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Is Tea the New Coffee?

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There is a not so quiet revolution brewing all around us. If you're a coffee drinker, you may not have even noticed. Tea is taking over, not only our imaginations, but it is changing the retail landscape as well. Specialty tea shops are opening at a record pace, in response to growing demand.

Astute entrepreneurs are aware of the recent Agriculture Canada food-trends study, projecting that tea consumption will grow by 40 per cent by 2020. That is a lot of tea! And the U.S. Tea Association confirms this trend, seeing a dramatic rise in tea imports in 2010, up 10 per cent from the previous year. This, in an economy where most industries are not faring so well.

This news is not too surprising to me, as I've always been a loyal tea only drinker. Coffee has never captured my palate, although I do admit the aroma is often seductive. Although I've taken a sip on several occasions to try it, I quickly return to tea.

Tea is associated with great history and ceremony. After water, tea is the world's most widely consumed beverage. Its origins date back to Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, 2737 B.C., where it is reported that a leaf from a nearby tree, blew into a pot of water he was boiling.

When I think of the descriptions associated with tea -- steeped, infused, restorative, contemplative, inner peace and calm -- I might be inclined to call it the yoga of hot drinks. In many ways, tea is the direct opposite of coffee. Coffee is often linked to hectic schedules and energy rushes in the midst of stress-filled days. Tea is associated with comfort, slowing down the pace and with tradition and ritual. Coffee stimulates. Tea calms. While coffee disrupts sleep and can create an acid stomach, tea soothes and restores. Coffee is percolated and guzzled, providing a buzz. Tea is steeped then sipped, and can bring you back to your centre.

Branding consultant Bruce Philp has explained that everyone can find a way to engage and introduce tea into their lives. "Tea is intimately social, it's contemplative and the experience you have is enlightening. That's rarefied air -- I don't think there are many other beverages that can compete."

High tea offers a celebratory and refined experience. Afternoon tea offers an opportunity to take a moment out of our hectic day and relax. And the comforting and consoling nature of tea, when we are either sick or melancholic, is well-known.

Tea is fast becoming a staple of the health conscious as well. Rich in antioxidants and providing a healthy boost to the cardiovascular system, tea is an ideal complement to today's wellness movement. Specialty teas are even showing up in coffee shops across North America. Perhaps the most popular is green tea, as its numerous health benefits have been widely reported in the last few years. Teas generally have a long and rich healing history in most cultures, with many herbal combinations available. When you check the names of some of the popular blends, you'll see the wide range of health concerns they address such as sleep problems, weight loss, and stress relief.

Although there is an ongoing debate about the caffeine content of coffee compared with that of tea, according to the Tea Advisory Panel, tea contains significantly less caffeine than coffee. They say tea contains one-third of the amount of caffeine when comparing cup for cup. And, because tea contains approximately 99 per cent water, I believe it is an important source of fluid and can count towards your daily intake of fluid.

All tea is not created equal. Black, green, oolong and white teas are derived from the leaves of the evergreen shrub, Camellia sinensis. Herbal teas are created from herbs and spices. The most popular growth in retail tea shops is in the loose-leaf category, where consumers purchase their teas to take home and brew. The range of varieties available is quite impressive.

How do you create your own perfect cup of tea? Use a teapot which you have rinsed out first with warm or hot water. Start with fresh cold water and bring to a rolling boil. Never add the bag or leaves to a pot of boiled water, but always pour your boiled water over the leaves or tea bags. Generally one teaspoon of tea to four ounces of water is a good ratio. Steep black and herbal teas for five minutes. Green and oolong, three to four. Apparently serious tea drinkers only add a mere touch of milk to their cup. I'm a bit of a rebel here, as I choose to use organic cream (cream is generally a no-no) and much more than a touch, but I use no sweetener at all.

So, I admit that tea has become an important part of my daily ritual. To add to my previous piece about the benefits of walking, I now take a purposeful walk each morning to my neighborhood Starbucks and patiently wait. Not to order some complicated morning coffee, but to stand in line, quietly anticipating my daily cup of tea. Make mine a chai. In India, chai means tea. Mine is a venté with one loose-leaf filter bag of organic black tea, perfectly blended with delicate and exotic spices. Who would choose coffee with this rich treat available to start your day?

Apparently I'm not alone, as I've read that many confirmed coffee lovers now equally indulge in chai. I leave the shop to finish my walk, sipping my cup of Chai. I feel in harmony with my surroundings. I continue my walk in a state of peaceful inner calm. All this, from a simple cup of tea.

So which one appeals to your palate -- tea or coffee?

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