Taste the tea
06 Jul 2015 by Edwardo Bouche - In The Know Magazine issue #34
It has inspired composers, writers and revolutionaries. It was a staple of trade in the 17th century and was originally available only to the elite and well to do. Its history is ancient, owing its origins to China over 5,000 years ago. According to legend, Shen Nung, an early emperor was a skilled ruler, creative scientist and patron of the arts. His far-sighted edicts required, among other things, that all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution. One summer day while visiting a distant region of his realm, he and the court stopped to rest. In accordance with his ruling, the servants began to boil water for the court to drink. Dried leaves from the nearby bush fell into the boiling water, and a brown liquid was infused into the water. As a scientist, the Emperor was interested in the new liquid, drank some, and found it very refreshing. And so, according to legend, tea was created.
According to the encyclopedia, tea refers to an infusion made from a specific bush called Camellia Sinensis or The Tea Bush. Anything else is a combination of different ingredients such as herbs, flowers, barks, etc., which we commonly refer to as herbal teas. Regardless of what we call them, tea and herbal teas are delicious, comforting, and in some cases, they can help alleviate certain conditions. What is officially known as Tea, contains catechins, which are a type of antioxidant. Fresh tea leaves contain up to 30% of catechins making tea a great ally when it comes to staying healthy. Tea also contains fluoride which can contribute to your oral health, and it also contains caffeine to keep you alert.
Although herbal teas give us enormous options of terms flavors, it is of vital importance to know that just because something is natural, it’s not necessarily safe to drink. There are many herbs and flowers that can have an adverse effect due to their different components. A good example is gobernadora or Creosote bush. Gobernadora grows regionally and people on both sides of the border consume tea made from this ancient plant leaves for various health reasons, but this plant can be toxic to humans. Echinacea, AKA the purple coneflower, is used extensively throughout the world as an immunostimulator but is not recommended for people with liver problems. It is also counter indicated when taking immune-suppressant medications. Other herbs that should be avoided when taking immune-suppressant drugs are goldensea (orange root), alfalfa (Medicago sativa, a legume) astragalus (locoweed) ginseng and licorice root.
So how can we enjoy a nice cup of tea after what we’ve just read? It’s simple. The secret is to be informed and to always share with your health care provider what herbs and supplements we are taking. Also, a quick internet search can provides us with very important information.
There is another secret that has to be uncovered if we want to truly have the best cup of tea: How to brew the perfect cup of tea. In Asia there are masters specialized in the art of making and serving tea, not to mention the beautiful tea traditions in Europe. Among the different traditions, there are some commonalities that can help produce a great cup of tea. You will need a good quality ceramic tea pot along with its cups. They are not expensive and some of them are very beautiful. The first step is very simple but often overlooked. The water should never be over-boiled. The ideal water temperature varies based on the type of tea being steeped. The more oxidized the tea (e.g. black tea) the hotter the water should be, whereas less oxidized teas (white, green) should be steeped in water that isn't as hot.
White or green teas need to be steeped in water well below boiling (170-185 F). Oolongs (185-210 F). Black teas, just off a boil (212 F or 100 C). The most common mistake is to steep black tea with water that is not hot enough, which can prevent the active substances in black tea from developing. When the water boils, turn off the heat and let the water cool for 30 seconds for white tea and 60 seconds for green tea before pouring it over the leaves. Once the water is ready remove it from the heat and let the water cool for 30 seconds for white tea and 60 seconds for green tea. Before steeping the leaves, the tea pot and the cups need to be warmed up. Pour about a cup of the hot water in the tea pot and swirl it thoroughly in order to ready the pot for the tea. Empty the tea pot and add one teaspoon of tea per cup, plus one additional teaspoon of tea and add the hot water. Leave the pot alone for about two minutes for the tea to steep before serving.