Maybe it's the reported benefits of heart health, cancer prevention, and mental clarity. Maybe it's the epicurean lifestyle emanating from Whole Foods' flagship store. Or the old college town need for liquid sources of relaxation and caffeination. Whatever the reason, tea is getting hot in Austin.
Loose-leaf tea is an increasingly common offering in local grocery stores, cafes, restaurants, coffeehouses, and health-related venues, as well as in a rising number of teahouses and tea shops. Tea events are also on the rise – last December's Edible Austin Tea Party had an astounding 500 visitors, and teahouses around town are hosting numerous smaller events to increase awareness about and consumption of their beverage of choice. Like most rapid-growth trends that find their way to Austin, the results are anything but cookie-cutter; as Austinites turn to tea, they infuse it with Austin's local flavor. Here are a few of the teas and tisanes (aka herbal teas, though they come from different plants than actual tea) that are catching on around town.
Trend starters: Southerners looking for respite from the summer heat
Who's catching on: Northerners and other non-native Austinites who love the icy, refreshing brew's sugar/caffeine boost
Where to buy it: Most restaurants and grocery stores carry bottled iced teas, such as local brand Sweet Leaf Tea. Spots such as the Steeping Room, Halcyon, Galaxy Cafe, and Chado Tea Market offer fresh-brewed, specialty versions of the drink.
a great source of antioxidants called "catechins," as well as other antioxidants that other teas (but not necessarily tisanes) contain
Trend starters: Asian populations, students/professors who spent time in East Asia, and Austin immigrants from larger, coastal American cities
Who's catching on: Baby boomers and people who are interested in alternative medicine or overall wellness
Where to buy it: Whole Foods' tea bar, Jade Leaves Teahouse (an extension of Turtle Dragon's herbal and acupuncture offerings), Casa de Luz (also home to yoga and tai chi classes, massage, and macrobiotic vegan food)
the most nuanced and foodie-friendly tea of them all
Trend starters: Chinese/Taiwanese populations, oenophiles looking for teas with complexity and depth of flavor, and various palate-centric companies
Who's catching on: The growing population of gourmands
Where to buy it: The Steeping Room, Zhi Tea Gallery, Chado Tea Market
such as Earl Grey or masala chai (aka chai)
Trend starters: Numerous populations with a common interest in flavorful teas
Who's catching on: Anyone who likes strong (and usually sweet) flavors
Where to buy it: Halcyon, Galaxy Cafe, Whole Foods' tea bar, Tea Embassy, Zhi Tea Gallery, the Steeping Room, Chado Tea Market, Hudson's on the Bend, or (for masala chai specifically) Whip In Parlour Cafe and Koriente Restaurant & Tea House
a high-caffeine herb native to South America that is often blended with mint, citrus, or other natural flavors
Trend starters: South and Central American populations
Who's catching on: College students and others in search of high-caf alternatives to coffee and cola
Where to buy it: Grocery stores such as Wheatsville Co-op and Whole Foods Market, cafes such as Spider House, tea shops such as Chado Tea Market
(aka red tea or red bush tea) and honeybush (a close relative of rooibos), an antioxidant-rich, caffeine-free tisane from South Africa that's often used in fruity, floral, chocolaty, or otherwise sweet blends
Trend starters: South African expatriates and a new generation of tea blenders
Who's catching on: African-Americans who are interested in their heritage, people seeking an antioxidant boost or who love sweet, flavored blends
Where to buy it: Whole Foods' tea bar, Tea Embassy, Chado Tea Market, the Steeping Room
an effervescent, cultured beverage that usually has a sweet tea base and a New Age following
Trend starters: Health-centric Chinese populations
Who's catching on: Health-centric people of all kinds and those interested in kombucha's mood-altering effects
Where to buy it: Local brands Buddha's Brew (five bottled varieties) and OK Kombucha (kombucha kits and bottled kombucha) are available at Jade Leaves and various grocery stores, including Whole Foods and H-E-B.
a syrupy-sweet concoction typically served with tapioca pearls or jelly cubes and a modicum of tea
Trend starters: Taiwanese and Chinese populations
Who's catching on: Young people in search of a sugar buzz with a touch of caffeine
Where to buy it: Tapioca House, Coco's Cafe II, Koriente, Momoko, Lux Bakery & Cafe
and other creative tea-based drinks
Trend starters: Fusion-foodies and younger populations interested in spicing up tea
Who's catching on: The youth population and people who are looking for fun, flavorful, and colorful alternatives to cocktails
Where to buy it: The Steeping Room, Spider House, boba joints
With thousands of types of tea available in the U.S., there are varieties aplenty to attract a wide range of new tea drinkers. Still, the two most common reasons people in the U.S. are gravitating toward tea are the same across most tea types: an ever-increasing interest in health benefits and a growing desire for new and intriguing flavor profiles.
