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How To Drink Tea: The Essential Guide To Becoming A Tea Drinker

Drinking tea is an age-honored tradition and still a huge part of many cultures.

Japan and China have their famous tea ceremonies.

The UK has its remnants of teatime as originated during the Victorian Era.

Turkish tea is practically a religion, with the people of Turkey having the highest tea-consumption per capita in the world.

Tea is simply a popular drink around the globe.

Tea also has a very distinctive flavor (if you don’t like it, you don’t like it) and contains tannins, lots of them, which can make some people sick to their stomachs or even cause headaches.

So, why drink tea if you don’t like the taste and it might make you feel sick? It’s good for you, that’s why.

Those same tannins that give tea its bitter taste and cause nausea in some people provide antioxidants in ample supply.

Studies have shown the tannins/antioxidants found in tea can reduce inflammation and protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals.

That means tea literally fights cancer.

With so many positives, tea is one of those drinks well worth acquiring a taste for.

Here’s how to drink tea if you don’t like the taste, if it makes you feel sick, or if you just don’t know where to start.

How to Drink Tea… Properly

There is no right or wrong way to drink tea, no matter how many Queen Victorias might look down their noses at you.

So, let’s just put that to rest right now.

If you are worried about tea etiquette, here’s a fun little walkthrough from Twinings that just about makes me puke – Twinings Tea Etiquette.

Great tea though! (Side note: I always cut my scones horizontally and dollop on the jam and cream. What’s anyone gonna do about it?)

If you want to drink tea, drink tea.

Do it wildly. Do it with abandon.

Do it with your pinkie up OR down.

Just do it. It’s good for you.

And you might even find a way you really enjoy it.

How to Drink Tea… If You Don’t Like It

Here’s where things start to get dicey.

Not liking the taste of tea is an awfully big obstacle to get over in your noble effort to drink it.

That said, there are plenty of things you can do to make tea more palatable if you simply don’t like the taste, starting with finding the right tea.

Experimenting With Types of Tea

Tea comes in several color options, all of which have to do with drying process and oxidation.

White tea is the least oxidized type of tea, followed by green tea, then oolong, then black tea, which gets its dark coloring from oxidation. (Matcha is a specially-grown form of green tea ground into powder.)

How tea is dried (and how much it is left to oxidize) gives different teas their different flavors.

Different Types of Tea

Generally speaking, the longer tea is left to oxidize, the stronger and more flavorful that tea becomes.

This makes black tea the strongest, most flavorful type of tea.

Black tea is also the tea you are most likely to encounter.

If you order iced tea at a restaurant, black tea is what you will get by default.

Chances are, if you’ve tried tea only once, it’s been black tea.

So, when it comes to experimenting, the first step is to simply walk back through the oxidation process and try your other color options:

  • white
  • green
  • oolong (which falls between green and black)

Tea Quality

Though each type of tea has a generalized flavor profile when comparing black to green or green to oolong (black tea tastes stronger, green tea tastes sweeter), the reality is there is a wide range of flavors within each tea type as well.

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Where and how tea is grown and cultivated, and how it’s harvested, makes a big difference in how tea tastes when it reaches consumers.

While tea processing has become more automated in many countries, and on many plantations, around the world, there are still places which handpick their teas.

Smaller farms have sprung up that are dedicated to the traditional art of handpicking, and many smaller tea companies use exclusively handpicked teas in their blends.

Handpicking matters with tea because not every leaf on a tea plant is ready for harvest at the same time.

Pulling the leaves by hand is the only way to ensure only ripe leaves get picked.

This is a very long-winded way of saying, if you’ve only tried tea at restaurants or made with grocery store brand teabags, you haven’t tried the best teas available.

Try a smaller brand that uses only handpicked teas.

To get you started, look for Ceylon tea in any brand.

Ceylon tea is exclusively from Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka still has a largely handpicking tea culture.

The tea used for Turkish tea (that ubiquitous tea that is so good and so popular in Turkey) is still also largely picked by hand.

It’s called Rize tea, and unless you have a Mediterranean market in your city, you’ll probably have to buy it online.

Rize Turkish tea
available at Amazon

Experimenting With Blends of Tea

While tea type (black, green, white, oolong) is going to give you the most distinction in flavor, it’s not the only variation in the tea world.

