A Spot of Tea

From one single plant, almost every culture has a beverage based on the dried leaves of Camellia
sinensis whether it’s the afternoon ritual for your average Brit all the way to your formal
chanoyu or somewhere between as in the Gochiso Gourmet’s rum cocktail. But tea has been
incorporated into many cultures whether providing a mild stimulant beverage, a formal tea
ceremony or simply this columnist’s daily lunchtime drink of choice.

Camellia sinensis

All traditional tea whether black or green comes from the young leaves of that evergreen shrub,
Camellia sinensis. There are two main variations of the plant with the smaller leaf Camellia
sinensis used in most Chinese and Japanese teas and the large leaf Camellia sinensis assamica used
in most Indian teas (Assam, Nilgiri). If left untended, the plant will eventually turn into a tree
but it’s usually cropped at waist to chest level to make harvesting easier.

Plants are ready to produce leaves worthy of tea after its third year of life and only the top 1 to
2 inches are harvested with a new harvest ready to pick 1 to 2 weeks after the previous harvest.
Because the plant favors tropical to sub-tropical climates, plants grown in higher climates
usually produce better quality tea as the marginal growing conditions fosters slower growth
which allows more flavor compounds to develop in each leaf. A little like slower growing
conditions in the vineyard creates more acid formation and polyphenols in each grape creating
more complex wines.

Basic Tea

Yes, you’ve all seen and probably sampled that ubiquitous tea in the yellow and red box
featuring the name of Scottish founder Thomas Lipton, but did you know that Lipton tea wasn’
t actually the primary product of Thomas Lipton? He actually started a small shop in 1871 which
eventually expanded to about 200 shops in just 10 to 15 years. And tea was just one product
that the shops sold. But as tea consumption increased as his shops did, the price for tea also rose
with its popularity. Therefore Lipton decided to purchase his own tea gardens in then Ceylon
(now Sri Lanka) and packaged and sold his own Lipton label of tea (as an aside, Thomas Lipton
also created the Lipton dried soup mixes).  The now supermarket side of the business was
eventually sold so that Lipton could concentrate on his tea brand (which is now owned by
conglomerates Unilever and PepsiCo). And though there’s nothing fancy about Lipton tea, I
consume it regularly on those occasions when coffee is just too heavy (and I’m not looking for
a major caffeine hit).

Fancy Teas

Do an internet search and you’ll find dozens of fine tea purveyors whether it’s Lupicia, Teavana,
Tea Forte, Adagio or any of the other hundreds of companies with their high quality leaves,
special flavored brews or brewing accoutrements. I’m not a tea connoisseur by any stretch of
the imagination and usually sip my lunchtime brew simply for that extra caffeine boost at
midday. But I do have my own special blend. Every Sunday, I brew my lunchtime beverage with
equal bags of Hawaiian Islands Tea Company Maui Mango (black tea infused with mango) and
Celestial Seasonings Wild Berry Zinger herbal tea.
Of course, while visiting The City I often reach for a cup of Earl Grey (black tea infused with
bergamot) with my breakfast faire probably because I usually get my daily java in the hotel
room upon awakening and I try to avoid constant java consumption lest we experience those
dreaded caffeine withdrawal headaches. So maybe I am a fancy tea drinker after all… I guess I
should be holding out my pinkie as I sip my tea… perhaps with a cucumber sandwich or scone…

Possible Health Benefits

Due to the multiple flavonoids found in both green and black tea, there are various publications
suggesting the health benefits of consuming tea. While it appears that green tea might reduce
the incidence of cardiovascular disease and gastro-esophageal cancer, we’re still not really sure if
that same potential benefits carries over to its fermented cousin or black tea. The most active
antioxidant in green tea - epigallocatechin gallate – may also have antiviral, antibacterial and
antifungal properties. But before you start consuming vast quantities of your favorite brew, just
be forewarned that poor quality tea grown in unregulated areas can contain heavy metals
(cadmium, aluminum, lead and mercury) and there was a case of iced tea nephropathy (kidney
disease) reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015. Apparently a 56 year old
gentleman went into kidney failure after consuming 144 ounces of iced tea daily for quite a
while giving him more than 1500mg of oxalic acid (the compound that gives that puckery
mouth feel in raw spinach) every day. So if you enjoy tea every day, continue to do so in
moderation. And if you do want potential health benefits, stick to the green brew.

Spiced Espresso

My tea consumption isn’t just limited to that midday hit of caffeine. I also now enjoy it in my
evening adult beverages. I first encountered this cocktail at The Nook Neighborhood Bistro in
Honolulu. It was listed on their AM Cocktail list with RumChata, Koloa Gold Rum (from
Kauai), cacao, Chai Hard Tea (From T-We Tea in The City) and espresso. The Mrs and I enjoyed
the cocktail so much, I immediately tried to create my own version. The various spices (bird’s
eye chili, star anise, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and clove) mixed with the Keemun Chinese
black tea pushes the boundary of your usual coffee based cocktail. I swapped the gold for dark
rum and cold brewed coffee for the espresso and to gild the lily, used Valrhona cocoa powder.

For four 3oz cocktails:

2 ounces RumChata
2 ounces dark rum
3 ounces brewed T-We Tea Chai Hard
4 ounces cold brewed coffee
1 ounce agave syrup
4 tsp Valrhona cocoa powder

Add all of the ingredients to a large cocktail shaker filled with frosty ice cubes. Shake vigorously
for 5 to 10 seconds to get the cocoa powder incorporated into the liquids. Strain into a chilled
martini glass and enjoy.

So the next time you want to emulate the perfect British gentleman (or woman), reach for that
alternative caffeinated brew. Heck, you can even enjoy it with dainty cucumber sandwiches and
miniature scones with clotted cream. I won’t judge. Probably because my version will be spiked
with a touch of distilled spirits…