4 Facts about the history of tea in America (that you didn’t know)

Tea’s big moment in American history happened in 1773, when colonists threw more than 300 crates of it into Boston Harbor.

Chai Tea Chick; Boston Tea Party; Tea in American history
Source: U.S. History Images

Along with Christopher Columbus, the Mayflower Compact, and Thanksgiving, the Boston Tea Party is probably the event American children learn about most in our history classes.

Since then, America has had a rocky relationship with tea, filled with innovations, setbacks, and oddities. So, sit down and get out your pens and notebooks. Today, you’re getting a history lesson, and, yes, you may see this material on your exam.

1. The Dutch, not the English, brought tea to America.

The English are known for their love, bordering on obsession, for tea, but the Dutch were the trendsetters when it came to tisanes in the New World. The Dutch brought tea to their American colony, New Amsterdam, or New York as we know it today, in the 1650s. Apparently, the Dutch settlement drank more tea at the time than all of England. It wasn’t until the late 1600s that English colonists started to get into the tea business.

2. There was another Boston Tea Party.

Chai Tea Chick; Boston Tea Party; Tea in American history
Source: U.S. History Images

Like many blockbusters today, the patriots released a lesser-quality sequel to the Boston Tea Party the next year. The second Boston Tea Party happened in 1774 after Britain had passed the Port Bill to punish Massachusetts for the previous one by putting strict restrictions on Boston Harbor.

In response to the bill and more tea troubles, the colonists decided to rinse and repeat their famous act of rebellion, although to a lesser scale. Fifty to sixty men dressed up like Native Americans, took a trading ship hostage, and dumped the chests of tea.

This is how I imagine the conversation went when deciding to do another Tea Party (in brospeak): 

Patriot 1: We can’t take this abuse anymore, man. We have to protest.

Patriot 2: You’re right, man, we should totally do that. But let’s make it original, something that will blow their minds.

The two patriots think. 

Patriot 1: Hey, why don’t we dress up like Indians and, like, raid a ship and dump out its tea?

Patriot 2: Didn’t we do that last year?

Patriot 1: And was it not awesome?

The patriots begin getting out the feathers they wore last year. 

The second Tea Party didn’t have nearly the impact the first one did, but it solidified English anger toward the colonists and showed the patriots certainly didn’t regret the first one.

3. The tea bag was invented in America.

The tea bag, as I mentioned previously, is America’s great claim to fame in the tea world, but it was actually invented by accident. In the early 1900s, New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began sending loose tea to customers in silken bags. The customers thought the bags were supposed to serve as infusers and put them directly into their tea cups.

When Sullivan heard comments about it from customers, he recognized a bright idea and began packaging all his that way. The tea bag caught on, and by the 1920s, tea bags were being mass produced.

4. Green and black tea were equally popular before WWII.

Today, black tea dominates the American tea market–more than 80 percent of tea consumed in America is black. Green tea, on the other hand, has gained a reputation as the new-agey tea for health nuts. It wasn’t always like this.

Before WWII, Americans drank about 40 percent black tea, 40 percent green, and 20 percent oolong. That changed when trade routes were cut off from China and Japan, and Americans received nearly all their tea imports from India, which only makes black tea.

By the end of the war, the American desire for green tea had all but disappeared. For those of us who love green tea, though, thankfully it’s growing in popularity. It looks like we may be getting back into our habits as a tea-drinking society, as I’m sure the Dutch had always hoped this great nation would be.

How to make Southern-style Sweet Tea

In the South, we have a saying: We like tea with our sugar.

If there is one thing Southerners take seriously, it’s sweet tea. In Georgia, for instance, the legislature once proposed a bill that restaurants could only serve sweet tea, not iced. The bill was a joke, but the main proponents said they “wouldn’t mind” if it became law.

How to make sweet tea; Chai Tea Chick; sweet tea recipe
Photo by enigmachck1 / CC-BY 2.0 

Although I’m from Florida, my family comes from all parts of the South, and a family gathering is not complete without my grandma’s sweet tea. Whatever the holiday—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July— sweet tea will be part of it. My grandma’s from Mobile, Alabama, and nothing shows her Southern hospitality more than sweet tea.

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Here is one of said family gatherings. My grandma is at the front. Can you tell were Gators fans?

Now, I’m going to pass on the secrets to you. Northerners, be warned, this tea is really sweet.

1. Get tea bags.

For once, I’m telling you to not go with loose-leaf tea. Traditional sweet tea uses black tea bags. Don’t buy a specific blend, like Earl Grey or Spiced Chai, but a generic black tea. My grandma generally uses Lipton or PG Tips tea bags.

