Sip on This: Three Teachings on Tea

By Guest Blogger   |  22Comments|

If you’re on the road to health but have yet to say no to your daily cup of Joe, let it go! You’ll be doing your bod an enormous favor because excess caffeine prevents our insides from absorbing all those vital nutrients from our organic green juices and salads! A cup of white or green tea in the morning (sans milk and sugar) may help you ease off your caffeine addiction because tea contains bio-caffeine, which is non-addictive. Furthermore, tea is packed with bioflavanoids, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals that help stave off disease.

Maybe you’ve already tried to make the switch but don’t find tea palatable — don’t give up! Over time, coffee dulls your taste buds, so, as you wean yourself off it, give tea another brew before giving it the old boo. As your taste buds regenerate, you’ll begin to identify the subtleties in flavors of this healthy beverage.

When choosing your teas, remember that not all teas are created equal. Consider these teachings from ancient Chinese tea masters:

Not all tea is “real” tea

Traditional tea is derived from the Camellia plant, of which there are many varieties. Over time, the definition of “tea” has broadened to mean anything steeped in hot water. Chamomile, rooibos and peppermint, no matter how wonderful, are not actually tea- — they’re tisanes or herbal infusions.

What do you think of when you think tea? A bag on a string? These lifeless sacs are filled with stale tea dust, replete with chemical processing agents that will give you a quick, stimulating but toxic jolt. These are the junk foods of tea! Toss the tea bags out with the potato chips, and fill your cabinets with seasonal, pesticide-free, loose-leaf teas.

When browsing at your local tea shop, ask for the freshest tea in stock. General rule: white and green in the summer and spring, oolongs and reds in the fall and winter.

There’s a tea for every season

From the lightest in flavor and highest in antioxidant properties to the richest in flavor but lowest in antioxidant properties, white, green, oolong, red and black are the five main categories of tea, of which there are thousands of varieties.

White teas are the supertonics of tea, composed of tea buds and young tea leaves, containing the most antioxidants and least caffeine per cup.

Green teas are considered the super foods of tea, antioxidant-rich elixirs made up of mature leaves that are pan-fired with slightly more caffeine.

Oolong teas, large-leafed Camellia varietals, are partially oxidized and pan-fired to yield complex, flavored infusions. The more oxidized the leaf, the fuller the flavor and the more caffeine per cup. Monkey-picked Tikuanyin is a favorite in our family, if not for its full bodied flavor then for its funny name. (No. Trained monkeys do not pick this tea from cliffs anymore — but they used to.)

What we call black tea in the U.S. is actually referred to as red tea in China, named so for the color of the tea liqueur it yields. These leaves are fully oxidized and contain the most caffeine. By the way, you can greatly decaffeinate red tea by steeping the leaves for 30 seconds and pouring out the first infusion.

Black tea, also known as Pu-erh, is considered the healthiest tea in China, despite having no antioxidants, because the leaves, having been fermented anywhere from one to 60 years or more, have a cleansing and probiotic effect. Teas fermented beyond five years have no caffeine. The older the tea, the healthier and more expensive it is, and its flavor more refined.

Brew time!

Adding milk and sugar to tea is a dirty habit that the English started to mask the bitter flavor. But tea should never taste bitter! If it does, you’ve brewed it too long or with scalding water. Brewing your tea correctly will prevent you from drinking a bitter cup.

Never use boiling hot water, and for the love of tea, please don’t heat your water in the microwave! The temperature of water you use will depend on the type of tea you choose. This is not to scare you away, but if you’re not mindful of water temperature, you might scald your precious leaves, which will ruin the delicate flavor. You can get really precise by investing in a water thermometer and following specific temperature guidelines, or you can just learn the bubble-size method. As a general rule, the lighter the tea, the cooler the water and smaller the bubbles should be.

White and green teas should be brewed in hot water just when tiny bubbles, the size of fish eyes, begin to surface. Steep whites for one to one and a half minutes. Greens, with their delicate leaves, need only 45 seconds to a minute. Don’t throw those leaves out after the first steep. They are delicious for three infusions!

