Your Cup of Tea

Dita Ajani, Contributor, Jakarta | Sun, 04/01/2012 1:16 PM 

Treasured for its many health benefits, tea — with thousands of varieties around — offers extensive flavors to meet people’s tastes. 

Tea drinking has long been part of Indonesians’ daily lives. However, only recently has it started to gain much-deserved respect. 

Ratna Somantri said that ever since the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung discovered it some 5,000 years ago, tea has been treasured for its many healthy benefits. 

Basically, every cup of tea contains antioxidants and theanine – a natural substance that boosts alpha wave production in the brain, which creates a relaxed and calming feeling throughout the body. However, each type of tea also has its own positive advantages. 

Black tea, she says, helps prevent blocked arteries as well as tooth decay, while green tea is renowned for its ability to help reduce the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) and maintain one’s ideal body weight.

White tea, on the other hand, has the highest level of antioxidants, making it a great anti-aging beverage. It has also been used for autism therapy. 

Several types of herbal tea also have health benefits. 

Chamomile tea, for instance, works as a soothing natural beverage that helps people to sleep more easily as well as reduces anxiety and stomach cramps. 

Chrysanthemum tea can prevent heartburn, while peppermint tea relieves sore throats and rose tea is nutritious for the skin. 

 “Whenever I’m working long hours, I consume tea,” says prominent furniture designer Leonard Theosabrata, who also shared stories of his love affair with tea during a recent gathering of the Jakarta Food Editor’s Club (JFEC). 

 “Tea is able to keep my mind at peace, hence making me more alert, focused, and objective in doing a rigorous work.” 

Though highly nourishing, tea expert Ratna insists that it is not a medicine. 

“Tea is not a drug, so tea doesn’t cure diseases. But tea possesses plenty of hearty natural compounds that are good for our bodies, including antioxidants, fluoride and vitamin C,” she says. 

Compared to other drinks, tea is also the most versatile beverage in the world — no matter how you combine, blend or mix tea with other ingredients, the distinctive taste of the tea itself can still be very much felt. 

When mixing tea with spices, for example, the tea flavor still has a solid presence in the midst of the spices’ strong aroma. Together, they can produce awesome exotic concoctions. 

 “Tea can be combined with many kinds of flowers, fruits, and spices and even used as cooking ingredient. You can create a tea omelet or fried shrimp with fresh tea leaves, and in all, you can still enjoy the crisp taste of the tea,” Ratna says. 

Currently, there are thousands of tea varieties around the world and they are gaining popularity, offering extensive flavors to people of all ages. 

Ratna said that every day, a new tea variety is invented, including blended teas, which combine several types of tea and other ingredients. 

Just recently, Ratna says a friend in Kyoto introduced her to Shiawase Cha – a new tea variety made of Japanese green tea, dried seaweed and roasted rice. 

More conventionally, new teas are also being introduced, such as the latest version of Pu-erh tea from China. 

“Before, Pu-erh is made of green tea, but now it’s also produced from white tea,” says Ratna. 

A couple of years ago, both green and white tea shot to stardom — becoming the preferred tea beverage for many people across the globe. And today, green tea latte has supposedly become the second best-selling drink at Starbucks. 

Amidst the hype, a certain type of Chinese tea — yellow tea, famously dubbed as the champagne of the tea, has slowly brewing in the zeitgeist. 

 “These days, more and more people love to drink yellow tea since it preserves a unique, refined flavor. It’s actually green tea that has undergone several additional processes, such as mild fermentation,” Ratna says. 

Yellow tea is very rare and only produced in Hunan and Anhui provinces in China. 

“In China itself, it’s difficult to obtain yellow tea, unless we visit the manufacturers directly. I managed to purchase yellow tea from a teashop in the US,” she says, laughing. 

Unlike the Chinese, Japanese or the British — who have long recognized tea drinking has a sophisticated culture that has been carefully preserved for centuries — Indonesians, unfortunately, have taken tea for granted, due to its low price and easy accessibility. 

In the past few years, more Indonesians have been willing to explore the world of tea, pushing for a major transformation into the birth of a more appreciative local tea culture. 

Currently, several teahouses in the capital have consistently offered a dynamic menu selection, including top-quality teas from all over the world. 

In these teahouses, customers can indulge in a pleasant tea break or afternoon tea session, where tea is highly praised and deeply enjoyed. 

It’s with the passion for tea that the Tea Lovers Community was set up in May 2005, with Ratna as one of the co-founders. Their mission was simple: to develop people’s appreciation of tea. 

“Indonesia is probably the fifth-largest tea producer in the world, but our tea culture is not as well-appreciated as in Japan or China,” Ratna says. 

“We don’t even have our own trademark Indonesian tea, like Darjeeling from India, Gyokuro from Japan or LongJing from China. As a result, high-quality Indonesian tea is always exported abroad, leaving Indonesians with poor quality tea.” 

The community currently has 460 members and hosts monthly gatherings, tastings, demonstrations, tea pairingws and visits to local tea plantations. 

“Not long ago, we tried 19 varieties of tea in three consecutive hours. It was fun and educational sharing moment with other tea lovers.”

Source: Jakarta Post