It comes in a little bag and your mother brings it to you with lemon and honey when you're not feeling well. That's what tea's all about.
Not exactly, but this is the paradigm we've grown up with, finds Phil Parda, owner of Savvy Tea in Madison.
"We think we understand tea because it seems to be such an obvious subject but fact is most of us don't understand tea much at all," he says and adds, "Once we make the discovery it usually is an amazing amount better than we thought."
The first misconception is that we don't understand the difference between actual tea – the tea plant, camellia sinensis – and other herbals. "In today's world we call all kinds of things 'tea' but there's a difference."
The second misconception is that tea is unlike wine. That is, there's a wide range of teas. Parda points out, "There are up to 46 tea producing countries so the nuances of wine are the same as teas," adding "That's why Savvy Tea exists – we're like a wine shop for tea."
Teas come from incredible places around the world and offer good health benefits with different aroma and flavor experiences. A green tea, for example, can come from China, Japan, Korea, Nepal, India or Malawi. "They'd all be good, healthy teas with antioxidants and nutrients but they're all going to have their own character."
Chamomile, he explains, is wonderful herb with amazing aroma, flavor, and great calming properties whereas green tea is good for immunity, neurological health, cognitive performance, and helping prevent autoimmune disease and bringing alkalinity into our diet. The particular strengths of the dark teas are more in cardiovascular health and digestive health.
"You extract the goodness at a level you enjoy it, and that's how you determine the strength of the tea. We teach people to make their tea based on color rather than time."
Jenn Asbury, who owns the Spice & Tea Exchange in Guilford with her mom Cindy Smith, says making "tea is really an art form as well as the tea itself."
Tea falls into different categories. "We've got black teas, green teas, white teas, and herbal teas, and then teas fall within the different categories."
While Asbury is not a licensed homeopath, there is a card in store with great info. "If you're looking for something to help you sleep, we have a tea with valerian root. We've got tea with ginger, mint and basil, which are known to help digestion. We've got teas with anti-inflammatory properties, teas with turmeric, and teas to help boost your immune system."
The difference between green and black, she explains, is in the aging process. "I tend to think of black teas as the grandmothers of the tea world; they've been aged and dried the longest and you steep them for a longer period of time. They like boiling water as opposed to a green tea which is like the teenager of the group. They're a bit more delicate and don't like boiling water. They steep for a little less time. Then there are white teas which are like the babies, and they steep for even a lesser period of time. Then you've got the herbals."
Herbal teas, she explains, are naturally uncaffeinated because they don't contain any of the tea plant leaves (although yerba mate does naturally have caffeine).
Asbury finds that some believe black tea contains more caffeine than green or white "but they all come from the same plant so typically they would all have the same amount of caffeine content."
If you understeep or oversteep tea it will either not lend enough flavor or will turn bitter. "The same holds true with green tea – if you make a green tea with boiling water, you're going to scorch it and it's going to make a bitter cup of tea."
Many people, she finds, say they don't like tea because it's bitter. "I tell them maybe they're brewing it wrong. There is something to be said for that. It's all a learning process."
Hedy Watrous, owner of The Whistle Stop in Deep River and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, serves a variety of "healing teas."
Tea has been used for thousands of years for healing. "Nowadays, people think it's witch doctoring or voodoo but it's actually a very wonderful way of healing the body," Watrous says.
The great thing about Chinese medicine "is that once you solve the imbalance through herbs and plants, then your body goes back into balance so you're not stuck on statins or insulin or things you take for an entire lifetime."
"You can either research via the Internet or even use an app ... or go to someone who practices Chinese medicine like myself to find what can help with a particular issue."
Of course, the best way to enjoy a cup of tea is to take time out to relax and savor. "That's why in Asia and even England they have teatime. When you want to medicate your body, you sit and drink the tea and absorb it," Watrous advises.
So, take some time for yourself, appreciate, and enjoy the many flavors the world has to offer.