After water, do you know what the world’s most widely consumed beverage is? Would you say coffee? Beer? Wine? Coke? Wrong every time! It’s actually tea!
There was always tea available in our house when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, but only plain black tea. We drank green tea on the rare occasions when we went to a Chinese restaurant. Now I drink two mugs of green tea every morning and the basket of other teas in my kitchen cabinet is overflowing.
In Canada, our increasingly multicultural society plays a large part in the growing popularity and availability of so many different teas. Over the years, the world has come to us and it has brought its teas with it.
Drinking tea is a tradition that is said to date back to 2737 BCE. According to legend, Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting under a tree while his servant boiled drinking water. When some dried leaves from the tree blew into the water, Shen Nung decided to try the infusion that was created and found it to his liking. Since then, tea drinking has spread around the world.
While black tea is more popular in Western countries, green tea is preferred in China and Japan where it is a common part of daily life. Green tea is unoxidized, giving it a lighter taste and aroma than black tea. The tea that is used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony is matcha which is powdered and not infused. This means that the leaves themselves are consumed resulting in a much higher concentration of the antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that make green tea healthy. For this reason, matcha has become quite trendy.
Taiwanese bubble tea is a modern innovation. This high calorie tea has as its base an iced tea (typically black, green, jasmine or oolong) with milk and a sugary syrup. The “bubbles” are actually tapioca pearls. As much as I like tea, this one has never appealed to me!
From Thailand comes the very popular Thai tea. Made from strong black tea, often spiced with ingredients such as star anise, crushed tamarind, and cardamom, it’s usually sweetened with sugar and condensed milk and served over ice.
India produces and consumes more tea that any other country in the world. It is best known for it’s chai blends that mix black tea leaves with spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and black pepper. Assam is another popular variety of black tea which is grown in the Assam region of India. It is used in many breakfast blends including English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast, but is also consumed on its own. It has a strong, malty flavour, a reddish colour, and is high in caffeine. Darjeeling is yet another tea that is grown in India, specifically the mountainous Darjeeling region in the northern part of the country.
In Morocco, drinking tea is more than simply a social custom, it’s also part of doing business. If you find yourself in a Moroccan market, you’ll likely be sat down and offered a glass of mint tea by a vendor wanting to sell you a beautiful carpet. This is touareg tea, a green tea prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar.
It was Portuguese and Dutch traders who first brought tea to Europe in the early 1600s. By the mid 18th century it had become Britain’s most popular beverage with the East India Company using fast ships called tea clippers to bring the leaves from India and China.
Then there are the herbal teas which aren’t considered “real” tea at all because, unlike black, white, and green teas, they aren’t made from the leaves of the tea bush (Camellia sinensis). Popular among the herbal teas is rooibos or bush tea from South Africa which is made from the leaves of the red bush, a broom-like member of the Fabaceae family.
One of my favourite teas is Earl Grey, a black tea flavoured with oil from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fruit grown mostly in Italy. It is thought to have been named for Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, who was British Prime Minister from November 1830 to July 1834. In addition to regular Earl Grey, I have Vanilla Earl Grey, Lavender Earl Grey, and even Double Bergamot Earl Grey in my collection!
There are apparently all kinds of health benefits to drinking tea, especially green tea. The comparative lack of processing means that it has a higher level of antioxidants and polyphenols. Studies have shown that it may:
- lower cholesterol
- lower blood pressure
- reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke
- reduce the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
- lower blood sugar
- encourage weight loss
- aid digestion
- inhibit intestinal inflammation
- strengthen the immune system
- help fight infection
- help fight various cancers
- prevent bone loss
- reduce plaque buildup and tooth decay
- help cells regenerate and repair
- help slow down aging
- increase mental alertness
- lower stress hormone levels
- prevent arthritis
If nothing else, it’s a flavourful way to stay hydrated, it contains no calories, and it has less caffeine than coffee.
Tea, the healing beverage that knows no borders!