It’s tea time for Science Cafe

Science Cafe New Hampshire is resuming in Nashua this Wednesday after a bit of Holiday hiatus. Hope you and yours enjoyed the season and stand ready to march into the depths of another winter, but if December is any indication it might not be as tough as what we’ve traditionally had to deal with.

I must confess to being a lifelong coffee drinker and this month’s topic, The Science of Tea, is not one I know a lot about. But being a dedicated geek (with a publication deadline) I decided to do some research into tea and the science of growing, processing and consuming it. Fortunately, I had Darryl Parker of Schoodacs Coffee and Tea of Warner and Science Cafe panelist to educate me.

Darryl immediately opened my eyes with the thousands of years of history behind tea making – it’s origins in the orient and the incredible economic impact it had. Darryl shared that tea in fact was at the center of one of the earliest cases of industrial espionage when the British sent spies to China to discover the secrets of production. They expected to find dozens of varieties of plants to match the wide variety of teas and were astonished to learn that all teas come from one main plant, the Camellia sinensis. Handling, fermentation, smoking and myriad other processing techniques account for the stunning variation of teas, and that remains true today.

Tea is also trendy. As Americans increasingly reject soda and sugary drinks, tea has provided a proven alternative with enough variety and flavor to keep people interested. Darryl told me about a black tea that’s fermented for five years and tastes like scotch! It originated in caravans crossing China to Russia where the tea took on the flavor of the many campfires along the way. Part of the mystique of tea is its oriental roots and the central role it played in connecting cultures through a basis in trade, and we see that continuing today as the many coffee houses of America embrace teas of all description.

And then there are the health benefits of herbal teas, which is problematic in itself. Darryl explained that herbal teas are really tinctures (or brews) of various herbs, you see, and rarely have any tea in them at all, so the complexities of tea only multiply when tea isn’t even tea at all! But herbal teas do have proven health benefits and may be a good alternative for what ails you. Please consult your herbalist. …

Yet, the one ‘drawback’ most people see to tea is the incredible preparation time and demanding attention that must be paid to brewing details. Americans do not have the patience to wait, steep, relax and enjoy if we’re to watch morning television, check our cellphones and rush out the door, already late for another hectic day! Darryl says to never let tea steep for more than 3-5 minutes and remove the bag without squeezing it into the cup – this ensures a good brew without bitterness.

But most importantly, he reminds us of the ceremonial role tea plays in many cultures and encourages us to resist the urge to treat our tea like fast food. “We think it’s an opportunity to take a moment, slow down, and enjoy”, he said. Maybe the real science of tea is the science of ourselves, relaxing with a cup and taking the time to enjoy it while we reflect on life, what’s really important, and our role in making the future a good place.

Please join us at Science Cafe and get your spot of tea! As always, Science Cafe is free, open to the public and offers a unique place where the community can engage in civil discourse, talk science, have a beer, ask questions, learn from each other and enjoy a safe haven for the geeks among us. Come join the conversation!

Hosted at The Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar. You can learn more about Science Café New Hampshire at www.ScienceCafeNH.org.

Dan Marcek is co-founder of Science Café New Hampshire and can be reached at dan@vetflix.org.

IF YOU GO

WHO

Science Cafe

New Hampshire

WHAT

The Science of Tea

WHEN

6-8 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE

The Riverwalk Cafe

and Music Bar,

35 Railroad Square,

Nashua