Oolong, red and black teas need water at a rolling boil. Wake up those leaves with a quick rinse, sniff the aroma of the buds, and let the leaves stand in water for one to one and a half minutes. Decant into your favorite cup, and sip slowly. You can get five infusions out of this, which is why a pot is best shared with a friend. For Oolong teas, the second and third infusions are considered the tastiest, so don’t give your tea leaves to the worms just yet! If you’re nursing a Pu-erh tea, keep your pot covered and away from the sink, lest that black gold go to the compost bin too soon. Six to ten infusions give you your money’s worth!

Now that you’re more familiar with the tea basics, get out there and explore! And when you’ve found your tea and a quiet place to enjoy it in solitude or with a friend, follow these wise words from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if this activity is the axis on which the whole earth revolves. Live the moment. Only this actual moment is life.”

Maren and Kathryn Robinson are nutrition nuts, avid tea- and green juice-drinkers, and most importantly, sisters. Kathryn has a degree in gender studies and is a yoga instructor, self-taught nutrition enthusiast and media producer. Maren is a certified holistic nutritionist with advanced degrees in anthropology and public health.

Photo credit: Elizabeth K Dunbar, MPH

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22 responses to Sip on This: Three Teachings on Tea
  1. You can also do yourself a HUGE favor and buy a Breville electric tea maker pot! It has pre programmed buttons for all the five kinds of teas plus buttons for strengths (strong,medium,mild). As a big tea drinker it’s a dream come true and a must have for any kitchen!

    Not affiliated just thought I’d pass on the info. : )

  2. I’m English and I LOVE tea. I found this really interesting and useful. Thank you for sharing.
    In love xx

  3. Great post!

    In China, tea is seen as medicine, in fact if you go to a herbalist they will give you tea to drink as a prescription. Everybody drinks tea there! For example, Chrysanthemum is very popular in China, it is a light yellowish flower that has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

  4. I add a bit of plain light soymilk (Silk) to my black tea – no sugar though. Is that bad?? Through the summer I make a lot of iced tea (unsweetened, just with lemon). My current fave is using a blueberry lime rooibos, delish!

  5. Love tea! I absolutely love a blend of yerba mate, chaga medicinal mushroom, maybe a bit of pau d arco blended with Dastony coconut or almond butter and a touch of raw honey to make a delicious creamy latte. Or if i’m feeling really fancy i’ll use Rawmio or Rawtella as well to add a chocolatey creaminess

  6. Love tea! I absolutely love a blend of yerba mate, chaga medicinal mushroom, maybe a bit of pau d arco blended with Dastony coconut or almond butter and a touch of raw honey to make a delicious creamy latte. Or if i’m feeling really fancy i’ll use Rawmio or Rawtella as well to add a chocolatey creaminess

  7. Great article! I love tea, and know that they all need to be brewed a little differently, but can never keep it straight on which tea, or how long, or what temp. This had some good advice I think I can remember and definitely refer back to! Love the description of bagged teas as the “junk foods of tea”-how true!!

  8. Your article has come at a good time – I recently began drinking coffee again after 20 years of only drinking tea! Out it goes and back onto tea- thank you for such an interesting article.

  9. Monica – so happy this is inspiring you to kick the coffee habit again! Get stocked with a seasonal at your local tea shop. Lu Shan Clouds and Mist is a favorite green tea that’s in season right now. It has a sweet delicate nutty flavor. Many tea bars will give you a tasting! Have fun exploring the world of loose leaf teas! peace, kathryn

  10. Thank you all for the great comments!
    Meagan, from what I understand, like caseine in milk, phytic acid in soy milk can greatly reduce the concentration of catechins in white and green teas. Catechins are bioflavanoids that have amazing protective effects against cardiovascular disease and can prevent oxidative damage overall. That’s one reason not to add soy milk to your tea, but the truth is, if you are drinking high quality tea that has been brewed properly, you won’t want to add anything at all! It just tastes so good! Do some exploring. There are lots of online tea sources. One of my favorite tea houses is based in Berkeley, California (Teance Fine Teas). Have a wonderful day! Maren

  11. How does everyone feel about Teavanna….I think that’s the correct spelling. I love these little tea shops and the employees are very well educated and helpful in picking the right teas. I love it!