It isn’t all quite that dramatic.

There are so many varieties of tea within those different types.

Ginger peach. French vanilla. Orange. Caramel.

There are a lot of fruit infusions and a lot of sweet infusions. Basically, just a lot of different teas to try.

While these teas do have underlying “tea flavor,” many of them taste more like their additions than like the tea itself.

If you’re worried about the tea coming loudly through, try a strong flavor, like black currant or vanilla.

In the opinion of this tea lover, once you add vanilla to tea it tastes nothing at all like tea.

When shopping for blends, just make sure you pay attention to the details.

You can end up with an herbal tea, which isn’t really tea at all.

While an herbal might taste delicious and probably give you some health benefits, it won’t provide the same antioxidant and health benefits as tea

. Which is, presumably, what you want.

Experimenting With Brewing & More

While tea tastes like, well, tea, it can also taste very different depending on how it’s brewed.

You can brew tea to the point that it becomes undrinkably bitter or end up with little more than flavored water.

Directions on tea packaging tries to get you to that sweet spot in flavor (while also trying to extract the most antioxidants), but can still put you a little on the strong, bitter end of brewing.

By brewing for less time, you may pull less antioxidants from the tea, but it’s a good trade-off if it makes it drinkable for you.

You’ll still get some of those antioxidants, which is better than none.

Brew it up right.

Most tea brands (regardless of variety) suggest a brew time somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes, regardless of variety.

Green teas are usually on the shorter end, black teas on the longer end.

This 3 to 5 minute steep time has scientific backing.

Studies have found most of the good stuff in tea is extracted within the first 5 minutes of brewing and there is no added benefit in steeping longer.

As expected, studies have also shown steeping tea for around half that time – 100 seconds (just over 1 ½ minutes) to 2 ½ minutes – extracts about half the healthy compounds in tea.

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So, half the brew time means half the antioxidants, right?

Makes sense!

What those studies don’t tell you is that you can use tea grounds or bags more than once, and while you won’t get quite the same antioxidant infusion as on your first go round, some of those healthy compounds will still be waiting for you.

You don’t have to drink strong tea! You can, instead, drink tea twice!

If you find tea too bitter, the steep time is the most likely culprit.

Try steeping your tea for only a minute with water just off a boil (the hotter the water, the more antioxidants).

You might find it considerably more palatable when it’s not as strong.

Try it hot and iced.

Personally, to me, hot and iced teas taste very different.

It’s the water content.

As the ice in iced tea melts, it dilutes the tea so it tastes less strong.

(Be warned, there’s a tipping point with iced tea, though. It can be watered down too much until it tastes watery and weak.)

Hot teas tend to taste much stronger (even if steeped for a shorter period of time), and, without the water to dilute them, can feel much stronger on your stomach too.

We’ll get to that in the next section.

For me, that means I can drink iced tea without anything in it.

A nice tasty glass of unsweetened tea on a hot day? Yes, please.

I cannot, however, drink hot tea without additives.

It’s not just the taste (see below), but taste factors in.

I would never choose to drink hot tea unsweetened like I do iced tea. It just doesn’t taste as good to me.

What I’m saying is, try it both ways.

Fancy it up with a little sparkling water.

Here’s a little trick picked up from Argo Tea, the finest U.S.-based tea chain, in my humble opinion. (It’s a shame there are only a handful of them scattered largely on the East Coast.)

Argo makes a Mojito-inspired tea drink, the Mojitea, that uses sparkling water.

While it’s not exactly a healthy tea option (the sugar!), it does prove how different tea can taste.

If you don’t like tea, but you do like soda, try infusing a strongly-brewed tea (with just a little added sweetener) with sparkling water.

You’ll get an entirely different drink.

Don’t drink it.

I know, I know.

This article is titled how to drink tea, and now I’m telling you not to.

But I think we should face the facts.

No matter what you do, some of you are simply not going to be able to stomach tea (either metaphorically or literally), and there is another way to get tea in you.

Due to its acidic properties (those sneaky tannins), tea is an excellent marinade for meats.

You can incorporate it into your marinades and still get the benefits of tea’s antioxidants.

Just don’t use it on beef.

Tannins interfere with iron absorption, so it’s best kept far away from your most iron-rich foods.

Don’t trust restaurants.