Potential health benefits of tea include increased heart health (the best documented benefit), increased mental clarity and focus (which recent studies attribute to a chemical unique to tea called L-theanine), association with decreased abdominal fat, positive effects on mood, and better dental health. Tisanes often offer other potential health benefits, such as relief of tension or digestive problems. For these reasons, teas and tisanes have been immensely popular among baby boomers and other populations interested in overall health or in focus, weight loss, mood stabilization, and other specific health concerns.
In terms of flavor, tea has an exceptional range, which is said to be second only to wine. Additionally, it pairs wonderfully with a number of international cuisines, which helps explain why it's the second-most-popular beverage in the world after water. Tea's range and pairing capabilities have stirred up great interest among gastronomes all the way from top restaurateurs to home cooks on the lookout for something new to tantalize their taste buds.
Despite these factors and tea's swell in popularity, making the switch from coffee to tea can be a tricky lifestyle change for hardened coffee fanatics, who may find themselves craving coffee despite their desire to stick with tea. The trick, said Amy March, tea sommelier and co-owner of the Steeping Room, is to wean yourself off coffee slowly as you replace it with the right teas for your tastes. She added that the mouthfeel, aromas, and flavors of coffee can be paralleled in tea, but "tea has a mellowing effect from L-theanine. It's never quite the same as coffee, even with the same caffeine level. You're clear and relaxed instead of hyper and jittery." Here are her recommendations for making a successful transition to tea based on your current coffee preferences:
Your coffee craving: Pungency, strong flavor, and full body, but not a lot of complexity
Teas to try: Kenyan black teas or Irish breakfast tea, with or without milk
Your coffee craving: Roasty, mellow flavors, as in South American coffees
Teas to try: Houjicha roasted green tea
Your coffee craving: Extra flavors (vanilla, chocolate, caramel, hazelnut, fruit, mint, etc.)
Teas to try: Similarly flavored teas
Your coffee craving: The richness of lattes
Teas to try: Malty Assam black teas or tea lattes
Your coffee craving: Robust, spicy flavor profiles and full body, like in Ethiopian or Sumatran coffees
Teas to try: Fresh-brewed masala chai, with or without a drop of honey
Your coffee craving: Smoky/tobacco notes or a clean taste without a lot of finesse
Teas to try: Gunpowder green tea
Your coffee craving: Mouthfeel, body, and flavor of a good espresso
Teas to try: Younger Tuo Cha (or Bird's Nest) pu-erhs with or without sugar and half-and-half
Your coffee craving: A pot of coffee drunk throughout the day
Teas to try: Quality oolongs that can yield multiple infusions throughout the day
Your coffee craving: A caffeine buzz
Teas to try: Black tea or yerba maté – drink more for additional caffeine
Likewise, wine lovers can find teas of their liking based on their wine flavor preferences. Jeffrey Lorien, tea sommelier and co-owner of East Austin's Zhi Tea Gallery, said developing a tea palate can be easier than developing a wine palate because, "wine still hasn't been totally democratized here, but there's accessibility with tea. It's the people's drink." Here are some tasty suggestions for wine lovers from Lorien.
Your favorite wines: Spritzers or other wine-based drinks
Teas you'll love: Tea-infused cocktails or flavored teas
Your favorite wines: Assertive, full-bodied reds
Teas you'll love: Lightly oxidized oolongs for mouthfeel or Assam/Sri Lankan (aka Ceylon) teas for flavor
Your favorite wines: Mellow, balanced reds
Teas you'll love: More oxidized oolongs and high-quality, well-aged pu-erhs
Your favorite wines: Crisp, dry whites
Teas you'll love: Really good Japanese green teas such as gyokuro or sencha or bai mu dan white tea (aka pai mu tan)
Your favorite wines: Floral whites
Teas you'll love: Darjeeling second flush black tea or Silver Needle white tea (aka Bai Hao Yinzhen)
Your favorite wines: Complex, nuanced wines
Teas you'll love: Keemun black tea and oolongs such as Oriental Beauty (aka Dong Fang Mei Ren or Bai Hao Oolong) and Tie Guan Yin (aka Iron Goddess of Mercy, Iron Buddha, and Ti Kwan Yin)
Teas you'll love: Sweet/floral blends, Oriental Beauty oolong, Darjeeling Second Flush, and well-crafted, rooibos-based "dessert teas"
Your favorite wines: Sparkling wine
Teas you'll love: Kombucha for mouthfeel and uplifting effect
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