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Tea Time

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With all the health benefits, anytime is tea time.

By Marene Gustin • Photo by Dalton DeHart

thiaMcKann
Thia McKann of The Path of Tea.

Pull that little pinky in and don’t even think about sugar cubes. Today’s teas are not for bored afternoons with socialites. Oh no, the tea craze that’s sweeping the nation now—even here deep in Texas—is all about getting back to tea’s Asian roots and its holistic benefits.

 According to legend, it was the Chinese emperor Shen Nung who first drank tea, when leaves fell into his boiling water. He loved it so much, the drink spread throughout Asia and was imported to England and France in the 1600s. From there it spread throughout the world and is now the second most popular drink around the globe, next to water.

 Here in Texas we’ve long been fans of our sweet iced tea, but recently tea houses have popped up, and a new legion of tea drinkers, who sip the hot brew in delicate Japanese cups and bowls, wax poetic over different blends just as oenophiles discuss the merits of vintages and varietals.

 What’s behind this tea trend?

 Partly it’s a shrinking world, the Asian influx in America, a desire to get back to basics. But there’s also the health benefit.

 “Nowadays,” says Thia McKann of the all-organic The Path of Tea, “every major news show and magazine talk about tea for your health.” At her three-year-old teahouse on West Alabama, which has a Zen-like calming ambience, the customers are grad students, suburban families, folks without health insurance, and quite a few organic-loving, crunchy-granola types—and even HIV/AIDS folks, who claim they are finding that tea has amazing health benefits.

“White tea for cancer prevention,” says McKann, “and green tea can change the way the AIDS virus replicates. It’s great for your metabolism and cognitive functions.” In particular she recommends matcha, a Japanese powdered tea very high in antioxidants. “It’s used in the Japanese tea ritual and is the only tea that is made from not only the leaves but the stem and all.”

 Her devotion to tea and its benefits extends to the delicate pastries The Path of Tea serves—all organic and, yes, made with tea.

 Connie Lacobie goes her one better, turning tea into cocktails with her teatinis at the new bistro, Sauté, on Richmond Avenue. But it’s her Té House of Tea on Fairview where the brew gets center billing.

 “We have more than 100 different teas here,” Lacobie says. Té House of Tea is less Zen and more community center, with WiFi, Mah-Jongg meetings, and tango lessons—not to mention healthy-lunch and weekend-brunch crowds that pony up for the salads, panninis, and spinach pies. But the basic draw is still tea and its benefits. Both McKann and Lacobie recommend drinking three to fives cups daily.

“It was difficult at first to get people to break the Starbucks habit,” says Lacobie, “but now Oprah talks about oolong’s benefits for weight loss, and everyone knows about the benefits of green tea.”

 In Asia, green tea has been reported to help everything from headaches to depression, but American medical studies are still ongoing, including one at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center here in Houston. Still, the number of tea lovers and those who extol its virtues are growing in the West. So why not try the drink that has been enthralling, inspiring, and invigorating the world for 5,000 years? Tea—it’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner.

 Té House of Tea
1927 Fairview • 713/522-8868

 The Path of Tea
2340 W. Alabama • 713/252-4473;

 Sauté Restaurant
2303 Richmond • 713/522-2106

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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