After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. The journey of the tea leaf began in ancient China from whence it made its way across the world — and it’s become an integral part of countless cultures along the way. Whether you consider a cup of tea to be a respite from a hectic day or an on-the-go caffeine boost there’s much to learn about this small, but mighty, leaf.

Guests

  • Scott Chamberlin Hoyt Director, "The Meaning of Tea"
  • Laurie Bell Owner; Great Falls Tea Garden

Tea Recipes

Recipes Courtesy of Laurie Bell

Great Falls Tea Garden Genmai Vegetable Soup

Have you ever used brewed tea as a base for soup? It’s convenient, easy and a perfect answer for vegetarians looking for a tasty but meat free stock. Use your imagination and culinary creativity to develop your own signature soup. But to get you started, here is one of my favorite combos.

6 cups brewed Japanese Genmai Tea
1 package fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
about 8 oz corn, frozen is fine
fresh baby spinach – about a 6oz bag
1 -2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 -2 tsp vinegar (I use rice wine vinegar but cider vinegar or other is fine)
a few grinds pepper (Szechwan, if you have it)
salt, if it needs it

  1. Strain the tea before putting it in a stockpot, but save the leaves in case you want to add some at the end for interest. Keep your “tea stock” on a medium heat as you add the rest of the ingredients. (An egg slicer is a quick and easy way to slice mushrooms as the slices come out nice and even.)

  2. Let everything heat through, taste and adjust seasonings and it’s ready to serve!

  3. You can add any veggie you like along with rice, or pasta, or beans, and turn this simple soup into a filling, complete protein meal. You can also add shrimp, chicken, beef, pork, etc (unless, of course, you want to keep it vegetarian). Or you can keep it simple like this recipe and serve it as an Asian style soup.
    Altering the tea and other ingredients can change the flavor dramatically. Have fun experimenting!

Great Falls Tea Garden Smoky Tea Spiced Pecans

For each pound of pecans (or other nuts of your choice):
2 Tbsp Lapsang Souchong tea leaves (dry)
1/2 tsp smoked sea salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
6 Tbsp sugar
1 egg white
1 Tbsp water

  1. Finely grind the dry tea leaves in a spice grinder. Once powdered the yield will be just over 1 Tbsp.

  2. Mix ground tea leaves with all the other dry ingredients.

  3. Whisk egg white in bowl until it looks like soapsuds. Add the water. Whisk to incorporate. Add the dry ingredients to this mixture. Whisk well. Let rest for 15 minutes to allow the sugar to dissolve and the flavors to blend together.

  4. Set oven temperature to 300 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  5. When 15 minutes is up (do not wait longer than that or the mixture can separate) whisk mixture again briefly then pour over nuts. Coat as evenly as possible. Pour onto baking sheet. Put into preheated oven and immediately turn oven temperature down to 250 degrees. Bake for about 1 hour.

  6. To test doneness, remove a few nuts from oven and let cool 3-4 minutes. Taste to see if nut is crisp. If not, test every 5 minutes until desired texture is achieved. After removing tray from oven, let nuts cool completely before attempting to remove from sheet and break into pieces. Store in airtight container.

  7. Variations – substitute any flavor tea and/or spices to suit your taste.
    For Example, use Great Falls Peachy Green Tea, plain salt and omit the cayenne OR Use Great Falls Fennel Chai, plain salt, and omit the cayenne but add ground cardamom.

Great Falls Tea Garden Tea Shortbread Cookies

2 Tbsp Great Falls Tea Garden Spiced Fennel Chai, dry (or tea of your choice)
2 oz slivered almonds
1 cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
4 oz unsalted butter, softened to cool room temp.
1/3 cup sugar

  1. Finely grind the dry tea in a spice grinder.

  2. Finely grind the almonds in a spice grinder or food processor. (Be careful not to over process or it will turn into almond butter.)

  3. Combine ground tea, ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt in bowl. Set aside.

  4. In food processor, beat butter briefly. Add sugar and beat to mix well. Add dry ingredients and blend until just mixed and has somewhat formed a ball.

  5. Turn out onto a piece of wax paper. Shape into a round to prepare for rolling.

  6. Cover with another piece of wax paper and roll to desired thickness.

  7. Cut into desired shape/s, place on baking sheet lined with parchment and bake in preheated 325 degree oven and bake 20 – 30 minutes, depending on size and thickness. Remove from oven. Let cool on baking sheet. Eat and enjoy!

