Health benefits, history, ritual, flavor make this a favorite beverage worldwide
"At Christmas, tea is compulsory. Relatives are optional.”
— Robert Godden, Australian writer.
Into the Rose & Crown, Disney’s British pub at Epcot, they went on the morning after Thanksgiving, not to down a pint but to savor sandwiches and scones and sip tea.
Never mind that holiday tea is the stuff of song and literature, these were enthusiasts who had paid $30 per person to drink and learn about Camellia sinensis and other plants from which infusions with hot water stem, and their teacher-server-cast members were schooled by representatives of one of the best-known brands in the world: Twinings, which has sold tea since 1706.
Imagine their astonishment when the man himself walked in: Stephen Twining, 10th generation member of his famed family, director of corporate relations for Twinings of London, world-renowned expert, prototypical Briton and tea evangelist.
It is doubtful that anyone speaks with a fervor for the subject like the ebullient, intellectual Twining.
“I don’t think some of them realized there is a Mr. Twining,” he says with a chuckle. “Others were a bit surprised to see me.”
Twining has a lot to chuckle about. Tea, the world’s most popular beverage, also is very, very popular in this country, with ever-growing sales and seemingly, a surge in enthusiasts’ willingness to learn.
In 1990, wholesale sales in the United States amounted to $1.84 million; in 2018, they climbed to $12.5 billion, according to Statista (statista.com), the statistics organization. Furthermore, bagged and loose teas now comprise about 23 percent of the market and sales of food service, refrigerated and high-end specialty teas are growing at 7 to 10 percent annually, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A.
Suffice to say the learning-and-consuming aspect is such that Disney offers daily afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa ($35 to $150) and now the Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room Tea Experience ($30).
Then again, Walt Disney World always has been a haven for tea lovers. Twinings has been served there for decades, bagged and loose; now Joffrey’s tea is available with its coffee. One of Epcot’s most popular vendors is The Tea Caddy, Twinings’ cottage-like store, the walls of which are lined with tins and boxes of the stuff, plus the pots in which to prepare it and the cups from which to drink it.
It is not the only magnet for devotees, though.
After Henry A. Stephens Jr. posted about seeking it to FLORIDA TODAY’s Facebook group, 321 Flavor: Where Brevard Eats, 46 comments ensued and the discussion continued elsewhere in the group.
“I am a tea person instead of a coffee person," Stephens wrote. "Coffee people seem to think a tea drinker's answer is a tea bag, but we tea people know there is a world of tea that neither Lipton, Twinings nor Bigelow packs in tea bags. This tea must be scooped from a large tin, weighed and poured into a bag. But not a tea bag, just a regular bag for purchase.”
Many of those replies came within minutes, from members who also know where to find specialty tea.
“(I’m a) big tea snob too,” Michelle Tyler Scheen wrote. “(I) visited my son in Seattle, came back with $40 of loose tea. Mad Hat Tea in Seattle will ship.”
Those tea snobs know it is a somewhat complicated and to them, captivating, subject, much akin to wine, in which they discuss the likes of varieties, grades, region, estates and terroir.
To make it simple, however, is this: There are five basic types of tea: black, green, oolong, dark and white. They all come from the tropical/subtropical evergreen tree called Camellia sinensis, in two principal varieties: Camellia sinensis sinensis, used for most Chinese, Formosan and Japanese teas; and Camellia sinensis assamica, used in Pu-erh and most Indian teas, though not Darjeeling
What makes each tea different is the degree of processing and/or the level of oxidization, or natural chemical reaction, it undergoes after being picked. Black tea is fully oxidized; oolong teas are partially oxidized; green and white teas are not oxidized after leaf harvesting. Dark teas are fermented after manufacture.
The tea with which most drinkers are familiar, black, is graded in four main genres, leaf-wise, from finest to less-fine: Orange Pekoe (OP), Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP), Fanning (F) and Dust (D). These have multiple sub-grades, so that if you buy a whole-leaf SFTGFOP1 — Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe — you are getting a top-rate tea.
No mention is made of other sources of “tea” because technically, they’re not teas but tisanes
In the words of the Tea Association of the U.S.A., “Herbal teas do not come from Camellia sinensis, but are infusions of leaves, roots, bark, seeds or flowers of other plants. They lack many of the unique characteristics of tea and are not linked with the research on the potential health benefits of traditional teas.”
Still, imbibers love tisanes, and tea companies have obliged them by marketing untold numbers of varieties, like Twinings’ “Winter Spice,” an apple-flavored chamomile infusion, with cinnamon, cardamom and clove, a companion to its Christmas Tea, in which cinnamon and clove are added to black tea. Twining is especially excited about the herbal “Peppermint Cheer,” in which vanilla adds, “a really creamy texture” to the mint, he says.
“We’re just launching a set of beneficial teas, one of which has turmeric with orange and star anise, and the other, natural lime and ginger,” says Twining, who believes herbal infusions provide a fine way to get the less-savvy into tea, continuing with green teas and lighter varieties, like Darjeeling, before getting into dark, strong black teas, “gently.”
When he realizes he is speaking to a fellow fancier, he tells of a stronger version of English Breakfast that Twinings is about to introduce. “We’ll cut down on the (lighter) Ceylon and increase the Kenyan,” he says.
“Oh, yes, yes!” he replies when asked about deep, dark Assam, a major part of Irish Breakfast tea.
He is precise about how he likes tea prepared (“Just boiled, for black teas; and just under the boiling point for green teas. Put the tea in and be patient; leave it for three to five minutes.”) and served (“Milk, but certainly no sugar.”).
In the Twining home, the day begins with a stronger, flavorful black like Assam or Prince of Wales and moves progressively lighter. “By 11 o’clock, I’m pining for Darjeeling,” he says. Then he moves on to the likes of Earl Grey, black tea flavored with oil of bergamot, or Lady Grey, black tea, plus oil of bergamot, lemon and orange peel at lunch and herbals afterward.
The evangelist does practice what he preaches: If if you spend any amount of time with him, you also drink tea, enthusiastically. Twining is an enthusiastic man, and he goes on, fervent about everything from the chemical composition to the health benefits of his favorite substance.
“We eat and drink with our eyes, don’t we?” Twining says. “This was lovely. To me it's all about different teas for different occasions. ... I think the tea experience is being done really well (at Epcot). Don’t you think?”
It’s good for you
Tea contains no sodium, fat, carbonation or sugar and is virtually calorie-free. It does contain flavonoids, naturally occurring compounds believed to have antioxidant properties. Tea flavonoids often provide compounds that help to neutralize free radicals, which eventually contribute to disease, scientists believe.
The Tea Association of the U.S.A. also reports:
- Studies have found that people who regularly consume three or more cups of black tea per day have a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
- More than 3,000 published research studies have evaluated the effect of white, green, oolong or black tea and tea compounds on the risk of a variety of cancer types. A study published in the February 2015 issue of the Journal of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that the main antioxidant in green tea helps kill cancer cells through the destruction of the cells’ mitochondria.
- A study found tea drinkers to have a 42 percent reduced risk for colon cancer, compared to non-tea drinkers.
- Antioxidants in tea may protect brain cells from environmental insults from free radical exposure, and L-theanine in tea has been shown to directly affect areas of the brain that control attention and ability to solve complex problems. The role of tea in (fighting) Alzheimer’s disease has also shown positive potential.
- Tea also may help maintain bone health, weight management and assist in the fight against diabetes.