Do you take sugar?

While sipping tea recently with a friend, I was impressed by her sugar dispenser, a little glass bauble which puts out exactly one teaspoon of sugar each time you invert it. I sheepishly admitted that I don't get out much, and I might even have uttered the word "newfangled." Then she told me the piece was actually old. Oops.

tea cream_sugar

So I shouldn't have been surprised that the tea-focused segment that I caught on TV yesterday was actually a month old. Pop-culture medicine man Dr. Oz was spouting age-old wisdom anyhow: his "Teas to Fight Disease" are nothing new, but perhaps they've reached a new audience in recent months. Of course I'm thrilled by the possibility that Oz's Oprah-fueled fame is providing well-brewed advice to reduce the incidence of diabetes, Alzheimer's, and various cancers with black, green, and white teas, respectively. But I'd like to highlight an aspect of his article which was not at all its focus.

When we talk about tea as a healthful beverage, we often focus on antioxidants, the benefits of caffeine intake (or, paradoxically, the benefits of reduced caffeine content when compared with coffee), or the beverage's super-soothing effects. But tea was flavored water before flavored water was hip - that is, before you could bottle flavored water and charge people for it. One of the greatest health benefits for tea drinkers is that they're upping their water intake without consuming extra sugar or calories - of course, as long as they're not drowning their tea in cream and sugar. Don't get me wrong: I love cream (or milk) and sugar in my tea, but it's not as necessary as I think it is. And so my favorite feature of the Dr. Oz feature was his little "Flavor Meter" for each tea, showing which teas were sweetest and which were strongest. His list was painfully short, excluding red teas and herbals blends, but maybe I'll create my own someday. For now, I'll be satisfying my sweet tooth with healthy cups of Darjeeling, matcha, and Silver Needle teas.

What are some of your favorite sweet-without-sugar teas? (And when you do need some sweetener, doesn't that old-timey glass dispenser sound positively tea-lightful?)

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