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Natalie Goldberg has a writing practice where you are to list things that please you and then share that pleasure ~

Tea is a delightful and versatile drink.  I fancy myself a tea fancier.  I do love tea a cup of tea and all it has to offer.

There are a wide variety of teas to pick from.  Shall I begin with the Honorable Green Teas?  Said to have amazing beneficial qualities with antioxidants and all. Helps to maintain healthy weight plus even more positive health effects.  I find a decided difference between Japanese and Chinese Greens. I confess I know much more about the Japanese varieties, as I like them much better.  In Toyko, when you eat at a Sushi place, at your seat at the counter, is a spigot which gives refills of green tea whenever you like.  When you arrive at a hotel, you are served a tray with a pot of green tea and biscuits.  How sane is that? They serve a rather stronger, more potent, version of the Bigelow that I drink regularly.  But Green tea revitalizes me.  It’s small amount of caffeine gives me a gentle lift. A cup of green tea makes my body sing and gets me ready for the day.

Black tea is a different experience altogether.  For the afternoon, I think.  Black tea fills your mouth and offers an energy boost (even if it is decaffeinated). I love a smokey Russian best.  A Chinese Oolong will fill in nicely. There is something in black tea that my body craves. But my only caffeine these days is what I get from my daily Bigelow Japanese Style Green. The stronger stuff is not so easy to come by in decaf. Bigelow has a lot of wonderful black teas, decaffeinated, that sooth my desire. English Breakfast is a good one.

Then there are the herbal teas.  These tend to fill your soul with an inner glow.  So many choices in the herbal realm!  Fruity or woodsy.  I go for the woodsy myself. Alvita is my favorite brand of herbal tea.  A Nettle of the afternoon.  A rich Dandelion is quite nice in the fall.  In this category are the medicinal teas.  Traditional Medicinals makes a line of teas that are as tasty as they are healing.  Echinacea, in a few varieties.  Lots of female teas.  By the way, herbal teas can be very powerful.  Women who are pregnant should check the herbs they choose. Stick with gentle ones like mint and chamomile.   Nothing more gentle than those.

There is a bit of skill (and art) to making tea.  As in any good ritual, there are rules to the game.  The first, as we begin, is to always boil fresh water.  If it’s already been boiled, water the plants with it.  Please, don’t use it again. (I’m a little fussy about using a tea bag a second time, but that’s an individual choice.)  When you pour the freshly boiled water, there is an adage about bringing the pot to the cup for herbals and greens and the cup to the pot for blacks. The idea is that you can pour a rolling boil over the heartier black teas, but you want to wait for it to calm down a bit before dousing the herbs or the greens.  Most instructions say to steep from 3 to 5 minutes for the average cup of tea.  I set my timer for 4.  Tea houses say you must remove the bag promptly for Green tea.  I follow that rule for Black teas as well, as an over-steeped cup can become bitter.  I read somewhere that if you let the water boil too long it will make your tea bitter, too, but I’m not sure why that is.  Herbal teas have a lot more play in them.  An herbal tea bag can sit way over time with little ill effect.

Teas can also cure what ails you.  The Medicinal teas, however, take a little more care.  They often want to be covered and can steep as long as 15 minutes.  If you’re using fresh herbs (rather than the neatly packaged store-bought ones) you might extend that time. Be sure to squeeze the bag (or strain the herbs) well to get every bit of goodness from them. There’s nothing quite like a hot drink when you’re not feeling well.  Like a warm blanket.

As for dressing your tea.  I am of Russian descent so I prefer my tea simply adorned. Maybe a little lemon, but mostly as is. I used to be a big fan of granulated sugar in black tea, but now I prefer the full bodied flavor without it.  A dab of honey never hurt an herbal tea, but the aroma and taste are much more enjoyable without it.  I admit a sharp Ginger tea does go down easier with a spoonful of  honey.  And if you have a sore throat, honey can be quite soothing.  I once, at a bar in Chicago, had a cup of your basic black tea with a shot of Amaretto (in place of the honey), when I was coming down with a cold through one of  their bitter winters. I’d call that medicinal!

There is a perfect temperature for a cup of tea.  I can’t name the degree, but I calculate it’s about 5 minutes or so after it is has completed steeping. When it’s still on the side of hot, but not so much that it burns your tongue. Sometimes the heat, the flavor and the atmosphere come together perfectly and a humble cup of tea becomes a bold restorative.

Tea works at any temperature. It’s amazing when it’s hot, but also quite good after it’s cooled, still in the cup. The flavor takes on a different dimension. Who doesn’t love a refreshing glass of iced tea?  What a marvelous sensation when you pour still hot tea over ice.  You create that delicious combination of warm and cool.

Tea is revered and honored in many cultures.  It has been associated with magic and poison.  But most would agree, it brings people together in a welcoming atmosphere.  SARK likes to have people to tea – real and imaginary. I can’t think of a better way to gather folks together than around a steaming pot of tea and something to nibble.   Light fare for warm companionship.

What would you like?  Cranberry Peach Pomegranate?  Or perhaps you would prefer a cup of Red Clover, which is said to have blood cleansing properties. Maybe you’d like the essence of bergamot in a stout Earl Gray. I also have a lovely Japanese Bancha tea, which will awaken all your cells.  There’s some fresh mint iced tea to pour over ice.  Not feeling well?  Try the Traditional Medicinal Breathe Easy.  Or maybe the calming Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime – one of my favorites.  It doesn’t knock you out for sleep, but instead eases you from head to toe.

Any way you look at it, tea has much to offer.  Excuse me. That’s my timer.  Tea is served.

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