Saturday, June 15, 2024

Life is brew-tea-ful

| January 30, 2024 1:00 AM

I try to work continually on self-awareness. Knowing what triggers feelings, mood, or a chain of thoughts and, more to the point, consciously controlling my reactions is something anyone can improve lifelong.

So the idea that I, Ms. Zen Pride, am so suggestible as to want something merely because I see someone else doing it is absolutely mortifying. But if you’re drinking aromatic tea in a pretty cup (real tea, not that weak Lipton or Tazo swill), I simply must have some, no matter how full I feel. Brew it in a painted china teapot, and I’ll rearrange my schedule for an hour.

Tea is like that. It’s not just a beverage; it’s an experience. An invitingly warm, comfortingly cozy cup of relaxation. Two hands wrapped around it getting pleasantly warm. Eyes closed. Breath slowed. Time suspended.

January is National Hot Tea Month.

Typically calorie-free and steeped in benefits, pure teas such as black, red, green, white, dark and oolong come packed with flavonoids, antioxidants and other body-boosting, anti-aging stuff that adds up to better health. Studies such as a 2017 study of 5,500 adults over 60 reported in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging found frequent oolong and black tea consumption improved anxiety, depression, pain, and mobility. A 2019 study in the Journal Aging suggested those with tea habits had better-functioning brains, compared to non-habitual tea drinkers.

Perhaps that’s why tea has become more popular in the last quarter century. The USA Tea Council estimates the value of the American tea industry exceeds $13 billion. That’s way up from 1990, when it was only about $2 billion.

But none of that is why tea-lovers drink it. For us, it’s more enigmatic than practical. A bit like wine without the downsides, tea is a social drink with a culture built around it.

People say things with tea. Tea has purpose.

For millennia, tea has been endemic to cultures across Asia from the Eastern Orient to India and Iran. Beyond the morning brew, it’s what families share for a midday break, or after dinner as they lean back against lush floor cushions to aid a slow digestion (one cup of red tea doesn’t seem to interfere with sleep). When I lived in that part of the world, it was a shared moment of timelessness to look forward to each day, when everything slowed and refocused.

Tea is togetherness.

In so many cultures it’s the first thing offered when a guest arrives, with a concomitant ritual of service and honor. Pretty little tea glasses with intricately carved metal holders. A lovely pot, a delicate sugar bowl, with a small plate of treats nicely displayed on a special tray. 

Tea welcomes.

In the U.K., “I’ll put the kettle on” immediately follows bad news. See tears? Make tea. Tough day? More tea. Even if little is actually drunk, it’s the gesture that counts as to the British, a cuppa is soothingly symbolic, like a hug or an arm around the shoulder.

Tea is comfort.

Wherever the tea drinker and whatever the individual or cultural habit, we all share the soothing, calming, renewing feelings it brings. Tea is uncomplicated; there are no digestive issues such as with syrups, mix-ins or additives in dolled-up, mega-buzzed coffee. A few teas have caffeine, but it’s less somehow, gentler.

A 2019 review reported in Advances in Nutrition determined tea’s phytonutrients — linked to lower rates of heart disease — should be considered part of a healthy diet. To get these benefits, you need high-quality, pure teas. The typical grocery store stuff doesn’t cover it; carefully cultivated loose-leaf teas from specialty shops are worth the price in how long a supply lasts and how infinitely better they taste.

But again, none of that is why tea is special.

Tea is contentment. You can’t put a price on that.

(This column is dedicated to tea-lover and Hayden resident Elizabeth Rose.)

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who became a morning coffee drinker out of marital love but keeps a cabinet full of teas. Share your teapot photo