Tea, thé, te, té – no matter the language or the culture it comes from, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world. While there are so many claims about tea, some are proven – many are not proven as to their health benefits. There is not a culture around the world that I know of that does not have their custom of some sort relating to tea.
When I was younger, one of the few memories of my granddad (who was Native American), was when he taught me about sassafras tea. Sassafras is a tree that grows in many parts of the United States. The root was (and still is) brewed and used by many Native American tribes for medicinal purposes and to ward off evil spirits. In more recent history, it was exported to England for medicinal purposes, it was used for sarsaparilla and root-beer, as well as it’s wood. It’s still traditionally consumed by many in the United states.
To harvest Sassafras, in February after a good hard snow, we would dig up the roots. This is critical for good flavor. It is the bark of the roots that is used to make tea. Sometimes people will peel the bark off the roots, but usually we would just cut the root in pieces and dry it. Then we would boil a piece of root in a big pot for a few hours. After the tea was done, we would add honey and let it set to cool (leaving the root in the pot). It tastes close to sarsaparilla or some of the better root-beers (the older ones were not, and the high quality ones still are not carbonated).
And, of course if you are from some parts of the United States, you will know about sweet tea. When I lived in Tennessee for 6 years, I became addicted to ice-tea. First it was the sweet-tea, but eventually (for health reasons), I started drinking mostly un-sweet tea. When I moved away, I quit drinking it so much, and eventually quit drinking much tea at all.
Lately, I’ve been getting back into tea. I stopped (mostly making excuses because of being busy) drinking home prepared tea on a regular bases a few years ago. But, now that I’m studying in France, I’ve been changing a lot of my habits. Walking home from class, I usually walk past one or two tea stores. I went in one one day and realized I was missing something!
Most good tea starts with the tea Camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant that grows mainly in tropical and subtropical climates. Yes, you can buy “tea” at your favorite box-store like Wal-Mart, Target, Carrefour, etc., but it’s not the same quality or experience.
Having “a tea,” is a wonderful way to entertain friends. It can be very social. You don’t have to be all proper (or you can if you wish). I like to have something with tea. You can have some crackers, or a little desert type item, or chocolate. Even fruit (as I did tonight as I wrote this). There was a period of time I had a lot of teas with Russians. My friends from Russia (who live in Portland, OR now), have tea practically every evening. I stayed with them for a few months a few years back. They tended to have a late dinner (around 8:30 pm). Depending on the night, tea would be after dinner or about 30-60 minutes after. She always served small pieces of bread with jam and honey, sausage slices, and cheese. I found it a very enjoyable experience. It usually lasted for a few hours. A good relaxing time and conversation.
Right now, I’m trying “à thé de fruits de la passion” (passion fruit tea) that I found here in Aix en Provence.
So go try some tea. Go to a local tea shop (and yes they are everywhere in the States too) and buy some loos tea by the ounce or kilogram. Get a teapot and steep the tea. Try honey with it (I prefer it over sugar), or agave nectar (great tasting and is a great sweetener especially for diabetics). Most tea shops have items such as chocolates, crackers, etc. that you can have with tea.