How to Find Your Perfect Tea

The way Americans buy tea is changing. Fading away are the days we drop nondescript black tea bags into pitchers of water to make our single known form of "iced tea." We now know that any tea can be an iced tea if we want it to be! Instead of tossing boxes of teabags into our cart during routine excursions to the grocery store, we are beginning to make tea buying an excursion in itself, sampling different styles and flavors, and learning their origins and health benefits. Tea is transforming from a drink into a hobby, a passion, a lifestyle.

So, where do you start? The first step in selecting your tea is knowing what you are buying it for. Are you looking for something to drink in the morning or at night? Do you have health issues to address? Is there a certain tea tradition, culture or ceremony that interests you? These are important questions to consider when venturing into the vast world of tea. Once you've answered those, your search becomes much simpler, narrowing it down to taste, availability, cost, etc.

Morning Tea

Realistically, just about any tea can be a morning tea. Most tisanes (herbal teas) are appropriate any time of the day, so if you can't have caffeine at all, you'll likely want a refreshing, eye-opening tisane. Look for herbal blends that contain ginseng, ginger, hibiscus, lemon myrtle, peppermint or rosehips. Try this: Pink Passion, Red Bush Chai, Very Berry

If you're among those who like a good caffeine boost in the morning, there are plenty of options as well. Most breakfast teas incorporate Indian assams and/or darjeelings, such as the classic English and Irish Breakfasts. Flavors of these teas can vary based on growing region, altitude, harvest time and method of processing, so it's worth it to explore different varieties to discover your favorite. Some teas are available in decaf form, so if you like the taste of black tea, but don't want caffeine, this is also an option. Try this: Bold Darjeeling, Chá Breakfast, Golden Sunrise

You may not want a black tea at all, and that's fine! White, green and oolong teas also contain caffeine (as does the South American tisane yerba maté), so they are good for starting the day, as well. Just find the one that tastes best to you, and you've got the perfect morning tea! Because matcha powder is ground tea leaves, it may be one of the best choices for morning because of its concentrated energy. One cup of matcha is said to be equivalent to 10 cups of whole steeped green tea leaves.

Afternoon/Evening Tea

Some people can have caffeine any time of day, but when specifying you want a tea for later in the day, it's probable you want something calming and relaxing. If you aren't sensitive to caffeine, this could easily be any kind of tea. As with your morning tea, just find what tastes good to you.

Most likely, you are among the majority that wants to stay away from caffeine after a certain time of day and switch to something that will help you rest. For this, we aim for an herbal tea. Certain herbs actually come with sedative properties, so try tisanes that contain catnip, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, passionflower, or valerian root. Try this: Brave Dreamer, Cape Town Sunset, Sleep Tight

Health Issues

Tea and tisanes can be very healthy when consumed in moderation, and may be able to help relieve all kinds of ailments, from an upset tummy to high blood pressure, and possibly even to cancer growth. All tea produced from the camellia sinensis plant (meaning all black, green, white and oolong tea) contains a powerful antioxidant known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which research has shown can reduce the risk of all cancers and inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Tea's long list of health benefits includes reducing cholesterol, oxidizing fat, lowering blood sugar, protecting the liver, stopping cavities, strengthening bones and inhibiting blood clots. Fermented puer tea's probiotic qualities can add efficient digestion to that list.

While tea may promote all-encompassing wellness, tisanes tend to be more ailment specific. For lowering blood pressure, try rooibos or hibiscus teas. Hibiscus also acts as a coolant for your organs so it can keep you from overheating on a hot summer day, and also eases hangovers. Peppermint and ginger settle the stomach. Chamomile reduces fever and relieves menstrual cramps. Odds are if you step into a tea shop and explain your health concerns, they'll have something that may help. Try this: Get Well Soon, Pregnan-Tea, Tummy Tamer

If you have serious medical problems, of course, be sure to talk to a doctor. Tea and tisanes can be great for your health, but it's encouraged to get a doctor's approval before trying any home remedies.

Tea Cultures

Following the tea traditions of other cultures can be a fun way to experience tea in a way you never have before. Sometimes this requires specific types of tea and teaware.

If you are interested in Chinese tea culture, try a Chinese green such as Dragonwell, an oolong or a puer tea. In the Chinese Gong Fu ceremony, tea is brewed loose in a clay yixing teapot. For Tibetan-style tea, select a puer or other Chinese dark tea. Japanese tea ceremonies use matcha powder with a chawan (tea bowl), chasen (bamboo whisk), chashaku (bamboo tea scoop) and usually a few other utensils.

In India, the traditional form of tea is cha-ya (chai), a black tea brewed with regional spices, sweetened with sugar and mixed with milk. Russian tea practices use smoked black tea from India or Sri Lanka, brewing it into a concentrate and then diluting with hot water and sipping through a sugar cube in the mouth. Turkish tea is similar, using tea grown on the Black Sea coast and served with beet sugar.

The popular "afternoon tea" tradition comes from England, which usually includes cookies, scones, jam, cakes and sandwiches. It has become a strong tradition all over the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and South Africa. French tea service follows this style, including tarts and petit fours with its tea. Try this: Earl Grey la Créme, Strawberries and Cream, Lavender Lemon

In South America, yerba maté is consumed through a straw from a hollowed-out gourd. Similar objects are available commercially to recreate this tradition.

Many styles of tea and tisane are grown throughout the world, so you may just choose a tea from a specific region to experience what that area yields in form and flavor. When you visit your neighborhood tea shop, ask to see teas from the region you are interested in and they will likely be able to direct you to something that applies.

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