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A Tea Time Primer

Learn More About Tea; To Drink And Make

Give the gift of perfect tea.

All over the world, tea is a popular beverage to drink hot or cold. It is so common, we often take it for granted. This primer is to help one get re-acquainted with an old friend.

Black Tea

Black Tea is what we usually think of when someone mentions tea. All tea comes from the Camellia sinensis, a white-flowering evergreen bush native to China and India. which is processed into four tea types: White, Green, Oolong and Black.

With Black Teas, the differences are noted in the names, which often are taken from the districts in the countries where they are grown. Variations include Assam (India), Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Yunnan (China).

Oolong Tea

Oolong is produced just like black Tea, except that the leaves are oxidized for less time.

White Tea

With white Tea, the difference comes from which part of the plant is used. White Tea consists only of leaves from the branch tips, the leaf bud and possibly the first two leaves under the bud.

White Tea is picked once a year in the spring and is thus less available than the others.

Green Tea

Green Tea has been enjoyed in the Far East for more than a thousand years. The leaves used for green tea are the same as those that make black and oolong teas, but they are steamed right after being picked to stay green.

Herb Tea

Herb Tea is completely different from black tea. It is made from plants, using not just leaves, but also flowers, roots, bark and seeds.

Because herbal tea can be blended with many different plants, there is an infinite combination of distinctively different flavors, colors and aromas.

All teas except herbal have approximately the same amount of caffeine (25 to 60 mg of caffeine in a 6-oz. cup). The amount is much less than coffee which has about 100 mg per 6 ounces.

Teas are decaffeinated through a process using carbon dioxide and water or the other common de-caffeination process using ethyl acetate.

Tea is among the richest natural sources of antioxidants, which have been linked with cancer prevention, decreased risk of stroke, and reduced blood cholesterol.

Additionally, it has trace amounts of various nutrients such as the amino acid thymine; the minerals calcium, magnesium, manganese and potassium; and the vitamins C and K.

Two cups of tea are equal to one serving of vegetables as far as the antioxidants levels go, but it is still important to eat a well-balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables offer vital sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber and various antioxidants not found in other food groups in the human diet.

Tea can be enjoyed hot or cold. Some people take it straight without anything added to enjoy the full flavour of the leaves. Others feel it is less than enjoyable without a little milk, or cream, or sugar, or lemon, or honey.

Tea can even be brewed and frozen into cubes to cool down your hot tea or to add extra body to iced tea.

For those who want a bit more variety in their teas, herbal and fruit based teas are great. As the combinations are endless, one can never really get bored. Here are some of the more common types:


Also known as "buffalo grass" has been around for thousands of years. Some herbalists think alfalfa can help support healthy cholesterol levels and the body's defense system.


This tropical spice is a berry that tastes like a combination of cloves, cinnamon, juniper and nutmeg. It has been popular in the Caribbean for centuries and used to soothe colds and upset stomachs.


Anise seeds have the fragrance and taste of licorice (which is what usually goes into almost everything we call licorice). Anise is a popular ingredient to freshen one's breath. Anise also has a natural component called anethole, a volatile oil known to aid proper digestion.


There are more than 6000 kinds of apples grown around the world which makes the possible combinations for apple based teas endless. Not only are they a source of dietary fiber, apples contain pectin that may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.


Ginseng is one of the most highly valued and most expensive herbs in the world. Ginseng can help you resist stress by building up bodily strength and vitality. Ginseng may also stimulate the body's natural defenses against infectious disease.


Barley is a highly nutritious food that grows well most anyplace, even where the climate is cool and the growing season short. In grain form, barley is believed to have soothing properties, and most people find it very easy to digest. Barley has a natural, nutty flavour.

Black Pepper

Black pepper grows as a berry on a tropical vine that climbs jungle trees in India and Asia. Once dried, the berry is what we call a peppercorn. Russians have traditionally added a bit of black pepper to their tea for a bit of a kick that actually enhances the other flavours in the tea.


Blackberries have long been believed to have certain good for you qualities as well as tastes good. Ancient Greeks were so certain that blackberries helped their gout they called them goutberries. Blackberry leaves have been used for their astringent properties and the used blackberry tea leaves can be rubbed on the skin for soothing purposes.


Cardamom is a rich spice from the seed of a plant called elettaria which is very difficult to grow making it a rare treat. This is usually the main ingredient in curries but also used to flavour coffees, pastries, breads, fruits and pickles. Cardamom can be used to freshen your breath and support smooth digestion.


