The Tea Spot

Two flavorful international experiences sparked a passion for tea in Lisa Campbell. “You must try this, child,” offered a café owner in Jamaica back in 1998 who was serving the ruby-tinged, South African Rooibos (pronounced roy boss) tea. Then three years ago, a trip to London that included several high tea engagements further encouraged Campbell’s goal of bringing such an appreciation back home.

Campbell, a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, felt there was a lot of stuffiness associated with tea drinking in London that kept potential enthusiasts away. “I wanted people who look like me to experience the joy, flavors, and health benefits of loose-leaf tea.” So she formed Urban Tea Party (www.urbantea as an online outlet before the 2005 opening of her Atlanta tea house.

Oolong, white, green, black, and herbal are among 3,000 varieties of loose-leaf tea — most of which are from the camellia sinensis plant. “Bag teas are the waste from the rest of the world’s real tea,” attests Campbell, 43. “In tea processing plants there are large [fine wire] screens. What’s on top of those screens is typically sent to true tea drinking locales: Europe, Asia, and Africa. What falls through those screens is swept up, thrown in bags, and brought to America. I call it tea dust.” The English are second only to the Irish in the consumption of tea, while 80% of all tea in the U.S. is consumed in the form of iced tea.

All teas have antioxidant qualities, meaning they prevent chemical damage to our cells. According to Campbell, very few drinks exceed the health benefits of loose-leaf tea: black teas have properties that lower cholesterol; oolong teas are good for treating diabetes and reducing blood sugar, green teas aid in fighting cancer, and white teas improve complexion. To reap the benefits of tea, Campbell recommends drinking four cups a day.

All this goodness comes cheap: Tea is one of the world’s least expensive quality beverages. At $15 for Campbell’s 4-ounce, 40-cup container of loose-leaf tea, and at $24.50 for a reusable 8-ounce canister, you’re paying pennies per cup.

If you’re concerned about caffeine, you can actually wash it off your tea, says Campbell. “Put your tea in an infuser, pour hot water over the tea, and pour that first hot water out. Then brew with the second pour — you’ve washed at least 70% of the caffeine off of your tea.” Or try Rooibos, which is naturally caffeine free.

Your best cup of tea comes from a flat-bottom cast iron teapot because it distributes heat more evenly than plastic or glass. Timing is integral to making a great cup of tea, and Campbell is exacting with brewing times: Black tea should be brewed for three minutes and 15 seconds. Green teas should brew for two minutes and 45 seconds, after which the tannin (a chemical compound that supplies astringency) starts to release its bitter flavor. “People think they don’t like green tea, [but that’s] because they’ve been brewing it too