No, I am not talking about golf, but the world’s No. 1 favorite drink, after water.

Consumption has soared in recent years, as consumers have reached for alternatives to soda.

Tea has been around for thousands of years, but there have never been such a variety of teas available as there are today. All tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant. The differences come from how the tea is processed. Black tea, popular in the U.S., is exposed to air, which turns the leaves dark and imparts flavor. Green tea is not processed as much; the leaves are heated or steamed quickly and thus less flavorful.

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Maryland is a different definition for tea. When I ask for tea at a restaurant or friend’s house, I receive a tea bag and cup of hot water. For a Southern girl, tea is cold, freshly brewed and sweet, made with lots of sugar! We call it sweet tea in the South, and now the whole country has discovered how great it tastes. They sell it by the gallon in the supermarket, in cans at the convenience store, and even fast food restaurants have it on the menu.

I prefer to make my own tea. For the cost of one gallon of ready-to-drink tea, you can buy an entire box of tea bags that makes 12 gallons. Moreover, home brewed has 75 percent more potassium (88 mg), and you get to decide how much sweetener to add, if any. For instance, two teaspoons of sugar will sweeten one cup of tea for only 30 calories. One cup of a popular tea sold in the can has 90 calories, three times as much. Substitute an artificial sweetener and it will have zero calories.

To brew tea, start with fresh, cold water by running your tap water for 30 seconds before filling the teakettle. For black tea, heat water to a rolling boil, pour over tea bags and steep for two minutes. Sweeten and pour over ice. Green and white teas require less heat to steep, so bring the water just to the point where tiny bubbles begin to form. A quicker method is to buy cold brew tea bags, which eliminates the task of heating the water. Several companies produce an iced tea maker that even my husband can manage to operate.

Remember, tea is a source of caffeine, but most people can have up to 300 to 400 mg of caffeine daily without any side effects. The amount of caffeine varies by the type of tea, with black tea being the highest, ranging from 64 to 112 mg per 8 fluid ounce serving. Oolong tea contains less about 29 to 53 mg per serving. Green and white teas contain the least caffeine, 32 to 37 mg per serving. If caffeine is a concern, drink decaffeinated tea or be moderate in your consumption of regular tea.

While research is inconclusive, I vote for having an afternoon tea break and propose you plan an old fashioned tea party!

Frederick has some excellent tea shops to discover your favorite tea flavors: Shab Row Tea Emporium, Voila! in Frederick, The Spice & Tea Exchange of Frederick and Baltimore Coffee and Tea Company.

Interest in herbal teas has risen, but there is not enough research to claim health benefits. The truth is, many herbal teas are simply tea leaves with added herbs, fruit juice, honey, sweeteners or other flavor extracts. Some are not tea at all but infusions of herbs, flowers, roots, spices or various other parts of plants. Consumers should be cautious about making their own herbal teas. Herbs like comfrey, lobelia, woodruff, tonka beans, melilot, sassafras root and many others can be harmful in large amounts, potentially causing liver damage, bleeding, breathing problems or allergic reactions.

Consider using tea as a liquid substitute in recipes and to add potassium and antioxidants. Use in marinades, glazes, as a base for sauces like barbecue or sweet-and-sour, and as a braising liquid for cooking. While you are in the kitchen, enjoy a nice, refreshing glass of our tea recipes.

Deborah Rhoades, MA, RD, FAND, is a licensed Registered Dietitian, Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition Dietetics, and Extension Educator in Family and Consumer Sciences.

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