Tea in the morning, tea in the evening, tea at supper time, You get tea when it's raining, tea when it's snowing tea when the weather's fine, You get tea as a mid-day stimulant, You get tea with your afternoon tea For any old ailment or disease For Christ sake have a cuppa tea — The Kinks
On a recent visit to London, I took my Irish friend, Eileen, to one of my favorite London haunts: the Tea Palace on Westbourne Grove. With more than 100 different teas to choose from, the Tea Palace is heaven for an Irishwoman! However, after perusing the extensive tea menu, Eileen looked at me a little confused and asked, "Do you think they have ordinary tea?" What the heck was I thinking—that an Irishwoman was going to stray from tradition?
As someone who grew up in Ireland, I know just how much the teapot is a big part of our daily lives. As a child, I'd knit tea cozies to keep the brew warm, and on a winter's evening, my family would sit around the fire and drink tea. There was no such thing as what kind of tea—there was simply tea. Fortunately for Eileen, the Tea Palace was able to satisfy with a nice black tea with milk and sugar.
These days, there's a vast range of teas to choose from, and every time I go shopping, there seems to be even more. I confess to having strayed from the purity of my Irish roots and embracing a whole new world of teas. I've even tainted my mother, who never starts her day without her two cups of green tea and swears it's the fountain of youth.
I like to jump-start my day with a tea that has a little caffeine, like a white, green or jasmine tea. White tea has about 2 percent caffeine, while green and jasmine teas contain 5 percent. Since anything more than that (like black tea, which has between 10 and 20 percent caffeine) makes me a little overexcited, I tend to stick to those three. I also always have a bag of dried rosebuds among my tea collection, as it adds a lovely flavor and aroma when combined with white or green tea.
Get the lowdown on different types of teasDifferent Types of Tea
While teas do have distinct differences, black, white, green and oolong teas all come from a warm-weather evergreen tree called Camellia sinensis. The difference comes from the processing. As tea leaves are processed, they become darker, which means that white and green teas are less processed and therefore have lower levels of caffeine. Darker teas, by contrast, are dried, crushed and fermented.
Matcha Tea Matcha is a powdered green tea used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. It is also used as an ingredient to flavor certain foods, like green tea ice cream or mochi, which is a traditional Japanese dish made from sticky rice. Matcha has become a popular drink because of its nutritional benefits—it is said to be high in a class of antioxidants known as cathechins, which are only found in green tea, and it is also a good source of chlorophyll as well as a natural mood enhancer.
Indian Chai These days, I occasionally start my day with a cup of Indian chai made from black tea, along with a squirt of a wonderful liquid chai spice mix that I found recently, a spoonful of honey or maple syrup and some warmed hemp milk or soy silk creamer (the hazelnut or vanilla Silk creamer is quite a delicious treat in tea).
Rooibos Tea If I'm having my chai later in the day, in order to avoid the 10 to 20 percent caffeine found in black tea, I'll use a Rooibos tea instead. Rooibos, also known as African Redbush tea, has become very popular recently. It was traditionally used in Africa to treat various health problems, including infant colic, digestive problems, asthma and allergies. It is also said to be high in antioxidants, and it is completely caffeine-free, so it can be enjoyed at any time of day.
Yerba Mate Tea Yerba Mate, a tea native to the rainforests of Brazil and Argentina, is another tea that has gained popularity recently, again because of its high antioxidant properties and other nutritional benefits. I enjoy its smoky flavor and find it a wonderful tea to offer people who want to cut back on drinking coffee, as Yerba Mate has a stimulating effect from its naturally occurring caffeine, but without irritating the nervous system as coffee can.
Kukicha Tea Kukicha tea, also known as Bancha tea, is a staple in the macrobiotic diet. It is often referred to as "three-year tea" because it is made from the tea tree's twigs, stems and coarse leaves that have matured for up to three years in paper bags. Kukicha tea is said to be highly alkalizing, which is beneficial, as the majority of people tend to consume a diet rich in acid-forming foods such as meat, sugar, dairy products and refined carbohydrates. It is also a good source of calcium, zinc, selenium, copper and magnesium and is high in antioxidants.
Throughout my day, I enjoy a range of teas for their therapeutic benefits. These days, I'm drinking an Ayurvedic concoction made from a range of spices, to which I add fresh ginger. In Ayurveda, herbal blends are used therapeutically to balance the constitution and treat various conditions.
Studies have shown that teas are high in the antioxidant Polyphenols, which have anti-carcinogenic properties among other health benefits such as lowered cholesterol levels.
Healing Herbs and Spices
Fresh or dried herbs and spices can be brewed into a soothing tea to treat various health conditions.
Nettles help build blood and are also beneficial to treating urinary tract infections.
Ginger and mint are helpful for digestion and upset stomachs.
Rosemary is good for treating headaches.
Dandelion leaf and root are excellent liver tonics and help clear toxins from the body.
Chamomile and valerian are relaxants and promote sound sleep.
Lavender is soothing to the nervous system and relieves stress.
Wild rose hips are high in vitamin C and good for treating cold and flu.
Sage tea is excellent for treating infection and inflammation. It is also said to be calming to the nervous system and to help control night sweats during menopause.
Raspberry leaf supports the female hormonal system. It promotes healthy menstruation and is recommended to strengthen and tone the uterus in preparation for pregnancy.
Fennel seeds are very effective for digestive problems such as gas, cramping and acid indigestion.
Dried lotus root powder helps dissolve and clear mucus congestion from the lungs and bronchial tubes. Its action is enhanced with the addition of a few drops of fresh ginger juice.
Lemongrass is commonly brewed up as a tea in Thailand. It is a diuretic and is said to have antifungal properties and benefit the digestive system, reducing gas and bloating.
Cornsilk is a well-known tonic for bladder and urinary tract infections. It is also diuretic and helps clear toxins from the body.
When making white or green tea, it's important not to add boiling water, as it will make the tea bitter. You can bring the water to a boil and let it sit for about a minute before adding it to the tea leaves. Alternatively, you can add a little cold water and top up with boiling water.
Herbal teas can be soaked for anywhere from three to 10 minutes. For more therapeutic benefits, I like to soak them for longer or simmer them lightly. I also like to use a glass pot for brewing my tea, as I love to see the color of the tea as it brews!
In general, I prefer to use loose-leaf tea and truly enjoy when I can pick fresh herbs and flowers from the garden to whip up a magical brew. Tea to me is alchemy—a way to transform my moods, lift my spirits and share with friends. For a special treat, accompany your afternoon tea with a slice of my Fruity Spiced Tea Cake, which as been created especially for my readers on Oprah.com.
Oh, and in case you were wondering —my favorite tea-and-herb combination? Silver needle white tea with rosebuds.