It's hard to believe one plant can spawn so many different kinds of drinks over so many thousands of years. But that's what the tea plant has done.
Considered to be the second most widely consumed beverage on earth (second to water) tea occupies a venerated and ancient place in Asian cultures and somewhat a faddish one in Western. But, it seems to be a fad here to stay.
Many people’s idea of tea is a glass of iced Lipton at the local diner (sweetened in Canada and the American South) or one of numerous flavored teas that are churned out like Beanie Babies by big manufacturers.
There have been many health claims about tea in the last few years leading a manufacturing rush to include just about every food and beauty product possible with tea.
Yet, few Americans bother to take the time to investigate what real tea is.
First, let’s get straight what tea isn’t. There’s only one plant in the world, Camellia sinensis, that grows tea leaves. The plant is finicky. While it can grow even here in the Pacific Northwest, it prefers certain climates and soils that limit it to equatorial regions in Asia, India and Africa to grow tea-worthy leaves.
While herbal teas are a huge market they are not, technically, tea. Peppermint tea? An infusion. Chamomile tea? Lovely, but still not tea.
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