Enlightenment can come in a cup
othing soothes the soul quite like a sip of hot tea. The type you consume helps to set the tone. For me, it’s black tea in the morning for a boost of caffeine, green tea in the afternoon for an aromatic and relaxing midday break, and a herbal tisane enjoyed while reading a book in the evening as I wind down for the day.
While I may be a tea enthusiast with an extensive collection of tea tins decorating my kitchen cabinets, I am no expert when it comes to the origins of tea and its health benefits. For this, we turn to Westholme Tea, Canada’s first organic tea grower located on Vancouver Island. I first stumbled upon them while on a rejuvenating weekend trip. I was driving through sheets of pouring rain, proceeding slowly as it was hard to see a few feet beyond my windshield. The rainstorm passed and a small opening appeared on the meandering island road. Part art gallery, part teahouse, part store, the simply decorated space felt like the home of a close friend.
I’ll never forget how the owners helped me navigate the storms of flavour in every tea cup. The team’s tea leaf wisdom goes beyond naming the tasting notes to a holistic approach to the entire experience of tea.
I asked Margit Nellemann, co-owner of Westholme Tea, to share her thoughts on how drinking tea could contribute to our wellness.
How can someone new to the art of tea start their journey?
I was once a coffee drinker, but coffee didn’t agree with me, so I turned to tea. At first, a bit reluctantly. But fortunately, I was living in Barcelona at the time, and there were many charming tea houses and tea shops around. I asked and explored and read up on tea; I sipped and tasted and fell in love completely. And if I were to start all over again, I would likely do the same thing; visit tea shops, in person or online; ask questions; be bold; try new flavours. Tea is amazingly varied. The difference between, say, a bold black breakfast tea and a delicate Oolong is fascinating considering that both come from the same plant — Camellia sinensis.
People often compare coffee and tea, as both are known for their caffeine — what are some key differences if we focus on health and wellness?
I can drink endless amounts of tea but cannot handle coffee at all. The caffeine in coffee goes straight to the adrenal glands and is generally in and out of your system in a few hours. In contrast, the caffeine in tea is more like a slow release. It stays with you for hours and nudges the adrenals more gently.
A significant difference between the two is that tea contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that is found only in tea and some mushrooms. It has calming effects and can help to reduce stress and anxiety. It is likely why tea intuitively is something we mostly enjoy as a soothing or relaxing ritual
There are various tea types (white, red, black tea, herbal teas, Oolong, etc.). What are the benefits of each different tea type?
Black, red, green, white, Oolong, and Pu-erh teas all come from the same plant — Camellia sinensis — and they are all caffeinated; it is the leaves of the plant that contain the caffeine.
The main difference is that they are processed in various ways. Black tea is fully oxidised, green tea is not oxidised, and Oolong and white teas are partially oxidised. Pu-erh is the only tea that is fermented.
Whether black, green, Oolong, white, or Pu-erh, a quality loose leaf tea offers many health benefits. Aside from the L-Theanine present, these all contain significant amounts of healthy antioxidants.
Herbal teas, or tisanes, belong to a different category. These do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant and they do not contain caffeine. Their health benefits vary greatly depending on the constitution of each herb.
What are some key wellness benefits one can experience from drinking tea as part of their daily routine?
I drink tea for pleasure and taste and am sure the enjoyment I derive from my many cups of tea can positively impact my health. The antioxidants are essential, and I also believe strongly in taking the time to prepare and relish the entire ritual. That can make a big difference to a stressful day.