We spend a great deal of time during this part of the year discussing, Tweeting, and Instagramming our favorite seasonal drinks. We let everyone know how amazing they taste and where they absolutely must to go to try it.
You know which drinks I’m talking about. They are the classic, tried-and-true cold weather beverages also known as the big three: Hot tea, Coffee, and Hot Chocolate.
They don’t all taste exactly the same, there are slight recipe variations depending on which store you walk into, but they all contain the similar core ingredients. In all of the hype and press that swirls around these seasonal delicacies, it’s incredibly easy to lose sight of where it all started. It’s time to give some credit where credit is due.
‘These are the untold stories of the plants that make the amazing drinks we consume every holiday season.
Tea Leaves: The number one beverage on our list is also the number one consumed beverage in the world (not counting water). It beat out some of the beverage industry heavyweights such as coffee, OJ, soda and beer.
The best tea in the world comes from cooler climates where the tea plant, aka Camellia sinesnsis, thrives under the supervision of master tea growers. Not many people are aware that black, white, green, and oolong teas are all made from this same plant, and this is where of our tea types begin their journey.
It’s not until after harvesting that the tea leaves obtain their unique flavors and characteristics. This occurs primarily during the production and drying process where varying oxidation levels result in the different teas. For instance, black teas are fully oxidized, which is why the leaves are black, and white teas are barely oxidized at all, allowing them to remain soft and supple.
Interesting Fact: The finest tea leaves from every harvest are the two leaves highest up on the tea plant. This is typically the most expensive tea because they are the freshest and most delicate tea leaves.
Coffee Trees: Whether you’re a connoisseur of coffee or you just need a cup to get you up and going in the morning, you’ve probably seen a coffee bean at one point or another. These little black and brown beans of caffeinated goodness come from the coffee tree, or Coffea Arabica.
This tree grows throughout many warm and tropical climates around the world, and the Arabica species of coffee tree accounts for a staggering 75-80% of the world’s coffee production. The less popular Coffea Canephora accounts for the other 15-20%.
From the coffee tree comes the coffee cherry or coffee berry, which is the fruit that the tree grows that holds the much sought-after coffee beans.
Where would we be without these beautiful caffeine-producing trees and shrubs to help aid early-morning events? I’ll tell you, still in bed.
Interesting Fact: Drink coffee if you want to live longer! A new study that just came out in the New England Journal of Medicine found “a strong association between drinking coffee and living longer.”
Cocoa Beans: The story of chocolate is a long one, but starts with a tree, strange looking pods, and a hot, rain-soaked band of tropical land 20 degrees north and south of the equator. The Cacao tree, aka Theobroma cacao, is the plant responsible for one of the greatest tasting candy and beverage ingredients on the planet. Without them, ice cream, cake, hot chocolate, and milkshakes would simply not be the same.
Cacao trees grow to a maximum height of 60 feet, and produce large pods of fruit from which cocoa solids and cocoa butter are extracted. Theses pods look like oval-shaped pumpkins from the outside, but when the outer shell is removed, usually by machete, you’ll find the sweet tasting pulp of the Mesoamerican Gods.
Once this pulp is extracted, the seeds are placed on large grates for several days to thoroughly dry out. After a long and complex process you eventually get the good stuff – cocoa.
Interesting Fact: Hot and cold chocolate drinks have been used in the Mesoamerican religious rituals, celebrations, and more since about 1400 BC. It was considered the drink of Emperors by the Aztecs.
Now you know what makes your favorite drink taste so great. They say it’s important to know where you come from, and the same goes for knowing where the drinks that brighten your days when it’s snowing, cold, and just plain unforgiving outside come from as well. So pack away the iced tea, margaritas, and lemonade until next spring, and keep yourself warm with one of these timeless seasonal classics.
Enjoy growing your own herbs? Exercise your green thumb in the fall with these Five Amazing Autumn Herbs for Your Indoor Garden.