The Tea Plant
All the different teas such as black tea, green tea, pu’erh tea and white tea come from the same evergreen tree, Camellia sinensis. Each of these teas is processed differently to achieve the different types. Locations where they are grown and when they are harvested also play a role in their quality and taste. Tea is arguably the most popular beverage in the world. It has shaped entire cultures and even fueled wars. Harvesting, processing and even making tea has evolved for thousands of years and is considered a high art form.
When I was growing up, my stepmother would make gallons of heavily sweetened orange pekoe tea brewed in the coffee pot. It was always refreshing with ice on a hot summer day.
Beyond refreshing and stimulating, the health benefits of tea are astounding. Rich in antioxidants, including catechins, numerous studies have shown tea to decrease cancer risk, aid metabolic processes for weight loss, and support heart health as well as longevity.
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In one dramatic study done by the French, tea drinkers were shown to have 24% reduced mortality rate over non-tea drinkers. They surmised this is due to the health benefits of tea and that tea drinkers seem to have healthier overall lifestyles. Of course, tea is a stimulant and can be high in caffeine. Not to be confused with caffeine-free herbal teas.
What is Rooibos Tea?
Rooibos comes from a plant grown in South Africa (Aspalathus linearis). This popular beverage makes a red tea that is sweet, aromatic and caffeine free. Rooibos tastes great on its own but it also is delicious with other herbs and spices. When brewed it makes a beautiful red beverage and because of this it is sometimes referred to as red tea.
Herbal Teas: What are they and why are they consumed?
Herbal teas are technically an infusion of plant chemicals in hot water. The chemical compounds extracted in hot water are highly diluted as compared to supplements, tinctures, or essential oils. This makes them safer to use with little to no risk of toxicity or poisoning. Although long term use of some plant materials can cause undesirable physical reactions.
The chemical compounds extracted from the plant material into the hot water work on the body much like supplements and vitamins because they are nutrients in their most basic form. The body uses the nutrients to work properly. Unlike supplements, teas are dissolved in water, so they already have a way past your intestinal wall and do not have to be broken down or converted by the liver to nourish the cells. Herbal teas are all natural, nutrient dense, water-based, health building power houses!
How to Brew Your Tea
Tools: You don’t need anything fancy; the most important tea tool is a non-aluminum pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add a stainless-steel strainer or reusable tea bad and a teacup and you are good to go.
Beware of cheap aluminum tea strainers. Aluminum reacts negatively with the compounds in both tea and herbal tea and can cause oxidation. Making your tea rancid within seconds.
Average Dose: The average dosage is usually 3 to 4 cups in a day. Bitter medicines need only be taken in small doses, usually 1/2 cup at a time.
Variations: Spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and allspice add heat and energy to the infusion. Almond and vanilla extracts, raw honey, fresh lemon, or a pinch of stevia add flavor and zest.
Standard Brew Ratio: Two cups water to one-ounce dried herb. This equals 2 tablespoons of dried leaves or flowers. To brew a single cup, use 1 teaspoon per cup of water. When infusing fresh herbs use 2 to 3 times the amount of dried. Depending on the herb you will generally use hot to boiling water. Pour hot water over herb in a closed container and leave to steep.
Brewing time: 5 to 20 minutes. Infusing herbal tea is unlike brewing “tea”, Camellia sinensis, which becomes bitter and undrinkable if left to infuse too long. Most herbal teas benefit from a longer steeping time, the better to extract the medicinal properties. Brewing the herbs in a closed container like an enamel teapot prevents and volatile compounds such as essential oils from escaping.
Making tea of barks, roots, seeds and stems is a slightly different process due to the density of the plant material. This is called making a decoction; the material is boiled for 5 to 30 minutes depending on desired strength. Simmering covered is best for retaining volatile compounds.
Strain: Or not. I often just let the herbs settle to the bottom and pour off the top, letting the herbs soak in the water. The second cup is often better than the first. With practice you will get a feeling for how strong you like your drink. You need not throw out the leftovers either and may want to reuse them as a “starter” for another fresh batch.
Storage: Refrigerate any unused portions in a clean glass jar with a lid. Herbal teas are often better the second day but should not be kept longer than 3 days as a general rule. Herbal teas do not contain any preservatives so mold formation happens quite rapidly.
Cold infusions: Sun and Moon Tea.
For sun tea put fresh or dried herbs in a glass jar filled with water and place in a hot, sunny windowsill for several hours. A Moon tea is made by placing the herb in an open crystal glass or bowl. Cover the herb with fresh water and place directly in the moon light, a full moon being the best time. Do not cover. Allow to infuse overnight and drink first thing in the morning. These infusions will be subtle, and work best with fresh, aromatic herbs like chamomile, and mints.