By Sandra Ramani, Organic Spa
Before settling in for their Himalayan bath therapies and herbal poultice massages, guests of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Chi Spas are asked to sit down and have a sip. From their property in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, to the newly opened outpost in Vancouver, Canada, the Tibetan-inspired brand begins all services with an in-suite tea ceremony, during which an aromatic house blend is served to clients in a jade bowl placed on a silver-plated copper stand, the presentation a nod to the way the high lamas took tea in the legend of Shangri-La. “In Asian culture, tea drinking celebrates the ideals of peace, sharing, and simplicity when offered as a welcome gesture,” explains Sheila McCann, Shangri-La’s Director of Spa Brand Quality, “and it also provides a wonderful opportunity to sit back and allow the tension of the day to slip away.”
While you may not be able to indulge in pre-bedtime massages every day, this simple relaxation ritual is something that can easily be translated from the spa to the home. We’re not talking about a chatty tea klatch with friends or a cup of chai on the go; instead, taking just a few minutes to be present in that simple ritual, the rhythmic cycle of pour, sip, repeat, will allow you mental space to reflect on the day and clear the mind before sleep. We asked British tea expert Jane Pettigrew, author of such books as A Social History of Tea and The New Tea Companion, for her tips on the best brews for bedtime relaxation, and what to avoid.
Know Your Terms
As a brief reminder, Pettigrew points out that the word “tea” should only be applied to “infusions made from the leaves and leaf buds of the tea plant, or camellia sinensis. Brews made just from herbs like chamomile, verbena, and mint are not strictly speaking teas, but herbal infusions or tisanes.” Each drink has its own benefits and side effects; for the most part, though, all infusions and tisanes are caffeine-free.
When it comes to soothing pure teas, Pettigrew recommends “white, jasmine-flavored or fragrant Taiwanese oolongs, because although there is caffeine in all teas, these varieties don’t seem to have the same sort of punchy power as the black and some green. White or green leaves with rose or lavender are also particularly relaxing, though Pettigrew favors jasmine and oolongs because their “heavenly fragrance and flavor just make you want to close your eyes, tip back your head and savor every sip.”
Being caffeine-free, “most herbals are good at bedtime,” Pettigrew confirms. “Calming chamomile, with its slightly apple-y, hot-buttered-toast and honey characteristics, seems to wrap you up in a childhood sense of security and safety.” Also good before sleeping, fennel helps relax the muscles and settle the digestion, while lemon verbena, peppermint, and valerian can help encourage a restful night.
What to Skip
“Avoid strong black teas and the more robust green teas,” Pettigrew warns, since both “can deliver quite a strong dose of caffeine.” Some herbals can invigorate the system in the evening, too, so pass on anything with yerba mate (a common caffeine substitute), nettle, Ginkgo, and ginger.
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