by Kathy Wolfe

Drink up! This week, Tidbits pours out these facts on some of our favorite beverages.

• There are six different types of “true tea,” harvested from the camellia sinensis plant. The teas are categorized by their type of fermentation. Black tea is a fully oxidized tea, first exposing them to oxygen, then heating and drying the leaves. This results in a tea that is a dark brown color.    Green tea doesn’t undergo an oxidation process at all, rather, it is steamed or pan-fired in a large wok, then dried, keeping a bright green color. The leaves for white tea are harvested before the plant’s leaves are fully open. Because only young leaves are reaped, the season for white tea is short, making this product more costly than other teas. The leaves are immediately withered and dried with no oxidation. Pu’erh tea is often referred to as fermented tea, with the fresh leaves hand tossed in a wok to stop the oxidation process. The presence of bacteria allows fermentation to take place. Oolong tea is partially oxidized. Leaves are withered under strong sun, then curled and twisted. Yellow tea is very rare. After undergoing a process similar to that of green tea, yellow tea adds an extra time-consuming step. After being dried in the sun or gently pan-fired, the leaves are wrapped in wet cloth to induce oxidation through steaming. Another drying round produces a yellowing effect on the tea leaves, and results in a smooth, mellow flavor.

In the 1920s, Charles Leiper Grigg was manufacturing an orange soda he called “Howdy.”    Sales of the beverage were disappointing at best, due to his main competition, Orange Crush, which contained orange juice, which Howdy did not. Grigg set to work on a new innovation, a lemon-lime soda, and after two years and 11 failed formulas, in October, 1929, just two weeks before the legendary Wall Street crash, he launched “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.”    It wasn’t until 1936 that the soda became known as 7-UP.    Originally a caramel-colored soda, the concoction actually contained lithium citrate, a substance now used to treat bipolar disorder. During that era, lithium was commonly used to elevate moods and improve health, and Grigg capitalized on this by marketing his beverage as a mood lifter.    In 1948, the FDA banned the use of lithium in beverages, and a change in formula was necessary for 7-UP and many other notable soft drinks.

    The Coca-Cola Company didn’t respond to the colossal success of 7-UP until 1961 when it introduced Sprite. The formula had been developed in West Germany two years earlier and marketed as “Fanta Klare Zitrone,” or “Clear Lemon Fanta.” It took nearly 30 years, but Sprite passed 7-Up as the lemon-lime soda market leader in 1989, and it remains in that spot today, as well as the third best-selling soft drink in the world, sold in upwards of 190 countries.

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Fanta soft drinks were born in Germany out of necessity during World War II. When the United States established a trade embargo against Nazi Germany in 1940, the ingredients for Coca-Cola became unavailable. A German business introduced an alternative, calling the creation Fanta, from the Germany word “Fantasie,” which translates “imagination.” By 1943, Fanta dominated the German market, with sales of three million cases.

A Columbus, Georgia grocer named Claud Hatcher began bottling Royal Crown Ginger Ale in 1905, followed shortly by Royal Crown Strawberry, and Royal Crown Root Beer. His cherry-flavored Chero-Cola was a big hit in 1907. Hatcher might best be remembered for the fruit-flavored beverages he introduced in 1924 – orange, grape, and peach – under the name of Nehi. The name signified the product’s “knee-high” tall bottles. The Royal Crown Company was the first in the industry to sell canned soft drinks, as well as offering the first caffeine-free cola.

    Diet soda was introduced in 1952 by a Russian immigrant named Hyman Kirsch. He launched his “No-Cal Ginger Ale,” sweetened with calcium cyclamate, an artificial sweetener 30 to 50 times sweeter than table sugar. When a 1969 study showed that cyclamate was a potential carcinogen, it was banned in the U.S. Canada Dry introduced its own zero-calorie ginger ale called Glamor in 1954. Diet Rite Cola was presented by Royal Crown in 1958, followed by “Dietetic Dr. Pepper” in 1962 and Tab in 1963. Diet Pepsi came along in 1964. The Coca-Cola Company debuted their diet grapefruit/lime-flavored citrus soda known as Fresca in 1967. Sugar Free 7-UP was launched in 1970. Although Diet Coke is the nation’s most popular diet soda, it didn’t come along until 1982 with the catchy advertising phrase “Just for the taste of it.”

    Kombucha … you either love it or hate it! This beverage is a fermented drink made from tea leaves (usually green or oolong), sugar, bacteria, and yeast. Its base is known as a SCOBY, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Consumers vary in their opinion of the taste, with some saying it tastes like fizzy apple cider, while others say wine or vinegar. Some claim it has a sharp and tangy taste, others maintain its taste is acidic.   

•    While kombucha has grown in popularity at health food stores in recent years, it’s been around for about 2,000 years, originating in China. Holistic health consumers argue that kombucha has many health benefits, citing lowered cholesterol and blood pressure, strengthening of the immune system, and improved digestion, with a number of people claiming the drink can prevent cancer. Yet others experience upset stomach, infection, or allergic reactions. But there are plenty who love it – annual sales of kombucha are about $700 million a year in the U.S.    Lots of people concoct their own homemade kombucha, a brewing process that takes between 10 and 14 days.   

•    Are you one of those who grabs a Red Bull to power up? It was the first energy drink to hit the market, from a company founded by an Austrian businessman, Dietrich Maeteschitz, in 1987, with the intention of helping truck drivers who needed an extra pick-me-up to get them through long drives. Red Bull wasn’t introduced in the United States until 1997. Although many claim it provides a powerful jolt of energy, in actuality, it contains the same amount of caffeine as an 8-oz. cup of coffee, 80 mg. Consider that a 16-oz. Starbucks Grande packs a hefty 330 mg. of caffeine. The product was a wise investment for Maeteschitz – when he passed away in 2022, his net worth was an estimated $27.4 billion.

•    Many herbal teas are known for their health benefits. Those having trouble sleeping will often sip a cup of chamomile tea, known for its calming and sleep-inducing properties. Ginger tea can help with nausea and stomach upsets. Cinnamon tea can aid in reducing inflammation, stabilizing blood sugar, and boosting brain function.