It’s the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. Call it ‘der Tee’ in German, ‘le thé’ in French, ‘te’ in Italian, ‘tea’ in English or ‘Chai’ in Hindi, it happens to be my favorite mood lifter during the gray winter days. Many a Bollywood movie song sequence from the yesteryears have been shot at one of the picturesque tea plantations in Darjeeling, Munnar, Assam or Nilgiri hills.
The Camellia sinensis (botanical name) is native to Asia, is traditionally grown at higher altitudes and is typically plucked by hand. However for commercial mass production, it’s now being cultivated at lower altitudes, on flat lands to facilitate machine picking. Can you believe that it takes around 2,000 tiny leaves to make just one pound of finished tea! Tea comes in various forms, depending on how it’s processed. There is the hand-picked orthodox loose leaf tea, dust and fannings (found in tea bags) and the machine processed CTC (Crush-Tear-Curl) tea.
Surprisingly, all five basic types of tea, Black, Green, Oolong, White, and Pu’erh, all come from the same plant. The way it’s grown, processed and crafted that creates the different types of tea.
White tea is the least processed because it’s just dried. It is the most delicate retaining maximum antioxidants. The flavour is sweet, grassy and subtle. It may offer benefits to people with diabetes.
Green tea is steamed shortly after picking and goes well with savoury dishes. The flavours of this tea vary as widely as white wine. It is full of antioxidants called ‘catechins’, vitamins E and C, is anti-inflammatory and known to ward off everything from cancer to heart disease.
Oolong tea, being partially oxidised, lies in between green and black tea and is the most versatile to enjoy with food. The lighter teas are green and fruity whereas the darker teas are roasted and nutty. It’s also known to activate the fat burning mechanism of our bodies.
Black tea is fully oxidized to bring out the deepest flavours and is best enjoyed with sweet dishes. It has high concentrations of antioxidant compounds, theaflavins and thearubigins, which are linked to lower cholesterol levels.
The Japanese stone ground ‘Matcha’ tea, used in its beautiful tea ceremonies too, comes from the finest ‘Gyokuro’, the buttery sweet green tea. The tea plants are shade-grown with bamboo reed mats and rice straws for a month or two months prior to harvest, which intensifies their colour and flavour and chlorophyll content, thus making it a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids.
While the basic types of teas are delicious by themselves, there is also a huge market for blended teas as well. These mix the basic black or green teas with fruits, flowers, spices or flavours and make blends such as the popular Earl Grey, Masala Chai, Jasmine, English Breakfast, Afternoon tea, Rose, etc. In recent years, many tea companies have started to offer more non-traditional tea blends with flavours like chocolate, vanilla, wood and smoke.
Additionally, teas are also sold by their region of origin. These include popular ones like Assam or Darjeeling tea. Another way that tea is categorized for sale is first or second flush tea from a particular tea estate.
Everything other than the five basic types of tea, though loosely referred to as ‘tea’, is actually a ‘tisane’ or herbal infusion. ‘Tisanes’ include herbal teas, fruit teas, rooibos and are essentially caffeine free, carry beneficial antioxidants and are more effective than a nightcap (for example: Chamomile, Lavender, Passion flower, Lemon balm, Valerian root and Magnolia bark). Some of the herbal teas which are especially beneficial during the cold winter months are ginger, lemon and honey, licorice root and stinging nettle. Tisanes are so varied and the benefits so wide, that it warrants a separate article in itself.
‘Kombucha’ is a fermented tea drink made by adding yeast and a culture of bacteria to black or green tea, sugar and (optionally) other flavors/ fruit juice which is getting very popular for its health benefits. These being mainly that it’s high in probiotics and B vitamins.
Traditionally, a coffee drinking nation, Switzerland cultivated its first crop of this evergreen plant in the year 2005 on a plantation on the Brissago island of Lake Maggiore in the Ticino Canton. The idea of planting tea came from Peter Oppliger, a medicinal plant expert from Lucerne, who calls himself a “tea philosopher” (https://casa-del-te.ch/de/home/).
While you take your fondue pots out this winter, in case you’re wondering which beverage to serve this hearty meal (traditionally accompanied by a dry white wine), researchers from Switzerland, German and Britain have come up with an answer and that is tea. The debate on this subject was on for so long as much depends on a person’s physiology. If one has a sensitive gastrointestinal system, then hot tea is the best beverage to accompany this meal, as it aids in faster and better digestion, while alcohol slows it down.
A few reasons to grab your cuppa this winter:
- Given that it’s colder outside, we tend to not drink as much as we do in the summer months. A cup of warm tea can help us stay hydrated and adds up in our daily fluid intake.
- A few cups of this warming beverage helps the immune system get stronger and ward off the flu bugs.
- The amino acid, L-Theanine in tea boosts the hormones, dopamine and seratonin, which help keep the gray moods at bay.
- The antioxidants in black and green tea help prevent plaque build-up and inhibit the growth of bacteria. This is especially useful when people are more indoors and end up eating more rich food to keep warm.
- Green tea is known to boost bone density. Also, the anti-inflammatory properties of this tea helps ease joint aches and pains which worsen in the cold, wet winter months.
- The late sunrise and the dark skies bring with it a sense of lethargy. A cup of tea helps by giving us a much needed energy boost with a milder caffeine dose compared to a cup of joe.
- The sluggish digestive system in the cold grey months could do well with a metabolic boost provided by oolong tea.
So get cozy with a book and your favorite tea and drive your winter blues away!
(Information resources: www.teaclass.com, www.bbcgoodfood.com, https://casa-del-te.ch/de/home/)
Disclaimer: Opinions and methods expressed are solely of the writer. Namaste Switzerland does not undertake any obligation or liability which may arise from the content.