  8. Substitute your favorite flavor of tea and /or nuts in this recipe. You may also substitute ¼ cup cocoa powder for ¼ cup flour to make a chocolate chai or other chocolate flavored shortbread. Experiment!

Premium Loose Tea Brewing Suggestions

All teas are not created equal when it comes to measuring, water temperature and brewing time. Filtered water is best to prevent any chlorine taste in the brewed tea.

Most instructions for measuring tea state “1 teaspoon per cup.” Generally, that works. However, to be more precise, one must take into consideration the density of the dry leaf. If the dry leaf has a lot of volume to it, like a white Pai Mu Tan, a heaping teaspoon should be used. However, if the tea is a fine cut such as a broken Orange Pekoe or even finer CTC (cut tear curl style), a shy to level teaspoon measure is more appropriate.

The question still remains when a set of directions says “cup” whether it refers to a standard measuring cup of water (8oz) or what a traditional teacup usually holds (6 oz).

So professionals tend to use a gram scale and generally measure out 2 grams of dry tea leaf for every 6 ounces of water, or 3 grams of dry tea leaf for every 8 ounces of water.

Proper water temperature and brewing time can be critical to a tasty cup of tea. Especially with green and some Oolong teas – if the water temp is too high and/or the brewing (steeping) time too long, the resulting tea can be quite bitter. Refer to the chart below and experiment to find the strength and brewing time you enjoy most with each style of tea.

General Water Temperatures and Brew Times

  1. White 180 – 195 3 – 6 minutes

  2. Green 170 – 180 2 – 3 minutes

  3. Oolong 185 – 195 2 – 5 minutes

  4. Black 205 – 212 3 – 6 minutes

  5. Flowering 200-212 5 – 8 minutes

  6. Herbals 205-212 3 – 6 minutes

Transcript

  • 13:24:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAfter water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. But the ways people enjoy and appreciate tea are literally all over the map, from those who depend on the drink for their daily on-the-go caffeine boost to those who build spiritual ceremonies around drinking tea, rituals that have become essential components of local culture.

  • 13:25:04

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut how and when did the humble tea leaf become so powerful? And when did this drink evolve into a cultural bridge that connects diverse communities from China to the UK? Joining us in studio to have this conversation is Laurie Bell.

  • 13:25:20

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIShe is a certified tea specialist from the Specialty Tea Institute. She's been cooking with and studying about tea for many years. Laurie Bell is owner and instructor of Great Falls Tea Garden, an institute that provides tea tasting and seminars for the public. Laurie Bell, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:25:38

    MS. LAURIE BELLCertainly. My pleasure, thank you.

  • 13:25:40

    NNAMDIAnd joining us from the Bryant Park NPR studio in New York City is Scott Hoyt, director and author of the documentary and book, "The Meaning Tea." Scott Hoyt, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:25:53

    MR. SCOTT CHAMBERLIN HOYTThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:25:54

    NNAMDILaurie, the mighty tea leaf is the ingredient behind the beverage that's consumed more than any other in the world outside of water. And over the years, the journey of the tea leaf has literally touched every corner of the globe. Where and when did this journey actually begin? Where did it all get started?

  • 13:26:13

    BELLWell, fable has it that tea was discovered about 5,000 years ago, 2700 B.C. Emperor in China was sitting under a tree waiting for his water to boil and this leaf falls in and he decides to taste it and he loves it and tea is discovered. Of course, it was only a few thousand years ago that there is a lot of written information about it.

  • 13:26:36

    BELLTea originally was consumed only by the emperor and the imperial court in China. It didn't make its way to Japan until about 800 A.D. and that was from the Buddhist monks that were studying in China. They loved this beverage they were drinking that kept them alert, but it relaxed and calmed them and it allowed them to stay up and do all of their prayer they needed to do.

  • 13:27:02

    BELLSo they took that with them to Japan. And, again, in Japan, it took several hundred years of it being consumed only by the imperial court, the Sangha, the monks, before it really spread throughout Japan. It was around 1200 A.D. that all of Japan was drinking it.

  • 13:27:19

    BELLDidn't make its way to Europe until about the 1600s and it was the Dutch and the Portuguese actually that started trading tea with China. Everybody thinks it was the British. And sorry for all the Brits listening, it was not the British that discovered tea. It -- the Portuguese and the Dutch brought it to Europe first and it was also the French and the Germans that were drinking tea along with the Dutch and the Portuguese before the British.

