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Top Tea Tips and Health Benefits

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More than a year ago, I stopped drinking coffee. It was making me too jittery and my heart would be pounding. I also started to read more about the benefits of tea.

So I made the switch. At first, I found life difficult without my coffee fix, but gradually that faded away and now I enjoy a nice cup of tea in the morning.

To learn more about teas and the health benefits of this ancient beverage, I spoke with The Urban Tea Merchant's Certified Tea Sommelier Reza Nasooti. Reza shared his impressive knowledge on the topic of teas.

What are the different types of teas?

Although any leaf, flower or dried fruit added to hot water is commonly referred to as tea, technically only leaves from the Camelia Sinensis family can be called tea.

There are currently six recognized varieties of tea. The way the leaf is processed, will help determine the type of variety. These include:

Green tea, yellow tea, white tea, blue tea (oolong), black tea and pu-ehr (Matured Tea).

What is the difference between a higher quality tea and lower quality tea?

The answer has a lot of similarities to how one would answer the difference between a good quality wine and a bad quality wine. As a consumer look for freshness when judging the aroma. Lower quality teas tend to have a less pronounced aroma. Also, look for full leaves with great consistency. Higher quality teas offer a more consistent leaf size and quality whereas lower quality leaves do not.

On a deeper level, what helps determine a good quality tea is a great balance between the heavens (climate), the earth (terroir) and people (expertise).

How to choose a tea you will enjoy?

Tea can really be a mood drink. When choosing a right tea for you, take into consideration the flavours you are partial to (e.g. fruity, spicy, sweet, light, strong, do you enjoy wine or scotch etc.), the reason you drink tea (e.g. to relax, to energize etc.). The time of day you drink tea and how you drink your tea (e.g. on the go, at home, with or without additives etc.).

How to store tea so it stays fresh?

Tea has a relatively long shelf life provided that it is stored properly. The most ideal storage conditions are in a relatively air tight tea tin away from moisture, light and odors.

Are there any health benefits from tea?

"Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary." - Chinese proverb

Teas are particularly rich in vitamins, zinc and antioxidants. Age old beliefs in tea's healing powers are continually being validated by new scientific discoveries. Drinking tea is more than a pleasant hedonistic experience. It is also an investment in a healthier future.

To find out more about tea preparation (which really is an art) I spoke with Gabriella Russo, Senior Beverage Manager at Breville. Gabriella shared her knowledge on the topic:

What kind of tea makers are there?

There are many different types of tea makers. It all depends on the consumer's needs and taste. You can either go with an electrical or manual tea maker/pot. With a manual tea maker, the user will first need to heat the water to the required temperature, then steep the tea directly into the tea maker, and remove the tea when finished steeping. Non-electrical tea makers also come in different materials and shapes.

How to choose the right tea maker for your needs?

I can only speak for electrical tea makers or kettles. You can go with a variable temperature kettle to reach the perfect temperature according to the type of tea, which will also require the additional purchase of a tea pot or tea mug with an integrated tea basket for steeping. There are also fully programmable tea makers, which can reach specific temperatures, depending on the type of tea you are drinking.

What is the difference between tea from a tea bag and loose tea made with a tea maker?

- The most important difference is that the leaves used in tea bags are mostly dust and fanning from tea leaves, and have lost most of their essential oils and aromas. This also affects taste, which will often be bitterer.

- Tea leaves need space to expand in the water for full flavour. If the bag is too small, it will not release the full flavours of the tea.

- The type of material used for the tea bags can also have an impact on the taste. Some standard bags can prevent the brew of diffusing outside of the bag.

Overall, loose tea provides more flavour and benefits than traditional tea bags.

How should you clean a tea maker?

A great way to remove build-up of tannin/scale, is to fill the glass jug with water up to the water maximum mark, then add the juice of one lemon (you can even add the lemon rind) and boil. Allow to cool. For best results, you can leave this to soak overnight. You can then discard the solution and scrub the interior with a soft bristled brush.

Fill the glass jug with clean water and boil. Then discard the water for a second time. Alternatively, you can use two tablespoons of baking soda with water, or six tablespoons of white vinegar with water, as a solution.

Your suggestions are always welcome as I continue on my journey to enjoy life to the fullest. Let's have the very best 2015!

Visit Sacha daily at SachaD.com
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