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Popular teas: A closer look at yerba mate, matcha

March 20, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Tea is second to water as the world's most popular beverage. Although coffee is still king in the U.S., tea is making great strides.

Tea enthusiasts are choosing well beyond a simple bag of black or green tea.

David DeCandia, the director of tea at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, described tea as sophisticated and creative, comparing the drink to specialty items such as fine wines, cigars and craft beers.

"What we're finding now is more people are gravitating to the oolongs, the darjeelings, more origin specific," DeCandia said.

DeCandia globe-trots eight times yearly to bring back tea treasures. Two kinds that deserve attention are yerba mate and matcha.

Yerba mate is a mineral packed ceremonial tea from South America containing mateine, which is a stimulant offering a different pick-me-up.

"It allows you to get that kind of good feeling and not have that crash and burn," DeCandia said.

Yerba mate is steeped in a gourd vessel that's shared. Water can be added to the same tea for several more servings. Then, there's Japanese matcha.

"It has a unique flavor. It's sweet, slightly grassy," DeCandia described.

Matcha comes in powder form. Check to see if it comes from sencha not bancha, as the latter is lower grade.

Loose tea and tea bags should now contain leaves instead of powdery sediment of yesteryear. DeCandia says you do get what you pay for.

"Two hundred and fifty tea bags for $1.50, it should tell you something," DeCandia said.

Perhaps most important are brewing times, which are very specific. DeCandia said green teas should be brewed for 3 minutes, oolong and black for 5 minutes and herbals and fruit infusions for 7 minutes.

Even 30 seconds above or below brew time affects the flavor profile. When time is up, remove the tea promptly. If you're the type that puts the water, cup and tea bag in the microwave in the morning, DeCandia says that should be illegal - calling it a major tragedy.

That's because water molecules don't heat thoroughly. If the water is under temperature, it won't infuse the flavor of the leaf. If it's over temperature, it burns it, resulting in an uneven brew.


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