
Other than water, tea is the most consumed drink on the planet. Its use spans thousands of years in China, but it didn’t make it to Europe until 1610 when the Dutch began importing it. Here in the U.S. it’s still number two behind coffee, but it’s popularity is growing due in part to some possible health benefits.
It’s been known for some time that black and especially green tea contains antioxidants that help stave off cancer. What I didn’t know is that research is suggesting that tea consumption may help promote weight loss by increasing the amount of energy spent by the body. This is due to the presence of catechin, one of those of antioxidants. According to one study the drinking 3 cups of green tea per day showed a significant increase in the amount of fat being metabolized by the body for energy. Another study suggests that consuming tea can reduce the tendency to accumulate fat. Still another study showed that people drinking 3 cups of black tea per day produced 5 times the amount of germ-fighting cells than non-tea drinkers, suggesting that tea drinkers can fight off viral infections better than non-drinkers.
Another thing I was hoping to learn in my research is how to make a really good cup of hot tea. So here are some of my gleanings: Heat your water quickly and use it as soon as it comes to a boil. When water is heated too slowly or over-boiled, it loses oxygen, which can cause tea to taste bitter. Steeping time varies with the kind of tea you’re making. The recommendation for black tea is 3 to 4 minutes, for green 1-2 minutes, for oolong 2-3 minutes, and for herbal teas 5 to 7 minutes. If using loose tea, the suggested amount to use is 1 teaspoon per cup of water, or 3 tablespoons per pot. I’m using loose tea more and more and like to use one of those small metal tea balls to keep things neat. One other tidbit I got from a Brit who drinks a lot of tea is to cover the tea cup while steeping. Oh, and if you ask for tea with your meal anywhere else but the south, it comes hot. You can ask for ice tea in Britain, but you won’t get it. You will get looked at funny.