Before the 17th century when black tea was the rave, catnip tea was a popular beverage in England. Colonists brought the catnip plant to America. Catnip tea has a long history of use as a calming brew, to soothe your stomach and quiet your mind and has a similar flavour to mint.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is a chili from Central and South America. People in the southwest U.S. have eaten dried chili peppers to support digestion and to soothe their throats. Cayenne red pepper contains a compound called capasicin that can support your defense system and reduce sensitivity to pain. The healthful use of cayenne has excited some scientists about as much as red pepper excites your taste buds.


Ancient herbalists believed chamomile was a cure all good for everything from headaches to kidneys. Recent research has confirmed many benefits of chamomile, including its soothing effect on jangled nerves, irritated skin and upset stomachs.


Egyptians used chicory for the heart and Romans believed it kept the blood pure. In France, chicory leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach. The chicory root is said to protect the liver from effects caused by excessive coffee-drinking. The roasted root has an aroma like coffee, but chicory contains no caffeine, making it a satisfying alternative or additive to coffee and tea.


Several species of cinnamon appear in commercial products these days, which is why we specify that ours is "cassia," a variety native to China. The inner bark is most commonly used, although the Chinese also employ cinnamon twigs for certain health uses. Throughout the ages and around the world, cinnamon has been a popular spice and herbal remedy. Greeks and Romans used it for digestion. Ancient Chinese herbals also recommended cinnamon. Contemporary herbalists suggest cinnamon for supporting healthy circulation and digestion. Isn't it nice to know you can calm your stomach and warm your heart with an herb you're sure to keep on your spice shelf?


The clove tree is grown in many countries like Tanzania, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and in the West Indies, which is a good thing, since it takes five to seven THOUSAND of the little flower buds to make just one pound of dried cloves. Prized in Europe since its arrival in the 4th century A.D., clove has traditionally been recommended for digestion. Contemporary herbalists most often suggest cloves for this or to maintain good circulation.


This tart red berry has gained a strong reputation for making many women's lives a little easier. Since the mid-1800s, drinking or eating cranberries has been a popular measure used by people for maintaining a healthy urinary tract. First it was discovered that cranberries increased levels of "hippuric acid" in the urine, and scientists theorized that this acid helped maintain a healthy microbial balance. More recent research indicates that cranberries may inhibit certain microorganisms from adhering to epithelial cells lining the urinary tract. Whatever the reason . . . as women have been telling each other for more than a hundred years, it works.

Dandelion Root

Native to Europe and Asia, the dandelion has been valued in herbal folklore for more than a thousand years. Early colonists introduced dandelions to this continent, where Native Americans then adopted it as a healthful tonic. Our word "dandelion" comes from the French "dent de lion" or "lion's tooth," an apt description of the jagged shape of its leaves, which are a source of Vitamin A. Scientists have identified certain bitter principles in dandelion which may have a favorable influence on the digestive process.


A uniquely American herb, echinacea is native to the central United States, where it has been used by Native Americans for maintaining good health more than any other plant. Extensive research in the last 20 years confirms that echinacea stimulates the body's defense system, helping to keep you in good health. Echinacea can be especially helpful during winter. Known as the "purple coneflower," this wonderful and beautiful herb is now a common garden plant grown both here and abroad.

English Lavender

For hundreds of years, lavender has been treasured as a "cleansing" herb. In fact, its name comes from "lavare," the Latin word for "to wash." Ancient Romans were so sure that lavender would uplift and refresh them, they paid a lot of money for the luxury of soaking in lavender baths. A popular ingredient in perfumes, lavender is also said to keep moths away, which is why lavender sachets are nestled in among clothing even today. Its most common internal use is as a relaxing tea. Just the scent of this lovely herb is bound to lift your spirits!


The Australian koala wouldn't consider living without this healthful herb. . . literally. Eucalyptus leaves are the fuzzy marsupial's sole food source. Native to Australia, eucalyptus trees have also been vital to the survival to the aboriginal people there since earliest times. They chew the roots for their water in the dry outback and drink tea made from the leaves. A director of Melbourne's Botanical Gardens introduced this beneficial herb to Europe in the 1800s, where its oil became popular to support the respiratory system. Eucalyptus can be especially comforting when you have a cold. Remember, a little bit goes a looonnng way!


The folklore about this aromatic herb begins in a Grecian town named "Marathon," where wild fennel grows in the surrounding countryside. As the story goes, Athenians defeated the Persians in a battle there in 490 B.C. An athlete carried a sprig of fennel as he ran the 25 miles to Athens with the victory news, so fennel was often called "marathon" after that. Fennel "seeds" (actually tiny fruits) have traditionally been chewed to help dispel hunger pains during fasts and long sermons. Fennel is also a popular flavoring in many beverages and foods, because of its strong licorice taste. One constituent of fennel's volatile oil is "anthole," which may be responsible for its reputation as a digestive aid.


