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(Summer) time for tea

July 15, 2009|By NATALIE BRANDON

The past few weeks have finally turned into the hot, humid days we're accustomed to in the Tri-State area.

Finally, it's time for iced tea.

Sweet tea, regent's punch, Southern table wine or whatever you like to call it - it's all delicious, and a guaranteed cool-down remedy on a hot summer day.

Judy Larkin of Falling Waters, W.Va., believes tea - hot or cold - is universal.

"(It's) a worldwide tradition that crosses cultural, ethnic, economic and age barriers," she says. "Whether it's black, oolong or white, tea is for everyone."

Larkin is a native of Manchester, England, and has professional training and memberships that give testament to her passion for tea.

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"Tea is like wine," she says, "Teas come from all different parts of the world. The quality of the tea depends on where it's been grown, the weather and growing conditions of that area before the tea was harvested."

Brewing basics



Larkin suggests brewing tea as a way to relieve stress.

"Everyone is looking for a part of their day where they can calm down and just live in the moment," she says, "and everyone can take three or four minutes to center themselves as they make a cup of tea."

The standard method of making tea, according to Larkin, starts with fresh, cold water. Put cold water in a kettle and heat it to a boil. Preheat your teapot with hot water.

As soon as the water in the kettle comes to a boil, empty the teapot and put either loose tea leaves or tea bags in it. The standard is one rounded teaspoon of loose tea or tea bag per 8- to 10-ounce cup of tea.

The next step, Larkin notes, is what the Chinese call "awakening the leaf" or "rinsing the leaf." Put only enough water in the teapot to cover the tea and then immediately pour the water out, leaving the tea in the pot. Then add the desired amount of heated water to make your pot of tea. This step removes impurities or bitterness from the tea, Larkin says.

Let the tea steep. Larkin adds that aficionados recommend different temperatures and steeping times for different types of tea. Guidelines are available online at sites such as Serendipitea ( www.serendipitea.com ) or Planet Tea (at www.planet-tea.com/preparation.html ).

Then savor the tea.

"Don't drink it immediately," Larkin says, "Look at it like you would a glass of wine. Look at and admire its colors. Put your face over the cup, breathe in and appreciate its aroma. When you drink the tea, hold it in your mouth and swish it around, because there are different parts of the mouth and tongue that pick up different tastes and flavors."

Sun tea



Tea can also be brewed by the sun. This so-called sun tea is made by placing water and tea bags or loose tea in a half-gallon or gallon glass container and leaving the container in direct sun for several hours.

This often results in a mellower flavor, and has the added advantage of being only slightly warmer than room temperature after brewing and therefore can be enjoyed immediately as iced tea.

Another advantage is that sun tea uses sunlight as a heat source, thus saving energy.

Different grades of tea



Eastern Isles Teas and Tonics of Martinsburg, W.Va., offers whole-leaf, high-grade, certified-organic teas.

Eastern Isles owner Arthur Ebeling says whole-leaf teas are of higher quality compared to the standard bagged or bottled teas available in stores.

Most teas and tea bags contain smaller particles of tea - fannings or dust. Fannings are the second-to-the-smallest leaf size, used because of their small size and economic price. Tea dust is powdery tea left over after processing - this is the lowest grade of tea.

"Tea grade is largely determined by the size of the leaf," Ebeling says. "A tea bag often does not accommodate a large leaf. Instead, you find fannings and tea dust."

Mass-produced tea



"Tea is the perfect beverage before you start adding things to it," Larkin says. "One of the things I teach people is the proper way to make tea. If you prepare tea incorrectly, you ruin it."

One way to ruin tea is to make and sell a lot of it, Larkin says. Mass-produced iced tea is a manufactured, stabilized, standardized, flavored beverage -- very different from the subtle flavors and natural variations of real, brewed tea.

"Sometimes there are so many additives in (bottled, mass-produced) teas that a can of soda would be healthier to drink," Larkin says.

She refers to research indicating that adding sweeteners and flavors neutralizes antioxidants and reduces the health benefits of tea. Consumers should be skeptical of the labels on tea products, she says.

"Some companies market their products using tea's health benefits to help them sell, but there may actually be very little tea in them," Larkin says.




Tea characteristics



White: Smooth, sweet, floral, light and delicate.

Green (steamed): Fresh, bright green color; often grassy tasting; often with a roasted-chestnut flavor and aroma.

Green (pan-fired): Golden-green color; vegetal, sometimes nutty flavor.

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