Kitchen Focus

As I write this, I am sick. My throat is sore, my nose is running and I feel like I was recently hit by a large truck. I've been living off some chicken soup I was able to put together before the "real" cold hit and lots and lots of tea. It is amazing how therapeutic tea can be when you are under the weather. Add a little honey, and you've got a great elixir to help you through your trials.

All tea comes from one plant, Camellia sinensis. If it doesn't come from this plant, it is not tea in the true sense of the word. Tisanes, or herbal teas as they are better known, come from a variety of plants and therefore are not “tea”. However, they can be a wonderful compliment to a regular selection of true teas.

Teas are grown in different regions around the world. The most widely recognized are China, Japan and India. When tea leaves are harvested, a natural oxidation, sometimes referred to as “fermentation”, begins to occur. This oxidation is environmental, not man made, and is halted by heating the tea leaves. This heating is done by firing or steaming the leaves. The amount of oxidation varies in the different types of teas and is the main difference between them.

White and green teas are both harvested and then heated immediately making them non oxidized. They produce a fragrant, vegetal character, and when properly brewed the tea liquor will appear light and clear with a pale green or yellow hue. These delicate teas should never be prepared with boiling water.

Oolong teas are allowed to oxidize for various lengths of time (15– 75 percent oxidation) allowing for a wide range of character and caffeine content; the darker, or more oxidized, the higher the caffeine content. The most commonly consumed oolong teas in the US are the dark varieties, which appear amber in color and are rich and complex in taste.

Black teas are allowed to fully oxidize giving them a rich, dark appearance, the greatest amount of caffeine and a strong, brisk flavor. If caffeine is a concern to you, try brewing your tea for lesser amounts of time, use the same tea leaves for brewing a second cup (the second cup will have substantially smaller amounts of caffeine than the first cup) or choosing a non oxidized tea, like white or green tea.

To brew a perfect pot of tea, always start with cold, high quality water. If you do not have good tap water, consider using a filter or bottled water. Since tea's main ingredient is the water you brew it in, make it the good stuff. Also, warm the pot you will brew your tea in before you add the brewing water. This helps insure that you will have hot water that's working to give you a good brew and not working to warm a cold pot! Then, add your tea leaves and steep depending on the type of tea you use and your personal tastes. Here's a rough guide:

  • In general, use one teaspoon per cup of tea. Use a teaspoon from your silverware set ... that's what it's named for!
  • Bring your water to a full boil for black tea, a pre-boil for oolong and white teas, and a slighter cooler pre-boil for white teas.
  • To reduce the caffeine in your tea, wash your tea leaves by infusing them for approximately 1 minute and pouring off that brew, which contains the most caffeine, then steep tea as usual. Also, buy quality loose leaf tea. Tea bags impart more caffeine into your cup, because there is more open surface in bagged teas, more open surface allows more caffeine into your cup.

Finishing off a cup of tea is really up to you. Some like it straight up. Others add honey, lemon, milk, or any number of other things. You can chill it and add sweetener for an iced tea as well ... a favorite summertime treat! Tea can even be used in cooking! Use the leaves as part of a rub or use tea in marinades or sauces. However you choose to enjoy it, I hope this brief guide has helped you make a little more sense of this great beverage.

If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .

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