Tea is a popular drink around the world with many different versions and types. Here in the United States, it's second to the all-powerful cup of coffee but the benefits of tea drinking are still widely known. So now you're here looking to start substituting a cup of coffee for a spot o' tea and have no idea where to start? Well have no fear, we at eVitamins put this all-encompassing list together to help with any and all of your tea questions.
Types of Tea
What is Loose Leaf Tea?
My love for tea comes from the silly notion of it making me feel smarter but tea has a lot of actual proven benefits. Whether you're looking to replace your coffee or maybe trying something new, tea is definitely something you should be sipping.Less caffeine than coffee. For those wanting to cut back on the caffeine, tea has less than an average cup of coffee. The average cup of tea 40 mg of caffeine (it varies by type and brewing time, see below) compared to the regular 100 mg in coffee but most herbal teas are caffeine free as are rooibos teas. So if you want something to sip before bed, this won't disrupt your sleeping cycle.
Brain Power. Teas contain great nutrients and brain-helping components like polyphenols and tannins. It's also full of flavonoids and antioxidants that the body uses to keep free radicals from terrorizing the body. Numerous studies have also found correlations between tea consumption and lower risk of diseases, including various cancers.
Mental Health. A 2013 study shows evidence of improved mood and performance with daily tea consumption. So maybe my silly notion isn't so far off.
Money. Tea is also cheaper to drink than other beverages. Compared to coffee and soft drinks, tea is half as expensive. Many teas can be brewed multiple times with the same leaves, costing only pennies per cup.
Now that we've got you hooked on the idea of trying tea, you might be surprised to find out how many kinds there are. You may be familiar with the easy-identified Black and Green teas. Maybe you've even heard of Oolong. But there are many you may come across in your search that could have you scratching your head.
First of all, "tea" refers to the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant that produces black, green, white and oolong teas. "Herbal tea" refers to beverages prepared with other infusions of herbs and spices not made with this plant. Some call herbal tea "tisane", as it's not technically tea without the tea leaves, but in countries like the United States it's still considered "tea".
Black Tea - When the tea leaves are oxidized, they produce a strong flavor distinct to black tea. This kind of tea has the strongest of caffeine and is used in the most common blends like Earl Grey and English Breakfast.
Chai Tea - A flavored black tea with Indian spices and herbs that's become popular to enjoy with milk. "Chai" is actually another word for tea in many Eurasian languages. So a chai tea latte is a "tea tea latte". Try asking for that next time at the cafe and wait for the confusion. Language is fun.
Green Tea - Leaves that haven't been oxidized like black tea stay green and produce a lighter flavor when brewed. This tea originated in China but has become popular all over because of the amazing health research connected to it. It still has caffeine but not nearly as much as black or oolong. My favorite remedy for a cold is green tea with a touch of honey.
Oolong Tea - Oolong tea leaves have been withered and oxidized so they curl into themselves. The leaves come from a unique tea plant and can have a wide array of flavors from fruity to woodsy.
Herbal Tea - Anything mixed with the tea leaves or brewed by itself is considered herbal tea (or tisane). These can include dried fruits, flowers and even seeds. Generally these teas have no caffeine and vary in flavor depending on ingredients. They also make great iced teas. Technically, since many teas like Chamomile don't actually contain tea leaves, calling it a tea is incorrect but we won't tell if you don't.
Rooibos - If you're new to tea, you may not have heard of this one. Meaning "red bush", it's an herbal tea from a South African plant that's very similar to black teas but without the caffeine. This is quickly gaining popularity and I'm personally a big fan.
White Tea - Up to some debate on definition, white tea is a minimum processed, young tea leaf brew. The leaves are harvested in China at a young age and generally steamed. It's the lightest of the teas, with minimal taste but contains the most antioxidants.
Pu-erh - A fermented and aged dark tea, pu-erh tea is unique because it's made of rolled tea balls. The oxidation and fermentation give it an earthy aroma and taste.
Flowering or Blooming Tea - These are so cool. It's a bundle, often a ball, of dried tea leaves wrapped around one or more dried flowers. While it steeps in the water, the leaves peel away, revealing the flowers "coming to life". These are best enjoyed in glass teapots to watch the magic happen and can be offered with an array of teas from above.
Matcha Tea - Made from green tea leaves grown in the shade, matcha tea is a finely ground powder that dissolves instead of having to be strained. It's a popular natural flavoring nowadays but still retains its traditional beginnings in some circles.
LOOSE LEAF VS. BAG
Many are only familiar with tea found in the bags that hang in your coffee mug but you can also brew tea loose. Brewing loose tea, or without a tea bag, gives the leaves the ability to stretch, expand and release more flavor. This is because the leaves have more room to absorb more water as they infuse. You also have more control over how much tea you use per cup. If you want a stronger green tea, for example, you can use more leaves.
The quality of tea between loose leaf and the average tea bag is also greatly different. As one might guess, tea bags came about as a convenient way to sell and brew. Packing the bag full of leaves meant little room for the tea to expand and very little taste so tea companies began cutting the tea smaller. It makes for more room and thus better taste. These types of teas are low grade and consist of little more than a dusting of leaves.
Of course there are high quality tea bags available. Some companies produce larger tea bags that can support bigger leaf pieces for a more loose leaf-quality brew. Triangular bags ofer greater space for tea to expand. One problem does remains the same - you're stuck with manufactured, pre-made blends.
