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The Joys of Tea: An Infusion Of Comfort

Among the gifts the Chinese have given to the world, surely tea must rank among the most wonderful. Few aromas can evoke such elegance, few beverages can inspire like herbal tea. Whether sweetened and served iced, or hot with cream and cookies, or lukewarm with a slice of lemon, tea is an infinitely flexible and ubiquitous beverage, available on every continent and in a myriad of forms.

The Assam variety of Camellia sinesis is a multi-stemmed evergreen, and the buds are hand plucked and dried. Three basic varieties of the beverage are produced from this bush: green, black and oolong. Oolong comes from a special breed of the China plant known a chesima, which gives it its unique flavor. Oolong is a slightly bitter beverage, with a brown or amber coloring. Faint traces of jasmine can be noticed in this brew.

Green tea is extremely popular in China, and produces a mild, slightly bitter, pale greenish-yellow brew. It is typically consumed without any sweetener added.

Black tea enjoys the lion’s share of worldwide popularity; both orange pekoe and pekoe are black teas. Early Grey Imperial is a blend of three type of leaves, with oil of bergamot (a type of citrus fruit) added for flavoring.

Herbal teas, such as soothing chamomile, can stand on their own, or be blended with standard leaves. The delicate China Rose herbal tea is blended with actual rose petals for a heady floral aroma. Mint leaves are refreshing, and in Morocco, is served in tiny cups with enough sugar to nearly qualify it as a syrup. Blended herbal teas can include the flavors of apple, cinnamon, cloves, and oranges, among others.

The harvesting of the leaves is labor intensive and painstaking. It takes roughly 2,000 freshly plucked China leaves to make up one pound. They must be dried, shredded to a uniform size and blended. The popular Lipton blend is a mixture of twenty to sixty different varieties of the leaves.

A brewed cup of tea contains a moderate amount of caffeine, far less than the same amount of coffee, and by itself weighs in at four calories. Add sugar and milk, and the calorie count jumps to about forty. In Great Britain, consumption of tea adds approximately 240 calories to the average adult’s daily intake.

In Japan, the traditional tea ceremony is not only an opportunity to enjoy a refreshing beverage, but a gracious meditation, and the deliberate movements involved can take ten years or more to fully master.

Visitors to Ottawa can enjoy a staggering variety of teas and herbal teas at the Ottawa Tea Festival, where you can learn about the blends, sample various herbal tea brews, and mingle with other tea lovers. For the true tea lover, a vacation to Ottawa is well worth the effort.

Flavors of traditional sipping teas range from heavy and hearty, to smoky and rich, to bitter and sharp, to pale and light. Whatever you prefer in your cup, the mighty leaf can rise to the occasion.

Gustavo Natotschiev Lopes