Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. All tea comes from one plant. I often use the grapevine and wine to help people understand the relationship between Camellia sinensis (a warm-weather evergreen) and tea. That example helps people visualize one plant in many different shapes and sizes, grown in different regions and climates, and processed differently, all yielding a varying cup of tea. Each varietal has a unique leaf size, bush size, and yield and will impart a different mouth flavor and aroma. Tea processed by hand in small batches will more than likely have a different flavor than tea processed at a much higher volume. How the fresh leaves of the tea plant are processed and their level of contact with oxygen determine resulting types of tea: white, green, oolong or black. During oxidation, the tea leaves undergo natural chemical reactions that result in distinctive color and taste characteristics. Like wines, each tea takes its name from the district in which it’s grown, and each district is known for producing tea with unique flavor and character. Tea is also divided by grades, determined by leaf size. Smaller sized leaves are used in tea bags while the larger sized leaves can be found in packaged loose tea. Herbal teas or tisanes do not come from Camellia sinensis but are an infusion of leaves, roots, bark, seeds or flowers of other plants.

Tea contains high levels of specific organic compounds known as polyphenols, which are very potent antioxidants. Tea also contains L-Theanine, a unique amino acid, only found in true tea. It allows you to feel the lift from caffeine without the crash, “a calm alertness.”

Another delicious option, rooibos (roy-boss) also known as “African Red Bush,” consists of tiny, flat leaves and have a sweet, full-bodied flavor without a trace of bitterness. Rooibos has many of the same health-promoting properties as true tea but is 100% caffeine-free. Rooibos grows in a small area north of Cape Town, South Africa. Yerba Maté is a stimulating herbal beverage from South America that has the ability to energize without the nervousness and jittery edge associated with coffee and also delivers natural anti-oxidant polyphenols and a wide spectrum of healthy vitamins and minerals.

When you boil it all down… Every cup of tea is simply water and leaves. There are guidelines for making tea, but ultimately your palate is your guide. Take time for a cup today!

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