Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? In much of the world the answer to all these is tea time. Have a cuppa! After all, tea is the universal panacea for all ills, especially in Britain..
But tea isn’t British. It is said to have been discovered in China by Emperor Shen Nung in 2700 B.C. Unlike pestilence-ridden Europe, the Chinese made a habit of boiling water before consuming it. The story is told that some dry leaves fell into the emperor’s pot of boiling water and the aroma and flavor were so good, he brewed it regularly thereafter. The Portuguese brought tea to their court in the 16th century. From there it moved to the British court. In 1660, tea sold for 15 shillings a pound ($1800 in today’s terms), making it a drink for the aristocracy alone.
In 1706, Thomas Twining bought his first coffee shop in The Strand in London and started blending tea. Ladies sent their footmen in to buy tea as they couldn’t enter the shop, (this was a male domain). So Thomas opened three tea shops where ladies could be served with propriety. When Thomas’ grandson was elected chairman of the tea traders in 1784, he convinced the Prime Minister that the tea tax should be reduced.
“It was this act that enabled the British to become the tea drinkers we are today,” says Samuel Twining, current president of Twining’s Tea. “But for that, we’d still be drinking beer for breakfast.”
“Tea is healthy. It is totally natural, and because it contains anti-oxidant flavenoids, it fights free radicals in the body. So tea is good for you,” says Louise Roberge, president of the Tea Association of Canada, enumerating tea’s virtues. “It has less caffeine than coffee, it tastes good, and (without additions) has no calories.”
Black, green and oolong tea all come from the same plant – Camelia sinensis. The leaves of black tea have been withered in the air so the leaves are completely oxidized. “Think of an apple, which turns black when exposed to the air,” suggests Roberge.
For green tea, the leaves are steamed to prevent oxidation so they become bright green. “Like steaming broccoli,” adds Roberge. Oolong is between black and green, with a shorter oxidation time than black tea.
Many consumers assume green tea is caffeine free. It’s not. It contains 24-45 mg per 8-oz cup while black tea 14-70 mg of caffeine. On the other hand, brewed coffee serves a whopping 95-200 mg per cup.
More significantly, tea is the perfect pick-me-up because the caffeine in tea is processed more slowly. It doesn’t give you the quick high of coffee, but because it lasts longer, it also doesn’t have the same rapid drop, leaving you feeling tired and in need of another fix. But you should make it properly.
Tea – the new wine
Think of tea as the new wine. Serious tea connoisseurs will taste teas the way oenophiles taste wine, with much sniffing and slurping. Single estate teas are prized. Descriptives like astringency, balance, citrusy, smoky, bright, complex, flowery and even finish are tossed around like confetti. And these days, tea sommeliers in many restaurants can help you find the best tea pairing for your meal.
And as with wine, tea can be used in cooking. Most people have sampled green tea ice cream. But says Shabnam Weber, owner of The Tea Emporium and creator of the Tea Sommelier program for the Tea Council of Canada, tea can be used to flavour broths. “Tea is flavoured water, so infusing jasmine tea into the broth when poaching chicken or shellfish adds a beautiful flavour,” Weber explains. “And that broth makes a wonderful stock for soups.”
Reducing a tea-infused stock to make a sauce can produce a unique flavour profile, she adds.
Tea leaves – especially lapsang souchong – can add a whole new dimension to barbequed and smoked meats. Instead of applewood chips, she suggests, try adding tea leaves to the coals.
And finally, finely ground tea leaves with complementary spices make a delicious rub for meats. She suggests jasmine with lemon grass and salt; or lapsang souchong and chipotle peppers. Earl Grey tea, with its underlying Bergamot, really enhances the flavour of roasts.
Tea can enhance any sweet recipe too. Infusing warm cream or milk with tea before using it to prepare puddings or crême brulée adds a whole new dimension. “Tea can replace any liquid in a recipe to enhance the flavour,” says Weber, adding, “How about adding macha (green tea) powder to the flour when making a sponge cake?”
Here’s an easy recipe provided by Shabnam using jasmine tea:.
Jasmine cured Gravad Lax
This recipe uses jasmine tea in place of the usual dill.
500 gr. Salmon filet ( center cut, skin on )
300 gr. Coarse sea salt
150 gr. Sugar
1 tbs. Jasmine Dragon tears or other high grade jasmine tea
1 tbs. olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
Mix the sugar and salt. Pulverise the Dragon Tears in a spice grinder.
Rub the salmon with the olive oil and the jasmine tea. Season with fresh pepper.
Cover the bottom of a rectangular container with 1 cm. of the salt/sugar mixture.
Set the salmon on top and cover with the rest of the mixture.
Cover with saran wrap and weigh down with tins or jam jars.
Let this cure for 36 hrs. in the refrigerator. Remove the salmon and clean of all the salt and sugar.
Thinly slice the Jasmine cured Lax and serve with dark rye bread, a lemon wedge and honey mustard sauce.
Masala Chai Tea
This classic Indian spiced tea has a wonderful scented flavour. This makes enough for two cups.
350ml/12fl oz water
100ml/3½fl oz milk
4 black peppercorns
10 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
good pinch green fennel seeds
small piece cinnamon stick
1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and roughly sliced
1 black tea bag
sugar, to taste
salt, to taste (optional)
Heat the water and milk in a pan with the spices and ginger until it comes to the boil. Turn the heat down and cook over a low to medium heat for 15 minutes. Be careful as the milk can easily rise and boil over.
Once the volume is reduced to a large cupful, add the teabag and let it brew for one minute, or longer if you like strong tea.
To serve, strain into a cup and add sugar to taste.