Ginger is a perennial herb originally grown in tropical Asia and now cultivated extensively in the West Indies. The root has an exotic, spicy taste that has been used in many cultures to flavor foods. For at least two (some say up to FIVE!) thousand years, the Chinese have used ginger to soothe stomachs. To aid digestion after big meals, the ancient Greeks ate ginger roots wrapped in bread, which eventually evolved into gingerbread. Ginger is believed to support the circulatory system and digestion, but its most "tried-and-true" use is to soothe the stomach when you're in motion.


Interestingly, this "herb of longevity" happens to come from the oldest species of tree in the world today. Ginkgo biloba (a.k.a. "Maidenhair") trees have grown in the Orient for more than 200 million years! One of these stately trees can live well over 1000 years and grow up to 100 feet tall. Chinese have used ginkgo for thousands of years to help cope with aging by supporting mental clarity and memory. Ginkgo supports healthy blood flow, especially to the brain. An antioxidant, ginkgo may also protect against the deteriorating effects of free radicals.


The tart, refreshing taste of hibiscus flowers comes from the many acids found in this tropical plant -- oxalic, malic and citric, to name just a few. These acids also account for the long history of hibiscus as a healthful tea for smooth functioning. Hibiscus has a delightful flavor that is popular in foods and beverages throughout the world. Jams and jellies are also made from this bright botanical. You just can't help but smack your lips and smile over a sip of hibiscus tea . . . no wonder it's so popular in tropical countries, where "beating the heat" is a daily chore. Hibiscus is a primary ingredients in many of our teas, including our ever-popular Zinger Teas.

Lemon Peel

In the language of flowers, the bright yellow lemon peel means "zest," which pretty much says it all. In fact, the word "zest" is a shortened version of the French word "zeste," which means "peel of a citrus fruit." Master chefs and tea blenders know a bit of lemon peel can give their creations just the right edge. Nutritionally, the peel contains bioflavonoids that can help your body better utilize the Vitamin C from the lemon within. And if you have the hiccups, try this folk remedy, add a touch of lemon peel oil to a glass of fresh lemonade and drink it all down. Even if your hiccups don't go away, you'll be set on Vitamin C for the day.

Licorice Root

This sweet and powerful thirst-quencher has been used in many cultures for a very long time. In the 3rd century B.C., Hippocrates recommended licorice root for coughs and other respiratory complaints. He called it "glukos riza" or "sweet root." Licorice is fifty times sweeter than sugar, making it a popular flavoring in candy and medicine. Chinese licorice, or "gan cao," has been popular for 5,000 years in China, where it is sometimes called "the grandfather of herbs." Tea or lozenges made from licorice root can soothe your sore throat and quiet an annoying cough. Licorice should not be used by people with high blood pressure, though, since it can cause sodium retention and potassium loss when taken in large quantities.


This popular South American beverage is named after the Spanish word for "gourd," because it has traditionally been brewed in a hollowed out drinking gourd or "maté." Preferred to coffee in Argentina, maté has a uniquely smoky flavor because the leaves are dried over brick ovens. Unusual among caffeine beverages, maté contains vitamin C, which brought it to the attention of early Jesuit missionaries. They noticed that native South Americans seemed to survive just fine on a diet of meat and maté, while Jesuits kept getting scurvy. They concluded that maté prevented the mysterious "sailor's sickness," so began drinking it, too. A cup of our maté may have about as much vitamin C as a 1/4 teaspoon of lime juice.

Orange Blossoms

The poetic lore that surrounds orange blossoms has the same enchanting quality as their sweet fragrance. One reference from a 17th century Jesuit recommended that a fermentation of orange flowers be taken as a remedy for the heart. In the language of flowers, an orange blossom means "your purity equals your loveliness." The blossoms were traditionally used during bridal festivities before a wedding, presumably because of their association with chastity. These fragrant petals of an orange tree's flower are often included in perfumes and cosmetics still today, and they add a delightful touch to foods and beverages, too . . . purely lovely.


In the ancient world of mints, peppermint is a relatively new hybrid that sprouted up in an English spearmint field about 300 years ago. Since then, it has become one of the world's favorite herbs. Peppermint's refreshing, mildly sweet taste makes it the perfect flavoring for candy, toothpaste, mouthwash and gum. Like other mints, peppermint can aid digestion and settle the stomach. Also, peppermint's strong concentration of menthol is comforting for a stuffy nose


If you leave the flower on your rosebush, the petals will fall off after it finishes blooming, and a small red fruit will form -- that is the rosehip. Rosehips form on any sort of rose shrub, even a hybrid tea or floribunda, but the hips most commonly used in foods and beverages are harvested from wild roses. Fresh rosehips are a source of vitamin C, which is how they got the reputation for being healthful.


