As I sit in Alex Library pensively sipping on my thermos of Earl Gray, I relish the brief moment my lips touch the warm, comforting notes of lavender and citrus delicately balanced in a bold blend of black tea. Author Lin Yutang captures, quite eloquently, the essence of tea that explains the (sometimes outrageous) amounts of tea I consume. He reflects:
“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.”
As someone with an absurdly hectic schedule, I find something inherently meditative about making myself a cup of tea, regardless of the time of day. Here to impart some of my wisdom on this lovely beverage, I invite you to take out your favorite mug, put on the kettle, and take a seat as you read about why you should be drinking tea.
The earliest history of tea can be traced back to China, where the art of making and drinking tea has remained an integral part of the culture for centuries. Tea, in its truest form, comes from the leaves of an evergreen species of plant known as Camellia sinensis, whose two varieties, sinensis and assamica, are used in tea cultivation.
What’s magical about this single species is that it’s responsible for the base of every type of tea, such as black, green, yellow, white, and oolong.
The trick to creating such a diverse landscape of tea from a single plant lies in… (chemistry lovers rejoice)… oxidation! Oxidation of the tea leaves occurs when the plant cells become damaged (through rolling, cutting, or crushing the leaves) and the components inside are exposed to and react with oxygen. The extent and duration of this process defines the type of tea you drink, which is really cool. If you want to find out the individual process for each tea, I recommend this site: TeaClass.
Anyway, besides the magic of oxidation, knowledge of how to prepare each class of tea is crucial in your tea journey. One of the biggest mistakes both beginner and seasoned tea drinkers make lies within the critical period of steeping. Now, most tea bags and loose teas come with directions on how long to steep (or submerge) the tea leaves in hot water. But this is just one half of the process. The next half is usually where the fatal error occurs, and it involves water temperature. Most oxidized teas (black and some oolong varieties) can handle very hot water; however, the more delicate leaves of green and white tea will burn and leave a bitter taste at the bottom of your cup. Here’s a good, basic guide to steep time and water temp:
Note: If you’re interested in how steep time and water temperature affect the nature of tea, I would recommend reading up on tannins, which are a group of chemical compounds found in plants that are often responsible for the bitter taste of over-steeped tea.
Now the question is: why go through the hassle of making tea? The answer: tea is actually really good for you. First off, tea leaves contain a class of antioxidants known as flavonoids, which help against free radicals that are linked to many cancers and neurological disorders. Some studies also link drinking tea to regulating weight and lowering levels of LDL cholesterol (woo!). Additionally, all tea is moderately caffeinated (black tea containing the most mg per serving), making it a great alternative to coffee, especially if you’re looking for a more gradual caffeine boost without the headache-inducing crash.
There are so many more things I can say about the wonderful nature of tea, but by now, your water is probably boiled and your tea diligently steeped. I hope this short introduction will inspire you to venture into a tea shop (or tea aisle) and make yourself an incredible cup of tea. 🙂