I subscribe to the “kosher alerts” email from O-U Kosher, which includes notices of newly certified kosher products. Most of the time, I ‘m too busy to read through the list, or I will give it a quick glance without really reading the names of the companies. Last week, however, I had food on the brain when the email came, so I actually took the time to read through the list of new items. I was so excited to see a company carrying organic loose leaf teas, as I am passionate about drinking loose leaf teas (I only use a teabag to make tea in an emergency!).
There are numerous health benefits to drinking loose leaf teas. The tea inside of teabags is generally already so ground down, or processed, that you don’t get the full benefits that you would from using the whole leaf. I started learning about teas from a great local tea shop, Seven Cups. I highly recommend attending their **FREE** Friday tea tastings, held at 3:00 pm every Friday. Zhuping, the shop owner, will steep the same type of tea, but from two different regions, so you can taste the difference that soil and altitude make in the flavor of the tea. She will also show you how to correctly brew loose leaf teas.
The problem, however, is that if you are looking for kosher loose leaf teas, especially those with herbal or fruit flavors, that can present a problem. Not all teas require a kosher certification, such as plain teas without any sort of flavoring or other type of blend. Many of us, though, enjoy teas with other natural flavors, such as vanilla-rooibos or green tea with pear or peach. Those varieties would require a kosher certification.
Enter Miss Tea Organics! I learned about the company from the O-U Kosher alert email. Miss Tea was started by two women in 2008. I spoke with Mor Kahan, the co-founder. I was excited to hear from her accent that she is actually Israeli. We had a great conversation about the varieties of teas she makes, and how they are different than other products on the market. All of the teas are sourced from fair trade growers, who practice sustainable growing methods and pay employees fair wages. The company carries an impressive line, with many varieties, including oolong, green tea, rooibos and herbal options.
Right now I am sipping Miss Tea’s Japanese Sencha. I would not normally say this about Sencha, at least not the varieties I have tried before, but there is an underlying sweetness, in addition to the nutty-grassy flavor I normally associate with Sencha. Not to sound corny, but I can almost taste the love and passion that went into making the tea. The first brewing had a subtle sweetness to the aftertaste, while the second brewing has a nice depth of flavor… the best way I can describe it is … well, like a nutty brown basmati rice, with a hint of almonds or pecans that have caramelized on top of something baking in the oven, and maybe just a hint of a nice ripe white peach. Keep in mind, tea tasting can be like wine tasting… there aren’t actually rice or pecans in the tea, it just reminds the palette of those flavors. (Have you ever been to a wine tasting … and someone says, “It has a nice cherry finish with a hint of chocolate and clove.”)
A note about how to tell if your loose leaf tea is a high quality… you should definitely be able to brew the tea leaves more than once! Each brewing will taste slightly different, and I’m not referring to the strength of the tea. It’s more like a blooming. Each infusion allows the tea leaves to release more flavor, so your first batch might taste grassy, while the second infusion of the same leaves might have a mellow fruity flavor. I generally use the same tea leaves for 3-4 infusions.
I also tried the Miss Tea’s Green Pear. It has a nice crisp taste, with notes that remind me of cooler weather, like the beginning of autumn. The pear flavor comes from actual real pear… you can see bits of dried pear mixed with the green tea leaves. I drink tea all day long, even into the evening. I can see the Green Pear tea taking the place of a dessert after dinner, if you are trying to eliminate sweets at night. I don’t usually use sweeteners in my tea, but Logan usually likes a little agave nectar or local honey, which would be nice with this flavor.
I can always tell when I am slacking on my tea habit, as those are the days that I am dragging, with low energy. I am not really talking about the caffeine from tea, as most teas have far less caffeine than coffee. Drinking loose leaf tea regularly can help with mood, as well as the physical benefits of staying healthy. In 2010, when I was in Israel, everyone on my group came down with a bug. It traveled quickly, as we were in close quarters, especially on the tour bus. I was actually the only one the trip who did not get sick, and I do credit that to drinking plenty of loose leaf teas.
Drinking a warm beverage in hot weather might seem counter-intuitive, especially in 100 + degree weather like Tucson, but I find that it actually cools me down, and makes the heat easier to bear. I also use teas for specific ailments, including asthma and allergies. Logan and I are both prone to seasonal allergies and congestion. Silver Needle Tea is great for reducing mucus and congestion.
I have been trying to eliminate my morning coffee habit, as something acidic is not really the best way to start the day. The next tea I am going to try is the Coconut Pu’erh, as a replacement for coffee. It’s smells amazing!
So, how do you brew loose leaf teas? There are a number of different ways. At home, I use a porcelain teapot. If I don’t quite finish what’s in the pot, I put the whole pot in the refrigerator to have for later, then just add a bit more hot water when I’m ready to have tea again. At work, I keep a glass double-walled mug, which has a tea strainer that fits on top. For travel, I use a portable infuser, which looks kind of like a spoon, with a compartment that opens for the tea.