To Infini-Tea And Beyond
by Anjali Balakrishna
Photography by Callie Ahlgrim
Coffee is an integral part of many people’s lives; they thrive on the caffeine boost to jump start their day, help them through finals and pull all-nighters. Tea, on the other hand, is becoming just as popular because it is related to relaxation and wellbeing.
Culturally, tea has already been embedded into the daily habits of many in Europe and Asia. For example, the British Empire’s control of India left deep cultural marks on both nations; Britain acquired various spices and teas, and India adopted routine teatime. Today, in many Indian and other Asian households across the globe, the practice of teatime is still held in high regard. After lunch, people usually rest and then have tea and snacks before dinnertime.
Although tea originated in Asia, it is now popular almost everywhere. In the United States, tea flavors have been developed to fit the tastes of Americans. Major chains like Starbucks have commercialized tea. For example, the chai latte, which is a spin on India’s masala, or spiced, tea, has become increasingly prevalent. Boba tea from Taiwan has also become very popular with millennials.
Besides Starbucks’ tea provider Tazo, Teavana is another prime example of a chain devoted to providing the perfect blend of tea to their customers.
Skyler Vernon (CAS ’20) worked at Teavana for nearly a year in Orlando, FL. She and her coworkers would work with customers to develop the perfect blend to suit their palates. Customers could either choose from a list of recommended blends or create their own custom brew.
Teavana provides a vast array of flavors to choose from. The seasons frequently play a part in customers’ tea selection.
“During the summer [it’s] anything fruity; last summer a big one [seller] was Beach Bellini or Raspberry Limeade,” said Vernon. “Youthberry/Wild Orange Blossom is one of our most popular teas ever, but during the wintertime [it’s] a lot of cozy chai or holiday teas.”
Jake Windahl worked at a Northern Texas boba tea-chain called Fat Straws, a similarly tea-focused environment, from his senior year of high school through the majority of college, subsequently becoming familiar with the various types and flavors of tea.
Boba tea, a Taiwanese tea-based drink with tapioca pearls at the bottom, has become more popular in the U.S. over the years. However, Windahl clarified a common mistake people make when discussing bubble tea versus boba tea:
“When you hear it called bubble tea, that doesn’t actually refer to the boba,” said Windahl. “It refers to the little bubbles that form at the top when they would shake sugar syrups into the drinks.”
Not only was Windahl exposed to boba tea, but also to a variety of loose-leaf teas.
“Partway through my time at Fat Straws, my boss decided to bring on some high end loose leaf tea from a company called Art of Tea,” he said. “It really changed what was happening with our boba. We had access to organic, fair trade teas.”
It is evident, then, that tea is a truly versatile drink. Vernon agreed.
“Teavana has over 70 flavors, so you can always find what you like,” she said. “Any [tea] can be made hot or cold, and you can even add cream/milk if that's what you want. I also had customers who used specific teas as mixers for drinks.”
Now a bartender, Windahl has discovered something similar. Tea can add a delicate twist to standard alcoholic drinks.
“Tea is actually incredibly versatile,” said Windahl. “We’ve actually been using them in cocktails. We made an oolong concentrate for a spin on an Old Fashioned that was really quite wonderful.”
Each brew of tea can also provide different health benefits.
“Green is a good overall tea; great for metabolism, skin, energy, etc,” said Vernon. “White is a hydrating tea; good for your skin. Black is heavily caffeinated. Oolong is good for digestion. Herbal teas are really only for flavor; there's no actual tea in them, which is great if you're avoiding caffeine.”
Windahl noted similar information about tea’s benefits.
“White teas and green teas are going to have more antioxidants accessible to you,” he said. “Oolongs are truly a case-by-case study. And your black teas are going to have your antioxidants, but they aren’t going to be as impactful as the rest.”
There are endless possibilities when it comes to making and drinking tea, and each culture brings its own unique method or blend.
Tea has become more popular throughout the world, as it is a common link between nations. However, more people should learn about this beverage to make that link stronger. According to die-hard tea drinkers, a cup of tea could solve the world’s problems.