2. Boil water and add bags.

Bring 3-4 cups of water to a boil. Then, take the water off the stove and add 7-8 tea bags. Cover the pot and let the tea brew for 10-15 minutes. The longer you brew the tea, the stronger it will taste.

3. Dissolve sugar and stir.

Once the tea is finished brewing, pour it into a pitcher. Then, begin the most important step: adding sugar. My grandma has no exact measurement. It’s just a matter of putting more and more sugar in. For real “sweet” tea, you’ll want to add at least 2 cups of sugar, but that’s a bare minimum. Keep adding until the tea tastes sweet.

4. Let the tea cool.

Do NOT immediately add ice to the sweet tea and serve. The ice will melt and just create a weak tea. Allow the tea to cool down to about room temperature.

5. Serve tea.

After cooling, you can either serve the tea then or put it in the fridge and serve later. Again, do not add ice to the sweet tea. Instead, when you serve the tea, add ice to individual cups and pour the tea over. Make sure to add a lot of ice because it will dissolve quickly.

How to make sweet tea; Chai Tea Chick; sweet tea recipe
Photo by Connie Ma /  CC-BY-SA 2.0

You’re sweet tea will now be ready! Add a lemon wedge and enjoy your tea with family, friends, and a big, homemade meal.

Now, go out there, get your tea bags and sugar, and let me know how it goes.

Review: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte Mix

Pumpkins used to be eaten only once per year on Thanksgiving. Stuffed after a big turkey meal, you would force down a slice of your Great-Aunt Myrtle’s pumpkin pie and immediately regret it.

These days, though, pumpkin flavoring has exploded in popularity, and no company has jumped on the pumpkin trend more than Trader Joe’s, the widespread grocery store chain.

Chai Tea Chick; Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte Mix Trader Joe’s has developed more than 40 pumpkin-flavored products for fall, which it dubs “Pumpkin Season.” Products include pumpkin biscotti, pumpkin macarons, pumpkin soup, pumpkin granola, and (yes) even pumpkin ravioli. I visited my local store recently and was bombarded by the products. Like a horror movie shot in a haunted pumpkin patch, everywhere I turned pumpkin seemed to be lurking right behind me.

As I travelled down aisle after aisle of pumpkin products, one that especially caught my interest was the Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte Mix. I’ve had several friends rave about it, so as The Chai Tea Chick, I wanted to see what all the buzz was about and find out whether this particular mix is worth buying. Here’s my assessment:

Chai Tea Chick; Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte Mix review

Price: At $3.99, you really can’t beat the price. One chai latte at Starbucks costs about the same. I measured out the mix, and you can get at least eight to ten lattes from each canister. That means the next time you see people ordering $5 Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks, you can sip your homemade latte while quietly chuckling to yourself and muttering, “Fools,” under your breath.

Preparation: Lattes are infamous for being difficult to create, but this one is very easy to make. I was able to successfully craft it on my first try, so I have to assume everyone can. Maybe even your Great-Aunt Myrtle, who still isn’t exactly sure what a latte is.

You can either make a hot or cold latte. Basically, for the former, all you have to do is add the mix with hot water. For the iced version, you also add ice and cold water. Then, voilà, you have a latte!

Chai Tea Chick; Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte Mix

Taste: The latte is sweet and, unsurprisingly, tastes strongly of pumpkin. I looked at the ingredients list, and the mix contains actual pumpkin, not just flavoring. Where the mix fails is the tea. The sugar and pumpkin overpower the drink, and I could barely taste any chai. It’s like a tea-less tea latte.

I recommend serving it iced rather than hot because it reduces the overwhelming sweetness and brings out more of the chai flavor. I also suggest adding milk. The instructions say to just use water, but I experimented and used milk instead, and the result was a drink that tasted more like a latte and less like pumpkin-flavored water.

Who should drink this? I recommend the Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte Mix more for pumpkin lovers than tea drinkers. Enjoy it with your pumpkin pancakes smothered in pumpkin butter and syrup. You will be in autumnal bliss.

For people looking for a stronger tea taste, one Trader Joe’s product I’d suggest is the Unsweetened Green Tea. This green tea is delicious, can be served hot or cold, and has a great natural flavor.

What do you think of the Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte Mix? Are you a pumpkin princess or a chai tea queen?

What every new tea drinker should know

Over the past week, we’ve gone over everything you need to know to get started on your “tea journey,” but before I let you loose to buy infusers and brew tea, I want to give you my patented Chai Tea Chick advice.

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Part of my growing collection of mugs

1. Be adventurous. Try new teas, tools, and ways of brewing. Don’t pin yourself in by choosing one type of tea and sticking to it. I thought I was only a black tea fan until I drank green tea, and I thought I was only a black and green tea fan until I drank oolong tea. Sure, you won’t like every tea you drink. I’ve learned I don’t like fruity-flavored ones, but you expand your knowledge every time you try a new tea. There is more than Earl Grey and Spiced Chai. Don’t be scared by teas with five-word titles that are hard to pronounce. They need love, too.

