A spot of tea
From one single plant, almost every culture has a beverage based on the dried leaves of Camellia sinensis, whether it’s the drink of choice for the average Brit’s afternoon ritual, tea for the formal chanoyu (tea ceremony) or somewhere in between. In the case of the Gochiso Gourmet, it’s the rum cocktail. But tea has been incorporated into many cultures, whether providing a mild stimulant beverage, a formal tea ceremony or simply this columnist’s daily lunchtime drink of choice.
Camellia sinensis All traditional tea, whether black or green, comes from the young leaves of that evergreen shrub, Camellia sinensis. There are two main variations of the plant: Camellia sinensis, with the smaller leaf, used in most Chinese and Japanese teas and the large leaf, Camellia sinensis assamica, used in most Indian teas (Assam, Nilgiri). If left untended, the plant will eventually turn into a tree but it’s usually cropped at waist to chest level to make harvesting easier.
Plants are ready to produce leaves worthy of tea after their third year of life, and only the top one to two inches are harvested with a new harvest ready to pick one to two weeks after the previous harvest. Because the plant favors tropical to sub-tropical climates, plants grown in higher climates usually produce better quality tea, as the marginal growing conditions fosters slower growth, which allows more flavor compounds to develop in each leaf. It’s somewhat similar to the slower growing conditions in the vineyard creating more acid formation and polyphenols in each grape, creating more complex wines.
Basic Tea Yes, you’ve all seen and probably sampled that ubiquitous tea in the yellow and red box featuring the name of Scottish founder Thomas Lipton, but did you know that Lipton tea wasn’t actually Lipton’s primary product? In fact, he started a small shop in 1871, which eventually expanded to about 200 shops in just 10 to 15 years. And tea was just one product that the shops sold. But as tea consumption increased as his shops did, the price for tea also rose with its popularity. Therefore, Lipton decided to purchase his own tea gardens in what was then Ceylon (and is now Sri Lanka) and packaged and sold his own Lipton label of tea. (As an aside, Thomas Lipton also created the Lipton dried soup mixes). The now supermarket side of the business was eventually sold so that Lipton could concentrate on his tea brand (which is now owned by conglomerates Unilever and PepsiCo).
And though there’s nothing fancy about Lipton tea, I consume it regularly on those occasions when coffee is just too heavy (and I’m not looking for a major caffeine hit).
Fancy Teas Do an Internet search and you’ll find dozens of fine tea purveyors, whether it’s Lupicia, Teavana, Tea Forte, Adagio or any of the other hundreds of companies with their high quality leaves, special flavored brews or brewing accoutrements. I’m not a tea connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination and usually sip my lunchtime brew simply for that extra caffeine boost at midday. But I do have my own special blend. Every Sunday, I brew my lunchtime beverage with equal bags of Hawaiian Islands Tea Company Maui Mango (black tea infused with mango) and Celestial Seasonings Wild Berry Zinger herbal tea. Of course, while visiting the city, I often reach for a cup of Earl Grey (black tea infused with bergamot) with my breakfast faire, probably because I usually get my daily java in the hotel room upon awakening and I try to avoid constant java consumption lest we experience those dreaded caffeine withdrawal headaches. So maybe I am a fancy tea drinker after all. I guess I should be holding out my pinkie as I sip my tea … perhaps with a cucumber sandwich or scone …
Possible Health Benefits Due to the multiple flavonoids found in both green and black tea, there are various publications suggesting the health benefits of consuming tea. While it appears that green tea might reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and gastro-esophageal cancer, we’re still not really sure if that same potential benefits carries over to its fermented cousin or black tea. The most active antioxidant in green tea — epigallocatechin gallate — may also have antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. But before you start consuming vast quantities of your favorite brew, just be forewarned that poor quality tea grown in unregulated areas can contain heavy metals (cadmium, aluminum, lead and mercury) and there was a case of iced tea nephropathy (kidney disease) reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015. Apparently, a 56-year-old gentleman went into kidney failure after consuming 144 ounces of iced tea daily for quite a while, giving him more than 1500mg of oxalic acid (the compound that gives that puckery mouth feel in raw spinach) every day. So if you enjoy tea every day, continue to do so in moderation. And if you want the potential health benefits, stick to the green brew.
Spiced Espresso My tea consumption isn’t just limited to that midday hit of caffeine. I also now enjoy it in my evening adult beverages. I first encountered this cocktail at The Nook Neighborhood Bistro in Honolulu. It was listed on their AM Cocktail list with RumChata, Koloa Gold Rum (from Kauai), cacao, Chai Hard Tea (From T-We Tea in The City) and espresso. The Mrs. and I enjoyed the cocktail so much, I immediately tried to create my own version. The various spices (bird’s eye chili, star anise, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and clove) mixed with the Keemun Chinese black tea pushes the boundary of your usual coffee-based cocktail. I swapped the gold for dark rum and cold brewed coffee for the espresso and to gild the lily, used Valrhona cocoa powder.
For four Three-ounce cocktails: 2 ounces RumChata 2 ounces dark rum 3 ounces brewed T-We Tea Chai Hard 4 ounces cold brewed coffee 1 ounce agave syrup 4 tsp Valrhona cocoa powder
Add all of the ingredients to a large cocktail shaker filled with frosty ice cubes. Shake vigorously for five to 10 seconds to get the cocoa powder incorporated into the liquids. Strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy.
So the next time you want to emulate the perfect British gentleman or woman, reach for that alternative caffeinated brew. Heck, you can even enjoy it with dainty cucumber sandwiches and miniature scones with clotted cream. I won’t judge. Probably because my version will be spiked with a touch of distilled spirits…
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.