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New, hip tea shops reminiscent of coffeehouses are opening in cities throughout the country -- for a total of more than 2,200 of these tea hangouts. In these establishments, you can sink into a comfortable armchair, relax, and enjoy flavorful premium infusions . Or you can take your leaves to go.
But don't expect to find anything brewed from standard-issue tea bags at these newfangled salons. While all tea leaves come from the plant Camellia sinensis -- a warm-climate evergreen -- those that end up in bags simply marked "tea" are blends of many different types from around the world that have been mixed for consistency of taste, says David DeCandia, tea buyer and master blender for the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a California-based company with more than 500 stores, including more than 250 overseas.
In contrast, says Joseph Simrany, president of the Tea Association of the U.S.A., premium products, whether loose or bagged, have specific origins (such as Darjeeling, from northern India) or a unique preparation (such as Earl Grey, in which the leaves have been flavored with bergamot oil, imbuing a citrus-like aroma). From season to season, says Simrany, these top-notch teas may vary slightly in flavor -- something that connoisseurs look forward to.Types of Teas
There are four major categories of tea, each of which gets its distinctive characteristics from the way the leaves are processed. (Herbal tea does not usually include actual tea leaves, but rather is a mixture of herbs and other ingredients, such as dried citrus; it is not, strictly speaking, "tea.")
You'll need a kettle, a teapot, a timer, an instant-read thermometer and, for loose-leaf tea, an infuser and a measuring spoon. Elaine Terman, proprietor of Elaine's Tea Shoppe in Sylvania, Ohio, offers a method for making a perfect infusion every time:
Now that you know how to brew tea properly, you can make yourself a pot, share this comforting drink with a friend, or throw a party. Tea goes well with food ranging from light sandwiches, scones, and sweets to something heartier, such as a buffet of casseroles, salads, bread and cheese, fruit pies, and cake, says Elizabeth Knight, author of Tea with Friends. "Everything except the tea can be made ahead of time, so you can be a guest at your own gathering," says Knight. Your only responsibility when your visitors arrive is to relax and enjoy the occasion.Good-for-You Brews
Health benefits are as much a driver of Americans' new interest in tea as is taste. According to the experts, drinking tea regularly may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, help prevent certain cancers, boost the immune system, and reduce stress levels. Antioxidants found in tea are even said to assist in reducing body fat. And the drink contains only about one-third of the caffeine of a comparable amount of brewed coffee. "Today's consumers are looking for a healthy alternative to coffee, and tea is a great option," comments Kari Ginal, head of business development for Argo Tea, a four-year-old Chicago company with seven tea shops and an online store.
-- Additional writing and reporting by Kristen O'Gorman
For more information and tastings in your area, contact Info@teausa.org.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2007.