Tea: No Longer a Wimpy Beverage
When I was 12 years old, my Cuban mother told me I was old enough to drink coffee and poured me a shot in a demitasse cup. It was hot, black, sweet and so thick that you could almost chew it. Whoopee! I don’t think I slept for three days. I was wired and hooked at the same time. It is no wonder that Cubans are noted for speaking Spanish at a pace akin to that of a tobacco leaf auctioneer. Coffee is one of the staples of the Cuban diet. Cubans know coffee.
To hard-core coffee addicts, tea drinkers are those folks who daintily point their pinkies (and sometimes the ring and middle fingers as well) at you while they delicately glide their English porcelain teacups full of some suspiciously colored liquid to their noisily sipping lips. Ugh.
To confirmed tea drinkers, coffee has always been a rather pedestrian beverage, imbibed in styrofoam cups by cops, soiled construction workers, overwrought office executives and newspaper editors. To confirmed tea drinkers, nothing is more disgusting than a cup of coffee that has been oxidizing for several hours in an office Mr. Coffee.
Confirmed tea drinkers and hard-core coffee addicts have always found ways to justify their beverage choices. In an earlier column, I wrote glowingly about the health benefits of coffee. Yes, there are some. I must admit that I had to dig deeply into the research for that column. To my chagrin, no matter how hard I try, it is difficult to classify coffee as a health food.
Tea, on the other hand, has a voluminous body of scientific data to support its case for health food status. At first, the research just touted the health-promoting benefits of green tea. But recent studies have shown that any beverage made from the tea plant, whether it is green, black or white, is actually profoundly good for you.
Green, black and white teas originate from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, which can be grown in Hawaii. Green tea leaves are less processed than black teas, whose leaves are fermented in a variety of ways. Green tea has a more delicate, fresh, grassy taste, whereas black teas are, to use coffee-cultivated expressions, more full-bodied and robust. Black teas come mostly from plantations in Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia while green teas come from countries in the Far East, especially China and Japan.
White tea is delicate, perfume-scented and is composed mostly of the buds and flowers of the tea plant. Oolong tea, much favored by Chinese, is a mixture of black and green teas. Herbal teas are made from plants other than Camellia sinensis.