It’s 7:00 a.m. on Monday, the advent of a new work week. The local coffee haunt is bustling with activity, cars filing in and out of the parking lot in a rhythmic sequence. Cappuccinos, mochas, lattes, espressos…cup after cup of coffee is passed over the counter into the hands of sleepy caffeine-seekers. However, a few items rest unordered by the masses, nestled in the corner of the menu board. Listed there are two options: “hot tea” or “cold tea.” But what are the flavors? Are they loose leaf or bagged tea? Blends or true tea? Can you ask for a drizzle of honey?
The term “teahouse” is not commonly used in our day-to-day lingo, certainly not in the same way as “coffee shop.”
According to research compiled by a YouGovAmerica poll, 46% of U.S. adults stick strictly to drinking coffee, while 24% stick strictly to tea. When asked if they ever drink coffee, 78% of those polled answered yes.
Taking things to a larger scale, Pew Research completed a study on coffee and tea consumption by global region. North America, South America and Europe all average out at a population-wide consumption of coffee above 70%. However, tea makes a significant appearance in Asia, with consumption rates averaging above 75% regionwide.
Tea has been providing energy, healing and flavor to our ancestors for thousands of years, predating coffee by roughly 3,400 years.
Let’s take a quick look at the history of tea.
According to Lipton’s compiled tea history, the exact year is contested, but it is said that the first cup of tea was “brewed” in the early 2700s B.C. in Ancient China. Legend has it that a leaf fell into water that a servant was boiling for Emperor Shen Nung, and the Emperor enjoyed the taste. During the 8th century, Japanese Buddhist visitors to China brought tea back to Japan. It wasn’t long until the Japanese were enamored with the drink, and it was deeply intertwined with Japanese culture, leading to landmark developments such as The Tea Ceremony. Portuguese missionaries to Asia then brought tea back home to Europe, and its popularity quickly spread across the region.
Today, tea is recognized by two categories: true tea and herbal tea.
Sencha Tea Bar distinguishes true teas as being brewed directly from the tea plant, and includes green tea, white tea, black tea and oolong tea. These teas are naturally caffeinated. Herbal teas, on the other hand, are brewed from spices, floral elements and leaves from plants such as fruits or herbs. On their own, these teas are not caffeinated. However, herbal infusions, where a true tea is blended with any of the aforementioned elements, can also be made, offering both caffeine and lively flavor mixes.
Tea can be packaged in two ways: bagged or loose leaf. In contrast to bagged teas that are most commonly available in grocery stores, loose leaf teas are not crushed and bagged and are instead brewed by placing the tea leaves directly into hot water or using an infuser, strainer or tea ball. Loose leaf teas also maintain more of their natural benefits, aroma and taste when compared to bagged teas.
To learn about the benefits and culture around tea, we consulted with ArtfulTea, a business specializing in luxury loose leaf tea since 2007, located in Santa Fe.
ArtfulTea’s founder, Karen Gardiner, began her tea journey as the owner of Kindred Spirit, a shop featuring teas, books and other items in Key West, FL. When she moved to Santa Fe, she founded ArtfulTea with the sole focus of loose leaf tea and accompanying accessories. Over the past 15 years, the company has grown to acquire a physical store location as well as a thriving online hub.
We spoke with Maggie Wack from ArtfulTea.
How have you seen the tea industry progress as your own business has grown? What is it that you believe is drawing people to tea?
Tea has steadily increased in popularity during the 15 years we’ve been in business. Not only is tea a great choice for people who are looking for a healthier alternative to coffee and other caffeinated beverages, but there’s also something for everyone, whether you prefer herbal teas, fruity or sweet teas, classic unflavored teas or something in between. The ritual of preparing tea is also a soothing, meditative experience and is a great way to start or end your day. A good cup of tea is one of life’s little pleasures, and we love introducing people to the world of tea.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business and clientele base? Have you seen more people looking into your collections such as “Calming Teas” or “Immune Boosting Teas” thanks to our current day-to-day circumstances?
There’s definitely been an increased interest in tea throughout the pandemic! Tea is healthful and soothing, and tends to be something that people turn to in times of stress or illness. We’re happy to be able to provide a little bright spot in someone’s day during an otherwise stressful and chaotic time. We’ve also seen a significant increase in our online business, since more people are now shopping online.
What do you consider to be the greatest benefits of consistent loose leaf tea consumption?
First and foremost, we believe that tea is enjoyable and delicious! There are so many different types and blends to choose from, so there really is a tea for everyone, whether you’re someone who’s just getting into loose leaf tea for the first time or are a daily tea drinker. Similar to other specialty foods and drinks like wine or chocolate, loose leaf tea is also something that rewards deeper study. And of course there are health benefits to drinking loose leaf tea, which is high in antioxidants and, depending on the ingredients in the blend, can help to soothe ailments like sore throats, headaches, stress, inflammation and more.
What loose leaf teas would you recommend to someone who is trying to switch away from coffee?
Tea is a great alternative for people looking to reduce their coffee intake. For people looking to switch from coffee but who still want caffeine, we recommend teas like Indian black teas, pu-erh, yerba mate and matcha. For those looking for a tea with a full body but no caffeine, rooibos teas are also a good choice.
Chances are that even if you do not consider yourself a tea drinker, you might know about some of the impressive benefits the drink has to boast. In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, feelings of stress and anxiety are on the rise, accompanied by fatigue and insomnia. But no need to fear, tea is here! Here are some good herbal teas to combat those pestering problems:
Feeling stressed? Try camomile or lemon balm tea.
Feeling anxious? Try linden, mint, lavender or rose tea.
Feeling fatigued? Try orange, nettle or cinnamon tea.
Suffering with insomnia? Try valerian root, passionflower or magnolia bark tea.
While coffee has certainly been proven to assist quite effectively with fatigue, unfortunately, it contributes significantly to generating anxiety, jitteriness and insomnia, among other detriments. This is indeed a commonality amongst all caffeinated beverages, but the saving grace of tea is that you can gradually wean yourself from caffeinated brews into an expansive array of uncaffeinated options.
So, next time you find yourself about to ask for your typical coffee concoction from your local barista, consider ordering a tea instead. Both the benefits and flavors are plentiful. Rest assured that there is a brew for everyone!