Tea: self-care in a cup.

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There are many forms of self-care whether it be making art, soaking up a rainbow bath bomb, getting a pedicure, or binge-watching Nailed It! for the third time. But what about just making a cup of tea?

Every culture has tea rituals. In China, tea is brewed at weddings. The bride serves the groom’s family, and the groom serves the bride’s, symbolizing the two families becoming one. It’s tradition in Japan for people to perform sadō (lit. “the way of tea”) for their house guests, and afternoon tea in Britain is served with cakes and sandwiches to be shared with family and friends.

These rituals have a recurring theme: they are all forms of respect. We appreciate respect from others but why do we not do the same for ourselves? It’s okay to have a moment to care for yourself. The times have given us a weight to bear and while we strive to be the Good Samaritan, it’s important to remember that the Samaritan needs a break, too.

Self-care is not selfish. It is important for your well-being and health, and one of the ways I self-care is through a personal tea ritual.

After I choose my tea and put on the kettle, I put down my phone and close my eyes in quiet meditation as the water starts to boil. While my tea steeps, I find a podcast or a documentary to enjoy while I indulge. The brewing process can take a few minutes, but if you love tea then the wait is worth it.

Tea is harvested from small shrubs called Camellia sinensis and there are vast varieties available, but I am going to share with you four basic ones along with their blends to use as a quick guide if you wish to start your own tea ritual.

Please note that I am not a doctor and while there have been studies linked to health benefits of tea, medical research is still limited.

Black Teas

Black tea is the most popular variety around the world. If you want to limit your coffee intake but still want caffeine, then black tea is a nice substitute. However, people with caffeine sensitivity or who are prescribed blood thinners should take caution and consult their doctor.

Black tea is rich in antioxidants that can help protect against artherosclerosis (plaque build up in the artery walls) which may lower the risk of stroke. It may also help in lowering blood pressure.

Lapsang souchong (China) — Grown in the mountainous Wuyi region in the province of Fujian, this tea is sometimes referred to as “smoked tea.” That’s because its coarse leaves are traditionally roasted in a bamboo basket over burning pine.

Lapsang souchong has been around since the Qing Dynasty when an army made camp in a tea factory and threw out the workers, thereby hindering the drying process. When the army left and the workers returned, they knew that they wouldn’t be able to process the leaves in time for market so they dried the leaves over open fires, giving them a charred smell and bitter flavor. The tea has been processed like this ever since.

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Assam and Darjeeling (India)— These teas are the most widely known and are the bases for many blends. Assam is full-bodied with a stout flavor while Darjeeling is milder with a floral aroma.

Assam tea is grown in the region where it gets its name, and is grown in lowlands and at sea levels. This method of planting plus the area’s high precipitation rate contributes to the tea’s malty flavor and is marketed as a “breakfast” tea.

Darjeeling is grown in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. Even though it comes in white, green, and oolong varieties, it is considered a black tea due to the slow oxidation process of the leaves once harvested. Dubbed “the champagne of teas,” Darjeeling is “the highest elevation produced tea in the world” allowing the shrubs access to more UV exposure and oxygen levels, giving this brisk tea its bitter flavor.

Ceylon (Sri Lanka)— Ceylon tea is grown at different altitudes. High-grown tea leaves brew to a honey color liquor, mid-grown teas are full-bodied, and low-grown teas are bold with a burgundy hue when infused. Due to the richness of the soil, it is said to be full of antioxidants and can boost your metabolism. Ceylon tea can be served hot or over ice.

Black Tea Blends

  • Earl Grey — This is the most recognizable blend among avid tea drinkers. It can have a variety of black tea leaves as its base and is blended with bergamot oil to give it a crisp aroma. It was named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s.
  • English and Irish Breakfast -These blends are full-bodied, with English Breakfast having an Assam, Ceylon, or Kenya base, while Irish Breakfast is mostly derived from Assam. Both blends are served with milk and sugar to cut down its boldness and many Irish drinkers add honey.
  • Masala Chai — This is a combination of black teas and spices native to India and is served with milk, sugar, or honey. “Chai” is the Hindi word for “tea” and is derived from the Chinese word “cha.” Go to any coffeehouse today and this tea is typically served as a latte.

