On the Jewish food scene: Enjoying National Hot Tea Month

By: By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

When I was in college years ago, a friend and I decided to explore tea drinking. We took it fairly seriously, even going so far as to warm the teapot before putting the boiling water in and using a tea strainer ball so we could use loose tea leaves. Over the years, she moved away from tea to coffee (for the caffeine, rather than the taste), while I still drank tea, although my taste has changed over the years. I’ve tested everything from black teas to herbal teas to flavored teas – sometimes preferring one, while other years settling on a completely different kind.
While I have no British blood, I find drinking a cup of tea helpful when I’m feeling stressed. Without the help of herbal tea, I’m not sure I would have made it through rabbinical school. I was on a very restricted diet at the time and my regular evening cup of tea was satisfying and relaxing. My current preference is for plain black tea, sometimes for comfort and sometimes for the caffeine boost. I even keep unsweetened iced tea on hand at work and home in case I feel a migraine coming: sometimes the caffeine kills the headache if I can drink it before the pain really takes hold.
What I hadn’t known was that January was National Hot Tea Month. I discovered that when I received a press release about Wissotzky Tea. I was familiar with that Israeli kosher brand of tea from the 10 months I spent in Israel during rabbinical school. In fact, I bought a fancy box of its teas as a present for a friend. What I wasn’t aware of is the company history and its existence through five generations of the Wissotzky family. According to the press release, “the family-owned company has been around since 1849, when Klonimus Wolf Wissotzky, a Lithuanian Jew, set out to find the most perfect tea on Earth. Wissotzky would eventually own tea plantations in Ceylon and India, and he controlled more than a third of the Russian tea market. He even served as the exclusive purveyor of tea to the Russian emperor.” Wow, I’d enjoyed the same tea as an emperor!
The reason for the press release is that Wissotzky Tea is releasing several new collections of tea: one featuring Nana, “a slightly sweet and exotic mint” native to the Mediterranean area, and a new artisan-spiced collection for fans of chai blends, including Salted Caramel Chai, Ginger and Turmeric Spiced Chai, and Pumpkin Spiced Chai.
The Reporter and Jewish Federation of Greater Binghamton offices are filled with tea drinkers, so I was thrilled to ask for samples of the new teas. It was really exciting to open the boxes and see what teas we received. Even more exciting was trying the seven different types that arrived. Some of the staff took bags home so they could make the tea with ingredients that we don’t keep in the office. 
National Hot Tea Month may be almost over, but it’s not too late to enjoy a hot cup of tea. In fact, if you’re like me, it’s always a good time to have a cup of tea. 
Chai Tea
Recipe courtesy of Kosher.com via Wissotzky Tea 
7 cups water
3 Darjeeling tea bags or 3 Wissotzky black tea bags
4 thin slices fresh ginger
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 bay leaves
1 cup milk
6 Tbsp. Gefen Honey or granulated sugar
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the tea, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and bay leaves, and simmer for 4 minutes. Add the milk and simmer until the milk begins to froth (about one additional minute). Stir in the honey. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for three minutes. Strain. (If the tea leaves are left in for too long, it becomes bitter.)
Note: Serve warm, or for chilled chai, place in the refrigerator until chilled.