2. Have fun. I want you to go wild with tea. Champion it. Savor it. Make an original iced tea recipe. Treat yourself with a latte at the local cafe. Put on your gloves and go to a fancy tea party with your friends. Tea can be so much more than a drink; it can be an experience.

3. Find a tea community. This may be my most important advice. Tea is a good drink, but when you enjoy it with others, it creates a community. For me, that community started with my sister, who I previously mentioned was the first tea freak in my family. We love going to teashops together, excitedly flipping through the menu, and deciding what we’re going to get. Over time, we converted my dad into a tea enthusiast, and our little community expanded.

This blog, along with other online resources, is a great way to connect with tea drinkers from around the world. I also strongly suggest you to find a local community. Do research into your area and look for teashops or restaurants. You may be surprised what you find. I live in Gainesville, for example, and found Volta Coffee, Tea & Chocolate, which has become my go-to place to try interesting teas. There are even tea clubs and organizations.

4. Keep an open mind. This advice is for a more general audience. In America, tea is still growing, but coffee is king. Many people have never even really considered becoming tea drinkers. I don’t want everyone to become extreme tea enthusiasts (because there would be less tea for me). I just want people to realize that tea can fit into their lives. Even the biggest coffee drinker can make time for it. All you have to do is buy a cup of tea at Starbucks, and see where it takes you.

How to brew the perfect cup of tea (and the fastest)

Every tea drinker needs to learn two ways to make tea: the right way and the fast way. I’d like to think I practice the first way more often, but let’s face it: When it comes to early mornings, I’m usually in a competition with the clock and running around my apartment like a madwoman. For when I’m on the ball, though, I like to do it the right way.

THE PERFECT CUP

The key to the perfect cup of tea is attention to detail. At every step, you have to be attending your tea. The whole process doesn’t take more than 10 minutes, but your focus cannot waver.

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1. Decide the tea.

Before you touch a tea kettle, infuser, or packet of sugar, you need to pick what type of tea you will be drinking. The different types have different steep times and temperatures, which will affect the process.

2. Heat the water.

The best way to heat water is with a tea kettle, although there are plenty of other ways that I discussed yesterday. The kettle, though, gives you precise control of how hot the water is, which is important because different teas need to be brewed at different temperatures. The numbers aren’t exactly agreed upon, but in general, water should be nearly at a boil for black and oolong tea and around 175-180°F for green and white teas. Art of Tea provides a good breakdown of these temperatures.

3. Prepare the tea.

For each cup, you will want one tea bag or one teaspoon of loose-leaf tea (hence the “tea” in “teaspoon.”)  If you go the tea-bag route, try to get a pyramid-shaped bag, which gives the tea more space to expand as it brews.

Loose-leaf tea needs to be put in a strainer or infuser that allows water to pass through. I have a teapot with a nifty strainer in it that I can pull out when the tea is finished brewing.

IMG_00594. Brew it

The tea leaves or tea bag should always go in the cup first and the hot water poured over them. This will make the brewing faster and make your tea more flavorful. Like water temperature, brewing times vary based on tea type. Green tea has the shortest brewing time of only about 30 seconds to a minute. Black and oolong tea should be about three to five minutes. If you want to get it just right, use a timer. If not, you may over-brew your tea, and it will taste bitter.

5. Enjoy

Read the newspaper, go on your iPad, sit outside and listen to the birds. You’ve now made the perfect cup of tea. Enjoy it in all its glory.

THE FAST CUP

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Now, everything I just told you—the patience, the attention to detail, the strict rules—throw that out the window. Instead of a calm, peaceful morning, you overslept and are rushing to get ready for work. (If you’re a night owl like me, this phenomenon is all too common). Sometimes you need to make tea the quick and dirty style. The process is much simpler:

  1. Fill your cup or mug with water.
  2. Put the water in the microwave or a water heater.
  3. Heat up the water.
  4. Put in a tea bag or loose-leaf infuser.
  5. Let it brew for a few minutes and enjoy.

In the world of tea, not all cups are created equal, but sometimes you just need to make one on the go. Join me tomorrow as I wrap up my “How To Tea” blog series with some key advice for tea drinkers.

The Essential Tools of the Tea Drinker

My sister is a bigger tea drinker than me, which may be somewhat surprising since I am the Chai Tea Chick. In our family, though, she is famous for her all-consuming love of tea.

