Every day, at 5.30pm, Dubai food blogger Haiya Tariq shares pictures and videos of her rustic tea set-up on her Instagram page. Some delicious cuppas she has savoured and shared digitally are hojicha, milk oolong and, her personal favourite, matcha.
Unlike a lot of content on the social media app, Tariq’s posts are not merely visually pleasing, but also informative. They delve into the preparation of the tea – from the temperature of the water to steeping time to trivia – and ask others to share their own tea arrangements. Tariq is indulging in On-nomi, the Japanese concept of drinking online while chatting to friends, which is picking up steam globally.
When Tariq heard of it, she realised it was the perfect way to bond with fellow tea lovers from all over the world. “By putting up my teatime ritual, I had people tagging me, sharing their evening cuppas and asking me questions about how I brewed my cup. It gives me time to answer queries, and feels intimate and personal,” she says.
Tariq started the ritual on March 28, as more people in the UAE took to self-isolation, and says there are numerous benefits of practising On-nomi during these times of loneliness, uncertainty and indoor living. “Tea time gives people something to look forward to. Even though we are all holed up, we can get so caught up in the mundane. Having this ritual forces people to pause and take a break,” she says.
It’s why she is making a case for doing more than just downing a cup of tea. Tariq wants others to make a ritual out of it – find a spot in the house you enjoy being in, perhaps on the balcony or seated next to an open window, carefully brew the tea leaves to perfection and savour the flavour – just as she is doing.
Top tea drinking tips
“For me, tea time is not about pressing a button on a kettle; teas need to be brewed at a particular temperature. I weigh the leaves, heat the water to the right temperature, rinse the leaves, brew for the desired amount of time, then decant. I use Chinese tea cups, that last two sips and ensures you are always drinking at the perfect temperature. But because they are so small, you have to keep filling them up – it is an experience in itself.”
Some of her other top tips include: “Decanting tea before pouring it into cups ensures that each cup gets the same strength of an evenly mixed batch of tea. The temperature for brewing tea ranges from 70°C to 95°C, and boiling water should rarely be used [except for tisanes or herbal teas].
“When buying tea, check the harvest date, cultivator, etc. The more details, the better. Teas that are fresher are better, as are teas grown in higher altitudes. Finally, try to opt for organic whenever possible.”
Benefits of tea time
This ritual of what she calls “mindful drinking” may have bona fide psychological benefits, too. As nutritionist Victoria Tipper says: “There is an interesting theory on how tea affects our mental health because of the ritual of preparing and consuming it, rather than what is in the tea itself. Many will take a tea break or time out to have that cup, time to themselves or with others, but that is primarily associated with having a rest from whatever else we have going on in our lives.
“There is also research out there to support that tea has a positive impact on mood and cognitive performance,” Tipper adds. “Within a healthy population, drinking green tea has been shown to lower the risk of depression and the stress hormone cortisol, which is good for many in times of self-isolation.”
This is all in addition to the normal health benefits a good old cup can offer. Tipper explains that the high levels of flavonoids found in teas may reduce inflammation, a key step in chronic disease development such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They also protect the brain from oxidative stress, which helps ward off conditions such as Alzheimer’s and memory loss, while the drink’s high antioxidant content fights ageing, cell damage and the risk of cancer.
“Of course, to get the best out of your tea, it is wise to have it without added sugar or sweeteners. If you must add some sweetness, opt for natural, raw honey,” says Tipper.
With more time on hand, people are seemingly coming around to the idea of an idyllic tea ritual. Tariq’s Instagram is inundated with posts from the local community on all things tea. “Ironically, I think this [situation] has brought people together – they are more sensitive to how others are feeling and more supportive.”
Three teas to try
Chai (black tea)
Most traditional chai mixtures have ingredients such as black tea leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, black pepper, cloves and star anise. Take one teaspoon of tea leaves, place in a steeper or strainer, fill with water and steep for four to six minutes (depending on how strong you like your tea). Drink as is or add honey and / or milk. Black tea can prevent mouth infections and cavities, improve metabolism and boost energy levels, thanks to its caffeine content. The spices have great anti-inflammatory properties that aid gut health and digestion. Cardamom, for instance, is high in vitamin C, and helps reduce muscle pain.
Chamomile tea (herbal tea)
Take one teaspoon of tea leaves, place in a steeper or strainer, fill with water and steep for four to six minutes (again depending on how strong you like your tea). Once steeped, either drink as is or add honey. This tea is very comforting and great for easing tension, anxiety and stress, as well as for reducing bloating, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, menstrual cramps, and inflammation. Camomile can also be put to cosmetic use; the herbal tea helps get rid of eye bags and dark circles. Simply press a cold camomile-filled tea bag against your eyes for a few minutes, and you will be bright, wide-eyed and ready to face the day.
Matcha latte (green tea)
Take one teaspoon of matcha powder, whisk with a quarter cup of hot water. Once blended, top with any nut milk of your choice – almond, hazelnut or coconut – and add honey if preferred. This latte is packed with antioxidants, it boosts metabolism, is super-detoxifying, enhances mood and gives you “zenergy”. Matcha tea also works wonders as a spot corrector; mix matcha powder with a tiny bit of water and apply on problem areas – the antibacterial properties help to reduce redness and remove impurities.
Source: Tania Lodi of Tania’s Teahouse in Jumeirah