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Author Lisa Boalt Richardson believes there's nothing quite like a good cup of tea.

"People like tea not just because of its taste but for what it represents," said Richardson, author of "Tea with a Twist: Entertaining and Cooking with Tea" and "The World in Your Teacup: Celebrating Tea Traditions Near and Far."

"It's really a social beverage," she said, adding it's perfect for gatherings and get-togethers. It's also something that's relaxing and comforting.

"And in many cultures, tea is more than a beverage," Richardson said.

Her latest book, "The World in Your Teacup," released earlier this year, features information on a variety of teas from around the world, tea lore and history from the different locales as well as ethnic-themed recipes. Dishes include Noodle Babka from Russia and Spinach and Mushroom Quiche from France.

"Almost anyone can find something they like in the tea arena," Richardson said. Flavors abound and so do styles of tea.

"There are over 3,000 different types of tea," said the certified tea specialist.

While growing up in Florida, Richardson said she was a fan of iced tea. She used to be a coffee drinker but quit consuming coffee 12 years ago when she started her career as a tea specialist.

"Tea is a passion now," she said.

Richardson is a graduate of the Specialty Tea Institute, a division of the Tea Association of the United States of America. She is also a teacher of tea history, culture, etiquette and tea and food pairing.

According to Richardson, there's much to explore in the way of entertaining and cooking with tea. When hosts aim to have a tea party she suggests thinking outside the box when it comes to themes and serving ideas.

Just the traditional afternoon tea setting for parties, she said, isn't the only way to celebrate with the comforting beverage. "Tea with a Twist" features party themes such as a Mexican fiesta, flower power tea party and an all about chocolate soiree.

The author is always looking for new and different ways to enjoy tea. For instance, during a recent tea expo in Las Vegas, Richardson taught a tea and chocolate pairing class. How's that for creativity!

Drinking tea is one thing but Richardson adds "Most people also don't realize you can use tea as a culinary ingredient."

In her book "Tea with a Twist," recipes for a Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad; Citrus Chicken Salad; Key Lime Coconut Bars and more are flavored with various teas.

"You can steep it, poach things with it or use teas in a rub," she said. "You can also use them in salad dressings."

With the book "Tea with a Twist," Richardson hopes to show beverage fans that "tea is not just for ladies, not just for afternoon and not just for grandmothers."

Through "The World in a Teacup," she stresses "tea can really connect people from different cultures."

Richardson said she's always learning something about her favorite drink.

"It's really a life-long study," she said.

The author suggests readers and home cooks enjoy and relax with a cup of tea but also experiment with using the leaves and the beverage in their culinary pursuits.

"If you're not a tea drinker, I hope I can convert you," she said.

The following recipes for Tea Sangria and Citrus Chicken Salad are from "Tea with a Twist."

Tea Sangria

Ceylon Black Tea

3 oranges, ends cut off and sliced (If you can find blood oranges, use them)

3 limes, ends cut off and sliced

2 cups pomegranate juice cocktail

1/2 cup sugar

Orange and lime slices to garnish glasses

DIRECTIONS: Use spring water or fresh, cold water from the tap. Do not reuse water you have already boiled because the oxygen will have evaporated and this affects the taste of the tea. Measure 1/3 cup tea leaves into an infuser. For this large quantity, use a large infuser so the leaves have room to expand and steep properly. You can also put the leaves directly in the teapot and strain the tea when you pour it into the gallon container. Let the water come to a full boil. Steep the tea for 3 to 5 minutes. Over steeping can also cause the tea to taste bitter. After the steeping, remove the leaves. Pour into heat resistant one gallon container. Stir in sugar until it dissolves. Add pomegranate juice and cut up fruit. Fill with water up to top and chill well. To serve, put in pitcher and serve over ice. Garnish with orange or lime slices.

Citrus Chicken Salad

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

4 cups prepared citrus tea steeped double strength (I love a citrus oolong )

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup light sour cream

1/3 cup light mayonnaise

6 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice (about 1 orange)

1 tablespoon orange zest

2/3 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup toasted chopped macadamia nuts

Salt and pepper to taste

8 orange rind halves and/or lettuce

Orange peel to garnish

DIRECTIONS: Place chicken in large sauté pan and cover with tea or chicken broth. Let liquid come to a boil and then poach chicken by covering and turning off heat. Allow to poach for about 20 minutes. Chicken should be cooked all the way through. Allow chicken to rest until cool enough to handle. Combine sour cream, mayonnaise, orange juice, orange zest, celery, and macadamia nuts in a large bowl and mix well. Chop chicken and add to mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste and place in refrigerator until completely chilled. To serve, slice rounded end off of a halved orange rind used to make the beach iced tea. Place a scoop of chicken salad in orange rind or serve on a bed of lettuce. Garnish with a strip of orange peel curled on the top or orange zest.