How divisive can tea be? Surely not at all— tea brings strangers together, it smoothes out tensions. Tea is our best shot at world peace!
No no no, tea is treacherous. Get talking about tea and you will very quickly find yourself in hot water. When should you add the milk? What is optimum brewing temperature? What even is tea?
This is a manual to some of the most divisive tea controversies.
What is tea?
Tea is only actually tea if it comes from the one and only Camellia Sinensis plant. Whether tea is white, yellow, green, oolong, black or post-fermented (these are your 6 types), the only thing that distinguishes it is how the leaves are treated. White tea, for example, has the shortest oxidation process, black tea the longest. So herbal teas are not in fact teas at all because they are not made from Camellia Sinensis leaves. They are imposters. They are tisanes.
“Great love affairs start with Champagne and end with tisane.” — Honore de Balzac
Darjeeling… or not?
Darjeeling to tea is what champagne is to sparkling wine. Officially, Darjeeling must be grown in the Darjeeling region of Indian Bengal. So 75% of Darjeeling brands are FAKES.
There is no such thing as caffeine-free tea. Tea is inherently caffeinated because it all comes from that one plant we talked about (I can’t be bothered to scroll up and retype the name. Jokes, I’m obviously a tea guru who knows her shit about tea it’s the Camellia Sinensis). People believe you can decaffeinate tea leaves by rinsing or re-steeping them, but while this reduces caffeine it cannot fully eradicate it.
Non-caffeinated herbal teas are, as discussed, not teas.
Weight-for-weight, tea actually has more caffeine than coffee, but you use less tea in a cup than coffee in a cup so consequently get a smaller dosage.
As well as caffeine, tea contains a stimulant called Theanine. Theanine has a very interesting effect on the brain, helping to induce meditative states by relaxing without causing sleepiness. Tea’s mystical de-stressing powers therefore have some science to them.
The chai tea latte
If you are in Asia and want what Westerners call ‘chai tea’ (i.e. tea spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla…), do not ask for ‘chai tea’ as ‘chai’ means ‘tea’ in many Asian languages and you will therefore be asking for ‘tea tea’. You want ‘masala chai’.
“I am in no way interested in immortality, but only in the taste of tea.” – Lu T’ung
Extensive research has been done around the potential health benefits of tea, given its medicinal history. Unfortunately, this all contradicts itself. Research shows that tea focuses the brain; research also links aluminium in tea to Alzheimer’s. Research states that men who drink lots of tea are more prone to prostate cancer. Research also states that men who drink lots of tea are less prone to prostate cancer. Research also states that prostate cancer has nothing to do with tea.
What I can vouch for is that putting tea bags on your eyes makes them less puffy. And apparently also soothes shaving wounds.
Tea is good for sex
“I would rather have a cup of tea than sex.” – Boy George
Unsurprisingly, research also claims that tea’s relaxing effects improve your sex life. But perhaps that only checks out if you adopt marriage therapist Andrew G. Marshall’s advice to halt sex halfway through, have a nice chat and cuppatea with your partner, then resume sex, thereby extending it beyond the bog-standard 15 minutes.
Alternatively, Ashwagandha tea is regarded as a stimulant to virility, while pouring a teapot from really really high to create a frothy surface is regarded in Morocco as a sign of great manliness.
Tea is a legitimate fear
You may think this is a ridiculous subtitle but teabagophobics and hygrothermophobics would disagree.
Tea has cosmic meaning
Again, before you jump in with your mainstream ‘no tea does not have cosmic meaning’, allow me to call to your attention a cult in Malaysia who worships a giant teapot. As the philistines among you may be unaware, tea symbolises ‘the healing purity of water’.
“If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.” – Japanese Proverb
Tea is plastic
There is a mega scandal brewing overplastic seals being used in supposedly ‘biodegradable’ teabags: this devoted blogger updates us on who is culpable. I’ll summarise: most brands are ‘working on it’.
Is reboiling water heresy?
In a nutshell, yes. According to official tea law you must always use fresh water. Once boiled, water loses its oxygen and apparently starts to tastes flat. Boiling also condenses the minerals in water which then rise as the water cools and create a film on the surface, limescale-ing your kettle.
This is the law, but don’t worry, enforcement struggles to keep up.
Should you boil water at all?
Prepare to have your entire worldview shattered: NO, you should not boil water to make tea. Most tea primes between 65 and 80 degrees Celsius, while higher temperatures can destroy flavour and aroma. Pick up your kettle just as it starts to vibrate.
Can you reuse tea?
It is perfectly acceptable to reuse tea leaves and bags. Some, like oolong, actually improve in flavour. By this reasoning I justify buying more expensive, fancy-flavoured teas and reusing them until practically biodegraded (all except for that plastic seal). Note: caffeine content will reduce each time.
Are teabags cheating?
Yes, but cheat away. Although word on the guru strip is that those of us who must use tea bags should avoid tags, strings or outer wrappings, which can contaminate the flavour. Ironically, all the fancy brands have these.
“Christopher Robin was home by this time, because it was in the afternoon, and he was so glad to see them that they stayed there until very nearly tea-time, and then they had a Very Nearly tea, which is one you forget about afterwards, and hurried on to Pooh Corner, so as to see Eeyore before it was too late to have a Proper Tea with Owl.” — A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
Lid on or off?
Teapot lid comes off for brewing to allow the leaves maximum oxidation. On for pouring. Only an idiot would get that wrong and end up with their hand in a freezer all night while their friends go out clubbing, with nothing to do but research pointless tea trivia.
Thou shalt never squash the teabag against the side of thy cup, lest thou release tannins and make thy tea bitter.
Thou shalt not leave thy teaspoon in the teacup thou shalt put it on the saucer.
Thou shalt not crook thy pinkie – that habit went out of fashion with the Victorians.
The heat in my hand is getting to me.
Milk first or last?
There is a highly controversial and also fatuous debate about whether or not milk should be added before or after water. ‘Science’ says milk first: adding milk to boiling water heats it unevenly, denaturing the proteins which clump and form a skin. However, it isn’t clear to me why ‘denaturing’ is necessarily unfavourable: we ‘denature’ mushrooms when we sauté them in tonnes of butter and that radically improves their taste.
At the end of the day, taste is subjective so the ‘correct’ method is whichever method you like best. The only thing of real interest here is that people actually debate this stuff (read the comments section of tea blogs if you don’t believe me).