  12. How do you keep green tea stain off your teeth?

  13. What’s wrong with heating water in the microwave?

  14. kc said on June 8, 2012

    Melissa— This is a brain dump so please bear with me. People have different thoughts about microwaves and what they do to the molecular structure of food and water. To be frank, I haven’t read any scientific studies to back that reason up. I personally don’t microwave water for several reasons. For one, because it’s dangerous—Years ago, I watched a microwave-safe mug explode in my friend’s hands after she heater her tea water in the microwave. OUCH! She got a nasty blister along her forearm and a scar to remind her never to do that again.

    Secondly, I always find that my tea tastes really flat whenever I use microwaved water which may have to do with that molecular structure theory or, because the water is either too cool or too hot which leads me to my final reason…

    When you microwave, you don’t have control over the temperature. As we learned above, each category of tea requires a different temperature of water to yield the tastiest brew. My sis and I brew our teas using the bubble method. If microwaves are your only way of cooking, consider an electric tea kettle purchase or at least invest in a water thermometer (~$10) at a kitchen store so you know whether you need to heat the water a little longer or let it cool off. If you do decide to keep microwaving water, please be careful!!!

  15. Love this article! I am going to see if there are any tea shops around’

  16. Try this amazing tea for emotional well-being. Teamotions! http://www.teamotionstea.com It contains tea, herbs and adaptogens-so much health in one little cup.

  17. Do you get the same benefits from tea if you just let it steep in water that is room temperature? Or put it in the sun, like sun tea? Thanks very much!

  18. Sue said on June 10, 2012

    looking for info about ganoderma or red mushrooms, Organo makes organic green tea u purchase thru home sales, can someone help me? I’m new to green tea,

  19. Wow what a great article. I drink tea obsessively, but I lack the knowledge and spirituality that you both give! Thank you!

    I am weening myself off coffee by drinking Tazo organic green tea every morning. However, we have an “instant hot”… so my tea is always at the same temperature. Is this okay?

    Also, you talk about local shops. We have the typical chains… Teavana, Tazo, Yogi…. But how do I find tea that is not only good for me, but good for the environment and its producers?

  20. Hi All!

    Thanks for the great comments!

    Deborah—Yes! You most certainly do get the same health benefits. Cold infusions of white and green tea are particularly nice on warm summer evenings. You’ll want to infuse one-quarter cup of loose-leaf teas into one liter of water. Standard cold infusion brewing time is at least two hours in the fridge. You should not have any issues with astringency or bitterness in flavor since it’s a cold infusion. Enjoy!

    Hi Sue—Kathryn and I are not well versed in the specifics of medicinal infusions and tisanes, although delicious and healthy in their own right. Good luck to you.

    Hi Meghan—Great questions! Glad to meet yet another tea enthusiast. Just like most commercial bag tea, Tazo is not too sensitive to water temperature because the leaves themselves are not fresh. Seasonal teas, particularly green, white and lightly oxidized oolongs, are more sensitive to water temperature and steeping time. While that’s good news for brewing your Tazo tea, you’re not getting the same health benefits that you would have from newly harvested tealeaves. There are many awesome tea companies out there that sell high grade tea and are socially and environmentally conscientious. In fact, it’s the larger tea companies you have to worry about. Some of my favorite tea companies include: Teance Fine Teas (www.teance.com), In Pursuit of Tea (http://www.inpursuitoftea.com/), Silk Road Tea Company (http://www.silkroadteas.com/servlet/StoreFront), and Imperial Tea Court (https://www.imperialtea.com/), to name a few. There are many out there! Good luck and enjoy this new adventure in tea that you are about to embark on!

  21. I love love love tea but the problem is I love coffee too. I think coffee has been the hardest part of the CSD for me. However, I’m taking it one step at a time and just went from having about 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day to about 1 every few days :-) so I’m getting there especially with the help from my CSl friends who have turned me on to Kombucha tea :-) and I love green teas, jasmine green tea, & white tea. XoxoBarbaraAnn

  22. I am a tea addict. I never considered the impae of bagged tea – the only bagged tea I drink is Yogi Oragnics. I have been really enjoying my loose tea lately, as a local shop has been carrying in lots of lovely teas!

    I am surprised that Matcha has not been mentioned – I have matcha every morning before breakfast. It is so full of gorgeous antioxidants! I have my matcha from Japan, when a friend brought it back from his travels. It is getting low – so if anyone knows of any good online sources of Matcha, please let me know!