Exploring Tea in the Brazos Valley

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By Sarah Kinzbach Williams

It’s a ceremonious ritual on the most basic level. It begins with the kettle whistling, continues as hot water is poured over the cured leaves, and ultimately ends with eyes closed and a smiling sigh. The cup brings warmth to the hands while soft aromas envelope the senses and dissolve the tensions of the day. The first sip furthers the reverie and solidifies the ritual that has spanned approximately 11 centuries.

The second most widely consumed beverage in the world, tea is more than an international commodity – it’s a social staple with local flair. From tearooms to blenders and herbalists, the Brazos Valley is ripe with local proprietors happy to sit and talk over a cuppa.

Jeanie Price, owner of Mad Hatter’s Tea Room in Caldwell, is such a proprietor. Filled with mix-and-match chairs, antique hats, and the welcoming smells of tea, coffee and homemade pie, Mad Hatter’s is a wonderland paused in time.

Spoon of dried green tea leaves on wooden background

Spoon of dried green tea leaves on wooden background

Price says the tearoom’s name is fitting because, “You have to be a little bit mad to open a tearoom in Downtown Caldwell.” Despite the madness, Price has played witness to the memories visitors have made in the shop throughout the last 17 years.

“What makes me happy is when people linger here. They take time. They aren’t running in to grab something and then leave,” says Price. “They stay all afternoon for tea and to visit.”

It’s more than just enjoying the flavors of tea; it’s taking the time to make a memory, says Price. The memories keep people coming back.

“We did dress-up parties and tea for Girl Scout groups when we first started,” remembers Price. “Now, we have those kids returning for tea as adults with their own kids.”

The whimsy of the tearoom and enjoying a cup of tea truly encourages Price’s advice: “Take time to renew your spirit and nourish your soul.”

Om Grown Yoga’s Clinical Herbalist Kristin Henningsen, MS, CH, E-RYT, would concur. “It’s a ritual. You are actively taking the time to nourish yourself,” says Henningsen. Combining yoga practice and herbal tea infusions, Henningsen utilizes ancient Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Native Western medicine to provide targeted health benefits.

Herbal teas, or tisane, are often infusions combining varieties of the actual tea plant, Camellia sinensis, with other herbs and plants for targeted medicinal support. Nettle, which contains a large nutrient base, water-soluble vitamins, and essential trace minerals, is a commonly used herb for nourishing and immune-boosting tea blends. Lavender, chamomile, and lemon balm can be combined with green tea leaves to provide a soothing antioxidant tea blend for stress-reduction and balance.

But nutritive and targeted-specific benefits of herbs and tea are just the beginning. Om Grown Yoga has a tea bar with an environment more than conducive to the full enjoyment of tea.

Enjoyment is key to a successful cup of tea and Noelle Swartz, owner of Owl & Pussycat Tea Emporium, has built her Brazos Valley-based company on the limitless ways to enjoy premium teas.

“My mother was always a tea drinker,” says Swartz. “She would put some tea in my sippy cup with milk. It did something to my taste buds, I suppose, and it just continued.”

Swartz has expanded her love for tea into a business venture based on quality sourcing and education.

“There’s a whole world out there of tea,” says Swartz. “Tea is picked at different times for different flavors. First tea pickings are usually grassy, milder. As the season goes on, they become stronger in flavor. After they are picked and processed determines the type of tea.”

Black tea is a fully oxidized tea with more caffeine, and has been dried and fired longer. White tea is picked prior to the buds fully opening; the leaves are then wilted for a few days and dried at a moderate temperature just above 100 degress.

Ti Kuan Yin, or oolong tea, is rolled in a ball and the entire leaf expands when it hits the water. “It’s beautiful when it happens,” says Swartz.

Rooibos, grown in South Africa and commonly referred to as red tea despite being an herbal infusion, has recently become popular with 50 times the antioxidant levels of green tea, says Swartz.

When first trying tea, Swartz recommends diving in and trying loose-leaf tea. “Bagged tea is really inferior to whole-leaf tea,” says Swartz. “The majority of what’s in a bag is torn up fannings…left over from a cut-tear-crush method. The pieces are much smaller…and adds to bitterness.”

Flavored teas are another great introduction, says Swartz. OPTeas’ black tea date-fig-sesame blend is one such option and a wonderful treat for all the senses.

If a daily cuppa is still not your cup of tea, Swartz says the new big thing is cooking with tea. (Check out the recipes!)

Whether iced, hot, herbal, with sugar, milk, or even cooked in a tasty treat, consider a new ritual with a cup of tea and a relaxing moment in your day.