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Posted July 29, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Savor the flavor: Tea, served hot or cold, can hit the spot on a summer day

Paul McCarus uses a tea strainer
Paul McCarus, owner of The Cup & Crumpet in Woodstock, uses a tea strainer while pouring a cup of hot tea. Rich Cooley/Daily

Paul McCarus owner of the Cup & Crumpet
Paul McCarus, owner of the Cup & Crumpet in Woodstock, uses a strainer in making tea. Rich Cooley/Daily

McCarus's iced fruit tea
McCarus's iced fruit tea, which includes cinnamon, cloves and a variety of fruit, is a big hit with his customers. McCarus says to experiment with flavors for tea, such as by adding lemon or herbs like lavender. Rich Cooley/Daily


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By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

When it comes to drinks, sometimes the simplest ones are the best -- for your thirst and your waistline. Those concerned about calorie content or those just looking for a way to cool down on a hot summer day might consider returning to the basics.

Tea is a great summer drink, served hot or cold.

In the United States coffee has long been preferred to tea, especially as a caffeinated drink, but Paul McCarus, owner of The Cup & Crumpet at 135 Lora Drive in Woodstock, recommends tea for many reasons, from its taste to its benefits.

"[It] can warm you when you're cold, can cool you when you're hot ... it will calm you when you're excited and it will energize you when you're tired. That's four amazing qualities of tea," he says of hot, caffeinated tea.

"It takes your thirst away. I don't know how it does it, but it does. It's probably the best thing to drink on a hot summer day to take your thirst away."

Though a nice cup of hot tea might be a tough sell when humidity and temperatures rise, even iced tea can offer many favorable uses and is so diverse it can be served with almost any herb, spice or fruit.

McCarus says he does not pay particular attention to the social etiquette of making tea, such as pouring water over tea leaves, immediately draining it and then brewing a second cup of tea for drinking -- a practice that is believed to better release the flavor of tea than by simply drinking the first cup. Instead, he just enjoys tea for what it is.

"It's a drink, and if you like it, you like it, if you don't, you don't," he says.

Though he is big on various sorts of tea, he does not recommend any specific combination of flavorings.

"You can flavor it with whatever you want to flavor it," he says. A big hit at The Cup & Crumpet is its iced fruit tea that includes cinnamon and cloves, though McCarus would not divulge the other ingredients of the secret recipe he says customers love.

Any combination of fruit added to tea would make a great summery treat, depending on one's mood or the availability of seasonal options, such as raspberries, blackberries and peaches. Various herbs, from apple mint to spearmint, are also options that might already be growing in the back yard.

"If they're interested in different flavors, they should experiment," McCarus says. "Cut off some mint leaves or cut off some lavender leaves. Have some fun with it, see what you can come up with."

Because tea comes in many forms, the options for that perfect cup can be endless.

Many people prefer loose tea over bagged tea because loose tea is fresher and the flavor of the tea will not be influenced by the taste of the bag itself, McCarus says. He says to brew loose tea in a tea pot with hot water for at least 10 minutes and then pour the tea into a cup using a tea strainer to strain out the loose tea and any other herbs or spices. He recommends one scoop of tea for each person to be served, or two scoops for an individual tea pot.

There's a tea for every preference, whether herbal or caffeinated. It even comes in various colors: black, white, green and red. McCarus says the greener a tea is, the less caffeinated it is and the more antioxidants it includes. Red tea also does not contain caffeine.

"I like a medium sort of black tea, personally," he says. Earl Grey is a favorite in his tea shop, as well as Russian Caravan, a "smoky" tea, which McCarus says draws reactions from both extremes.

"It's different. A lot of them like it, a lot of them really like it."

Depending on the type of tea, customers might choose to add a lump of sugar, a squirt of lemon, a splash of milk or a spoonful of honey to suit their tastes.

"I like green tea with mint and some of the herbal teas," says Jane Butler, of Woodstock, who has been making tea at home for years, though she also enjoys dropping in for a spot of tea at The Cup and Crumpet.

"Generally I drink it straight, I don't add milk," she says of most teas.

She discovered her favorite hot drink at The Golden Temple that used to be on Dupont Circle in Washington, during the 1970s. What she calls Yogi tea she thinks is an early version of chai tea, known for its strong flavors of cinnamon and vanilla.

Her recipe, which does not actually contain tea, consists of whole cinnamon sticks, cloves, whole allspice, peppercorn and cardamom pods. She thinks the restaurant at Dupont Circle used dry orange peel as well, but Butler chooses not to.

"It was just the most wonderful, memorable tea, and it was served with honey and milk."

"It's very uplifting and you almost have this clarity that comes from drinking it, and I like that in the wintertime with honey and milk," she says, though she admits she will also drink it cold.

"It is good just any way," she says. "Everyone always loves it."

Another favorite of hers is ginger tea for which she says to make a simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water (about 1/2 cup each), add a thumb-sized piece of ginger, then steep the paste with tea and add hot water.

She also enjoys ginger peach gourmet tea from a package, and her favorite brand is The Republic of Tea. She recommends Trader Joe's for its tea selection.

For tea purists, an old fall back is sun tea, she says. Just add hot water to a container with several tea bags and set it out in the sun to brew. Then drink it however you choose -- hot, cold, flavored or unflavored.

Yogi Tea

Ingredients:

whole cloves

whole allspice

cardamom pods

peppercorn

3 cinnamon sticks

dried orange peel (optional)

Directions:

Make up a jar of whole cloves, whole allspice and cardamom pods to keep for each use. For a pot of tea, add two to three tablespoons of spices and a small amount of peppercorn to four cups of hot water for a standard tea pot and steep for 10 minutes with three cinnamon sticks. Include dried orange peel if desired. Pour tea through a tea strainer into a tea cup.

Source: Jane Butler, of Woodstock

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