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City Places for City People
The Other American Tea Party

Erin Hutton, 2012

Wall of teas at tea shopIn many American homes, hot tea has long been reserved for people with colds. The unspoken idea: healthy people get coffee while those under the weather get stuck with the stale chamomile from the far reaches of the pantry.

In many other countries, tea has long been revered. In Britain, the traditional afternoon tea and high tea are a lovely way to relax with friends. In Asia, tea is often surrounded by ritual and ceremony. Taking the time to have a cup of tea means taking the time to slow down and enjoy the day. It means taking the time to catch up with friends and family or to reflect quietly on life. It means taking time to harness the energy of enjoyment.

Taking that time and that potential for relaxation and joy are one of the many reasons Americans are developing a taste for tea. Many of us overworked, overstimulated types are looking for ways to slow down, and making a nice, comforting cup of hot tea has a certain romance and promise of calm to it that coffee just can't duplicate. Tea is also touted for its health benefits big and small like preventing cancer, loosening up congestion, and lowering cholesterol.

Loose leaf tea (enjoyed by an ever-increasing number of Americans) packs in more flavor and antioxidants than bagged tea as bagged tea is more heavily processed. A good cup of loose leaf also asks us to slow down for a moment. A good cup requires care in storing and measuring the tea and patience as it steeps to perfection.

Although it can seem overwhelming at first, it's easy to brew a cup or pot of tea to your tastes. Abigail St. Clair of TeBella Tea Company in Tampa, Florida, loves welcoming new tea drinkers to the fold. She has been a tea drinker since childhood and offers about one hundred teas served hot or iced. For customers new to drinking tea, she usually recommends something flavored like Mint Julep--a white tea with peppermint and rose petals.

According to Joseph Doyle of Tea Merchant 101 in Duncansville, Pennsylvania, flavored teas like his Cinnamon Hot Chocolate are likely an American contribution to the world of tea.

"Tea enthusiasts in Asian and European countries usually prefer the tea flavor," says Doyle. "I myself prefer tea without flavors and make a joke with customers by telling them that if I only sold the flavors I prefer, my shop would go out of business. That is why we offer 130 flavors and varieties and not just Joe's teas."

Despite the fact that all true tea comes from camellia sinensis (commonly called the tea plant), there are thousands of flavors to choose from. Whether you like Earl Grey, chocolate-flavored teas, traditional oolongs, or have no idea what you like yet, Americans are beginning to go crazy for tea. In the coming years, loose leaf teas will likely enjoy a following similar to what locally roasted coffee and craft beer have today. So start drinking and learning the lingo now--tea is here to stay.

Erin Hutton