Green Teas

Green tea has been used medicinally for thousands of years due to its lower caffeine levels, antioxidants, and cancer fighting abilities. The production of green tea originated in China and there are several varieties grown across East Asia.

Gunpowder tea (China) — Production of this tea dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618–907), but was later introduced to Taiwan in the 19th century. Also known as “pearl tea,” each leaf is rolled into a small round pellet that resembles the shape of gunpowder. The leaves are withered, steamed, rolled up, and then dried. Most gunpowder tea has a mild aroma with a full-bodied flavor that finishes with smoky notes.

Sencha (Japan) — Sencha tea is processed by steaming whole leaves to prevent further oxidization and keep the leaves green. When infused, the tea’s liquor is a greenish-gold color with a light aroma and a grassy taste. You can enjoy this tea hot or cold, as well.

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Matcha (Japan) — Matcha leaves are grown on bushes kept in the shade, which increases the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves and makes them brighter. When the leaves are picked, the stems and veins are removed before they are ground into a smooth powder that is bright green with a naturally sweet flavor when whisked with hot water. Matcha has become widely popular and just like chai, you can enjoy it as a latte at your local coffeehouse.

White Tea

White tea is comprised of young leaves that are white due to the fuzzy “down” that appears on the unopened buds. White tea is said to be more preventative of cancer than green tea. Researchers in 2010 used white tea extract to target lung cancer cells and results showed dose-dependent cell death. White tea also contains high levels of L-theanine, an amino acid that improves focus and calmness. This could be due to its lower caffeine content.

White Peony (China) — White peony tea is pure white tea. It has a light body with a grassy note and can be steeped multiple times. The tea leaves are dried whole and have with a high caffeine content, but unlike coffee, it is slowly released into the blood stream and can last longer in your body. It’s also rich in antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation.

Silver Needle or White Hair Needle (China) — These are white tea leaf shoots (i.e. the leaf that is unopened). They are plucked and set in baskets to for extended periods in the sunlight before undergoing enzyme oxidization before they are bake-dried. When infused, the white down of the leaves come loose and produces a light-colored viscous liquor that has a natural sweet flavor.

Herbal Tea

Simple herbal teas are not made from the Camellia sinensis shrub but from herbs, spices, flowers, or fruit. However, herbals can be mixed with either a green or white tea and caffeine levels depend on the types of leaves with which it’s blended.

These are just a few that I personally recommend:

  • Jasmine Dragon (Phoenix) Pearls — This is one of my favorites because I can drink it at any time of the day. It is a mixture of rolled green tea leaves with young jasmine flowers, which account for its strong floral smell. The pearls can be infused multiple times, making the leaves open up to release more of its natural flavor.
  • Mint —This tea is comprised of dried spearmint, however there are some tea brands that blend a lower caffeinated green tea with the herb for added health benefits. Mint tea is good for easing sinus pressure from the common cold and may help improve sleep.
  • Ginger root blends — Dried ginger can be mixed with many varieties of tea, but the raw root itself makes for a nice, spicy drink that can help ease upset stomachs. If you would like a bit of sweet with the spice, I suggest adding raw honey.
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Brewing your tea

The standard measurement when brewing tea is one teaspoon (3 grams) of leaves per 8 oz cup of water. This link will take you to an easy to follow guide regarding water temperature for the different varieties. Steeping times vary, as well. Black and herbal teas require about 4 minutes while white and green teas need to steep for a least 3 minutes.

Respect yourself and indulge

The brewing process takes patience, just like with your self-care. Be grateful of the work you put in every day, and show respect for your well-being by taking care of yourself.

I’m not saying that tea will solve all of your problems, but your new ritual can be a break from the rest of the world. Use it as a moment to slow down, take a deep breath, and indulge in a cup of kindness that you made for yourself.

You deserve every sip.

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