Taking tea is an occasion, both outwardly and inwardly, whether served in bone china or drunk alone from a mug at the kitchen table.
Tea is rapidly becoming the hottest topic in health news-and as tea lovers can tell you, it's about time. Over 2,000 years ago the Chinese recognized more than 200 medicinal uses for tea. Today, clinical scientific studies are demonstrating the truth of such claims, and it is gradually beginning to dawn on us modern Westerners that tea, especially green tea, is a complete one-item preventive medicine chest. One typically Western response to these discoveries has been to market various green tea extracts or concentrates in handy capsule form. All tea lovers realize that this is to misunderstand tea's effects and misleads would-be beneficiaries of tea. Why? Because it leaves out the pleasure and other spiritual essentials which tea can provide for us. Better health, and better living, requires more than chemistry.
Imagine a woman's fingers plucking tender young shoots off a waist-high bush. The bush is a type of camellia, an evergreen with glossy leaves. The woman's hands are skillful and quick at gathering only the shoots, consisting of an unopened leaf-bud between two new-born leaves, which she throws into a basket on her back. For every 10,000 or so shoots she plucks, a single pound of tea leaf is manufactured. Her day's work will never add up to as much as 10 pounds, sometimes not even five.
Tea leaf is among the precious few things on earth that both the world's privileged and some of the humblest workers on the planet have touched. Realizing this connection can be one of the ways in which tea is beneficial. It does a person good to remember the women plucking leaves, even for an instant, with every pot of cup of tea one drinks.
Tea is often associated with awareness of well-being. Taking tea is an occasion, both outwardly and inwardly, whether served in bone china or drunk alone from a mug at the kitchen table. Your focus, just for that moment of windless calm, is on the tea, not on your busy day or thoughts of tomorrow or yesterday. As you taste, as you swallow, you are present here and now. Tea is a means to harmonize body and spirit in this moment, a powerful aid to sanity, in other words. Make it a regular part of your day and you will agree that tea is quite as good for soothing the mind and body.
"As I sit with my granddaughters sipping away, not only is the tea warm, but so is my heart," writes Peggy Porter of Crown Point, New York. As a social ritual, tea is an aid to spiritual well-being. Tea uplifts by letting us share a special time with others, and also because it gives us an excuse to handle elegant objects. Part of our enjoyment in any tea party comes from materialism at its most refined-a pure pleasure in things: copper, porcelain, silver, linen, and the lovely things of every kind that we touch, and not simply look at. Tea is one rare pleasure that allows you to feel a little more civilized.
Many of us have experienced an "English" black tea ceremony of some sort, but fewer of us have the same familiarity with green tea. Green tea should never be made with boiling water. The ideal water temperature is in the range of 170 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit-at least 30 or so degrees below boiling! A thermometer is not necessary for a tea party. Just boil 6 cups of water and add one cup of cold water and voila... you'll have perfect temperature for green tea. Only a minute or so is required for steeping. And you can infuse green tea leaves not once but two, three, or more times. You may keep adding water as long as the leaf yields flavor.
Any fine green tea always has a jewel-like color and a vegetative aroma and taste which invites you to linger over the experience, immersed in a reverie of the senses. Such intimate contact with nature is unfailingly, as I say, "a reality-check which refreshes."
When people talk about how tea is good for us, it is these intangibles they usually overlook. But the physical properties of the beverage cannot be over-emphasized either. The three key words are Relax, Energize, and Nourish. A warm cup of tea helps soothe and relax us while at the same time the alkaloids, chiefly caffeine, gently energize. Tea is the only substance found in nature which acts both to calm and to stimulate the human system simultaneously. But that is not all! The polyphenol content of tea makes it perhaps one of the most powerful antioxidant known to mankind-Nature's most nourishing drink!
Green tea is especially potent in this respect. All tea of any quality is made from freshly sprouted leaf which is plucked by hand. It is spread out at the factory and allowed time for some of its moisture content to evaporate. When this "withered" leaf is subjected to heat-usually in something like a hot wok-any further chemical change is arrested and the result is green tea. This same leaf may be made into black, oolong, or other types of tea by other methods of manufacture, but only the procedure for making green tea insures that the nectar of the leaf is preserved, as nearly as possible, in its natural state. The polyphenol content of the fresh leaf retains its maximum potency as an antioxidant proven to fight everything from cancer to tooth decay.
I'm always happy to go into detail when asked about these marvelous discoveries, but personally, I hate to tell people how good tea is for their health in fear that they will enjoy it less. And enjoyment, after all, is just another of tea's principal benefits to mental health.
Cooking With Tea
Cooking with tea is not a Western notion, but recently tea has leapt out of the pot and into muffins, cookies, and ice cream. We've also tasted green tea soba noodles, sweet tea-infused chestnuts, and a classic Burmese dish featuring tea leaves in a salad. Crushed tea leaves can easily be added to cooked rice or used to coat tofu before sauteing. Brewed tea can be used to stew fruits or to add intrigue to a homey quick bread recipe. Whatever uses you can dream up for the tea in your kitchen, we think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the charming versatility of this elegant, ancient leaf.
Apricot Almond Tea Bread
Makes 16 servings
You may not be able to resist eating this right out of the oven, but if you can, let the loaf cool, wrap tightly, and let it sit overnight. It can then be sliced very thin and used to make little butter or cream cheese sandwiches, which are a perfect accompaniment to...tea!
8 ounces dried apricots, chopped
1-1/4 cups hot brewed tea
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup skim milk or soy milk
2 eggs or equivalent egg substitute
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2-3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (see below) or
unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
Whole-wheat pastry flour: A fine-textured, lower-protein flour, used for pastry and quick breads. Available at many supermarkets and at natural food stores.
1. In a large bowl combine apricots and hot tea. Stir in sugar and salt and let sit for 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven to 325° and lightly spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Add milk, eggs, and oil to apricot mixture and mix well.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Add to wet ingredients along with almonds. Stir until just blended.
4. Spoon mixture into prepared pan and bake until top is golden and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
PER 1/16 LOAF: 194 CAL (18% from fat), 4g PROT, 4g FAT, 35g CARB, 201mg SOD, 34mg CHOL, 3g FIBER
Sparkling Ginger Iced Green Tea
Makes 4 servings
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped ginger root
2 tablespoons loose green tea
2 cups boiling water
2 cups chilled ginger ale
Steep ginger and tea in boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain into a pitcher and chill before adding ginger ale and ice.
PER SERVING: 45 CAL (0% from fat), less than 1g PROT, 0g FAT, 11g CARB, 12mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, less than 1g FIBER
Green Tea Sorbet
Makes about 1 quart
This is the most fun, refreshing, and shortest recipe we've ever printed.
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups hot brewed green tea
Dissolve sugar in tea and refrigerate until well chilled. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's instructions.
PER 1/2 CUP: 68 CAL (0% from fat), 0g PROT, 0g FAT, 17g CARB, 2mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 0g FIBER