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Tea kettle resting on kitchen countertop.

The greatest benefit of tea, from an Englishman in Hillsboro

If asked, Dan Howard could talk about the health benefits of tea.

Its high concentration of antioxidants reduces cell damage and contains theanine and caffeine which, when combined, promote a calm, yet alert mental state. But his favorite health benefit from tea is that it provides a moment of respite.

“Tea, in England, is not simply a drink; it’s a catalyst for connection,” Dan said. “It’s like a campfire. It has the power to bring people together, and when enjoyed alone, it has the power to soothe the soul and connect you with the universe.”

Dan was born and raised in merry old England, and because of that, his blood, he said, is “90% tea.”

“I think I had my first cup of tea (hot tea, not iced tea) at the age of two, and I haven’t skipped a day since” said Dan, the director of Community Relations at Gundersen St. Joseph’s Hospital and Clinics. “I’m not a ‘tea-a-holic,’ I’m more of a ‘tea-o-phile,’ and over the years, I have spent my time learning as much as I can about the world’s favorite drink.”

When he sits down to read a book late on a Sunday afternoon, he has a cup of tea. 

When he needs a moment to let his brain process the day, he has a cup of tea.

If he were to get on a plane right now, travel 5,000 miles across the planet, and knock on his dad’s front door, the first sound he’d hear after “hey-up, son! What you doing ‘ere?” would be the sound of the tea kettle being switched on, closely followed by the sound of his dad trying to find his favorite mug. In fact, some of Dan’s favorite moments have been sitting in the kitchen talking with his dad – both with a mug full of tea.

Tea is what healthy feels like to Dan, and this article is his {small} attempt to reconnect America with tea.

To prepare tea, you will need:

  • Tea. Tea, in the strictest sense, is a drink made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis tree. Herbal teas are not really teas. Tea is often available in tea bags, but some specialty stores will carry loose-leaf tea. Tea comes in six main categories: green, yellow, black, white, oolong and pu-erh tea, with black tea being the most common.
    • Green tea is a mild, low-caffeine tea. The leaves are harvested and immediately steamed to halt their oxidation.
    • Black tea is harvested, wilted, lightly crushed, and then left to fully oxidize, which turns the leaves a brown or black color
    • Oolong tea is made similarly to black tea but is not allowed to fully oxidize 
    • Yellow tea is made similarly to green tea, but the leaves undergo additional processing after being steamed, often being rolled
    • White tea is made using the very first tips and buds of the tea plant before they open to form leaves
    • Pu-erh tea is a fermented tea. It is initially processed similarly to green tea but is then shaped and dried, usually pressed into tea cakes, and then left to ferment for years, aging like a fine wine.
  • Water.  This is where people often get things wrong. First, do not use a microwave to make tea. It doesn’t work. It makes the water slightly foamy, and every time someone uses a microwave to prepare tea, James Corden gets another U.S. TV show. So, for the future of humanity, stop using microwaves to boil your water. The best thing to do is to get a tea kettle. You can pick a cheap one up for around $20.
    • Remember, not all teas should be steeped in boiling water or for the same length of time. The greener the tea, the lower the temperature should be. Black and Pu-erh teas should be steeped at 195–210 F for 2-5 minutes, depending on your taste. Oolong should be cooler at around 180–195 F for around 3 minutes. Green tea should be steeped at 140–160 F for 30-90 seconds. I have personally found 60 seconds at 160 F to be perfect for green tea. Hotter temperatures and longer steeping times result in a grassy and bitter taste.
  • Your favorite cup. A ceramic cup with a handle is ideal, and ideally, it’s best to have a cup that is light in color so you can see if your tea is brewing well.
  • Additions. Milk is a favored addition for black and pu-erh teas but does not usually compliment the other greener teas. Always add the milk after the tea has steeped. Sweeteners such as honey, stevia, slice of lemon or sugar can be added to all teas. However, if the tea is brewed well, its natural sweetness should be enough. 

Tea recipes to try

  1. The Yorkshire Standard: A sweet tea that is strong enough to strip the glossy finish off your favorite cup. Two tbsp of black tea, steeped in 8 oz. of boiling water for 5 minutes, served with 2 tsp of pure sugar, a splash of milk and your favorite soccer team on TV (For a truly authentic flavor, look for “Yorkshire Tea” on Amazon.)
  2. The Moment of Zen: A light, naturally sweet tea with a lemon finish. 1½ tbsp of oolong tea leaves, steeped in 8 oz. 185 F water for 3 minutes, finished with a slice of fresh lemon. Enjoy in silence while sitting cross legged.
  3. The Bonfire: A strong, smoky tea that has so much personality, it will sing campfire songs to you. 1½ tbsp of lapsang souchong (a type of black tea that has been smoke-dried over a fire), steeped in 8 oz. of 210 F water for 4 minutes, finished with a splash of oat milk and maple syrup. Enjoy on a cool morning while wearing your favorite hoodie.

Caffeine alternatives

Tea has differing levels of caffeine, and greener teas generally have less caffeine than black teas. If you’re looking for a caffeine-free alternative but enjoy the malty taste of black tea, rooibos is a fantastic option.

Rooibos, sometimes called “redbush tea,” is made from the leaves of the Aspalathus Linearis bush, mainly found in South Africa. It is caffeine free and can be prepared in the same way as any black or pu-erh tea. When it is steeped, it has a deep red/orange color and a soothing, malty taste. Try steeping 1 tbsp of rooibos leaves in 210 F water for 5 minutes and finish with oat milk and a ½ tbsp of local honey.

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