  • 13:27:45

    BELLA lot of people have heard the term, orange pekoe. They think it is a color of tea or that it's a flavor of tea. Indeed, it's not. Again, lore has it that the Dutch wanted to honor their royal court, which is the Royal House of Orange. So they took this sizing of tea that was already called pekoe and they added the word orange to it to make it an even better, finer cut of tea and that was in honor of their Royal House of Orange.

  • 13:28:18

    BELLEngland, of course, eventually did start consuming tea and the temperance movement there, of course, loved the fact that tea, coffee and chocolate all was making its way to the European continent around the same time so people didn't have to be drinking beer and wine anymore. A lot of the industrialists would have tea breaks for their workers because they could work the rest of the day without being drunk.

  • 13:28:47

    NNAMDII love that idea -- well, I'll tell you a story about that later. It's my understanding that you were trained as a chef, that you went to a culinary school in France and started a company called La Belle Cuisine here in the D.C. area but since then you've hung your hat on tea. What inspired you to become a tea specialist?

  • 13:29:07

    BELLYou know, I started drinking tea with my grandmother when I was a little girl and, yes, it was black tea, bagged tea. And it probably had more milk and sugar in it than tea, but I always loved tea. I was 35 before I had my first cup of coffee and I've always enjoyed it. And over the last couple decades, I've discovered how many varieties of tea there are.

  • 13:29:28

    BELLOne thing most Americans are still thinking is that there's only black tea, bagged tea. Now, I have to say with all of the bottled teas coming out and a lot of these fruit flavored teas, they are coming around to the concept that there is more than the black tea, bagged tea.

  • 13:29:45

    BELLBut what I want to help Americans learn is the vast variety of single premium teas that are out there. It's like wine, Kojo. It's, you know, 30 years ago, Americans thought there was red jug wine and white jug wine and now they know the difference between a pinot noir and a cabernet sauvignon and a merlot and I want Americans to start learning the difference between a Mao Feng and a Dragon Well and a Thong Tin Oolong, that sort of thing.

  • 13:30:16

    NNAMDIYou've brought so many of these teas with you that during the course of this conversation, we'll get into that. Scott Hoyt, in -- I've been told that your first experiences with tea were medicinal in nature. What appealed to you about the drink and when did you start looking at it as something bigger than what you drink when you were feeling sick?

  • 13:30:38

    HOYTWell, like Laurie, I started drinking tea as a child and summertime my mother would prepare it in a Pyrex bowl and neither one of us added sugar or milk, but sometimes lemon. And when I was sick in the colder weather months, I'd have hot tea. So those were my earliest experiences.

  • 13:31:00

    NNAMDIIn many Asian cultures, the rituals that go with drinking tea are steeped in philosophy. It's been written that in Japan, tea-ism is essentially a worship to the imperfect, an attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life. Where does the philosophy and spirituality of these traditional Asian tea ceremonies come from, Scott?

  • 13:31:24

    HOYTWell, I have to say that before tea was recognized in the Chinese civilization, tea had a life of its own. And there were probably people living in far western China and other remote regions outside of civilization, had their own connection to tea.

  • 13:31:40

    HOYTAnd for those people -- those indigenous people that practiced a -- say a more closer to the Earth tradition that experience was direct from the leaf and the leaf was considered and is still considered today among these people as a spirit plant.

  • 13:31:58

    NNAMDIIf you attend a traditional tea ceremony in China or Japan, what do you typically find? For starters, what kind of tea are you drinking? Scott?

  • 13:32:07

    HOYTWell, China is a vast country so depending on where you are and who you meet, you'll encounter different kinds of tea. You can look across the span of history, you can look across China or around the world and you'll experience a whole array of different kinds of connection to tea depending on the local culture and on the tea itself.

  • 13:32:30

    NNAMDIScott, where does religion fit into the evolution of these tea-drinking ceremonies? It seems that there are a fair amount of Buddhist influences here.

  • 13:32:38

    HOYTWell, I suppose you could say that in Asia religion, per se, has a slightly different meaning. It's more a way of life than we might say as a religion. And when we say the word religion, I think we're putting a Western spin on the notion.

