Americans have a caffeine addiction; our hurry-hurry go-go pace requires it. Coffee feeds into our souped-up view of ourselves as overachievers on the cusp of our next idea, project, or promotion, thus the coffee culture with its plethora of coffee shops around the country.
Tea has a different chemistry though it does contain caffeine, some blends quite a lot of it. But the plant Camellia sinensis, from which tea is derived, both calms and invigorates simultaneously. The experience of tea does not lend itself as well to drive-thrus or counter service on one’s way to work. It wants a cup on a table … maybe a second cup waiting in a brewer of some sort. It wants you to sit still … if only long enough to finish the cup you hold. Tea asks you … to pause.
I’m generalizing here, imagining a morning beverage of Black Tea that holds more caffeine than Green or White teas, or herbal tisanes. But in discussing caffeinated fuel for the American experience, Black Tea is the choice of most American tea drinkers. Still, even the most caffeinated teas are going to provide a balancing calm upon consumption.
Tea as an experience needs time: boiling a kettle, starting the steep, timing that steep appropriately for the properties of that particular blend’s ingredients … all of these things require more time than walking in to an office breakroom and tapping the coffee urn. Tea calls for more attention, and this is its real gift. The slice of time lets you catch your breath in a way that coffee won’t. These pauses are necessary. We stop, breathe, and go back to work or play more efficiently and clearly than before the break. Let me share some tea information that will help you find what you are looking for in an afternoon pause.
Camellia sinensis is the basis for all tea; it is the tea plant itself. The growing point that is reached at harvest, and the treatment of the leaves during the drying process determine whether the tea is Black, Green, White, Oolong, or Pu’erh (Dark). Herbal teas are not technically teas, and thus you see the word Tisane used often when referring to beverages that are free of Camellia sinensis.
As stated earlier, Black Tea is the most consumed tea in the US. It is heavily oxidized and its strong and bold flavor holds up well to added flavors of all sorts; it is the basis for teas such as Earl Grey and Masala Chai. And who can forget Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s devotion to Earl Grey?
Green Tea is the most commonly consumed tea in China and Japan. While it contains caffeine, it is less caffeinated than Black Tea and has extensive health benefits. Green Teas are more floral and delicate, often tasting vegetal, and can be flavored, as with Jasmine Tea, but need more delicate additions than Black Tea can support.
White Tea is subtle, lighter in color and flavor than Green Tea, but more similar to Green Tea than to other teas. Harvested as tiny buds and minimally processed, its lack of oxidation lends the lighter color and lower acidity. White Tea can be steeped longer than Green Tea and often has fruity notes to the flavor without the addition of flavoring agents.
Oolongs are only partially oxidized and have a broad range of oxidation levels in the spectrum between Green and Black Teas. With a mid-range caffeine level, Oolongs are often consumed by repeated pouring of hot water over the same leaves for subsequent pots of differing characteristics.
There is a larger investment of human processing in the production of Oolongs, with hand rolling or folding done by people instead of machines. Thus the ability to get multiple cups from the same leaves has the added bonus of lowering the cost per cup, though Oolongs appear to have a higher cost per pound than other teas. One imagines Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “Bouquet” IYKYK) might spend the extra to have an oolong, just so she could boast!
Dark Tea, often called Pu’erh Tea
These are probiotic teas that start out with a production method similar to Black Teas, but are then fermented. Some can be very old, which is desirable. With about the same caffeine levels as a Black Tea, the fermentation adds probiotic benefits to the brew. Properly called Dark Tea, Pu’erh was the first Dark Tea marketed to the Western World, and assumptions are made regularly that all probiotic teas are Pu’erhs. It is the opposite. All Pu’erhs are Dark Teas, but not all Dark Teas are Pu’erhs. This will matter more as other Dark Teas are beginning to enter the US market.
Herbal Teas are Tisanes, which are any type of hot brewed beverage that does not contain Camellia sinensis. There are huge variations in this category: fruits, flowers, and leaves of all sorts are included. The South African plants Rooibos and Honeybush are both considered Herbals. One should remember that Herbal Teas are not always 100% caffeine free, as ingredients such as yaupon, guarana, and mate all have varying levels of caffeine in their leaves. And whatever the style of tea, whether black, white, or herbal, it’s always more delicious when shared with a queen!
All of these beverages can be straightforward single-origin brews or delicious blends. They can be consumed hot or iced. I encourage you to begin an exploration. Tea have so much variety, one should not assume they don’t like it after only trying a few types.
Tea doesn’t find more time in your busy day, but it can help combat that feeling of busy-ness that makes the day “seem” so long. It encourages you use your time a little differently. Allowing a proper pause in one’s workflow often leads to better productivity as well as a less frenetic work experience. I invite you to experiment with some forced moments of calm by adding a tea-making ritual to your daily schedule. It is only a few minutes out of your day, but the benefits are immense.
By Rhonni DuBose
With 30 years on the Renfest circuit, Rhonni DuBose has done everything from designing shops that she and her husband built for vendors, to working in kitchens, to hairbraiding, to middle management, menu development, and now owning and managing restaurants within the Texas Renaissance Festival. Her newest project is Tea and Strumpets, a seasonal tearoom within the grounds of TRF, and its line of teas inspired by dynamic women from history. Teas are available at www.TeaAndStrumpets.com
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