Exploring The “Other” Teas

As we mentioned in an earlier posting, the world of tea contains far more than just the familiar Camellia senensis. There are also thousands of intriguing and delicious tisanes, or herbal teas, which only require hot water and plant material. Some tisanes are part of the cultural fabric of their native countries, some perform medical wonders, and others might land you in hot water – with the law!

Yerba Mate– An herbal tea native to South America. It is customary for friends in Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, or Argentina to matear, or meet to drink Yerba Maté.  At these cultural events, the tisane is steeped and served in a carved out gourd known as a maté and friends take turns sipping it through the bombilla, a special metal straw. The matear culminates with the friends reaching mateado, a state of clarity and high spirits. Yerba Maté contains lots of caffeine and theobromine (the main stimulant found in chocolate), and, unlike normal tea, can be steeped several times without losing strength.
Yerba Maté Latte


A good beverage to make with an espresso machine. Place yerba into the filter basket and put the desired amount of vanilla into the bottom of your cup (hazelnut, almond, and other flavors can be substituted, or you can opt for no flavoring at all). Steam the milk. While it steams pull shots of yerba maté (in the same manner that you would pull espresso) into the cup. Finish by adding steamed milk. Makes one 16 oz cup.

Yerba mate is known for its re-steepability, and if you desire a stronger flavor or more caffeine/theobromine, you can opt to pull several shots from the same batch (keep in mind that the more shots you pull, the less milk you will need). You can also use it to make a second latte.

Yerba Maté can also be iced: after pulling the shots, add 8-10 oz of cold milk and fill with ice.

Another version of this beverage (for those without espresso machines) is made by steeping yerba in 6-8 oz hot water for 5-7 minutes, adding vanilla, and then 8-10 oz warm milk.

Rooibos (Red Tea)- Known as red tea, or “bush tea” in its native South Africa, “Rooibos” is not at all related to Camellia sinensis. It is part of the legume family (the same family that includes peanuts). However, it is processed in a manner similar to normal tea; the red color comes from the same reaction that turns tea black. Rooibos is great late-night option because it contains no caffeine. It is also popular for its unique flavor, health benefits and high concentration of antioxidants. (Some believe that the antioxidants in red tea are more effective than those found in green tea). Red tea is also believed to reduce anxiety, and has even been used by mothers to calm crying babies.
Red Tea Lemonade

Steep Rooibos in water for 7-10 minutes (keep in mind that the amount of red tea is way more than would normally used for 10 oz of water. Because it will eventually be diluted with lemonade and ice, those 10 oz should be extra strong. This is a good principle to remember when diluting or icing tea of any sort). Remove tea, add lemonade and sweeten to taste with sugar. Pour into 36 oz pitcher and fill with ice. Makes three 12 oz servings.

Greek Mountain Tea– An herbal tea native to the Balkan mountain range. Also known as ironwort or shepherd’s tea, Greek mountain tea is appropriately named, as it can only grow above 3,200 feet. It comes from the Sideritis syriaca plant and is a bona fide medical wonder. The Greek medical pioneer Hippocrates first noted the benefits of drinking it around 400 BC, and modern day studies have shown that the herbal tea contains over 60 components with documented health benefits. It tastes pretty good, too. Visitors to Greece often rave about the exotic “tea from the mountains,” which is commonly mixed with traditional Mediterranean spices and served with lemon and honey.

Taboo Teas– Beverages that are consumed in certain places around the world, but might go against U.S. social norms.

Mate de Coca is a South American tea made from the leaves of the Coca plant. It contains no caffeine, but it does provide energy from another source – the cocaine alkaloid. But don’t let that fool you. It takes about 30 pounds of coca leaf to make one ounce of the illegal drug, and the amount of stimulant in this tea (about .05%) doesn’t even come close to the amount in the cocaine powder (about 99%). People of the Andes use it to combat altitude sickness, not to get intoxicated, and it is legal in the U.S.

Bhang is an Indian tea made from marijuana and used for spiritual reasons. During the holiday of Holi, Hindus consume this beverage in large quantities in tribute to the Lord Shiva. Consumption of bhang has been a part of Indian culture for at least 3,000 years, and Sadhus (ascetics who live on the fringe of society) still use it to enhance meditation and achieve a higher level of spirituality. The Sufi Islamic sect has also used Bhang for hundreds of years. Haydar, the founder of the Persion Sufis, was so fond of bhang that it is also know by the slang term “the wine of Haydar.”

Poppy tea is made from the Opium plant and has been used as long as the plant has been cultivated. Unlike maté de coca, which doesn’t contain enough of the active ingredient to pose a serious risk, or bhang, which has never caused an overdose, poppy tea can be life-threateningly dangerous. It carries the addiction risks associated with any other opiate, and its use has led to overdose and death.

The Wonderful World of Tea, Part 2: Types of Camellia

In the second of four installments of the Wonderful World of Tea, we will take a look at the different forms in which we find the Camellia sinensis plant (there is more than you think- bet you didn’t know that there is a yellow tea). In theory, you could make at least six different types of tea from one of these multifaceted plants, and every one would have a different flavor. If you have ever wondered about the difference between black and green tea (besides its color, of course) or what exactly white tea is, the answers are right here.

Essentially, the color of tea leaves is determined by the way they are processed (for an overview of how tea is processed, see the Tea Basics page).

Black Tea– The most heavily fermented tea. Fermentation (or, more accurately, oxidation) darkens the color of tea, and black tea has been fermented to the point where all signs of the natural green color are gone. Black tea generally contains more caffeine than other teas, but that is not entirely because of the processing. Although fermentation makes the caffeine stronger, black tea is usually made from Assam, Darjeeling and other Indian tea plants, which contain more caffeine to start with.  This has traditionally been the most popular tea in the western world, although green tea is catching up.

