Hello, and welcome to Episode 6 of Life On the Brink!
This episode has me particularly excited because it’s about TEA. I am a tea fanatic and have mentioned it a few times already on the podcast and on the blog (here’s my recipe for a London Fog).
I’ve found, however, that tea has the potential to be pretty intimidating, or at least confusing. I posed this question on my Instagram and was met with some interesting questions that I hadn’t thought of before. What’s the best way to prepare tea? Why do I prefer it over coffee? What are the different kinds of tea, and my flavor recommendations? And, of course, what’s the deal with loose-leaf tea?
I personally love drinking and learning about this fun little plant, and today I hope to help answer some of those questions. Today we’ll explore: how tea compares to coffee, the different types of teas and a few important variations, and what the deal is with loose-leaf tea and how it compares to tea bags. Then I’ll share a few of my personal favorites, and how I make my perfect cup of tea, plus this week’s Little Joy and tea-inspired album perfect for the season. I can guarantee that by the end of this episode, you’ll be craving a nice, warming, comforting cup of tea (if you’re not already sipping one.)
So let’s jump right into it...
When I was a kid, I was the only one in my family who didn’t like coffee, and until the age of about 15 I just stuck to hot chocolate and apple cider when it came to hot beverages. I really only knew tea either as something iced you get at Chick-fil-a, or something boring people drank hot to fall asleep. It just wasn’t something I knew much about, but oh, was I missing out.
I found my love of tea through Teavana, the now-closed tea provider. Their employees had a way of accosting people from three stores away until you came in and tried all their tea. Turns out, there’s a HUGE variety of teas, and I loved most of them.
That’s probably the thing I like most about tea, as opposed to coffee: the variety. With so many ways to treat tea leaves, you can have drastically different cups throughout your day, whether you’re in the mood for a strong black tea with milk and honey, or a delicate white tea, or a comforting green tea scented with flowers. There’s so many different ways to go with it. I also find that tea needs less equipment than coffee, as you literally just need the tea leaves and hot water. The brewing process is so simple, and I’ll suggest some of my favorite equipment as we go. Finally, I find that tea is generally nicer to my body. Caffeine doesn’t have any noticeable effect on me, so I don’t look to coffee to provide that (though teas vary in levels of natural caffeine), and tea isn’t so hard on my digestive system. It’s just kind and sweet and wonderful. There are a lot of health benefits to drinking different kinds of tea, mostly due to antioxidant levels, but I’m here first and foremost for the enjoyment of the cup.
Now that you’ve heard my case for giving tea a try, let’s talk about the different types of tea…
All true teas actually come from the same plant: Camellia sinensis, a shrub native to China. Crazy, right? Any actual tea is all the same little shrub, but the variety comes in how the tea leaves are treated in terms of drying and oxidation. There are about 6 true teas that come out of these preparations. Let’s take a look:
-White: pure young tea leaves, dried immediately. Flavor is very delicate and light.
-Green: young buds and leaves, small amount of oxidation and then pan-cooked (in China) or steamed (in Japan) to stop oxidation. Flavor is still mild, but a bit more robust than white.
-Oolong: a little older buds and leaves, roll into balls (bruising to release oils) with a little time to oxidize, then heated to stop oxidation. The process of rolling and heating can be repeated for more depth. Flavor is fresh and floral like green tea, but also toasty and complex like black tea.
-Black: young or mature leaves are fully oxidized. Flavor is robust, rich, sometimes malty, making it complementary with milk or cream. There's also a variant in India called "Assam", which can withstand hotter temperatures, and packs a bit more punch.
-Post Fermented/Pu Erh: made from a particular shrub in the Yunnan province of China. While oxidation does take place, the distinct thing about this tea is that it’s actually fermented. It can take months or several years, depending on the depth of flavor, which is typically very rich and earthy.
-Yellow tea: a very rare tea preparation similar to green tea, except that it allows for a small amount of fermentation before the drying process. Originally only prepared for Chinese royalty.
But wait a minute! It turns out you can brew more than just Camellia sinensis in hot water, who knew? These are a couple extras that you may or may not have heard of:
-Rooibos: this isn’t a true tea necessarily, as it comes from a different plant: the shrub Aspalathus linearis, found in southern Africa. This tea is fermented, and completely caffeine-free! Flavor is gentle and rich, maybe a little nutty.
-Yerba Mate: this is actually from a holly tree, Ilex Paraguariensis, from South America. It’s very high in caffeine, and was traditionally prepared in a hollowed-out gourd. Large amounts can actually be dangerous. The tea has a high tannin content, making a strong, perhaps bitter, and astringent taste.
-Herbal tea/tisane: not a true tea, just other plants that you can brew! Like chamomile, hibiscus, peppermint, dried fruits, etc.
