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By DC EcoWoman Robin Garcia

Did you know that January is National Hot Tea Month? There’s no better time to sit back and relax with a steaming cup. I grew up in a household of tea drinkers, and the smell alone makes me feel calm and satisfied when the temperature drops. What you also may not know is that tea is the second most consumed drink worldwide after water. Turns out that there is a lot more to this popular beverage than serving as a favorite drink of the British!

Black Tea vs. Green Tea vs. Herbal Tea

Real tea is made with leaves from Camellia sinensis. The type of tea reflects the length of time, if any, that the leaves have been fermented. Black tea leaves have been completely fermented, while oolong leaves have been partially fermented. Leaves that have not been fermented produce green tea, and leaves from unopened buds are used to create white tea. Fermentation also affects the amount of caffeine found in the tea, with black tea containing the most caffeine and white tea containing the least.

What about herbal tea? Well, it’s not technically tea! Instead of Camellia leaves, herbal teas are usually a combination of herbs referred to as tisanes. The lack of Camellia leaves also means that most herbal teas are decaffeinated. No wonder chamomile works like a charm at bedtime!

Wake Up Call

Like coffee, tea can often serve the purpose of perking you up due to its caffeine content. However, you usually don’t feel wired like you do after a cup o’ joe. It turns out that in addition to caffeine, tea contains L-theanine. Studies have shown that L-theanine promotes a state in which you are relaxed but not tired. It can also promote good memory, heighten awareness of your surroundings, decrease anxiety and help you deal with stress.

If you do want to enjoy your tea without the jolt, you can decaffeinate your tea yourself. Steep your first cup of tea for at least ten minutes, give the cup to a friend or chill for later (better than tossing it) and steep a second cup for 90 percent less caffeine.

Chai Tea

Chai is a type of tea borrowed from Indian culture, where black tea is flavored with spices, milk, and honey. The word chai actually means tea, derived from the Mandarin word ch’a. So in Asian countries, you wouldn’t ask for chai tea – unless you want to be redundant and really emphasize that you’re asking for tea! Instead, ask for masala chai, or “spiced tea.”

Enjoying Your Tea Sustainably

Before you grab your travel mug (what else would you use!?), here are some points to consider so that your tea remains sustainable and low in waste production.

• We all love the occasional trip to the local coffee and tea shop, but brewing your own tea reduces the amount of waste you create and helps out your wallet. Brewing at home also allows you to control the taste. Who knows what delicious combinations you’ll discover in your own kitchen!

• Check that the company you purchase your tea from is fair trade certified. Both the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade USA list certified companies, including Lipton, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods brand teas.

• Consider using loose tea and a cute or chic infuser, which keeps tea bags out of the trash. There are many tea infusers available on sites such as Etsy and specialty shops. An infuser with some loose tea also makes an excellent gift for the tea lover in your life (I did this for a family member’s Christmas gift some years ago!) If you still want to use bags, look for biodegradable and bleach free options.

• Don’t forget about what you add to your tea! Is the sugar and milk you’re using local, organic, or free trade? Consider other options. I often sweeten my tea with honey, which is especially comforting during cold and flu season. Local or home grown herbs would also be a wonderful addition.

• Remember – your tea leaves can be composted! This is not only good for your soil and reduces organic matter in landfills, but really – who likes a soggy bag of trash?

So go ahead – wrap up in your blanket with a Netflix marathon and enjoy a tasty and warm cup of tea today!

Helpful Links

How to go Green: Coffee and Tea
How to Choose a More Sustainable Tea
10 Absorbing Facts about Tea
The Tea Spot – About Tea
31 Ways to Celebrate Hot Tea
10 Interesting Facts about Tea
Rainforest Alliance
Fair Trade USA