Tea Time

January Celebrates Warm Brew

Posted: January 15, 2014

In recognition of January as National Hot Tea Month, a cup sits at Earth and Tea Cafe in downtown Harrisonburg. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
A peaches and flowers tea is poured through a strainer Jan. 10 at Earth and Tea Cafe. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
White cherry tea leaves (front) and white tea lemon cream (back, right) are two offerings at Earth and Tea Cafe downtown. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)

January is a month that, in addition to ushering in a new year and celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr., also recognizes National Book Month, National Volunteer Blood Donor Month and National Soup Month.

However, the year’s first 31 days also boasts another title: National Hot Tea Month.

“I was not aware that it was Hot Tea Month,” says Philip Parker, a James Madison University undergraduate student from Chesapeake, as he carries a cup of his favorite hot tea to his lips while lounging on a burgundy couch in the dimly lit Earth and Tea Cafe on South Main Street.

“I know I enjoy different types of tea; my favorite is what I’m drinking now: the ‘Snow Flake,’ ” he continued.

According to Earth and Tea’s menu, the “Snow Flake” is a black tea infused with an almond-coconut flavor. The tea is popular among Earth and Tea faithful.

Aaram Millones, owner of Earth and Tea, admits he initially wasn’t aware of National Hot Tea Month but understands why January has been dedicated to the brew.

“It’s a good month [to recognize tea]; it’s very cold,” says the Chiclayo, Peru, native. “I know tea in the United States is a tradition that is becoming more popular.

“While I was growing up in Peru, I drank just black tea,” he continued. “My mom still makes this black tea at home with cinnamon sticks and cloves, which is very good. I didn’t know [of] any other type of tea until I came to the United States.”

Earth and Tea has been a staple in Harrisonburg since January 2007. And within the past seven years, Millones has become somewhat of a tea expert through his experience running the establishment.

“Tea has a lot of history,” he explains. “It originated in China. One day, an emperor was having a field trip in the forest, and, while he fell asleep under a tea tree, one of his servants potted water to boil.

“Some of the leaves started falling into the pot; the servants noticed the color changing in the water. And then, when they tasted it, they [were] surprised at how good it tasted.

“And that’s how the Chinese found out about tea. I don’t know if it’s true, but I think it’s a unique story,” he continued.

Adding to Millones’ account, according to the Bigelow Tea Company, Chinese legend has it that in either 2737 or 2690 B.C. Emperor Shen Nong, an expert on agriculture and medicine, had next to him a pot of boiling water as he conducted research outside one day.

While Emperor Nong was deep into his studies, a sudden breeze blew leaves into his pot. Intrigued by the aroma the leaves and water gave off, the emperor decided to taste the concoction.

Though either version may be disputed, many agree tea offers health benefits. Millones insists people drink tea because it improves the immune system, strengthens bones and contributes toward better sleep.

“Herbal tea is very soothing for your stomach; some of them help you sleep,” he says. “Black tea has calcium. Green tea is very beneficial to your health because of the antioxidants; it’s supposed to clean your system and help you live longer.”

Because he’s experimented with several tea flavors, Millones says it’s hard for him to pick a favorite, especially from the abundance of options carried in the cafe’s collection.

“I’ve had the opportunity to try different teas, and there’s not a particular kind that I don’t like,” he says. “One of my favorites is Persian spice bazaar. It’s a black tea, and I think its flavor is perfect.”

Millones’ favorite black tea is brewed with what he calls “exotic spice taste”: cinnamon, ginger root and black peppers.

“Then, you have the rooibos, a popular South African [tea],” continued Millones. “Rooibos is like little pieces of stick; we carry different kinds.”

“I’ve always been fond of the rooibos teas,” says Sylvia Helmuth of Harrisonburg, a teacher at Peak View Elementary School in Penn Laird, as she clutches a cup of the said tea in her right hand while sitting in a booth with a fellow educator. “I think they are a little bit more mellow-flavored.”

When it comes to preparing tea, Millones has perfected the method behind preparing the brew.

“The temperature of the water is very important,” he argues. “It has to be anywhere from 167 to 175 degrees, right before boiling. Water at boiling temperature will destroy the leaves and make them bitter right away.”

Millones advises those who purchase tea leaves to go to boil a pot of water and, once the water reaches boiling point, take the pot off the burner for the water to cool.

“If you let it sit between three to five minutes after it boils,” explains Millones, “that would be a perfect water temperature for a cup of tea. Then, use that water into your tea leaves.”

Steeping time depends on the type of tea because, as Millones puts it, “some tea is very delicate.”

“Our green tea, we’ll brew for about two minutes,” he says. “Black tea you usually brew for three minutes. Herbal tea requires longer steeping time, five to seven minutes. Why? If you steep it for less than five minutes, it will be weak.”

And, as a final tip for preparing the perfect cup of tea for this month, or for whenever you feel, Millones says to always try the mixture while brewing it, as a chef samples while preparing a hearty meal.

“Tea [promotes] a good living style, in general,” he concludes. “If it can help you live healthy, then it’s great, you know?”

Contact Therran M. Dennis at 574-6218 or tdennis@dnronline.com

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