If you’re only going to take one piece of advice away from this article, please let it be this –

Do NOT trust restaurants to make you good tea.

Now, I’m not saying there are no restaurants that make good tea.

There are. Plenty.

I can pound me some Cracker Barrel or Sonic sweet tea, and if I order tea in a restaurant, you best believe I’m cashing in on those free refills.

But, when it comes to tea, restaurants can be disappointingly inconsistent.

I’ve had delicious Sonic sweet tea, and I’ve Sonic sweet tea that tastes like it was poured from an old boot.

The reason for this is quite simple, and actually pretty good as far as restaurant food goes.

Tea at restaurants can be inconsistent because it’s one of the few restaurant staples made on-site.

That means whoever’s making it can get it wrong.

If you’re only going to give tea one chance, I implore you not to let a restaurant ruin it for you forever.

Brew it yourself.

Or ask some southern grandma to do it for you. She’ll know what’s up.

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How to Drink Tea… If It Makes You Sick

If it was just about taste, you might be able to choke tea down like medicine.

If tea makes you physically ill, that’s a different beast entirely.

Luckily, you’re dealing with a pro here. (Let’s just say there was an incident with drinking coffee then tea back-to-back on an empty stomach one morning in NYC, and, if you’ve never puked between two cars on a New York City street, I do NOT recommend.)

If tea makes you sick to your stomach, you’re far from alone.

A lot of people have problems with tannins, and black tea has more tannins than any other food or drink (nearly 3x that of coffee)!

The tannins aren’t a bad thing. In fact, the tannins are where the many powerful antioxidants in tea come from.

So, how exactly do you benefit from the healthy compounds in tea when they are also actively making you sick?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this, but I can offer a few suggestions based on personal experience.

Add sweetener.

Sure, sugar isn’t good for you.

But it doesn’t cancel out the antioxidants in tea.

I’ve found that sweetening tea is an easy way to reduce nausea.

I typically opt for honey in hot tea.

It adds calories, but also some health properties of its own, including even more antioxidants.

Eat something carby with it.

If the tannins get you, drinking tea on an empty stomach is the biggest no-no of all.

Give your stomach a fighting chance by putting some base-y carbs in it.

I find eating, especially a bread product, can completely eliminate any nausea from tea tannins.

Just stay well away from fruit and nuts. Many fruits and all nuts also contain tannins, which will only exacerbate the problem.

Slow it down.

Even with watered-down iced tea and plenty of food in my belly, the tannins in tea will still occasionally get me.

I’m not a mathematician, but I’ll still hypothesize it’s all about ratio:

Too much tea/too little food = general pukiness

To combat this, I take a slow drinking approach.

If I get a big iced tea from Starbucks or Panera, I’ll usually nurse it all afternoon.

I find drinking tea slowly often prevents its nastier side effects.

How to Start Drinking Tea

Health nuts everywhere, cover your ears, because I am about to give some seriously poor health advice.

The best place to start drinking tea may be to drink the absolute worst teas for you.

I’ve already proclaimed my love for Argo Tea, which makes some mighty fine tea concoctions.

Unfortunately, those delicious teas have a lot of unhealthy properties.

Namely, sugar. And plenty of it.

But if you’re hesitant to try tea, a sugar-laden, not-entirely-tea drink might be the best place to start.

Though, stay away from bottled tea drinks, which never taste as good as their fresh counterparts.

(My favorite Argo tea is the Green Tea Ginger Twist. Its bottled counterpart, sadly, just tastes like bottled tea.)

The un-tea-like tea drink you’re most likely to come across in the wild is the chai latte.

It tastes nothing at all like straight tea, and it’s mostly milk, but there’s still some real tea in there.

How to Like Tea

No one can help you actually like tea.

Not straight-up.

But there are ways you can drink it that can certainly make it more palatable for you even if you don’t particularly enjoy the taste.

It all comes down to figuring out what works for you.

I drink my tea (all the colors) in a myriad of ways.

I can drink iced tea straight-up without sugar (though, I do enjoy a good sweet tea).

I drink hot tea with honey (or sugar, if no honey is available).

Sometimes, I add milk. Usually not.

Try it as many ways as you can.

You might learn how to like tea, or you might just learn how to force it down.

Either way, you’ll still get the health benefits, so it’s worth the effort.

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