Exploring the Wild Fringes of the Tea-scape

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Exploring the Wild Fringes of the Tea-scape

If there is a plant that can touch the European grape for “single species, infinite variety” creds, it’s probably Camellia sinensis, the shrub we know as tea. This one species yields an astonishing array of drinkable expressions, from ceremonial matcha to have-it-with-everything Earl Gray, smoky Lapsang Souchong to delicate Bai Mudan. And that’s before you even get to the ridiculous range of variants that come from adding other plants to the mix-stimulant yerba mate, adaptogenic rooibos, the array of warming, digestive tonic spices that go into traditional Chai and the innumerable botanicals from which we make herbal tisanes with both medicinal and purely aesthetic values.

Tea is a miracle substance, both more social than coffee and more introverted. It’s incredibly healthy and, unlike coffee or wine, that’s not really predicated on “in moderation.” Tea is gentle enough that moderation is 100% optional, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful. The plant contains theine, a caffeine analogue, but in much lower concentrations than you’ll find in coffee-tea should be considered a stimulant, but it’s such a low-key one that most people can drink it all day. The health benefits of tea are pretty well documented, though I doubt science has identified all of them-we know habitual tea drinkers enjoy improved mental clarity, reduced heart disease and cancer risk, and green tea in particular can safeguard tooth and bone health. It’s a pretty amazing substance.

Tea is every bit as much of a monomania-inspiring deep-dive lifelong-investigation thing as wine, and people get every bit as snobby about what “good” or “fine” tea really means. And if that is your thing, great. Meanwhile, I’m going to say we like what we like and we don’t have to justify it. Personally, I appreciate a vanishingly rare, extra-exquisite mountain oolong from Taiwan as much as anyone. But if what I have is bagged cinnamon-spice-thingy from The Good Earth? Awesome too; that stuff’s delicious and seriously takes the edge off if you’re hungry. There’s a tea for every situation and if we are being honest not every situation calls for vanishingly rare and extra-exquisite.

I absolutely love tea as a holiday gift-there’s something uniquely lovely about finding a beautiful tea in a stocking or fielding it as a hostess gift. To me, it conveys a different social message than wine does, and in a really good, needful way: giving someone a thoughtfully selected tea will likely make them feel uniquely taken care of. It’s one of the great feel-good gifts as far as I’m concerned. A few to look out for:

Joya

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Joya definitely positions itself as “superfood,” with a range of herbal teas and “elixirs,” which are finely milled blends of herbs and goodies you can add to hot water or play with in smoothies or whatever else. As I write this I’m drinking “Focus,” which is a matcha/moringa blend with Lion’s Mane mushroom, astragalus and pine pollen. All these ingredients have demonstrable track records supporting cognitive function and improving stamina, and if you were under pressure to, for instance, write cogent reviews of beverages all day? You’d want some of this. The color is a tad swampy when it’s mixed with plain hot water, but who cares, the flavor is lovely, with no harshness (a feat, folks-moringa and mushrooms do not automatically create a tasty beverage; that takes skills). Joya also makes a cacao version called “Bliss” and a turmeric one named “Glow;” I have not tried the latter but the former is amazing. If you were weaning yourself off sugar and needed something that felt a little decadent to make it up to yourself I’d pick this stuff in a second. Their herbal teas are also delicious. I’ve tried “Zing,” which is a naturally sweet-tasting blend based on ginger, astragalus and licorice root, and “Elevate,” which is chai-like with rhodiola, cacao, and maca. They are delicious, seriously. And I can’t say for sure that they have changed my health landscape, but they cannot possibly be hurting it, and in the meantime, the health benefits of enjoying what you are drinking should not be underestimated.

Paromi

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Thoughtfully packaged in opaque glass for longevity, Paromi’s teas include single origin teas and a variety of blends. There’s an emphasis on functional nutrition here versus, say, history or terroir. Ingredients are organic; sachets (they also sell whole loose leaf) are biodegradable. The blends largely highlight these beneficial properties (names like “Sleep With Me,” or “Detox” are hopefully self-explanatory). They also have non blended teas that seem to me like they are paying attention to sourcing, which is always nice. For those who, like me, do drink tea all day, you could do worse than their Cinnamon Chai. It’s made with rooibos instead of black tea, so it’s naturally non caffeinated. However, if you are not familiar with rooibos you should be prepared to feel… good. This South African native is a nutrient bomb with significantly more antioxidant compounds than even the prodigious amount found in actual tea leaves. It’s got hundreds of years of experience as an anxiolytic, has a demonstrable positive effect on blood pressure, and might stimulate weight loss. It’s great for skin and hair as well and might be useful in controlling diabetes. Here, it’s mixed with warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom. It’s totally delicious.

Waveland

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So yes, you can also have CBD in your tea. Waveland has a green (with peppermint) option and a black one (with citrus peel), and each sachet also contains 10mg of CBD. Personally, I am proving to be pretty CBD proof and cannot fathom what people are talking about when they say this remarkable compound has cured them of depression and insomnia and makes their Shar-pei actually enjoy going to the vet and might be doing their third grader’s math homework too. But because claims for this non-psychoactive extract of cannabis are only expanding as research continues, I’m going to go ahead and assume I am an outlier and that 10mg of the stuff in your afternoon tea might seriously put a spring in your step. There’s every reason to expect that it could. In this case, I personally prefer the black tea; the green has very nice body but the peppermint note is too muted for me on the palate and comes across the nose with a menthol note I personally find odd. The black is ripe and soft and pleasantly aromatic. The deal with these teas is that you’d almost certainly want them if you were looking to ingest CBD in this form. If you were simply looking for a new green tea to try I’m not sure this one would be in my top three. But as a health tonic, hell yes. CBD and caffeine have a mutually enhancing relationship; it’s an excellent cocktail.

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