Have a spot of tea

Tea-tasters learn about origin, history of drink.

Although tea is one of the oldest drinks in the world, the beverage has become a fad these days.

“Chai, herb tea, fruit drinks with tea, green tea, white tea, black tea, red tea and even bubble tea,” Andrea Nisley, Dawson County Extension educator, told four participants in a “Tea”-riffic” program Thursday at the American Lutheran Church.

Bubble tea, Nisley explained, is fruit tea served cold with tapioca balls. The beverage is sipped through a straw.

While Nisley presented the program, she brewed and served four different kinds of tea in petalware cups from the Great Depression.

She told the group that tea is nearly 5,000 years old.

“It was discovered, as legend has it, by a Chinese emperor when some tea leaves accidentally blew into a pot of boiling water,” Nisley explained. “A Buddhist priest then introduced tea to imperial Japan where its popularity spread.”

Two major American contributions to tea were an iced drink—created at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis to sell more beverages on a hot day—and the tea bag.

“Cold tea was previously consumed with alcohol added and called tea punch,” she said.

Nisley said the tea bag was an accidental invention when U.S. merchant Thomas Sullivan distributed samples of his tea in little silk packets.

“Customers liked the novelty and dipped the bags in hot water rather than pouring out the contents in tea strainers,” she said, noting that Sir Thomas Lipton first realized that a tag on a tea bag could advertise his tea.

Varieties of tea, Nisley said, are often defined by the country of origin, the growing area and the specific estate where it was grown.

She also shared how to pour a perfect cup.

Start with a preheated pot or cup by filling it with very hot water and letting it stand.

Or use cold water, that has more oxygen, and creates a livelier taste. Using cold water helps aerate the water to release the full flavor of the tea leaves.

Bring water to a roiling boil and pour on tea leaves or tea bags. Don’t let it boil too long or it will boil away the flavor once the hot water is poured on the tea, releasing oxygen and resulting in a flat-tasting drink. (If making green, oolong or white tea, don’t boil the water or the tea will extract bitterness.)

Brew three to five minutes. Steep green teas for one to three minutes.

Remove tea bag or infuser and cover pot with a cozy to keep tea warm.

Nisley said tea should be stored in a dark, airtight container. It should be kept away from spices or strong-smelling food because it quickly absorbs flavors.

In China, where tea was discovered, the beverage is served to all guests who pay a visit.

“If tea is not served, the guest is humiliated,” Nisley said. “Younger generations greet elders with a cup of tea—a way to show respect.”

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