  • 13:32:55

    HOYTFor Buddhists that I know that would argue, either way, they would say it's religion because they're trying to explain this to a Western audience. But for people living in China, over all these centuries, it has a strong connection too Daoism as well and to the spirit of tea in the plant.

  • 13:33:13

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Scott Hoyt. He is director and author of the documentary and book "The Meaning Of Tea." He joins us from Bryant Park NPR studio in New York City. In our Washington studio is Laurie Bell. She's a certified tea specialist from the Specialty Tea Institute. She is the owner and instructor of Great Falls Tea Garden, an institute that provides tea tasting and seminars for the public.

  • 13:33:35

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Are you a tea person or a coffee person? What are the reasons behind your preference? Or where does tea fit into your daily routine? Have you ever had an authentic tea drinking experience? Where and when did it happen? 800-433-8850.

  • 13:33:55

    NNAMDILaurie, now let's get into the variety. Green tea and black tea are relatively familiar to most people, but the tea family also includes oolong tea, white tea. What makes these teas different from each other and what do you find are the teas that are least familiar to American audiences?

  • 13:34:12

    BELLWell, all tea, if it's true tea, comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. The Camellia sinensis plant has two main varieties, the China Bush and the Assam Bush. Camellia sinensis sinensis is the China Bush. Camellia sinensis assamica is the Assam Bush.

  • 13:34:27

    BELLThere are lots of cultivars beyond that, just like you've got for wine. You've got grapes and you've red grapes and white grapes then lots of varietals and cultivars. So all tea, whether it's white, yellow, green, oolong, black, puer, dark tea, all comes from the tea plant.

  • 13:34:45

    BELLIt's a matter of tearwoir (sp?) and manufacturing what the end result is and if I can give you a quick example...

  • 13:34:53

    NNAMDIPlease do.

  • 13:34:54

    BELLWith Chardonnay -- probably everybody's had a glass of Chardonnay, you're familiar with it. Well, if you take that Chardonnay grape and you grow that in the Champagne region of France and you produce it under the methode champenoise, you get sparkling wine, champagne.

  • 13:35:08

    BELLGrow that same Chardonnay grape in the Napa Valley and you oak barrel ferment it. You get that very vanilla oak-ey Chardonnay known as California Chardonnay. Now, if you take that same Chardonnay grape and you grow it down in South Africa where it's steel barrel fermented, you get a very clean, crisp Chardonnay. So you've got the same grape, grown in three different regions, processed three different ways and you get three different tastes. This is what happens with the tea plant.

  • 13:35:35

    NNAMDIAnd so it is with tea.

  • 13:35:37

    BELLIndeed. So white tea is just the unopened bud and it got the name white because the leaf, before it opens up, is a little like a pine needle and it's got little white hairs on it. That's where the term white tea came from. So those little unopened buds are picked in the early spring.

  • 13:35:56

    BELLThere's another variety of white tea that includes the next two leaves down called White Peony or Pai Mu Tan. But those buds and leaves are picked, they're dried and that's it. There's no other processing to it. When you see tea like that, it looks like the unopened bud or the dried leaves.

  • 13:36:13

    BELLNow, green tea is processed when it's dried into various shapes and I've got several I brought with me. Some are in little art shapes called Chun Mee, which means precious eyebrows. Some are long and pine needle-like, others are rolled up in little balls.

  • 13:36:33

    BELLA lot of people have heard of gunpowder tea. But green tea is dried before it's allowed to oxidize. And what you're looking at right now, Kojo, is a blossoming tea. That's a green tea that is -- the whole leaf is...

  • 13:36:46

    NNAMDIIt's so pretty.

  • 13:36:47

    BELLIsn't that lovely? That whole leaves are wrapped around a dried flower and it's tied and it's formed into a ball, like an agate sized ball. And when that's dropped in water and they use...

  • 13:36:58

    NNAMDIThis ball that I'm holding in my hand, if I drop this ball in, that it will turn out looking just as beautiful as this and tasting even better?

  • 13:37:04

    BELLIf you take it out of the plastic, yes. So, yes, beautiful. What we're talking about are these blossoming teas that when it is put in a pot and hot water added to it, the flower will eventually pop out of the leaves as the leaves soak up the water. So...

  • 13:37:21

    NNAMDIThat's beautiful.

  • 13:37:22

    BELLIsn't that lovely?

