Saturday, September 30, 2006

Oh... How sweet! Or is it?

As you might have guessed, today's post is about giving tea as a romantic gift. Or not. Actually, it's about sweeteners, and what sweeteners one ought to use in their tea. We will talk about several different artificial sweeteners, and several different natural ones.

The idea of sweetening tea can a sensitive topic. Many tea-related topics can be sensitive topics. People are sensitive about their tea. Some people firmly believe that tea ought not to be sweetened (I prefer not to sweeten my teas), so as to enjoy the natural flavor of the brew. Others believe that tea should only be sweetened with honey. Others that one should take the low-calorie approach and go with something like aspartame, sorbitol, or sucralose (splenda). But whatever you think, you probably have a good reason for it. For the sake of this article, we are going to assume that you are one of those that likes to sweeten your tea.

I am going to go over some of the reasons that people use various sweeteners.

Many people like to use honey to sweeten their teas, whatever kind of tea it is. Honey can be processed differently in the system that other sugars, because it is already partially digested. Another reason that many like to use honey to sweeten their teas is because honey has it's own interesting flavor, which many feel complements the flavor of their beverage. Also, honey may be slightly less caloric than other sugars.

Granular Sugar (beet or cane, including sugar cubes)

There are a number of reasons why people choose to use granular sugar in their beverages. The most popular of these reasons is because it's what is available. Most people have a bunch of this sitting around their homes. Also, many believe it to be the safest sweetener, although this may or may not be true. There are several different forms of granular sugar, including raw sugar (unprocessed dehydrated cane extract), turbinado, or the bagged white sugar that is all so common. Another popular reason that many people use granular sugar is that is *doesn't* add a flavor of it's own to the beverage.

Agave Nectar, Brown Rice Syrup, etc.

Many people interested in natural foods tend to go for sweeteners such as Agave Nectar or Brown Rice Syrup because they believe them to be cleaner, safer, better forms of sugar. Some of these can be sweeter than table sugar, and some have their own flavor profiles which can be enjoyed in beverages.


Aspartame is the sweetener of choice for many diabetics, although it has decreased in popularity in recent years. The most popular reasons to use it is that it is non-caloric and doesn't absorb into your blood stream as a sugar (although many recent studies are finding that your body does, in fact, process it into sugar). One caveat about aspartame, however, is that it is processed by your liver into a form of formaldehyde (embalming fluid), which then becomes toxic.

Sorbitol and Xylitol

Largely, these are used for the same reasons that Aspartame would be used. They are low-calorie, and diabetic friendly. They also do not promote tooth decay. Another interesting reason that some choose to use these over artificial sweeteners is that they are sugar alcohols, and hence, a natural occuring thing. One caveat here is that sorbitol and like substances have laxative properties which can make your tea experience quite an adventure.


Splenda (sucralose) is a fairly new sweetener on the scene. It is actually a restructured sugar molecule that the body cannot process. While many tout it for it's sweeter-than-sugar taste and it's high usability, this product is starting to gain the caution of the wary consumer. It, like sacharin and aspartame and other artificial sweeters, has been found to cause health problems. Also, since molecular restructuring is not at all a natural process, many choose to stay away from this. Not to mention the aftertaste...



Stevia, also called sweatleaf is a naturally occuring plant sugar of plant origin. It is many times sweeter than standard sugar, is extremely low calorie, and is safe for the use of diabetics. Many choose to use this because of it's natural origin. Others choose to use it because of it's low caloric value and high sweetness. Also, most people report that stevia has little or no aftertaste and is a suitable alternative to sugar. It also contains micronutrients and some interesting health properties. I would consider this the best alternative to caloric sugars. Leaves of stevia can actually be brewed *with* the tea to sweeten it, making it un-necessary to add anything.

Traditionally, it is most common to use table sugar in your tea (in the form of a sugar cube, or "lump,") but many people cannot or will not do that.