Green Tea– Tea that does not go through the fermentation process. Green tea is usually steamed immediately after it is rolled, a step that halts the oxidation process and allows the leaves to maintain their natural green color. Green tea is valued because less processing means more of the natural elements found in a live plant. It contains more antioxidants and certain vitamins and minerals than more heavily fermented tea.

White Tea– This is essentially “baby” tea. Harvested while the tea plant is still young, it is called “white” because the immature leaves are usually covered with fine white hair. White tea is ideal for those that need a morning jolt, because the youthful leaves contain a higher concentration of caffeine than older green leaves. Perhaps more importantly, white tea contains more polyphenols than any other tea. Polyphenols are an antioxidant thought to reduce the risk of cancer and other serious health problems.

Oolong– The middle ground between black and green tea. Oolong tea is “semi-fermented,” which means it undergoes 20% to 80% of the oxidation that black tea does. This semi-fermented state gives it the quality of both black and green teas. These clashing characteristics affect the taste of oolong, giving it a very distinctive flavor that is sometimes described as “funky.” Oolong is a popular tea to cook with. (Note: there is also a middle ground between oolong and green: Pouchong tea. It receives only 10-20% of the oxidation that black tea does, and is very similar to green.)

Perhaps the most mysterious tea, yellow tea has been virtually unknown outside of China until only recently. Photo courtesy of Tea's Me Cafe.
The mysterious yellow tea was virtually unknown beyond China until recently. Photo courtesy of Tea’s Me Cafe.

Yellow Tea- Perhaps the most mysterious tea, yellow tea has been virtually unknown outside of China until only recently. Its processing methods are as varied as the estates that produce it. One method consists of pan-frying and/or roasting it until it is about 70% dry. It is then rolled and fermented for several days before a final roasting. The fermentation time using this method is actually longer than that of black tea, but it is far less oxidized because of the pre-ferment firing. Other yellow teas are hardly fermented at all, but harvested and prepared in a manner unlike typical green or white teas. Proponents of yellow tea like it because it contains almost as many antioxidants as green tea with less of a “grassy” flavor.

Read More: The Wonderful World of Tea, Part 1: The Basics.

Sweet Iced Tea: An American Classic


Heat the water on the stove. When the water begins to boil, add teabags, turn stove off, cover, and let steep for five minutes. Remove bags and pour into a gallon pitcher. Add sugar and lemon juice to taste. Stir. Once the sugar is dissolved, fill the pitcher with ice and refrigerate.

Smoky Oolong Chicken Wings

Place the garlic, onions, ginger, soy sauce, honey, and sherry in a blender. Blend for a short time period (about 15-20 seconds). Pour into a 9’x13’ baking pan. Add wings (make sure to coat them evenly). Set the pan in the fridge for 2 hours; rotate the wings after about an hour. Line a wok with heavy-duty aluminum and sprinkle the brown sugar and oolong on top of the foil. Put a wire rack in the wok, and put the wings on it. Cover and cook on high for about 30 minutes. Make sure to keep the wok covered for about 20 minutes after pan-frying, so the chicken can fully absorb the smoky oolong flavor. After 20 minutes, uncover and add sesame oil to taste. Finish by cooking wings in a preheated oven at 450 degrees for five minutes.

Special thanks to Tea’s Me Cafe, Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Wonderful World of Tea: The Basics

I used to think that tea was only for people who eat crumpets all day and speak with silly British accents and/or those who enjoy the company of six-year olds, teddy bears, and imaginary friends. Seeing as I am not even sure what a crumpet is, and am not anywhere close to six-years old, I figured that tea was not for me. However, as time progressed, I realized that I was very wrong. It is tasty, it warms me up like nothing else on a cold day, provides a multitude of health benefits, and it gives me caffeine without any jitters. I am writing this four part series so Post readers might gain the same love for tea that I have found. Lets start with the basics-

Camellia Sinensis is the tea plant.

There are two major types of the Camellia plant, Chinese and Indian. Tea native to China grows at higher elevations, yields smaller leaves, has less caffeine, and is often used to make green tea. Indian tea is grown at lower elevations, produces larger leaves, has more caffeine, and is often used for black tea. Chinese and Indian teas are sometimes crossbred into hybrids.

The Processing of Camellia determines what type of tea it will become. First, the plant leaves are harvested. They are then withered, or laid out to dry. Then, the leaves are rolled. The rolling method crushes the plant cells and releases enzymes. Cutting and crushing is sometimes used as an alternative to rolling. Afterwards, enzymes released from the plant cells react with air in a  process called fermentation or, more accurately, oxidation. This fermentation process is halted by the final step of tea processing-firing. Depending on what type of tea, the firing process is done by steaming, roasting, or pan-frying.

Herbal Teas (or Tisanes) are beverages that are prepared in a manner similar to tea but do not come from Camellia sinensis. We use the word “tea” for anything that is steeped in hot water and consumed  as a beverage, but, if it does not come from the tea plant, it should really be called a tisane. “Herbal tea,” less accurate term, is more commonly used to classify this “other” category. Tisanes can be made from virtually anything.

Marta, a Post employee, offered to share her own tasty herbal tea recipe. This beverage, which uses ground cinnamon sticks, rosemary, and honey, has traditionally been used in Hispanic culture to  fight the common cold.

Cinnamon Rosemary Tisane (Herbal Tea) Recipe

“You drink this everyday, you never get sick,” says Marta.


Crack the cinnamon sticks by hand, and put in water (more or less cinnamon can be used to your liking). Cover the water and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for about 15 minutes; the water should become a dark reddish brown color. Add rosemary and turn stove off. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, and then strain it into teacup(s). Add honey to taste. Yields 4 12 oz. cups.