  • 13:37:23

    NNAMDIA lot of people in the U.S. automatically defer to tea bags when they think of tea. What are the key differences between instant tea and traditional tea?

  • 13:37:33

    BELLWell, your premium teas are made with your whole leaves and instant tea is pulverized and usually much more generic. Again, I compare to wine quite often. It's like having just your $5 grocery store bottle and your vintage bottle of wine.

  • 13:37:54

    BELLAnd, you know, we can all go with the tea bags, we don't have to always do loose leaf. But sometimes it's just wonderful to have that ceremonial feel of putting those loose leaf teas in a cup or a strainer and putting the water on, watching them unfurl, straining them into your cup and just sipping this wonderful nectar.

  • 13:38:17

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Laurie Bell, owner and instructor of Great Falls Tea Garden that provides tea tasting and seminars for the public and Scott Hoyt, director and author of the documentary and book, "The Meaning of Tea." There are a lot of calls for us. Let's start with Seth, in Washington D.C. This is Seth Goldman, isn't it, Seth?

  • 13:38:36

    SETHIt is. Hi, everyone.

  • 13:38:37

    NNAMDISeth is the...

  • 13:38:38

    HOYTHello, Seth.

  • 13:38:40

    NNAMDIYou're familiar with Seth, aren't you, Scott?

  • 13:38:42

    HOYTWell, he's a famous gentleman in the tea world.

  • 13:38:45

    NNAMDIHe's the CEO of Honest Tea. He's been on this show before. Seth, go ahead, please.

  • 13:38:50

    SETHWell, I've been enjoying hearing the conversation and I agree 100 percent with Laurie and Scott. It really is -- tea is finally coming into its own in the United States. It is, as you said, the world's second most popular drink, but here often not as appreciated as it could be and it's something we've seen.

  • 13:39:07

    SETHYou know, people are moving away from sweeter drinks and looking for healthier drinks and tea is a wonderful product that has, you know, the health properties. And as we've been able to find, two people also can appreciate the environmental benefits of, you know, a product that is grown in the earth and is so simple to make. If done the right way, can just, you know, take leaves and put them in water.

  • 13:39:27

    NNAMDICertainly is.

  • 13:39:29

    SETHThe other thing that we've seen that is...

  • 13:39:31

    NNAMDITell me about the Honest Tea experiment.

  • 13:39:33

    SETH(laugh) Well, yesterday, we conducted a national social experiment. We went to 12 cities around the country and we put up stands with bottles of tea, and wanted just to see how honest people were. There was no cashier. It was just a Lucite box saying, it's an honest system, put in a dollar, if you want to (laugh). And so we add a wide variety of responses around the country. But what was fun to see was that over 90 percent of the people all around the country were honest. They put in the dollar and take a bottle of tea.

  • 13:40:05

    NNAMDIMore than 90 percent. That's a lot for the culture, doesn't it?

  • 13:40:08

    SETHIt does.

  • 13:40:08

    NNAMDIOr maybe for the tea culture anywhere.

  • 13:40:10

    SETHIncluding our own Washington, D.C. We were up in the 90s in Washington as well. So it was very reassuring to see. And maybe, you know, tea brings that out in people.

  • 13:40:21

    NNAMDIYeah. Political cities like these are not usually associated with high degrees of honesty, so that's a good thing. Thank you so much for your call, Seth Goldman. Laurie, when we talk about your experiences with your grandmother being a big part of your early introduction to tea, how do you think the responses that younger people today have to tea compare to those from people in your grandmother's generation?

  • 13:40:45

    BELLWell, I think because there is such a wide variety of tea out there now and available, there is a much larger population enjoying it. And with educational classes like these, companies like Honest Tea making people aware of the flavors you can get within the tea without necessarily having to add anything to it, and our younger generation being much more global, certainly, than my grandmother's generation, it is becoming much more popular. And as Seth mentioned, the health benefits are very well known now.

  • 13:41:25

    NNAMDISeth, thank you so much for your call. Scott Hoyt, in your documentary, "The Meaning of Tea," there were two gentlemen in Japan who had a slightly different attitude. Why did they prefer coffee over tea?

  • 13:41:38

    HOYTWell, that happened to be filmed in a part of -- in Tokyo where people like to think that they're living in an American culture of sorts. So that was a random interview on the street. And we just like to point out that for a lot people, tea isn't really tea, unless you take the time to enjoy it properly.