 In the last couple years, our extended family has caught on that tea accessories are easy gifts to buy for her that she will always enjoy. Her apartment is now overflowing with tea devices and tools, and she still wants more.

The amount of tea tools out there seems endless, and every day businesses like Teavana are inventing new contraptions designed to make tea drinking that much easier. I think, though, the tea drinker only needs a few key tools to get a quality cup of tea.

The Teapot/Tea Kettle

Chai Tea Chick; tea tools; tea pots

The ultimate symbols of tea, teapots and kettles are actually not synonymous. A teapot is for brewing tea, although some types can be put on the stove to warm water. Tea kettles are solely designed for heating water on the stove.

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The Sunbeam Hot Shot (and my Beatles mug)

A tea kettle is a great tool but don’t feel like you have to get one right away if you’re starting out with tea. There are plenty of other ways to heat water. An alternative that I like is the Sunbeam Hot Shot, which heats water with the touch of a button. It’s become my way to brew tea when I’m rushing around in the morning. Another tool, one many tea aficionados might scoff at, is the microwave. Put your mug in for one to two minutes, though, and you’ve got hot water. The real fun of teapots, of course, is all the different styles and types you can buy.

Steeping Tools

You’ve got your hot water ready to go, so the next step is to steep your tea. If you’re using tea bags, all you have to do is rip open the package, but if you read my previous post, you’ll know loose leaf is usually the better option. A must for tea drinkers is a tea infuser, pictured here.

Chai Tea Chick; tea tools

The tea goes inside the pouch, and you leave it in until you’ve finished steeping. I have a few of these in my kitchen, and I go through them every week. There are several styles of infusers and strainers, but they all accomplish the same goal.

One of my favorite new items for steeping is Teavana’s Perfect teaMaker. Basically, you put tea leaves into the teaMaker and pour hot water over the leaves. After the tea is finished brewing, you put the teaMaker over your cup or mug and the tea automatically drains into the cup. It is a magical device and makes me feel like Harry Potter.

Teaspoons, Mugs, and Cups

The final tools you will need include a teaspoon, which you can use to add loose-leaf tea and sugar. It’s important to use the right amount of tea per cup, which is generally one teaspoon.

It’s also time to start buying yourself loads of mugs and at least one teacup. I drink most of my tea out of mugs, but you never feel quite so good as when you drink from a fancy old teacup. Here is personal pictorial evidence of said phenomenon:

Chai Tea Chick; Jennifer Leggett Ah, yes, tea bliss!

 

4 Types of Tea (and Which One You Should Drink)

Chai Tea Chick; types of tea
Tea plants at the Charleston tea plantation in South Carolina. Photo by Corey Seeman / CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

The world of tea flavors can be confusing. You’ve got different types, varieties, and flavors, and it can be hard to decide what you should drink. Well, I’m here to guide you through the wilderness.

All pure teas comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensisThe different types are created based on how the plant is processed and how much it is oxidized, which is a way to release tannins and break down chlorophyll.

Don’t worry about those concepts, though. There are six main types of tea: black, green, white, yellow, oolong, and pu-erh. I will focus on the four you’re most likely to find  in North America.

1. Black Tea. Love deep, bold flavors? Looking for tea with a caffeine kick? Then, go to the store now and buy yourself some Darjeeling, assam, or ceylon. Black teas have the deepest flavors and are the most common type in America, with the vast majority of tea being black. The reason for its deep flavor is because it is more oxidized than other types.

Many of the most popular black teas are actually tea blends, which have other teas and ingredients added. Chai, Early Grey, and English Breakfast are all tea blends. Earl Grey, for example, blends black tea and bergamot oil.

2. Green Tea. Black tea may be most common in North America, but green tea’s popularity is growing each year. For the health conscious, green tea is for you. This type is most often associated with health benefits, especially related to heart health and cholesterol. It has an earthier, lighter taste because it is not oxidized after being plucked. Green tea is actually the most popular tea in the world because it is ubiquitous in Asia.

A great way to bring green tea into your life is to substitute it for regular iced tea. Although my parents aren’t heavy tea drinkers, my family and I have been drinking cold green tea with our dinners for years.

3. White Tea. “White” tea is a bit of a misnomer; it’s actually a pale yellow. Like green tea, white tea is either lightly oxidized or not oxidized. I like to think of white tea as a lighter, more fruitier green tea, although it can taste very different based on how it’s processed. Both white and oolong tea are not as common in America, so you will have to do some hunting to find them.

4. Oolong Tea. This type is semi-oxidized and has a fascinating creation process if you’re interested in reading more about it. This tea is good for someone looking for a happy medium between green and black tea. It has the richer black-tea flavor but is still lighter like green tea.

What is your favorite type of tea to drink?

An online tearoom for tea drinkers and beginners