I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about which sweetener you choose. If you cannot or choose not to be a traditionalist, then my reccomendation would be to choose a nectar or syrup, or my personal favorite alternative sweeter, stevia.

Thanks once again for reading, and have a great day!

Cup o' Tea,


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tea and Mood... What shall I drink today?

Today's post is going to be of more a contemplative nature than an informative one. I hope you enjoy it and find it interesting and thought-provoking.

Every tea lover knows that there are a great number of teas available for consumption. Many tea drinkers, however, select one or two different types of tea, and then just roll with that day after day, never changing their routine, and remaining constant with the type tea that they select.

I, on the other hand, find that there is something to be said for using tea as a mood device. Certain teas taste differently according to moods. This works psychologically due to the fact that everybody has their "comfort flavors" that they have become accustomed to. Additionally, most people have flavors that they associate, for one reason or another, with pain, sadness, misery, celebration, or any assortment of feelings. Because of this, depending on the mood they are in, their mind is going to pick out a different aspect of that tea's flavor profile.

Many people will choose a tea contrary to their current mood in the hopes that it might remind them of some other experience and change their mood, or that some flavor or substance in the tea, or the fact that they have a hot cup in from of them in the first place will do something about changing the mood that they are in.

It is philosophically interesting to note that different people drink different teas for different reasons, and that the flavor of a certain tea for one person might be experienced entirely differently in another person. This is because taste and the perception of flavor are relative. There is also something to be said for the idea that fragrances can trigger certain modes of thinking, and the same thing that has just been noted for flavor can be doubly noted for fragrance. The olfactory sense, or sense of smell, is linked to our strongest form of memory. Our sense of smell triggers memories better than any of our other senses. Hence, one might select a tea of a certain fragrance depending on what mood their in.

But whatever mood your in, and whatever your reasons for selecting a tea, it is almost universally agreed upon that tea is a comfort food, most often used for relaxation and to bring consolation.

Draw from this whatever conclusions you may like. I personally find that I often have more of an emotional connection to the tea I am drinking that I am willing to admit. If you, also, feel emotionally connected somehow to the teas that you drink, please let us know! I welcome your comments to this post!

Thanks for reading.

Signing off,

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Rage about Rooibos...

Today I want to introduce you to a new tea. This is likely a far different tea than you have tasted or heard of before, but it is a most fantastic tea nonetheless, and when I want a tea without the caffeine (which sometimes happens, as I don't get any effect from caffeine anyway), this is my tea of choice. It is called Rooibos tea, otherwise known as African Red Tea.

Here's a bit of the history on Rooibos.

Over three hundred years ago, native inhabitants of the mountainous regions of South Africa's Western Cape were the first to collect wild rooibos and make it into tea. They had discovered that they could brew a sweet, tasty tea from rooibos leaves and stems that they cut, bruised with wooden hammers, fermented in heaps, and then sun-dried (seems like quite a process, eh?). Botanists first recorded rooibos plants in 1772 when they were introduced to the tea by the Khoi people.

Since that time, Rooibos has grown in popularity. A great bit of this popularity (at least in America) came during WWI,I when tea supplies from Asia forced drinkers to find an alternative. Rooibos tea was more than up to the task. Today, with the many amazing health benefits surfacing and many flavors available, rooibos tea has far surpassed its role as an alternative beverage.

Either fermented or nonfermented versions of rooibos tea are available, although the unfermented are more difficult to find and are generally more expensive.

Rooibos, as with most teas, works best when brewed loose leaf. Rooibos is naturally low in tannins, has a somewhat earthy taste with no bitterness, and has some amount of appeal to children (most children will drink it without sugar.) It is extrememly high in antioxidants and micronutrients, extremely low in tannins (and hence has no bitterness), and fairly high in flavor. It is available at most whole herb vendors.

So, if you are looking for something new to try, or looking for a way to enjoy the sameness of tea without the caffeine or tannins, I highly recommend that you give Rooibos a try! You'll be glad you did!