The mint written about in ancient texts (and used to pay taxes in Rome!) was most likely spearmint, a common garden mint. In the world's oldest surviving medical text ("Eber's Papyrus" of Egypt), mint is mentioned as a stomach soother. And Pliny said mint "reanimates the spirit." In ancient Rome and Greece, banquet tables were sometimes rubbed with mint to perfume the air and ensure healthy appetites. After these feasts, guests chewed sprigs of mint to soothe their stomachs and aid digestion. After-dinner mints evolved from this practice. Although it has traditionally been used interchangeably with peppermint, spearmint does not contain menthol and is a much milder herb.

Vanilla Bean

Ice cream, pudding, cake, candy, baked goods, and sodas ... life in America just wouldn't be the same without vanilla. Early 16th century Aztecs of Central America are to be thanked for introducing vanilla to Spanish explorers, who then took it back to Europe. The climbing vine which gives us vanilla beans (or pods) is a type of orchid that can be pollinated only by hummingbirds and special bees when grown in its natural environment. The rate of pollination is very low, only about one percent of these vanilla flowers produce pods, so commercial production of vanilla relies on growers pollinating the vanilla flowers by hand so that the pods will develop. The leading producer of vanilla is Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa

West Indian Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a very common ingredient in herb teas because its refreshing citrus flavor blends well with so many other herbs. Teas are generally made with the leaves, but the lower stalk and roots of lemongrass are also valued for the unique flavor they add to Asian cuisine. The Chinese have long used lemongrass to address a variety of health concerns. Cubans have traditionally brewed lemongrass leaves as a tonic for soothing and calming.

How To Brew The Perfect Tea

Now that you are familiar with the teas, here is a short course on how to make it.

Herb Tea

Hot Tea by the Cup: Place one tea bag in your favorite cup. Add boiling water and let steep 4 to 6 minutes. Sweeten if you desire -- we recommend honey!

Iced Tea by the Pitcher: Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 4 tea bags. Steep 4 to 6 minutes, then remove the bags. If desired, stir in your favorite sweetener while the tea is hot. Add 2 cups of cold water and chill.

Black Tea

Hot Tea by the Cup: Place one tea bag in your cup [if you take milk or cream, add it now] and pour boiling water over it, cover and steep 3 to 5 minutes, depending on desired strength. Remove tea bag. We recommend adding honey to sweeten.

Iced Tea by the Pitcher: To make 2 quarts, pour 4 cups of boiling water over 8 tea bags. Steep 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the bags. Add sweetener and/or lemon if desired. Then add 4 more cups of cold water. Refrigerate and enjoy.

Green Tea

Green tea is brewed differently from black tea because its fresh green leaf makes a slightly astringent tea. With cooler water and shorter brewing time, you get more delicate flavor from the unfermented leaf.

Hot Tea by the Cup: Place one tea bag in your cup. Pour very hot (just at the brink of boiling) water over the tea bag. Cover and steep 3 minutes. Remove tea bag and add lemon and/or sweetener if desired. Traditionally, green tea is served without milk.

Iced Tea by the Pitcher: Pour 2 cups of very hot water over 4 tea bags. Steep 3 minutes then remove the bags. If desired, stir in your favorite sweetener while the tea is hot. Add 2 cups of cold water and chill.


By the Cup: Place one tea bag in your favorite mug. Fill with 3/4 cup boiling water. Steep for 4 to 6 minutes. For authentic chai taste, remove tea bag and fill mug with 1/4 cup hot milk or dairy substitute. Sweeten to taste with sugar or honey.

By the Pot: Use one tea bag for each 8-ounce serving. Steep tea bags with 3/4 cup of boiling water per serving. Remove tea bags, add 1/4 cup of hot milk (or dairy substitute) per serving and sweeten.

Iced Chai: Place one tea bag in your favorite mug. Fill halfway with boiling water, steep for 4 to 6 minutes and sweeten. Fill mug with cold milk or dairy substitute. Pour over ice.


Hot Tea by the Cup: Place one tea bag in your favorite cup. Add boiling water and let steep 4 to 6 minutes. If desired, add sweetener and milk or lemon to taste.

Iced Tea by the Pitcher: To make 2 quarts, pour 4 cups of boiling water over 8 tea bags. Steep 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the bags. Add sweetener and/or lemon if desired. Then add 4 more cups of cold water. Refrigerate and enjoy.

Water Bottle Maté: Add one tea bag for every eight oz of cold water. Shake, wait 10 minutes, and enjoy!