  • 13:41:59

    HOYTAnd I think that's one thing I'd like to add to this conversation that we're having, that one of the missing ingredients in the modern world is that people have -- hopefully, have clean water. They have a good quality tea but they really don't take the time necessary to make the tea. And ready-to-drink teas and tea bag teas maybe a few steps away in those modern world from the kind of tea that I'm referring to here.

  • 13:42:26

    HOYTI don't know exactly what kind of tea my great, great grandmother drank, but I imagine that it wasn't a teabag. And I imagine during that time, there was time to enjoy tea. People actually sat down and took time, and everything stopped for tea. I think we're losing our tea in that respect. You can talk about teabags and say that's tea, but in my opinion, that's actually tea fannings and tea dust. It's the drags of tea. And I grew up on that stuff, so I have no apologies to anyone, including my mother who might be listening right now.

  • 13:42:57

    HOYTBut it's true what Laurie said, that there are always wonderful teas coming available now. And in my opinion, tea isn't just beverage tea. I also like the part, a little bit from a point of view that many people don't share with me, that there are other plants that provide additional benefits that are not community senescence. And I think that, you know, in a sense, that plant is the gateway to all other herbs that we can enjoy as tea.

  • 13:43:27

    NNAMDIAnd, Laurie, could you tell me a little bit more about some of these teas you've -- some of these tea leaves you have brought with you today.

  • 13:43:34

    BELLRight. Well, I brought a variety of tea leaves, so you could see that some teas in their dry form are tiny little round balls and then what they open up to. And some are -- the greens and the oolongs. And one thing that we were talking about earlier, green tea is not oxidized. Black tea is oxidized. Oolong is partially oxidized. And one of the biggest fallacies in tea literature everywhere is using the word fermentation in place of the word oxidation.

  • 13:44:09

    BELLOxidation is a chemical reaction when something is exposed to the air. Cut an apple in half, it turns brown, that's oxidation. Fermentation is a chemical reaction when something is exposed to a yeast or mold or bacteria. So tea, unless it's a dark tea, is not fermented, it's oxidized. If it's an oolong or a black tea. And what that means is after the tea is picked, the leaves are bruised. So, the enzymes that are circulating inside the leaf are exposed to the air. That starts to change the flavors of the tea leaf and it brings out flavors. Oolong teas are complicated, because they are bruised for a little bit, dried for a little bit, bruised a little more, dried a little more.

  • 13:44:53

    BELLIt takes an amazing tea master and that's why an oolong tea can taste very, very different. It can taste similar to a green, it can taste similar to a black. Now, a black tea on the other hand is oxidized fully before it's completely dry. So, it has that very dark color to it.

  • 13:45:12

    NNAMDIThere are a whole lot of people who are waiting to talk to you. We're gonna take a short break and when we come back, we will bring all of those people into our conversation. It's Tea Time on Food Wednesday here. If the phone lines are busy, you can join the conversation at our website, kojoshow.org. What do you think the United States has contributed to the culture of tea? Would you consider iced tea or a sweet tea to be an American cultural stable? You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, send us a tweet @kojoshow or e-mail to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:47:32

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our Tea Time conversation here on Food Wednesday with Scott Hoyt, director and author of the documentary and book "The Meaning of Tea." and Laurie Bell, she's a certified tea specialist from the Specialty Tea Institute and owner and instructor of Great Falls Tea Garden, which provides tea-tasting and seminars for the public. There are a whole of people waiting to talk to us on the phone. I will start with Dusty at Bolling Air Force Base, in D.C. Dusty, you are on the air. Go ahead please.

  • 13:48:00

    DUSTYHi, Kojo and hi Scott and Laurie. Thank you for taking my call. I have lots questions and then I'm going to ask you to answer them off the air, and some statements. The women in my family always celebrate tea. We have high tea and a tea room and we enjoy it immensely. One thing that I've noticed is that, there are these other things for last cup of better word, better herbal and call themselves tea, that have no tea and I have to wonder, is that kosher? Is that false advertisement? The other...

  • 13:48:44

    NNAMDIWell, let me have one question at a time. Laurie?

