Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tea-- Sweet, Sweet Deliciousness

There are some nights I go to sleep just so I can wake up the following morning and have breakfast, and on a cool-n-cozy Saturday like this, when it feels so right to stay in pajamas for as long as possible, that means an even better breakfast 'experience'. Nothing out of the ordinary with food this morning-- mushroom omelet with Sriracha and mustard, apple on the side. Nah, today's food porn is all about the drink: tea.
Yerba mate gourd

My love for tea began long before moving to Hippie Health Land (pronounced Colorado for those unsure). During high school, I was a self-proclaimed Theater Nerd, so I hung around with the more eccentric personalities in the school... you know, the guys that wore burgundy bathrobes under their fringed Harley-Davidson denim vests, or bowling shoes with vertically striped pants and a poncho... or, my personal favorite, guys with ponytails longer than mine. It was one of these crazy-go-nuts that was not fully assembled if he did not have his stainless steel thermos of a different daily tea. I'm not talking about Generic Lipton Black Tea Product. No, he'd have some amazing blends, things I hadn't heard of. This guy would sit through rehearsals drinking yerba mate out of its most appropriate container: a hollowed gourd. That's dedication to the good stuff.

Tea is a non-negotiable part of my diet. (Kinda helps that I live in an area swimming in tea manufacturers.) For anyone not familiar with the differences, there are three basic levels of color, each relating to when the tea leaf was picked and its level of caffeine, as well as an umbrella category called 'infusions'. (I'm not going to delve into the variations like oolong, yerba mate, kombucha, etc.)


  • least amount of caffeine... as in, almost none
  • mild and usually sweet flavor
  • high antioxidant concentration
    • helps improve skin, heart, cholesterol, healthy teeth and gums
    • helps neutralize cancer cells
  • versatile flavor when cooking


  • healthy level of caffeine
    • reduces migraines and headaches
    • stimulates metabolism to support safe fat burning (it's not a miracle beverage, so don't start up the green tea I.V. and expect to drop 10 pounds in 2 days)
  • rich in nutrients that are hard to find in other foods (like EGCG, shorthand for 'acid chain that targets viruses/bacteria')
  • stronger taste


  • highest level of caffeine, still less dangerous levels of it than most commercial soft drinks
  • fullest flavor, usually made into 'desert tea'
  • proven to reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases and strokes
  • can be brewed repeatedly to preserve flavor while reducing caffeine


  • do not come from the 'tea plant', but rather other herbs, flavors, or extracts that still require minimal (if any) processing
  • Ah, variety!
    • red or 'rooibos' (pronounced ROY-bohs... just so you sound like you know what you're talking about) that comes from a specific breed of African bush
    • flowers like rose, lavender, chamomile, peppermint (Caution: these flavors can be added to actual teas that have caffeine, so double check the name of the tea and the ingredients when you're out shopping or at (shudders) Starbucks)
    • seeds, roots, or other plant leaves
  • almost always contain no caffeine
  • varied flavors
But is it Paleo?

Now, I've done my research when it comes to tea, and I gotta say... there is some massive confusion out there in the Internet World of Paleo. Caffeine is usually a forbidden substance in any form, so infusions that have never involved the tea plant at any point are acceptable, provided that they're not sweetened as that would spike insulin levels... and yet... caffeine, when left in its natural form in tea leaves, and when consumed in moderation, has tremendous health benefits, almost always related to heart health and safe cell growth and repair cycle. Tea leaves are not poisonous in their raw form, unlike things like soy and other beans, which means they don't fit into the category of 'foods' that require tremendous processing before they can be safely consumed; all that's really needed to make tea is tea leaves, hot water, and a thin enough membrane to let the flavor seep from the plant into the water. (Big aside here: it's possible to use a plant or root that is not Paleo and make it into an infusion, but unless you want to drink raw eucalyptus or Essence of Poison Ivy, you're probably safe.) I say, if your system is clean enough, one or two cups of different teas and infusions a day probably isn't going to derail your Paleo efforts, and is far safer than many of the alternatives.

Tea can be used in many different Paleo recipes in place of flavorless water to forgo the need of adding things like salt or sugars. There are a few independent labels like Boulder's The Tea Spot that have countless suggestions for how to incorporate different loose leaf blends into your meals. Easiest to add to soups or stews in place of broth or stock, you can also try blending with random starchy foods like sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips... anything that is going to absorb and retain liquid during the cooking process. I used to make oatmeal with vanilla rooibos tea, but since I don't eat grains or glutens anymore, I have to find new ways to add tea to my food! Gee, darn, a new reason to try new recipes...

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