Over and out,

Monday, September 18, 2006

To Tea-Bag, or Not to Tea-Bag?

Greetings, Readers!

As you may or may not have stemmed from the title, this entry is, in fact, about tea bags and wether or nor one ought to use them. This is a topic of much debate among drinkers of tea (unless, of course, you ask a real tea Connoisseur, who will inevitably vote for loose leaf.)

Overwhelmingly, it is the case that most Americans would choose the tea bag, mostly because they've not known any other way to do it, and it seems the most convenient path. While the whole convenience bit may be true, it's certainly not the only thing you ought to consider when you're thinking about tea.

Let us consider the benefits of both methods of tea preparation, and then let you make the judgement for yourself.

Tea Bags

Easily the most convenient way of brewing a cup of tea is to use a tea bag, which makes this the obvious option for some. It takes a bit more effort to make a good cup of loose-leaf tea.

Here are some points to be made about bagged tea:

Positive Points (Pros):
  1. Tea bags are small and convenient to carry with you wherever you go.
  2. Tea bags are a quick and effective method to brew one cup of tea.
  3. Tea bags eliminate the need for other brewing equipment
Negative Points:
  1. The leaves in teabags are often broken up into incredibly small bits, causing some of the essential oils and chemicals to evaporate, leaving a dull, tasteless tea.
  2. Most tea bags do not allow sufficient room for the tealeaves to expand, which is important to extract the ful flavor from the tea.
  3. There is often less variety to choose from in bagged teas vs. loose.
It's also important to note that often, with many commercial teabags, you are left with something of the flavor of the sack in your tea, which is not the most pleasant flavor to experience. Lower grade leaves are also typically used in bagged teas vs. loose. Additionally, it is often the case that bagged teas are poorly packaged, allowing the bags and leaves to dry out too much, diminishing the flavor of the beverage. If you're going to keep bagged tea around, store it in a tin or some other airtight container!

To use a teabag, you would simply boil some water, pour it in a teacup, pour it back into the heating pot (it is essential to warm the teacup), place your teabag into the cup, and the pour the boiling water right on top of the teabag. Allow it to steep for 3-4 minutes, press the teabag against the side of the glass a few times, and enjoy.

And here are some points to be made about loose tea:

Positive Points (Pros):
  1. Typically made from whole leaves, or at least large sections of leaf, allowing more flavor to be extracted from the tea.
  2. Typically made of higher grade materials.
  3. Allows for optimal water circulation, which is important to extract the flavor and nutrients from tea.
  4. Tastes better, and is more satisfying!
  5. More selection often available with this method - you could even harvest your own plants!
  6. Is more likely to ensure a proper cup of tea.
Negative Points (Cons):
  1. More difficult to carry or brew away from home (although there are some great ways of doing this!)
  2. Takes a bit more time and effort to make.
  3. Can seem complicated at first (even though it isn't).
With loose tea, it's also important to note that there are a number of ways to brew it. You could simply pour boiling water over the leaves, allow it to steep for 3-4 minutes, and then pour it through a strainer. Or there are many portable infusers, such as tea balls, infuser spoons, and other similar devices. There's also many different types of teapots.

With loose tea, my favorite method of brewing is the French Press. This invloves a glass beaker in some kind of base, with a plunger device usually made from two layers of fine mesh that comes down from the top of the beaker, filtering the tea.

To use a french press, you would bring some water to a boil, put some in the press, swill it around, and pour in back into the heating pot (it is essential to first warm your pot before you brew in it.) You would then bring the water back up to a full boil, and pour it directly on top of your leaves. Then you would simply allow it to brew for 3-4 minutes, and press the plunger device down on your press, locking in the flavor (don't let it brew too long, or your tea will become bitter!)

