Sara Volk
A cup of lemon tea with honey is the perfect thing for a cold or sore throat.





Ahhh, yes -- tea. Or, as my coffee-adoring friends call it, "leaf water". There's something intrinsically calming about sitting down with a cup of tea, no matter what time of year it is. Whether it's a sweet, springy milk tea, a fruity iced thirst-quencher or your classic hot Earl Gray, tea is one of the most versatile drinks on the market. Any time someone has said "I don't like tea" to me, I've managed to find something in my expansive collection of tea boxes that they grudgingly admitted was pretty darn good.

And here's the thing: it's not just good. It's also quite good for you. Tea has been the subject of a lot of medical research lately, from looking at it for anti-carcinogenic properties to the effects of its abundant antioxidants. Tea (especially the white and green varieties) has a high concentration of catechins, a type of polyphenol. Catechins are antioxidants speculated to contribute not only to prevent cancer, but also osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. The name of our catechin friend? EGCG.

A 2004 study published by the US National Library of Medicine also tracked the regular consumption of green or oolong tea (for at least one year) in participants; those who drank up to 2.5 cups of tea a day lowered their risk of developing hypertension (otherwise known as high blood pressure) by a staggering 46 percent. Those who drank more got even better results, and were 65% less likely to suffer from hypertension.

Tea has also been associated with lower cholesterol, lower body fat, boosting the immune system, keeping blood sugar down, helping with weight loss and even reducing stress.

Tea's flavor versatility is one of its main selling points. There's a blend for everyone. The ingredients used (additives can include fruits, flowers, herbs and more), the base tea leaf used and the fermentation process all affect the final product. Additionally, final preparation affects the taste of the tea itself. A common mistake is to use boiling water for all tea; however, this is a big "no"! Delicate tea leaves (such as green or white teas) will be scorched by water this hot, and the taste of the tea itself will suffer as a result; steeping the tea for too long or too short can similarly affect taste. While some may like their tea strong, it certainly isn't for everyone. If you're not sure how hot your water should be or how long you should leave it to steep, we've prepared a handy little guide for you below!

If you're new to drinking tea, the huge number of blends might seem overwhelming. I sat down with Terisina Hintz, who co-owns Steep Me a Cup of Tea in Bismarck with her husband Jerry, to talk about breaking into the tea craze.

"If it sounds good, it will taste good," she assured me with a laugh. And with over 200 different options, Steep Me is sure to have something for every palate. However, she did offer a few recommendations to help you get started:

* If you like sweet and fruity:

Pick a fruit-flavored tea! Raspberry, strawberry, mango -- there's an endless supply of fruity-flavored teas to choose from, so pick your favorite and start from there. Steep Me's Grandma's Garden blend is a popular green tea blend that should be on your radar.

* If you're a die-hard mocha fan:

Trading your coffee for a cup of tea doesn't mean you have to say goodbye to a taste you like; Steep Me Mocha has a white chocolate mocha taste, allowing you to get your mocha fix while still getting the health benefits of tea.

* If you want to get out of the box:

If you want to try something outside the box and new, try a pu-erh tea; it has a uniquely aged and fermented flavor, is rich in probiotics and antioxidants, and can help boost your metabolism and lower cholesterol.

* If you still don't know where you start:

Start with the basics. Do you want your drink to be sweet or savory? Hot or cold? And so on. Try what sounds good and trust your gut!

Once you've chosen the flavor and blend you'd like to try, you can customize it to your tastes. Have a sweet tooth, but don't want to undo the good with table sugar? Add agave nectar or honey for a boost of sweetness. Like a creamier drink? Add milk (or, if you're feeling extravagant, a splash of cream can do wonders, too). Whatever tea you choose, you can rest easy knowing that the drink's not only delicious, but has some great side benefits.

For the perfect cup every time

White: 149-158 degrees F, 1-2 min

Yellow: 158-167 degrees F, 1-2 min

Green: 167-176 degrees F, 1-2 min

Oolong: 176-185 degrees F, 2-3 min

Black: 210 degrees F, 2-3 min

Herbal: 210 degrees F, 3-6 min

Tea at a glance

White: Potent anti-cancer properties

Rooibos: Rich in antioxidants, improves blood circulation

Green: Stroke and cancer prevention

Oolong: Prevents cancer and osteoporosis

Black: Reduces risk of stroke

Herbal: Illness and better sleep (depending on blend)

Sara Volk is a Bismarck native and the current Special Sections editor at The Bismarck Tribune. When she isn't working to give her cat a better life, she dabbles in baking, sewing, and anything nerdy.