Suffering from anxiety? You might want to have some chamomile tea. Having trouble concentrating? Your distraction might be fixed with a bit of rosemary tea. Marigold in tea can help eliminate bad breath, peppermint tea may ease arthritis and chrysanthemum in tea can alleviate pressure behind your eyes.
And that's just a drop in the pot of all of the healing attributes that tea has to offer.
In the past decade, research has revealed more and more about the positive aspects of the ubiquitous beverage. To reap all the blessings of the antioxidants in every steaming cup, you'd have to sip two to three cups a day. But it may be worth it. These antioxidants are essentially "nature's penicillin" and are said to prevent or aid in healing a litany of ailments, from heart disease to stroke to cancer.
After water, tea is the most consumed beverage worldwide.
Fanny Shiau, co-owner of House of Cha, 21 W. Ninth St., has an abundance of repeat customers.
"Most of our customers are already tea drinkers," she says. "Here they learn more about the benefits of tea, explore various tastes and get to experience how to prepare tea in the traditional way."
The miracle brew has been around for millennia.
Legend has it that tea was discovered in China more than 5,000 years ago by an emperor named Shen Nung, who insisted that all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution for his minions. While on a trek to a distant region, he and his court stopped to rest and refresh. A servant was boiling the water when dried leaves from a nearby bush fell into the pot, creating the first taste of tea.
After that, there was no stopping the ingestion of tea. In the eighth century, Buddhist monk Lu Yu wrote the first book on tea, the "Ch'a Ching," which codified various methods of tea cultivation and preparation.
A Zen Buddhist, Yeisei, was the first to bring tea seeds from China to Japan, forever imprinting the calm of drinking tea with the Zen Buddhists - or so he hoped. But tea was elevated to an art form in Japan. The Japanese created the Japanese Tea Ceremony, full of elaborate costumes and customs. The ritual soon inspired special forms of architecture for "tea houses." The cultural/artistic hostess, or Geisha, soon began to specialize in the presentation of tea.
But through this popularization, the original pure Zen concept of tea was lost.
Tea made its way to the Western world in 1560, when it was introduced to European palates. Portuguese Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz was the first to write about tea after encountering it as a missionary on the first commercial mission voyage to China.
By 1650, the Dutch were engulfed in trade throughout the Western world. Peter Stuyvesant introduced tea to the United States, bringing it to New Amsterdam, later re-named New York. Early Americans were keen on the beverage and consumed copious amounts.
Great Britain was the last of the three great sea-faring nations to break into the Chinese and East Indian trade routes. The first tastes of tea reached England between 1652 and 1654; it was instantly popular, replacing ale as the national drink.
In fact, tea imports rose from 40,000 pounds in 1699 to an annual average of 240,000 pounds by 1708. The English ate a hearty breakfast and dinner, but Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, would complain of "a sinking feeling" by mid-afternoon, so she created the afternoon tea with small sandwiches and good conversations.
All tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, a warm-weather evergreen that can grow up to 30 feet tall. What distinguishes varieties are the plantations the tea comes from, the process it goes through and how it's blended. These steps produce four main categories of tea: black, green, oolong (red) and white.
With more than 3,000 varieties, it's impossible to hit them all. But here are a few highlights:
¢ Black: English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast and most grocery store teas are black. Black tea is the most processed and requires hours of oxidation. The leaves are left on the bush longer than most varieties, then picked, dried, fermented and cooked to stop the oxidation process. Black tea is said to lower bad cholesterol, boost the body's defenses and reduce the risk of some skin cancers.
¢ Green: Green tea is not fermented; the fresh leaves are rolled and then fired. Green tea will plump when steeped. Brace yourself for all of the antioxidant fighting power in this miracle brew; it may slow prostate and esophageal cancer, protect against smoking-related cancer, fight colon cancer, reduce the risk of stomach cancer, lessen the peril of hypertension, aid in eradicating leukemia cells and go to bat with Alzheimer's.
¢ Oolong: This variety is partially fermented then processed immediately after picking. Its flavor is light and complex, enhanced by multiple infusions. Oolong tea can help improve the condition of your complexion, aid in preventing obesity and assist in the reduction of tooth decay.
¢ White: White tea has the most antioxidants of all the teas. It has more polyphenols than green tea, making it an enemy of most cancers. White teas contain less caffeine because they are picked in the immature bud form. White teas lack the grassy aftertaste of many teas.