So now that we’ve covered all the actual “teas”, what about all the flavors we know and love? There are so many different kinds of tea out there, and it all comes from either 1) brewing a mixture of tea and other plants or spices, or 2) flavoring the tea with essential oils or flavors during the drying process. Maybe you’ve heard of these:
-Jasmine: believe it or not, you’re not drinking jasmine flowers. It’s actually green scented with jasmine flowers or jasmine oil. Here’s a tip: if a particular manufacturer has left jasmine flowers in the tea, it’s actually not as good in quality. Jasmine flowers can be bitter when brewed, so the good teas have them removed before packaging. Still tastes like a flower, though, call me Tinker Bell.
-Earl Grey: The tea isn’t actually grey, it’s black tea flavored with oil of Citrus bergamia, the bergamot orange. The name actually comes from an actual Earl, check out the history of it here.
-Chai: often referred to as “Christmas in a cup”, this blend comes from India. “Chai” literally means "tea", though the original ”masala chai”, or “spiced tea” does not contain tea leaves. Traditionally it was prepared with a blend of cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and black peppercorns, maybe sometimes with a little vanilla, nutmeg, or star anise. Most chai blends you can buy from tea sellers are now made from black tea mixed with those same spices.
-Moroccan Mint: gunpowder green tea (rolled into little balls before drying, making the tea very strong, sometimes bitter) brewed with fresh mint and served with sugar.
-Matcha: this famous powder is simply a preparation of green tea. Before the leaves are picked, they’re typically put in the shade to boost their chlorophyll levels, making them extra green. Then the leaves are picked and prepped just like green tea, but then dried and ground up into a fine powder.
Ready to try a cup? Well before you run to turn on the kettle, let’s talk real quick about loose leaf tea.
In most of the world, the phenomenon of the tea bag has become the norm. It’s simple, portable, and is often the aspiring drinker’s first interaction with tea, sometimes their only interaction. So what’s the deal with loose leaf tea? It can be intimidating to get started, but really it’s simple. Remember, these are plants we’re brewing, and tea is originally derived from leaves. The tea bag-manufacturing process does diminish the quality of the tea in a couple ways:
-While loose leaf tea is typically hand-picked, tea for tea bags is now mostly harvested by machines. It makes for a less precise harvest, and can cause slight damage to the leaves.
-Tea bags contain smaller, more powdery pieces. This causes the tea to brew quicker, but can also be more bitter.
-As any loose leaf salesperson will tell you, you can infuse loose leaf tea multiple times. While it might not be as strong as the original brew, you definitely can’t do that with a tea bag.
-It’s actually a common practice for loose-leaf tea companies to sweep the floor and sell those fragments and scraps to tea bag companies. It’s just not as high a quality.
So if you want a high-quality cup, don’t shy away from loose leaf! All you need is an infuser. Instead of dropping your tea bag into the water, just drop your little metal infuser, and remove it when it’s done brewing. I’ve linked a couple here:
OR! Go the sachet route. Companies like Harney and Sons have caught on to the loose leaf standard and now offer some teas in pyramid-shaped mesh sachets. Basically a bigger tea bag that makes room for a portion of loose leaf. These kinds of teas are usually sold in metal tins.
Or buy your own sachets and fill with whatever loose leaf you like (and make your own tea sachet wedding favors to be very extra)
Real quick, these are a few of my favorite blends lately:
-Lidl: Cinnamon Apple tea (I couldn’t find a link, but it’s a seasonal item)
Probably by this time you’re just dying for a nice cup of tea, I know I am!
HOW TO MAKE A CUP OF TEA:
-Add 1-2 tsp loose leaf tea into a tea infuser
-Rest infuser in your mug or teapot and pour over hot water. Make sure she’s NICE AND HOT
-Brew 3-5 minutes (check the container that the tea came in, it’ll tell you how long)
-Remove infuser, can be set aside for another brew.
-Add sweetener, cream, lemon, if desired
I hope you’re a bit more inspired today to enjoy a nice hot cup of tea. Especially as we head into the colder months again, there’s something very soothing about stopping your day to prepare a cup of tea for yourself or someone you love. It’s a small act of self-love that causes you to be a little more present for a moment, and when you’re done you have a delicious drink. It really doesn’t get better than that.
This Week’s Little Joy: Last week I finally went back to the movie theater! Josh and I love doing this thing where we park in between the theater and the Mexican place across the parking lot. We go enjoy dinner and margaritas, and then just walk over to the movie. Ours was showing the original Jurassic Park for $5 tickets, and I had somehow never seen it before. I love the later movies, and dinosaurs in general, so we took advantage (I may or may not have made popcorn beforehand and smuggled it in). The last film I saw in theaters was Parasite back in February, which scarred me, so we were just really excited to finally go back. And I LOVED the movie.
What I’m Listening To: This piano trio album by David Hazeltine called "Alice in Wonderland". You don't have to be mad to make yourself a little tea party, and this album is perfect for the approaching autumn season.