  • 13:48:47

    BELLWell, if it's not made the camellia sinensis, it would be called an herbal tea or a tisane. And again, tradition has that set. I've got some cook books I have to tell you from the late 1800s that talk about beef tea and chicken tea that were all used for in the health section of these cook books. When people were sick, they would make beef tea, so the term tea as an infusion has been around for a long time. And I think we're going to have to just accept that fact that, when we hear tea we just have to add what kind of tea we're talking about, true tea, herbal tea or if you're in the medicinal world of the 1800's beef tea.

  • 13:49:30

    NNAMDIScott, care to add anything to that.

  • 13:49:33

    HOYTWell, if you look back in Chinese history, the original character for tea was medicinal plant. It didn't actually have the meaning of it evolved to be. And I think there's always this divergence and re-convergence of opinion about that. Just as Laurie stated, the French used the word tisane, to describe a herbal tea, but in fact, I would argue that it's strictly cultural. And for a lot of people in the world that didn't have that camellia sinensis plant, may enjoy infusion of local herbs.

  • 13:50:03

    HOYTAnd even though they didn't used the word tea, they were still drinking something that was quite a kin to tea, as we know it the beverage tea, it just that the constituents in those plants speak differently to you. There are other spirit plants besides camellia sinensis.

  • 13:50:20

    NNAMDIDusty, thank you very much for your call. Laurie, although hot tea is more common in traditional tea consuming countries, iced tea makes of about 85 percent of tea consumed here in the United States. Does iced tea represent the tea culture that you would consider to be genuinely American?

  • 13:50:39

    BELLI do think iced tea is very American. It is something that is spreading to other countries, and it's very refreshing. And I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. And I think it's great if you're on-the-go that there are a lots of bottled tea out there, but what a lot of people can do, which is much more cost effective, is to just brew a couple of hot tea and pour it over ice and you've got a very economical iced tea.

  • 13:51:05

    NNAMDIScott, would you say that sweet tea or iced tea is the American cultural contribution tea?

  • 13:51:12

    HOYTWell, the British were drinking sweet tea long before you've found it in the south of the United States. I think read somewhere that in fact, tea was enjoyed quite a lot in England, in the beginning because it actually offered something to balanced out other beverages that had, you know, huge amounts of sugar. So who am I to judge, I'm not an expert, so, I just say, yes, why not?

  • 13:51:40

    NNAMDIHere is Gary in Washington D.C., Gary, your turn.

  • 13:51:45

    GARYHi guys. I have a question about Tibetan tea and tea among the Tibetan people as opposed to the Chinese because they are distinct in different cultures and different languages and different histories. So could you speak about both currently and more importantly historically, how tea is being enjoyed in Tibetan among the Tibetan people? Thank you.

  • 13:52:08

    NNAMDIScott Hoyt.

  • 13:52:08

    HOYTAs I understand it, brick tea travelled throughout Asia and farther west beyond Tibet. The Tibetans enjoy what's called a brick tea, and they enjoyed that with yak butter and salt. It's an entirely different kind of tea that we would have, say here, where we typically find bottles of water with a qualifying amount of tea. Brands I won't mention, and then it taste so different than these whole leaf teas the Laurie was describing a minute ago. The Tibetan used this tea at a ritual of ornamic offerings to the various forms of Buddha, the deities what have you. And it's more like a soup. In my experience, and the taste that you would have to acquire, one that I have not ever enjoyed enough to say I could have acquired it myself.

  • 13:53:08

    NNAMDIThank you very much for you call, Gary. And Laurie's got to mention whole leaf teas. You just gave me some examples of some dry versus wet tea leaves hear...

  • 13:53:17

    BELLYes.

  • 13:53:18

    NNAMDI...with oolong teas and imperial dragon well, Chinese, well, Longjing green, and they look remarkably different when they're dry and when they're wet.

  • 13:53:27

    BELLYes they do.

  • 13:53:29

    BELLThat's what so fascinating about these premium loose leaf teas, and why the ceremony that which does not have to be long and involved is just so much fun. You take this dry leaf in this particular shape, you brew in your pot, have a couple of infusions and then you look at these leaves and what they've grown into from this dry shape, and you have to so admire these tea masters all over the world that have created these wonderful shapes and flavors.

  • 13:54:00

    NNAMDIOh, you're a tea instructor and you teach classes regularly. What are the things you typically include in your lesson plans?

  • 13:54:07

    BELLWell, always a bit of history. We've touched on that. As a matter of fact, one little bit of history I wanna throw in that I didn't quite get to, it was the Dutch that introduced tea to the colonies when they brought tea to their colony of New Amsterdam, which, as history buffs will know, did eventually become New York. But the Dutch are actually credited for bringing tea to the colonies. So a bit of history, we certainly talk about the botanical aspects of the tea we taste in categories.