Loose leaf tea offers a variety of tastes and aromas that bagged teas can't touch. As someone that jumped head-first into loose leaf tea, I was overwhelmed by how strong the flavor a cup could be when brewed with whole leaves. Opening a tin and smelling the leaves is an essential part of picking a tea in this format and once you start shopping, you'll start loving it.
BREWING LOOSE LEAF TEA
There's more to making loose leaf tea than "just add water". With bagged tea, all you needed was a mug but with whole leaf, you'll need something to brew it in.
What You'll Need
Replacing bags means getting a strainer or infuser. These keep the tea out of your mouth while drinking, which can be a gross experience if you've ever done it. There are a few options in terms of designs and you may have seen some cute ones if you've looked before.
Tea Ball Infusers are probably the most recognizable because they mimic a tea bag. Made out of stainless steel and mesh, these balls are filled with tea and completely submerged in water. They come with a chain to pull them out with at the right time. Their size is often smaller though, so you may run into the same trouble as with tea bags. Larger-leaf tea or tea with bigger ingredients may not have enough room to expand in the small space.
Mesh Strainers are popular for single mugs and tea pots alike. They fit on top of the mug or pot and hold the tea in the water. Remove strainer and tea all at once! Easy to clean and the mesh is small enough to keep even smaller tea particles out. They work for most teas too, though I've heard legend of a green tea or two that dislike the mesh. While there's nothing that suggests ceramic, glass or steel is better than the other, personal opinion says stay away from any strainers that use slit-style.
What to look for in a strainer or infuser:
- Small holes to keep tea particles in
- Easy-to-clean surface
- Easy to remove
Of course, there's always the option to use a Tea Press. Much like a coffee press, you simply add tea leaves, steep and then push down the press to pour the tea out without any risk of bits or pieces floating around. Super convenient to make a second pot of tea and no extra strainer to clean.
How To Do It
Now, we do have to talk about temperature here. Believe it or not, "hot" is not what you brew tea at. Or at least, not the high quality tea you just spent good money on. If you're investing in a quality product, you should invest in the best outcome of it. And brewing at the proper temperatures and for the proper lengths of time will give you a cup of tea you'll never believe.
Black tea is the easiest. Because the leaves have been the most processed, you need the hottest temperature to produce the best taste. Boiled water works best (90 degrees Celsius, 194 degrees Fahrenheit). Steeping time, or the length of time the tea sits in the water, is also important. No longer than five minutes, no less than 30 seconds. The longer you brew it, the stronger the taste and caffeine. In some regions, black tea is actually stewed with actively boiling water but here in the USA, pouring and covering works just fine. You can also re-brew black tea, though it won't be as strong as before.
Green and white tea are a lot more delicate. Water shouldn't be higher than 80 to 85 degrees Celsius (176 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit) or you risk burning and wilting the leaves. For new tea drinkers that don't have kettles with temperatures, that's just below boiling. I often boil the water and wait a minute before adding it to the leaves. The higher the quality of leaves, the lower the temperature. Many teas come with instructions but if you're buying specialty tea from a tea shop, always ask.
Oolong should be brewed at 82 to 96 degrees Celsius (185 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit). The great part of Oolong is the taste seems to improve after reuse, unlike green tea. I also brew herbal tea at this temperature unless it's otherwise stated on the package.
I like my teas sweet so I'm always adding a teaspoon of sugar to my teas no matter the brew. This does, however, counteract some of the natural benefits of drinking tea. Like cutting calories and sugar intact (because I'm just putting into my tea, see?) Still there's a lot to be said about adding something extra to your cup.
Honey makes a great addition to green and herbal teas. Not only is it a natural sweetener but there are extra vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to be found in it. Mix all that into your tea for some great flavor!
Lemon isn't just for fancy magazine photos. It can actually help bring out the taste of certain blend as well as stimulate digestion. It's also sugar-free.
Milk is often added to breakfast blends. I've found this to be very British and there's even a debate about when to add it in. I'll leave that to the experts.
If you're feeling brave or in need of something strong, whiskey or brandy mixes nicely. Good for a new nightcap or cocktail.
So there's plenty to add to your tea than the leaves themselves. Flavor is up to the drinker. There's really no wrong way to drink it. Something to remember: it's polite to taste the tea served to you first before adding anything.
One of the greatest benefits to tea is all the great vitamins and minerals that come naturally from the drink. Not only is the act of drinking something warm soothing to most ailments, but many teas are regarded as natural remedies for common annoyances.
What To Brew
|Colds|| Lemongrass, Ginger, Lemon Balm, Sage, Lemon Verbena, Thyme |
|Headaches||Feverfew, Skullcap, Ginger, Cinnamon, Peppermint|
|Sleep||Chamomile, Valerian, Passionflower|
|Stress||Passionflower, Mint, Ginseng, Chamomile, Lavender|
| Nausea or Upset Stomach ||Ginger, Peppermint, Green, Rooibos, Fennel |
|Bloating ||Fennel, Lavender, Mint, Nutmeg, Peppermint|
|Detox||Dandelion, Red Clover, Burdock|
I hope I've made you a believer in tea. Do you take your tea differently? I'd love to hear about it! Share your tips with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!
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