Every time I come home to Assam for the holidays, I notice just how much the Assamese people love their tea. It is that first warm sip in the morning that gets them going for the day – and not without reason. Regarded for thousands of years in the East as a key to good health, happiness, and wisdom, tea has finally caught the attention of researchers in the West, who are discovering the many health benefits of this potent elixir. But before you start chugging, making sure that your “tea” is actually tea. “Tea”, in layman’s language, is the name given to a number of brews. But “real” tea, according to experts, includes only four varieties – green, black, white, and oolong – all derived from Camellia sinensis, a shrub native to China and India. Anything else, like herbal “tea” for instance, is an infusion of a different plant and isn’t technically tea.
Katherine Tallmadge, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says, “There doesn’t seem to be a downside to tea. I think it’s a great alternative to coffee drinking. First, tea has less caffeine. It’s pretty well established that the compounds in tea – their flavonoids – are good for the heart and may reduce cancer.” Indeed, teas have been studied to be chock full of the powerful antioxidants called flavonoids, the most potent of which (known as ECGC) may help prevent cancer, heart disease, and clogged arteries.
Experts suggest that to maximise the benefits of tea and minimize the calorie and sugar content, it is best to brew your own rather than buy it bottled. Here are a few simple recipes to help you get started on that journey down tea lane.
Green Ginger Tea
Green tea is a wonderful beverage. But if you’re not familiar with a few basic techniques, you can wind up with a tea that’s grassy, bitter, or just too strong. Don’t worry, though – with patience and practice, you’ll perfect your own recipe. Here’s a simple one for you to try out.
(Makes one cup)
- 1 tsp. (or 5 g) green tea leaves
- Ginger or dry ginger powder
- 1 cup water
- Place the green tea leaves and the ginger (or ginger powder) in a tea strainer or sieve.
- Fill a non-reactive pot or pan (glass or stainless steel) with water. Heat it to about 180°F. You can either use a candy thermometer to watch the temperature or simply keep an eye on the water to make sure it doesn’t boil.
- Place the filled tea strainer or sieve into an empty mug or cup.
- Pour the heated water into the mug, over the tea leaves.
- Steep the tea leaves for 2 – 3 minutes but not any longer, or else your tea will become slightly bitter.
- Remove the tea strainer from the mug.
- Let your tea cool down for a few moments and enjoy your perfect cup of green tea.
Lemon Black Tea:
Here’s a blend for those of you who love a lemony flavour. You will notice that unlike the almost overpowering sourness of the commercial lemon teas, this brew has a subtler, more restrained in its lemony taste. But it’s still got the tang!
(Makes 1 cup)
- 1 tsp. black tea leaves
- ½ tsp. dried lemon peel
- ½ tsp. coriander seed
- 1 cup water
- Heat water to about 180°F.
- Add the black tea leaves, dried lemon peel, and coriander seeds.
- Steep for about 10 minutes.
- Strain out your tea; discard residue.
- Let cool for a few moments before serving.
Containing up to three times as many antioxidants as green tea, this least-processed tea is arguably the healthiest of all teas. It has a mild and sweet flavor that is velvet-like in smoothness, and has none of the grass-like flavors some green teas can produce. The best white teas come in loose-leaf form. Like green tea, white tea is best brewed with pure water that is very hot, but not boiling. Follow the steps below to make sure your white tea retains all its fine qualities while brewing.
(Makes 1 cup)
- 2 tsp. white tea leaves
- Pure water
- Bring water to a boil and remove from heat.
- Warm your spotlessly clean teacup with hot water. Pour away the water.
- Add the white tea leaves
- Fill the cup with pure water. Cover and steep tea for about 5 minutes. For stronger flavor, steep for a few minutes longer. Re-steep the leaves once or twice to extract all the nutrients.
- Serve as it is, unadulterated. Pouring milk or sugar will drown out the already subtle flavour of the tea.
Traditional Oolong Tea
Preparing Oolong tea correctly is an art. While the ritual can be very detailed and complicated, here is a simplified recipe for your daily cup.
- Good quality oolong tea from a company you trust
- Water Boiler
- Teapot with a built-in strainer
- Ceramic drinking cups
- Bring water to rolling boil, then rinse and warm up the tea set.
- Add oolong tea leaves to the teapot. Tea leaves take approximately 5 percent of space in the teapot.
- Pour rolling boiled water (212°F) into the teapot.
- Use the cover to push away the white floating bubbles.
- Cover the teapot and steep for a couple of minutes. Pour the tea into the cups.
- The last few drops are the richest in flavor. They should be carefully and evenly distributed across all cups.
- This tea is as much enjoyed for its aroma as its taste. Remember to smell before you sip.
Now that you have the recipes down, go brew yourself a cuppa. Sip your way to health!