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VARIATIONS ON A THEME

In addition to the traditional herbal and fruit infusions, tea makers have a long tradition of blending flavours to create bespoke teas. The result is a choice of tea for almost every occasion - whether the drinker wants to be woken up or sent off to sleep, have his or her taste buds stimulated or enjoy a comfortable, soothing flavour. As examples,
popular herbal infusions include ginger, lemon-grass and mint, or Rooibos with either vanilla or orange.

PEOPLE AND THE GIFTS OF NATURE

The use of natural plants for health and wellbeing is as old as the art of conversation itself - if not older. As each generation discovered new uses for the plants and trees around them, it passed the knowledge onto its successors. The result is a whole body of knowledge about the natural world, which still informs medical practices today. When the remains of an ancient iceman were discovered on the Hauslabjoch Pass in Italy, for example, he was found to be carrying two birch polypores, which are known for their antibiotic properties. Similarly, early Chinese and Indian texts talk of the healing properties of herbs and plants, as do the works of Ancient Greece. Written by the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides in about 100 AD, De Materia Medica is a collection of recipes for healing herbal infusions that uses hundreds of different plants. Later, the famous Christian mystic Hildegard of Bingen wrote a series of books describing the healing properties of herbs. Such a body of knowledge exists around tea and infusion, it is no surprise to find that many contemporary drinkers are convinced of its medicinal value. Quite apart from the science behind it, it seems clear that our ancient forbears appreciated this self-evident truth: drinking a cup of tea simply makes you feel better about life.

COLOURING LIFE: FRUIT INFUSIONS

Many modem fruit infusions are hard to resist, such is their depth of flavour and refreshing aroma. These delicious blends provide 3host of helpful vitamins and are available in a range of flavours. Try sea buckthorn with sweet fruits or cactus pear or maqui berry for something a little more exotic. Whatever the fruit, the chances are someone has made an infusion out of it-meaning there is bound to be a fruit infusion that tickles your taste buds and keeps you coming back for more.

AN ENRICHED CUPPA

All good-quality fruit infusions contain a number of vitamins, minerals and trace elements, as well as health-enhancing aromatic bonds known as polyphenols. Sea buckthorn, rose hip, elderberry and blackcurrant, for example, are particularly rich in vitamin C.

TIME TO CHILL

The best tea can be enjoyed either hot or cold, and that's especially the case with fruit and herbal infusions. On a hot summer’s day, few things are more refreshing than an ice-cold glass of tea. It's worth avoiding the mass-produced bottles of iced tea available in soft-drinks cabinets, however. These often contain large amounts of sugar and citric acid, and end up not being very tasty at all.

In contrast, a home-made iced tea has all the goodness of its hot equivalent, but can be given a refreshing twist to suit the hotter weather. Making iced tea is straightforward: just brew a real black, green or Oolong tea with double the normal quantity of leaves. Then pour it immediately onto ice cubes to lock in the flavour. If you want you can add additional flavours like lime or mint before chilling the tea until the time comes to indulge.

For a delicate, summery flavour, try iced white tea infused with lemon-grass and purple viola petals, or any number of fruit infusions. And if you're not adventurous enough to make an iced tea for yourself, simply visit your local tea house. It should have a good selection of refreshing and tasty chilled teas.

AN AMERICAN DREAM

Iced tea first became popular in the US thanks to the ingenuity of an Englishman. When Richard Blechynden struggled to find buyers for his hot black tea during the summer of 1904, he hit upon the idea of chilling it. The new drink was a particular hit among American visitors to the world exhibition in St Louis, and iced tea remains a popular tipple throughout the country.