The tea revolution

 


by Daniela Cubelic

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Victoria Tea Festival 2009. Photo by K. Kelly.

Tea seems to be popping up everywhere these days and not just as a beverage. It’s also showing up in places where it hasn’t ventured before. Tea has found its way into snack bars, energy drinks, nutritional supplements, soft drinks, chocolate bars and skin and body care products. Until recently, adding tea to products such as these would have been unimaginable. You’ll also find a vastly increased selection of teas (bagged, loose and bottled) on offer at your local grocer and at cafés and restaurants.

All the examples cited above are indicators of a tea revolution that has been brewing over the past decade or so. Tea has become trendy and it’s no longer the staid, traditional brew favoured by tea grannies. This transformation is due to several factors, all of which have converged to make tea a drink that has multi-generational appeal, with a whole new class of converts.

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In fact, tea isn’t just a drink anymore; it has become an ingredient in food, a gateway to tranquillity, an antidote to modern life, a way of exploring other cultures, and ultimately, a lifestyle.

One of the key elements driving this shift has been the widespread recognition of tea’s health benefits. Tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, which, depending on how the leaves are processed, can produce green, semi-green, oolong, black or white tea.

Since its origin in China, tea has been associated with many healthful properties, but, until recently, the health benefits of tea were not scientifically proven. The past decade has changed that. During that time, a great deal of research into the health benefits of tea has demonstrated that tea is very good for us in a number of ways.

Tea has been shown to boost the immune system and help prevent colds and flu. A link has also been made between tea drinking and the prevention or amelioration of many diseases, include lower rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke. A component of green tea, L-theanine, has been found to help you feel calmer, while, at the same time, helping to improve your mental focus and clarity. Who doesn’t want to feel more mentally alert and relaxed at the same time? It’s the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of our stress filled, modern world.

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Ongoing scientific studies continue to reveal new evidence that tea is good for us and this factor alone will enhance tea’s popularity. The tea plant is chemically complex and works in a multiplicity of ways to boost our overall health and prevent disease.

Another reason tea has become increasingly popular in Canada and across North America is the increased availability of high-quality tea, along with a greater selection of teas to choose from. An emerging group of tea drinkers are developing a passionate interest in tea. As a starting point, in order to become a tea connoisseur, you need access to high quality teas, which can then fuel an interest in teas. When you begin drinking high-quality teas, you realize that the world of tea offers as much diversity and knowledge as wine. And the same varietal grown in different regions will produce dramatically different tasting teas. Teas will change from season to season, being dependent upon soil conditions, altitude, climate and processing methods. There is an infinite variety of flavours in high-quality tea, which can be appreciated, tasted and understood in a similar way to wine.

The growing interest in tea is also stimulating interest in tea culture and tea traditions. What could be described as Canada’s “original” tea culture was influenced by our colonial roots so it was very much about the tradition of afternoon tea and drinking black tea. Intriguingly, the renewed popularity of tea overall is reviving the public’s interest in afternoon tea and British style traditions. Expect to see more trendy afternoon teas as a younger clientele starts to take over the tearoom. Many women are choosing to host afternoon teas for their bridal or baby showers. The relaxed elegance of afternoon tea transports you to a more civilized and relaxed time and is increasingly sought after as a contrast to the rushed nature of modern life.

Canada’s tea culture has become much more international in recent years. The popularization of various teas from other parts of the world often leads to an interest in new tea traditions. In addition to tea made from the Camellia sinensis plant, other teas made from herbs (and which are also very high in anti-oxidants), such as Rooibos tea (from South Africa) or Yerba Maté tea (from South America), are rapidly gaining ground in Canada as well.

In Asian culture, tea has always been viewed as not just a beverage, but also as a veritable gateway to tranquillity and the spiritual realm. Those elements are also coming into the forefront here. People often begin drinking Matcha tea, (powdered Japanese green tea originally used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony) for its health benefits. From there, many people develop an interest in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, an ancient ritual that celebrates the simplicity of being in the moment. The exploration of tea ceremonies and an interest in the spiritual dimensions of tea are other trends that are certain to continue.

Discovering tea can be as easy as a visit to Victoria this month. The Victoria Tea Festival, now in its fourth year, is an excellent showcase for the evolution of tea that has taken place. The festival celebrates the trends and traditions of tea, with something for every type of tea drinker, from the novice to the connoisseur, and for people interested in discovering tea’s health benefits and exploring tea as a lifestyle. The festival is also expanding to provide more opportunities to experience, learn, sample, touch, smell and inquire about all things related to tea and to engage in an exclusive, interactive and educational tea experience. Steep yourself in tea lore through a complimentary presentation by tea experts who will share their knowledge on the presentation stage.

Tea is here to stay and it’s going to get even more interesting. If you haven’t started drinking tea yet, the odds are you’ll eventually join the tea revolution.

For more information and to purchase tickets for the Victoria Tea Festival (February 13- 14, Crystal Garden in Victoria), visit victoriateafestival.com Daniela Cubelic is the owner of Silk Road, located in Victoria, BC. Since 1992, Silk Road has imported and blended organic, premium loose teas. Cubelic is a “tea master,” who trained with Chinese and Taiwanese tea masters and herbalists. She is also an expert on the culture and history of tea and was named one of Western Canada’s “Top 40 Foodies Under 40.”