The Joys of Tea

I decided to put up this post in conjunction with my “Why I hate coffee”, post, although this piece is going to be more of an informative piece about different types of tea, and less of an opinion piece. Here, I’ll look at some of the technicalities of tea, and the benefits and downsides (though I don’t think there are any) to drinking it.

There are 3 basic types of tea: black, green and white. Some tea connoisseurs may now start to wax lyrical about rooibos tea and oolong tea, but I’m going to keep it very simple. There are also infusions, which are made of berries and flowers, which I will deal with later. Black, green and white teas all come from the same plant, the tea plant (unsurprisingly). However, green tea is unfermented, whereas black tea goes through a lengthy fermentation process, and white tea is taken from the tea plant when it is very young, and the new buds have not opened yet. Does this make a difference? Well, certainly in terms of taste. However, health connoisseurs also claim that there are subtle differences in tea types which give rise to various health benefits in each.

Black tea, drunken universally by Irish grannies and mammies alike, has long been lauded as having anti-carcinogenic properties. It’s also high in iron. However, it should be remembered that black tea is also high in caffeine, which leaches calcium from the bones. So beware: too much tea is not good for you.

Green tea has long been acclaimed as the healthier alternative to black. Most places that sell tea and coffee now also sell green tea, though I was recently surprised by a busy shop on Grafton St which did not. There is some evidence that green tea is good for the digestive system, and it’s recommended for bowel problems too.
White tea is my personal favourite of the teas. This is the tea of the Chinese emperors. Made from the youngest part of the plant, it tastes the cleanest and it is the most energising of the 3 types of tea. For those of you near a Bewley’s, they do an amazing white tea blended with cranberries, and it is truly the most delicious tea I have tasted. For those of you not near Bewley’s, Starbucks also do a pretty good Berryblossom white tea. White tea is also nice unblended, but this just gives it an extra kick.
Infusions are not teas, per se. They are generally crushed dried berries or flowers or essence encased within a tea bag. Lemon and ginger is good if you have a cold, and peppermint is good for clearing your head. But beware; some infusions, especially berry ones, though generally without added sugar, can be pretty high in natural sugars. So if you are on a diet, it might be wise to steer clear for a while.

The joys of tea drinking have been well chronicled, I am sure, though not by myself. There are other variations I’ve not covered here: as you get adventurous with your tea drinking, you may want to try rooibos, or pu-erh tea. Teas are also blended with various scents and flavours to create the huge variety that you can find in the best tea shops: for an example, take a stroll into Les Palais de Thés on Wicklow St. They usually have a couple of teas on tap for you to try as you wander around the store. The latest development in tea drinking, so I’m told, is the Bubblicity teas. A shop has just opened in Georges’ St Arcade, and it seems to be very popular. I’m constantly being told to try it, but I don’t know. The idea of the bubbles: the tapioca beads which make the teas so attractive: sort of doesn’t appeal to me. Have you tried them? I’ll have to work up the courage.

The next frontier will be Starbucks’ new plan to “do for tea what we have done for coffee”. Starbucks already own Tazo tea, but have now bought Teavana Holdings for $620 million. According to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, they will not be making Teavana tea shops like Starbucks cafés. Tea shops have a less rushed feel, according to Schultz, and the new tea shops will reflect that.

But I find it difficult to think that Starbucks can “do for tea” what they “did for coffee”. Tea is, in my mind, intrinsically different. It’s complex. It’s soothing and calming. It warms your hands on a cold day. It reminds me of my grandparents relaxing, enjoying their cuppas and telling us kids to take it easy. Coffee is raw, and rushed, and awful to taste. It’s to be drunk quickly, on the move, in a hurry, so that the caffeine and the sugar get to work asap. Tea is to be enjoyed, around a fire with the chats. You put the world to rights with a cup of tea. Tell me, with what cup of coffee can you do that?

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