February 17, 2009

Adventures in tea

About a year ago I gave up drinking coffee and replaced it with tea.  Green, black, white, tisane - you name it.  I have become obsessed with trying new varieties and now I can't go into a store without checking out the tea section.  

A few years ago on a trip to Paris I discovered first-hand the magic of the Mariage Frères Maison de Thé.  With origins stretching back to Nicolas Mariage's adventures in tea in the 17th century it is a charming place to buy excellent quality tea.  There are three tea rooms in Paris and a number of tea counters throughout Paris and France as well as one location in Germany (not an obvious choice) and several in Japan.  While you can find a limited selection of these teas in specialty shops, if you find yourself in Paris do yourself a favour and stop in at one of the tea rooms!  

But now it seems that wherever I look everyone is getting into tea in a big way, with more exotic flavours than ever before.  Was this always there and I'm just noticing it or is this a new trend?  Even Tetley now has an interesting selection of herbal teas, including my favourite Tetley blend - Tranquil (Sérénité) - a blend of lemon balm, fennel, lavender, passionflower, rose petals and orange blossom.  It's a bit harder to find than the other varieties but many grocery store locations carry it and it's well worth the bit of extra work to find it.

More recently I also noticed that Starbucks has jumped on the tea bandwagon in a big way, launching its 'TeaTime at Starbucks'.  I have become a fan of the Tazo Zen - a blend of green tea, spearmint and lemongrass - and the Wild Sweet Orange - not a tea but a tisane of lemongrass, citrus herbs, licorice root and orange essence.  I don't usually like fruit infusions but the lemongrass and licorice root are lovely and the aroma is heavenly.

Did you know that tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, after water? There is also a fair amount of evidence of the health benefits of tea, in particular green tea which is made from unfermented tea leaves and contains high levels of antioxidants (polyphenols). White tea, less common than green or black teas, is also made from unfermented tea leaves except that they are picked before the buds fully open and are even less processed than green tea.  White tea is also said to contain higher levels of polyphenols than any other tea.

Green and white teas require more delicate brewing methods than black teas and it is commonly recommended that they be brewed with water that is just below the boiling point (about 80ºC).  My current favourite is the Marrakesh Mint at Teopia

I began drinking tea on a regular basis for health reasons but have begun to discover the pleasures of a cuppa. Next on my list:  oolong!   

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