Some people like to compromise between bagged tea and loose tea, or just happen to have some bagged tea around and decide they want to try loose leaf, so they open up their tea bags and attempt to brew loose leaf that way. BAD IDEA!!! Not only will you be left with a less-than-wonderful tasting cup of tea, you'll also have a fair bit of grit floating around in it (because of the much, much smaller leaf sizes in bagged tea), which is a very unpleasant thing.


As we conclude our discussion, it does seem that there is merit to both methods of tea preparation. The tea bags seem to be much quicker and easier, but the loose method seems to do a much better job overall. Also, there seems to be much more selection and versatility with loose leaf. You don't just have to deal with what is available in pre-packaged store boxes.

As far as portability, there are great portable options for both. Tea bags are naturally portable, and there are a great number of portable french presses (called travel presses or press mugs) around, as well as the afforementioned tea balls, infuser spoons, and other portable infusers.

My personal choice is to go with the loose leaf, for reasons of flavor, ritual, and pure tea quality (not to mention that I'm very choosy, which is hard to do with bagged teas). What's your choice? (please comment).

Signing off,

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Why I drink tea...

To me, tea is the most comforting thing in the world. I love having the chance to go and just make a cup of relaxing chamomile, and hold it for a bit while it cools down. The scent, the taste, the warmth is just soothing.

It's like a quote that was mentioned after the bombing of the London subway.

When the news reporter said "Shopkeepers are opening their doors bringing out blankets and cups of tea" I just smiled. It's like yes. That's Britain for you. Tea solves everything. You're a bit cold? Tea. Your boyfriend has just left you? Tea. You've just been told you've got cancer? Tea. Coordinated terrorist attack on the transport network bringing the city to a grinding halt? TEA DAMMIT! And if it's really serious, they may bring out the coffee. The Americans have their alert raised to red, we break out the coffee. That's for situations more serious than this of course. Like another England penalty shoot-out.

While I may not live in England, this quote rings very true to me. We could learn a lot from those across the sea.

And how to prepare tea according to one on BBC's h2g2 can be found on

Signing off,

Friday, September 15, 2006

Teeccino Herbal Coffees

I would like to introduce you to a long-time favorite product of mine called Teeccino Herbal Coffee. Now, I know what you're thinking: "For the love of Mike, this is a Tea blog! You know.... Insani-*TEA*... And you are talking about herbal COFFEE!" Now, I understand your thinking this, but allow me to explain.

You see, there is more than one type of tea. First, we have infusions. An infusion is a tea made from pouring hot water over fresh or dried herbs (generally leaves and flower petals and the like.) This is what most of us think of when we think about tea. Green tea is always an infusion. A decoction, on the other hand, is most commonly made from other parts of the plant, such as bark, fruit, nuts, twigs, and the like. Decoctions are also generally boiled for some period of time and used for medicinal purposes.

Technically, Teeccino is a tea infusion (even though it contains roots), and a right tasty one at that. Teeccino was developed by Caroline MacDougall, who, as some of you real tea buffs might know, did a great deal of tea designing and research for companies such as the Republic of Tea.

Teeccino is made from a blend of nuts, fruits, and herbs (the dark tones of teeccino come from roasted carob, barley, and chicory root, which form Teeccino's base) that brew up quite nicely when made using traditional coffee or tea preparation methods (with the Teeccino, and most other brewed beverages, I prefer the french press method.)

If any of you have the opportunity, I strongy recommend that you give it a try! You will be glad you did!


Allo' there!

Welcome to Insani-Tea! As this is my very first post ever to this blog, I feel I owe you an introduction. I go by the name Relznuk for interesting reasons which you will probably never find out. I am a lover of teas and Brit-Com. I had my first cup of tea at a very young age, and now, I am a frequent brewer, using the french press I keep in my kitchen.

I have long maintained that loose leaf is the best form of tea, and a French Press is the best method to brew it, as it allows plenty of room for the leaves to do their thing.

I hope to enjoy maintaining this blog, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Remember - A day without tea is like a day without sunshine!