With the weather getting colder I'm definitely drinking more hot tea. Mention tea drinkers and most people tend to think of the United Kingdom. The United States, however, is growing as a nation of tea drinkers. According to the Tea Association of the U.S., from 1990-2014 the U.S. wholesale market grew from two billion dollars to more than 10 billion. Tea appears to be taking more shelf space at the grocery store and there's an increasing number of brands and flavors.
Tea has many health benefits. Starting with the fact that it often has far less caffeine than coffee. Different types of teas offer different benefits:
Green – high in the polyphenol EGCG, studies show that tea may be supportive against a variety of cancers as well as preventing clogged arteries and improving cholesterol levels.
Black – the highest caffeine levels are found in black tea. In studies it appears that black tea may protect the lungs against damage from cigarette smoke and may even help to reduce the risk of stroke.
White – Appears to have the highest anticancer properties compared to other varieties of tea.
Oolong – A partially fermented black tea, this has been shown to help lower cholesterol level.
Pu-erh – Fermented and aged, this tea showed benefits for lowering cholesterol and helping with reduced weight gain in animal studies.
Recently one of my readers, Mary, wrote in and asked, “How do they make the flavored teas. I like the fruity flavors but after reading your book I'm wondering how they get the flavor in there.”
Great question. The answer, unfortunately, is that often the flavors are from artificial ingredients. Many companies list their ingredients on their website making it easy to find out what's really in your tea. For the fruity teas (which seems to be the most popular judging by conversations with friends) although they have fruit pieces in them they also have artificial flavors. Some tea companies use “natural” flavors, but as we've discussed before, natural doesn't always mean what we think it does.
And then of course there's other negative ingredients such as citric acid and maltodextrin, both of which are sourced from corn and therefore highly likely to be genetically modified. Another issue with tea is the use of pesticides however that is a rather deep topic and I'll be covering it at another time.
Here's a slide show with the ingredients of some popular flavored teas
Make your own
So what's the answer if you want to drink flavored tea but don't want all the additives? Tea can also be flavored with juices, extracts (such as vanilla or lemon), or fresh herbs and spices (such as ginger, vanilla, cardamom, or mint) but remember blend cautiously for balanced flavoring.
In my opinion the best option is to blend your own. I typically buy my teas and ingredients at Mountain Rose Herbs. Their ingredients are organic and many of them are fair trade and ethically wild harvested. Starting with a base (black, green, white, roiboos, etc) add in your flavorants. Mix well and place into a jar. Good choices for flavorings can be: jasmine, rose, lavender, mint leaves, citrus peel, ginger, lemon, cinnamon, vanilla, or other spices. Choose just a couple of flavorings that will go together, it takes a while to learn how to make complex blends without overwhelming the base tea or creating a mish mash of flavors that are not pleasant.
One of my personal favorites is a lemon tea made using a number of lemon flavor ingredients. Before I started making my own tea blends I didn't even know that there was a green roiboos. Now it's my favorite, I really love it. It's not as sweet as the red and has a pleasant grassy note which I think pairs well with the lemon. When I make this tea blend I purchase all of the ingredients from Mountain Rose Herbs.
green roiboos tea
Mix together and store in an airtight jar in a place away from sunlight
To brew a cup of tea add 1 heaping teaspoon of tea to 1 cup boiling water and let steep for five minutes
A tea ball can be helpful, otherwise strain before drinking
Enjoy these teas hot or cold and take advantage of them as a delicious alternative to plain water (especially the decaffeinated varieties).