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The Tea That Isn’t

December 8, 2010

I’m not feeling too well, and no, this has nothing to do with being another year older.  I think it’s some kind of cold, and I hate being sick.

Sure, I could write about the curative powers of soup.  In theory I could even have some homemade chicken soup in a jiffy.  Last week I replenished my stock supply, so all I have to do is simmer a frozen cube of condensed chicken stock in some water and I’d be good to go.  But for some reason that isn’t really what I’m craving.  Maybe that’s because I’m not actually sick and still just fighting something off.

The hot toddy I had earlier actually had me feeling remarkably better, but cocktail day isn’t until the end of the week.  And if I allowed myself to drink hot toddies all night, there would be no way I could compose a coherent blog post.

So instead I’m left with tea.
Except it’s not tea.

Maybe you know this, and maybe you don’t.  But all tea actually comes from the same plant.  What makes it green or white or black is all about how it is processed.  Granted, that’s a gross oversimplification, but that’s what I do.

Then there are the other things that aren’t tea.  Chamomile, for example, isn’t tea, it’s flowers.  And yes, people widely use the phrase “herbal tea,” and I recognize that this is a legitimate use of the term, but things like chamomile “tea” are technically tisanes.

You know what else isn’t tea?  Yerba mate.  My sister came back from Buenos Aires with a taste for their regional pick-me-up.

I, on the other hand, prefer rooibos. Especially in the evenings, since it has no caffeine.  It’s soothing, but it doesn’t make me sleepy.  And it’s really tasty.  I pay no attention to claims about its antioxidants or flavonoids.  Food is for enjoying.

Rooibos is sometimes called African red tea or red bush tea.  But it’s not a tea either.  It comes from another plant.  And at least in Albany it’s been pretty hard to find the stuff.  There’s a couple of reasons for that.

1)    In general I prefer to buy loose leaf tea.
2)    In general I prefer to buy unflavored tea.

Or in this case, not tea.  Unfortunately, tea blenders love adding stuff to rooibos, and it’s more difficult than you could imagine to find just the plain, unadulterated leaves.  For a while they had them at the horrible mall tea store.  But ultimately that was discontinued.  My suspicion is that it was not a pricey enough product.

Fortunately I stumbled into Divinitea’s world headquarters in Schenectady. There I met the proprietress, and the two of us discussed tea, coffee and wine for the better part of a half hour, while Little Miss Fussy patiently waited.

I seem to be doing this a lot lately.

With Linda I felt closer to finding a kindred spirit here in the Capital Region.  After all, way back in 1997 she started this business with a partner as a small tea company dedicated to the principles of organic farming, fair trade, and healing the planet through environmental and social consciousness.

Don’t forget I was raised by a hippie.

Anyhow, Divinitea carries unflavored organic rooibos.  Two ounces set me back five bucks and will likely last me through most of the winter.  It’s places like this that make me wish I drank more tea.  I explained to Linda that it might be a while until I make it back to her store (which is now on upper Union street, despite what their website says), and she understood.

But if I can’t shake this cold, I may end up there much sooner.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 11:56 am

    I drank rooibos at someone’s house once, enjoyed it, and so tried buying multiple boxes from various food stores, without liking any of them. Reading this, I’m wondering if the flavor blends are what turned me off. I’ll give it another shot. Thanks for the Divinitea tip.

    And also, a special thanks for the link to the Black Stripe! Though my recent trip was to the USVI, not BVI, Pusser’s still figured heavily into our drinking. And I’m big on toddies. Going to try that one very very soon!

  2. December 8, 2010 12:18 pm

    Ahh! I am very excited! I will have to check out Divinitea as soon as possible. Possibly even this afternoon. I really loved The Good Leaf while it was there–and I’ve been to the place now that it is under new ownership, but it’s just not the same.

    Granted, I do enjoy flavored teas, but I’m picky. I like them, generally, to be a bit floral but I hate anything even remotely related to vanilla in it. My favorite flavored tea of all time is Mariage Freres ‘Eros’. Sadly, I have to order it online. Williams Sonoma carries their Marco Polo (way too fragrant for me) and their Earl Grey (also generally too fragrant for my liking) and their Darjeeling–which I try to limit my purchasing of, because it’s like, 22$ for a fairly small amount, but honestly there is nothing like it. Darjeeling is my favorite tea, probably of all kind, since I tend to favor black teas, but there is something about the flavor of it that I don’t quite know how to describe. I’ll take any flush.

    Haven’t tried Rooibos by itself, just with flavors, so I’ll have to try it again on it’s own. I was doing chamomile for a while as a pre-bed wind-down, but I developed a scary, slightly scaly skin reaction to it, so it is no more :(

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    December 8, 2010 12:37 pm

    Don’t know if you saw The #1 Ladies Detective Agency a year or so ago, but Mma is always drinking rooibos. The word is actually Afrikaans and everyone in southern Africa drinks it.

  4. December 8, 2010 8:04 pm

    I like Teavana’s teas. But I do have way more rooibos chai than I’ll ever drink.

  5. Cindy permalink
    December 9, 2010 2:25 am

    I received a free sample of loose rooibos tucked in with a shipment of MiniMinit one-cup filters, which I ordered from J&R Port Trading in San Pedro, CA. I had never tried (nor even heard of) rooibos before then. Though I’m not a big tea drinker, I really liked it! It does have a distinct and really pleasant flavor. Don’t know if J&R still includes the free sample when you order filters, but here’s their link:

    Too funny… your hot toddy link discussed not only black strap rum (which my husband and I LOVE – I even enjoy sipping it straight!), but also the fact that the word “toddy” conjures up grandma. My 72-year-old father in law refers to ANY cocktail as a toddy!

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