It can be hot; it can be cold. It can be sweet, bitter or just plain fruity. Tea leaves, all from the Camellia sinensis plant, are processed all the time worldwide to excite or soothe any taste bud.
With so many kinds, you might need a little guiding on choosing the right flavor, and The Curiosity Shop is just the place to go.
The shop will be holding a seminar on oolong tea today, on African red and flavored black teas on Feb. 7 and on herbal infusions and flavored green teas on Feb. 28. Each seminar will be held at 4 p.m. in the shop’s Dickens Cafe and cost $20. Tickets can be bought at the shop on 224 Park Ave. S.W.
The store sells more than 90 flavors of tea, including popular flavors cranberry orange black tea, peach apricot and pomegranate white, according to Cullen Cooke, store supervisor and tea steward.
All its teas comes from independent distributors who get them from different global regions.
A few categories that tea can be broken down into are white, green, black, oolong, pu-erh and yellow.
According to the shop’s website, white tea is barely processed and comes out as clear with a “savory, nutty and vegetal” flavor. Green tea doesn’t keep well but has a “grassy, vegetal, nutty and sweet” taste. Black tea, or red tea as its referred to in China, tends to have more of a “cocoa, earth, molasses and honey” taste, while oolong tends to cross green and black teas in the way its prepared and taste. Pu-reh tea is aged and post-fermented with a strong earthy flavor, and yellow tea, the rarest of all Chinese teas, has its buds fried in the process and has one of the more complicated growing processes. Herbal infusions are usually thrown into the tea family but falsely so. The beverage, in fact, is made from different plants and flowers like mint, lavender and chamomile, making it technically not a tea type.
“My nice cup of tea is an oolong tea,” Cooke said. “It has the body of a black but not as bitter or strong.”
Tea is often known for its health benefits. White, oolong and yellow have high levels of antioxidants, while pu-reh lowers cholesterol, helps digestion and cures hangovers.
Local tea aficionados Sedley Roach and Connie Gantt love the hot beverage for its healthy aid.
“I use it for my asthma,” Gantt said. “Peppermint and ginger tea is good for digestion.”
Roach and Gantt have been admirers of the drink – and all the socializing that comes with it – for more than 10 years. The two use to take high tea and have crackers at an antique mall – near where the Richland Avenue (new) Walmart sits now – and thought one day, “Well, we can do this,” Gantt said.
Their Christmas Tea event was created. Members of their bridge club and the public came.
“We combined both passions, bridge and high tea,” Roach said about their events. “It’s just bloomed ever since. We love tea and entertainment.”
The two have been contacted to assist with social events. Last December, they – with their teacup collection from around the world– made an appearance at Aiken Women’s Christian Connection “Holiday High Tea.”
“It’s a great way to bring in the holiday,” Pam Morin, event chair, said about the event in November. “It’s so much fun because the ladies will wear their hats and festive clothing.”
In December, children dressed as casual as wearing jeans to having ribbons in their hair and wearing dresses to a different type of tea event – the Aiken Civic Ballet’s fourth annual “The Nutcracker” tea.
Hot tea was poured from a silver tea set into crystal cups that afternoon at the Aiken County Historical Museum.
The tea was served mainly for the adults, Diane Toole Miller, Crosby-Miller School of Dance owner, said. Meeting the dancers of “The Nutcracker” was what was designed for the children.
Ava Swanson came to the event with her older-sister Anna. Ava had never came before and enjoyed the toy exhibit held upstairs and meeting the dancers.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said.
Miller sees tea events as sort of a Southern tradition, and the dance event as a “big Christmas party for kids.”
Coffee and iced tea were also served.
Tea is a widely enjoyed drink, being popular in places like China, India, Northern Africa – some of the original British colonies – and the UK, according to Cooke.
“It’s not an (stimulant),” Cooke said. “Tea excites you but relaxes you are the same time.”
Some tea, like black and green tea, does contain caffeine.
To prepare a proper cup of tea, preheat your teapot, coffee pot or any other odorless, heat-resistant pot.
Put the tea bag into your favorite mug. You can either use your own homemade tea bag or a pre-made bag. For those who are interested in making their own tea bags, places like the Curiosity Shop sell supplies like tea leaves and filters to get you started. Be aware of the strength of the different teas when making the bags, and be cautious on how the bag or filter’s material could react to the water, Cooke said.
Now each type of tea needs to be brewed differently. Black and oolong teas require boiling water, while white and green teas need steaming water.
Personal taste might affect how long you brew the bag for. Usually its recommended to steep black tea for three to five minutes, oolong for two to five minutes and green for one to three minutes.
Next comes the moment you’ve been waiting for – remove the bag and enjoy your fine cup of tea. An inside tip: when removing the bag, use a squeezer on it to get out as much flavor of the leaves as possible.
If you decide after tasting it you want a little extra kick, Cooke recommends using milk for black and sugar, lemon and honey for green and oolong.
For Gantt personally, she prefers her tea pure but said that Roach likes sugar in hers.
With drinks comes food, and tea is very adaptable.
“Tea goes with everything,” Cooke said.
Traditionally, the tea enjoyed in Britain is strong, so it’s complemented with an oat or sweet cookie. Eating sweets like scones while drinking tea are not unheard of.
A variety of finger-food was served at “The Nutcracker” tea event from red cupcakes with “Nutcracker” figurines sticking out of them to finger sandwiches.
Something that might sound a bit off is drinking tea while eating meat, but there is a study being done on which tea goes best with which meat, according to Cooke.
For more information on tea, tea supplies or the Curiosity Shop, visit www.curiosityshoptea.com/store/ or call 644-0004.
Cullen Cooke setting the Curiosity Shop's timer as the oolong tea "Iron Goddess of Mercy" seeps. Cooke used a tea filter in the mug to help in the process.×
Ballerinas Catherine Gouge, Emily Littrell, Brianna Hancock and Sarah McNamee stand with Sissie Brodie during a past Nutcracker Tea.×
Sedley Roach, left, and Connie Gantt are two local tea appreciators and attend, help at and host tea events.×
The Curiosity Shop has two boilers at different temperatures prepared for tea making. Pictured are different tea making supplies and "Dragon Feeler" tea, named for its resemblance to the creature's teeth.×