Wellness in a cup of tea

Tea culture has been at the core of many civilizations around the world for thousands of years, and is still the most popular beverage in the world — after water. But did you know that in addition to being tasty and warming on a cool winter day, teas have many health benefits such as calming the stomach, improving digestion, and focusing the mind?
The naturally relaxing and settling qualities of tea have helped to revive and maintain its popularity in Eastern and Western cultures, but additional health benefits that researchers have more recently discovered within tea have also added to its popularity.
According to research found by Eating Well magazine last year, drinking black tea regularly can help improve heart health by lowering triglycerides as well as reducing blood glucose levels, which eases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
It also boosts antibodies, which fight off free radicals and arm your body against illness. Drinking oolong tea can reduce the chances of stroke and lower blood pressure, while passionflower tea can help you achieve a better night’s sleep. Green tea has long been touted for its health benefits, which include reducing your risk of cancer and diabetes.
But while all of these health benefits have become additional incentives to brew a pot of tea, John Wetzel, owner of the Stone Leaf Teahouse in Middlebury, suggests that it is the culture and attitude of tea that’s most attractive. “(Tea culture) brings an aspect that’s been missing in our culture, which is sitting down and drinking tea. … It’s an excuse to sit, look around, look out the window, calm down,” Wetzel says. “It’s the opposite of our go-go-go, do-more society, and I think that’s what people crave.”
Tea ceremonies, which originated in China but are shared in many countries around the world, are used to celebrate and honor guests, events, holidays and weddings, but have also existed as routine ways to calm the mind and body in everyday life.
At Stone Leaf, Wetzel has intentionally set up an environment “conducive to drinking tea.” From the calming music and soft lighting, to the warm and earthy colors on the walls, to the tea paraphernalia that decorates the shop, the culture of tea is celebrated.
“There’s a subtleness in tea that is inherent and permeating in the environment,” Wetzel says, and his shop is designed to expose and celebrate that subtlety with each element.
Wetzel spends much of his time and energy studying tea and learning about the various styles, pouring and serving rituals, quality and taste variations, and storing preferences. He is inspired by the depth of variation in teas and the diversity found within a single plant.
The fun part, he says, is matching a tea with a person and their particular mood. “We use the descriptions in our menu as an early guide, and then we can match the tea as well as the serving and pouring ritual to that person.”
“There is an art of tea service and preparation,” Wetzel said, “but the customer doesn’t have to think about that, that’s my study. I do it to suit my study of tea. It changes by environment, people, tea type, and mood.”
Flavors can and should change with location, time of day, water used, and many other factors of tea preparation, Wetzel suggests. But in the end, “As one of the greatest Japanese tea masters said, ‘Pour hot water over tea leaves.’ That’s how to brew tea.”
Perhaps the tea itself is the simple part, but the culture is profound and alluring in this hectic and busy life, and offers a healthy respite to a stressful routine. 

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