Tea: the Botanical Wonder

Around the world, the hot brewed beverage based on the leaf of the tea plant is one of the most popular for many good reasons, such as health, relaxation and its surprisingly enjoyable taste. Let's look at this very agreeable drink that can be enjoyed at any time of the day and finish with a tasty recipe for spiced teat that will be sure to liven up your taste buds.

Start Your Day

The morning rolls around and you have an hour before you are expected in your cubicle, bright and cheery and ready to take on the world. Towards the end of your morning ritual, you head for the kitchen to prepare one of the most important things you will consume that day.

You pull out your favorite mug, the one your sister's kid accidentally dropped and chipped badly; you pull out the creamer, the sugar and then the botanical wonder that practically keeps you alive.

Tea? Um, no. Or is it?

Most Americans would shake their heads in confusion at the mere thought of tea in the morning to jump start the day, especially since coffee is the national drink in the United States. Alas, it was not all that long ago that tea was the beverage of choice for most Americans, and people around the world for that matter.

It's About the Taste

Today, tea can be the daily drink of choice for the simple sensational taste that it offers, the wondrous calming attributes, the nice caffeine rush and the healthy earthy body that makes it indispensable the world over. Even though most of you would rather a cup of coffee over the far too confusing, way too weak option of tea, but you would be sadly denying yourself of a wonderful drink that is considered a source for meditation, religious growth, healthy living and downright good flavor.

Tea is an impressive plant; one that is sensitive to changes in soil, weather, elevation and growing techniques. Yet, it is grown throughout the world in many different climates, locales, and with a myriad of methods.

What Type of Tea?

Tea falls into three basic, recognizable groups: green, black and oolong. Americans are most accustomed to black tea, a tea where the leaves are allowed to wither before rolling and fermenting. The result is a dark brown/amber, deeply aromatic, richly flavorful brew, such as Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Orange Pekoe and yes, what most people call 'regular' tea.

Oolong tea is also withered, rolled, and fermented, but the result is a darkish color and flavor that wiggles its way right in between black and green teas.

Green teas are not fermented, rather they are fired soon after harvest to avoid the fermentation process. The final result is a green to gold color and an earthy, gentle flavor.

History

Tea has survived on this planet for as long as people can remember. Like most botanical information before proper written records, modern understandings greatly rely on the folklore and oral traditions of peoples past.

Legend tells us that the Chinese invented tea. And the Indians. And the Southern Asians of various ethnic and cultural groups.

In essence, tea originates in Eastern Asia possibly as long ago as 3000BCE. Tea thrived in Asia well into the 1200's CE, until trade between the western and eastern worlds became common place. This brought tea, and many other eastern goodies, into the lives of western people who would then take it, claim it, and change it.

By the 1600's, the English had found a particular taste for the exotic tea and began to pursue almost exclusive trade with Eastern Asia. Until the 19th century, Great Britain could claim to practically monopolizing the Oriental trade, in specific spices, textiles and, of course, teas.

Come pirates, inflation, slavery, desecration, a few wars, a few wins and losses on both parts and eventual dismantling of the English Empire, and one begins to see that political and social implications that tea carried in its pocket. Even the States lay claim to a high demand for tea, until a group of men and women decided to make the biggest cup of Orange Pekoe ever and Boston was to go down in history, again.

Different Preferences

America went the way of coffee, but Great Britain still clung to its old friend tea. Today, tea is as popular as it ever was. It is far easier to find decent tea, both loose and bagged, in supermarkets, specialty stores and on the web.

Some take it straight, others with milk. Some like honey as a sweetener, some cane sugar. There are bags and balls, strainers and lips, mugs and infusers, books and guidelines, etiquette one, two and three.

Tea, never really left the American sense of appeal, it just took a bit of a backseat. We are great lovers of tea, we merely fail to give it the credit is deserves. There is far more to a right good cuppa' than a silty dry muslin bag from a package of 350 filled with barely aromatic 'tea'.

Rather, curl up with any choice from a variety of teas - Irish Breakfast, Darjeeling, Kukioha Green, whatever - adjust to taste and relax. Tea is as good as it gets. Remember, Herbal tea is not really tea at all as it does not contain the tea leaf, but rather a mixture of various herbs and berries.

Recipe: Spiced Tea

Ingredients

Method

Combine water and milk in a saucepot and bring to the boil. Add the spices and sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Cover the pot, turn off the heat, and allow the spices to infuse for no less than 10 minutes. Add the tea leaves or loose tea and bring back to the boil.

Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and adjust to taste (more milk, more sugar, etc.). Strain into a teapot and serve while piping hot.

Serves 8