Tea time: 'Brisk' beverage not just for drinking
Tea ranks second only to water as the planet’s favorite drink. It transcends every border, from jungle to desert to big city. In some cultures, it is a ritual.
Despite its wide variety, all tea begins the same, as green leaves. Processing determines its fate, from black to white to smoked to flavored. The quality depends on the skill of the tea maker.
As leaves are picked, they immediately begin to oxidize (wilt and decompose). This is fermentation, and how far it goes determines tea flavor. Packaging is critical. Tea left in air eventually produces a fungus that causes bitterness.
Coffee, its immediate competitor, is a wake-up drink, heavy in caffeine. Tea has caffeine but presents it more subtly. Folks drink tea for its relaxing, cooling effect and slightly stringent flavor, described as “brisk.”
Cooking with tea
In the United States, tea is strictly a beverage. Elsewhere it is that plus a condiment, used in the flavoring of food.
One of the reasons rice tastes good in Chinese restaurants is it may be cooked in surplus tea. The tea produces a delicate flavor. Try Oolong tea with Basmati rice.
In England, tea is common in holiday cranberry sauce.
In Louisiana, Cajun recipes call for a tea-based citrus sauce for poultry or seafood:
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons loose black tea
3 cups broth
4 teaspoons orange marmalade
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
2 tablespoons butter in small pieces
Combine ingredients over medium heat, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Then strain and use as a dipping sauce.
Tea becomes a universal marinade to tenderize meats:
1 cup strong, black tea, brewed
1 clove garlic minced
dash of salt and freshly ground pepper
Mix and marinade meat for at least three hours in the refrigerator.
A vegetable marinade is a cup of brewed tea poured over boiled or steamed green vegetables just before serving.
Tea will “marbleize” hard-boiled eggs: Boil six eggs for 10 minutes, off heat and remove, keeping the water. Brew four bags of black tea in the water, remove bags. Crack eggshells with back of a spoon all over but do not peel. Place eggs in tea water and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes or until marbleized marks appear on shells. Cool and peel, the eggs will look like fine marble.
Tea more than any other hot drink is what you like, not how much you pay for it. Folks latch onto a brand, then that becomes their tea for life. Hence the popularity of the Tetley and Lipton blends.
Do premium teas offer anything beyond common ones? Taste test Dilmah Ceylon tea for the answer.
It has a good story. It’s grown and packed at its source in Sri Lanka using old methods. Profits stay there benefiting local farmers. The founder, tea maker Merrill Fernando, offers a personal guarantee of quality and freshness.
Everything about his teas — aroma, flavor and appearance — are bright and fresh. The flavor is deep and satisfying. If a tea can be memorable, this is the one. The cost is not a blow out. You can get 150 bags for about $14, including shipping, on www.amazon.com.
Bigelow: Wide variety of English-style blends, including the classic Constant Comment brightly flavored with orange leaves and sweet spices.
Lipton: The American favorite, a flavorful blend, comes in standard and flavors, including wild berry and a white tea with orange leaves and lemongrass.
Tetley: American blended tea, often stronger than Lipton.
Salada: Originally from Canada in 1892; blends in various flavors; best known for wry witticisms on packages.
Stewart’s: American; best known for black currant tea; blends are from around the world; brisk and invigorating.
Evolution: Each bag is individually boxed for gifting, white tea with orange peel and tangerine, subtle.
Dilmah: Premium, single-source Ceylon tea in a wide range of flavors, made in Ceylon, exceptionally fresh tasting with bright flavors.
Sun Leaf: Imported Ceylon with lemon flavoring, brisk.
Marianne’s Best: American black tea with peach flavoring, strong.
Flavored: A wide variety of natural flavorings blended with tea, including peach, mint, orange blossom, apricot and berries; go well as dessert teas. Flavor can be subtle or strong.
Blended: The world’s most common tea, made from teas worldwide in custom blends. If a container is marked just “tea,” it’s one of these. Most restaurants serve blended tea.
Black: Tea is oxidized (exposed to air) causing a chemical reaction that increases flavor strength; among the strongest of teas and good with food. Common ones are Assam, Darjeeling, English Breakfast and Earl Grey.
Green: Withered leaves are dried without oxygen, producing a pale, light, relaxing tea; a Chinese classic and excellent iced.
Yellow: Green tea cured in parchment or fabric bags to remove the grassy taste of the green; rarely seen here; good as a standalone beverage.
Smoked: Any tea dried over an open pine-wood fire, imparting a mild or strong smoky flavor; good with hearty meats.
Oolong: A blend of black and green tea, moderating the strength of the black; sometimes smoked tea added; range from dark brown to green; excellent with food.
White: A newcomer here; tea from a preponderance of buds, refreshing, cooling and settles stomach after a big meal.
Jasmine: Made from a blend of dried flowers; three types in the common grade and up to seven in the premium; very fragrant and light; popular for afternoon teas with pastries.
Earl Grey: A classic British standard since 1839; tea blended with citrus, creating a vigorous flavor and aroma; good with all foods.
Chai: Common in India; highly spiced tea, milk and honey, usually with cinnamon and cloves; served iced, as a chilled frappe or a heated latte.
Bubble: Latest tea fad; from Taiwan; cold milk tea plus black tapioca pearls that bubble when you drink it.
Notes: “Chai” is a common word for all manner of teas in Asia and Russia. Chai in America is the spiced milk tea.
Strong fruit and herbed teas generally are consumed without food.
Do not steep longer to produce stronger tea. Add more tea instead. Bitterness results after six minutes of steeping.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found “no credible scientific evidence” that green tea reduces the risk of heart disease or cancer. According to the Tea Association of the United States, green tea became popular due to the belief that it offers health benefits.
Since the 1700s, tea has been sold with health claims, including cleansing the kidneys and fever control. Today, ads on the Internet claim tea causes weight loss and can prevent cancer, AIDS and other diseases. Despite the claims, tea is not recognized officially as medicinal.
Tetley was forced this summer to pull an advertisement claiming green tea was as good as exercise in preventing disease.
Your perfect cuppa tea
Use filtered (bottled) water or allow tap to run for a minute or so to aerate water. Pour scalding water into your teapot to preheat it, then drain.
Boil tea water until it just begins to roil. Over-boiling removes the oxygen required for a fresh taste. Place teabags, one per person, in the teapot and pour hot water over them.
Steep for no more than six minutes or the tea will turn bitter. English and Irish blends take three minutes, Ceylon and flavored teas go four to five minutes and Oolongs and Earl Grey five to six minutes.
When using tea bags, squeeze them over the pot before removing. For loose tea, figure one teaspoon per 8-ounce cup and use an infuser. (Teacups usually are 6 ounces). Loose tea can be stronger than bagged tea.
Pyramid teabags are made of mesh nylon. They claim better flavor because more of the tea surface is exposed. They most commonly hold coarse-cut teas, including Jasmines with blossoms.
The first paper-fabric teabags appeared in the 1930s. They were invented to end straining tea made from loose leaves.
Tea is still sold “loose” (without bags), to be brewed with an infuser. Aficionados often use this time-tested method.
The Repository (Canton, Ohio)