No time like tea time

Coffee and beer are great, but sometimes the best thing for an overcast day is a cup of tea, a warm blanket to curl up with on the couch and a British comedy. The Brewponent is excited to introduce the “British” edition, a column about tea to help refine the coffee and beer nature it has enjoyed thus far.

Where to start with tea? The best place seems to be to explain the types of tea, their flavors and nature. Think of this as a sort of “Crocodile Hunter” introduction to the species and children of the tea leaf (Camellia sinensis). After all, the leaf is really quite a “beaut.”

Most readers will be fairly familiar with these first two types:

Black Tea

Black tea is strong and flavorful because of the long fermentation time of the tea leaves. After this fermentation period, the leaves are fired, creating their black color and namesake. Making black tea usually requires hot water at 195ºF, 1.5 teaspoons of loose tea per eight ounces of water and a steep time of three to four minutes. A longer steep time generally results in a stronger flavor. Popular types of black tea include Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Masala Chai. Black tea also has the highest caffeine content and may help protect lungs against smoke and prevent stroke.

Green Tea

Green tea tends to be fruity or flowery tasting since it often contains plant parts that enhance the smell and taste of the tea.The leaves are heat treated to prevent fermentation helping them retain their green coloring. Green teas tend to have more variation in steep time and flavor, but in general hot water should be at 175ºF (add two ice cubes for every 8 ounces of boiling water): use one teaspoon per eight ounces of water, and steep for one minute. This is only a general guideline, but should work for most green teas. You’ve probably drank Japanese or Chinese green tea in restaurants featuring their food, but the varieties and flavors are endless. Blends that include mint are particularly good with honey for colds, stuffy sinuses and sore throats. Green teas tend to be high in antioxidants which can help reduce cancer risk and improve cholesterol levels.

The next two types are a bit less common:

White Tea

White tea is the least processed type of tea, therefore being lighter in both color and taste and containing the least amount of caffeine. To brew, water should be at 175ºF (like it is for green tea). Use 1.5 teaspoons per eight ounces of water and steep for three to four minutes if the tea is unflavored and for one minute if the tea is flavored. White teas tend to be subtle and delicate in flavor. It is occasionally said to have the most potent anticancer properties. The most famous white tea is Silver Needle, which is slightly sweet.

Oolong Tea

Oolong tea is similar to green tea and is processed in the same manner with one exception, the tea leaves are bruised during the process. This gives them a reddish color around their edges and a slightly stronger flavor than green tea. Oolong is most commonly found in Chinese restuarants and is full-bodied and sweet. It should be steeped in the same manner as black teas for optimal flavor. The tea may also help lower cholesterol.

The next three types of tea (not technically tea) are not made from actual tea leaves but from a variety of other plants (they’re often called infusions):

Rooibos Tea

Rooibos tea is made from the South African red bush, and may be referred to as red tea. It is caffeine-free and is often slightly spicy. Brew it in the same manner as black tea, but let it steep for about five to six minutes instead of three or four. It may be steeped longer since it doesn’t tend to turn bitter like other teas. Rooibos can be soothing for an upset stomach and contains essential minerals like iron.

Mate Tea

Mate tea is strong and bold tea made from the South American yerba mate plant. It is generally prepared in the same manner as rooibos tea. It is high in antioxidants and is sometimes likened in taste to coffee. Like coffee, mate teas are rich in caffeine.

Herbal Tea

Herbal teas can be made by steeping any plant, often fruit, herb or flower in nature. My personal favorites include rosehip and lavender, but hibiscus and dried fruit can add a summery touch to your winter drink. They are also brewed in the same way as black teas, but should steep for about a minute longer. Herbal teas can have all sorts of flavors, health benefits and colors. Some helpful herbs often found in herbal teas are peppermint, lemon balm, chamomile, ginger and thistle.

Tea is a great drink, especially for those cold winter months. It can be a great caffeinated alternative to coffee if you want to cut down and is often cheaper than a triple-soy Caramel Cat. Tea can also provide a relaxing or soothing feeling before bed. Not to mention the dignified appearance it lends to its drinkers get those pinkies up people!