  • 13:54:39

    BELLAnd in intro class, we'll taste a white, we'll compare a Chinese green to a Japanese green. We'll taste a light oolong and dark oolong from two different countries. We'll taste a puer, which is a fermented tea. And then, if we're doing a class on black teas, there again, people probably think that all black teas taste the same. Well, I'm here to tell you, it does not. If you get a high-grown salon tea and you compare that to a Kenyan tea, they're two different things.

  • 13:55:07

    BELLIf you taste a Darjeeling from the foothills of the Himalayas, and compare that to an Assam, the jungle-like region to its east, very, very different. So those classes are a lot of fun.

  • 13:55:20

    NNAMDIOn to--

  • 13:55:20

    HOYTAnd much depends, of course, on the water quality too that you had to enjoy with those teas, as well.

  • 13:55:24

    BELLExcellent, excellent point.

  • 13:55:25

    HOYTSomething is often off, you know, overlooked, and something that we should appreciate because if we're fortunate enough to live in an area, we have the right kind of water, then we can really bring out the full flavor of that you're describing.

  • 13:55:38

    BELLScott, that's an excellent point. Anyone that's making tea that should be using filtered water, one thing I find especially in cities that has a lot of chlorine in the water, some of the more delicate teas will have that chlorine taste, if you're using water right from the tap, so filtered water is a good choice.

  • 13:55:55

    NNAMDIHere--

  • 13:55:55

    HOYTAnd when you have access to a spring or even a slow-moving stream, that's even better.

  • 13:56:00

    NNAMDIHere's Harry in Oakton, Va. Hi, Harry.

  • 13:56:05

    HARRYHello. I was wondering what kids remove from tea when it's decaffeinated besides caffeine, in terms of nutrients and oxidants and so forth, and I'll just listen. Thank you.

  • 13:56:15

    NNAMDIScott?

  • 13:56:17

    HOYTI couldn't answer that...

  • 13:56:18

    NNAMDIOh.

  • 13:56:18

    HOYT...but I will tell you that there's another important constituent in tea that should be mentioned, that is L-theanine, which like caffeine, the -- another antioxidant flavonoid, awakens the mind but also has a contrary effect. Caffeine actually calms you down. So I imagine, if you're removing caffeine, you may also be removing this other important antioxidant that provides, that sort of, meditative state that people often associate with tea.

  • 13:56:43

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Harry. We got an e-mail for David Laury (sp?) , who says, "We have two girls, and we're hosting two nieces. Where can we take our four to six-year-old girls for tea without breaking the bank?"

  • 13:56:58

    BELLWell, you know, Tyson's Corner just opened the American Girl Pavilion, and they have a tea room there. And my guess is that they probably have some herbal teas. So that would be one place that you could certainly check out. As far as breaking the bank goes, I guess it depends on how much they're into American girl dolls, so it would be tough to get out of there without a few outfits, I suppose.

  • 13:57:23

    NNAMDIWho do you find that most people who come to you are looking for in your seminars?

  • 13:57:27

    BELLThey're looking for knowledge. They're looking for knowledge. They want to expand their world of tea. They've heard about some of these things. It's very difficult to go even to a lot of tea rooms, where you have afternoon teas and taste a real variety of teas.

  • 13:57:45

    NNAMDIGreat falls Tea Garden has brought me some smoky tea spice pecans.

  • 13:57:49

    BELLYes, indeed. Tea as an ingredient in cooking.

  • 13:57:53

    NNAMDIAnd tea as an ingredient in cookies, also.

  • 13:57:55

    BELLYes.

  • 13:57:56

    NNAMDII'll enjoy them all. Laurie Bell is a certified tea specialist from the Specialty Tea Institute. She's owner and instructor of Great Falls Tea Garden, an institute that provides tea tasting and seminars for the public. She's been cooking with and studying about tea for many years. Laurie Bell, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:58:12

    BELLThank you.

  • 13:58:13

    NNAMDIScott Hoyt is the director and author of the documentary and the book, "The Meaning of Tea." Scott, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:20

    HOYTI raise a cup of tea to you right now.

  • 13:58:22

    NNAMDIThank you kindly and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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