Some people take tea drinking seriously. Tea aficionados can tell you the nuanced differences between white, green and black teas, and they likely have their own tea infuser at home. Even if you consider yourself one of them, there’s a good chance you’ve never tried at least one of these exotic blends. Read on for a little primer on some truly unique teas.
1. Panda tea. This tea sounds innocuous enough, but with a little digging, you’ll find out that Panda tea is actually made from the feces of China’s adorable national animal. That’s right – there’s poo in your tea! Invented in 2011 by An Yanshi, a lecturer at Sichuan University and entrepreneur who considers himself a panda enthusiast, panda tea is derived from green tea leaves that have been fertilized by the dung of pandas. Yanshi says panda feces is rich in nutrients because pandas do a very poor job digesting their food. This unique tea can sell for as much as $150 a pound.
2. Pu-erh tea. This kind of tea, discovered in the Yunnan province of China, was named for a town that served as a hub for the pu-erh tea trade. It starts off as other green teas do, with the leaves of the plant being picked and dried. Then, instead of going into a tea bag, the resulting tea leaves are packed into brick or melon shapes and left to ferment and age. The tea has fewer antioxidants than regular tea, since it has been left to ferment, but it is said to have many other health benefits. Dr. Andrew Weil, who focuses on integrative medicine, nutrition and natural health, cites one study in which rats fed a pu-erh tea extract were found to have reduced LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and raised HDL cholesterol (the good kind). There are two kinds of pu-erh tea — raw and ripe. The difference depends on when in the tea-making process the tea is compressed and allowed to ferment.
3. Vegetable teas. Vegetables teas are a kind of hybrid between vegetable soup and traditional tea. Organic tea manufacturer Numi produces a box of what they refer to as savory teas that include flavors like Broccoli Cilantro, Carrot Curry and Tomato Mint. They taste, well, exactly like they say they do. Numi says “these satiating veggie-spice-tea blends are rich in flavor, yet light enough to enjoy any time of day.” So go ahead and try them with some croutons in your teacup.
4. Labrador tea. This tea comes from the leaves of an evergreen shrub that grows in Nova Scotia. Its leaves have been used to make a tea that can treat severe coughs and infectious diseases like dysentery and leprosy. Labrador tea should be drunk with caution — it has some narcotic properties and, in heavy doses, it can make you intoxicated.
5. Wine-inspired tea. No, you’re not going to get drunk off these teas, but you’ll have fun trying. The folks over at Vintage TeaWorks created their line of wine-inspired teas to turn traditional buttoned-up tea drinking on its head. From their website: "We want people to enjoy life, have fun and flirt a little with their wild side. We wanted to take the seriousness and contemplative feeling that is generally aroused when folks think about tea and toss it out the window. Tea is fun and social. No pomp and circumstance here — just good tea and connection." Their line of teas include flavors like Green Tea Sauvignon and Black Tea Merlot. An interesting twist on the world’s most popular drink.
6. Kombucha tea. Kombucha tea is all the rage these days. It’s a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. There’s a lot of debate about the actual health benefits of kombucha tea. Some say it can help with anything from PMS symptoms to joint pain to constipation and even cancer prevention. But there are docs who say to stay away. Dr. Brent A. Bauer of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota recently told MNN: “Because there are no studies documenting that [kombucha tea] provides a specific benefit, and because there are at least a few case reports of people being harmed by it, I tell my patients who ask to steer clear.”