Tea, Glorious Tea!
Can't live without it!
To me, tea is the elixir of life. I really only like tea and wine. However, if I had to give up one, it would be wine. I cannot live without tea, and I like wine....I mean, really like wine. So, this is a pretty strong statement. I grew up drinking the stuff as a child back in Britain. The daily refrain in my house was "Has someone put the kettle on?" It was usually just a general shout from one corner of the house with the hope that someone in the vicinity of the kettle would do the honors. Not a day went by without at least 6 cups of tea being consumed. My parents, incomers to England from Scotland, were even more into tea than most English people. My Dad would quite happily put away 8-10 cups of tea a day. No sooner than one cup was downed than the kettle was put on again!
The kind of tea I like to drink on a daily basis is good old, bog-standard, black tea, the same brands I grew up with. My preferred brands are PG Tips and Tetley from the UK. Now, you can find these brands in stores all over the U.S. which saves on the shipping I had to pay online companies, since I came to live in the U.S.
What is your favorite tea?
Some quick tea facts
- All tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant which is native to Asia, but is now grown in many different tropical and sub-tropical locations. The things that make one tea different from another are where it is grown, the growing conditions and the processing.
- With over 3,000 varieties, it is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water.
- Tea is usually divided into 3 main categories which are black tea, green tea and oolong tea. However, sometimes 2 others are added to the list: white, and puerh.The oxidization process of the leaves is what determines the color and flavor of the tea: black is oxidized the longest, followed by oolong and then green. White tea, made from the buds and leaves of the tea bush, is not oxidized at all but left to wither only for a short time in the sun. Puerh tea undergoes an additional microbial fermentation process after the leaves are dried and rolled. It's a Chinese specialty and is often referred to as dark tea.
- Herbal tea is not considered to be real tea as it is made from roots, stems, flowers and parts of other plants, rather than from the leaves of a tea plant.
- Polyphenols, which are very strong antioxidants and are contained in tea are thought to be responsible for reducing the occurrence of cancer in lab mice, recent Australian studies have found.
Do you own a teapot?
Essentials of good tea making
For me, the essentials for making a great cup of tea are: a kettle, a teapot (one with a spout coming from the bottom of the pot, which helps avoid tea scum and dribbles!), a tea cosy, and strong black tea. Here are the steps:
- Boil the water.
- Warm the pot by swirling a small amount of boiled water around the inside of the teapot then discard.
- Bring the water back to the boil again, add the teabag (or loose tea) and add the boiling water.
- Cover the teapot with a tea cosy of some sort. See the photo of my own Harrods tea cosy from London. I use it every day, several times a day, so it's a little worn! Cosies can be bought online and are really essential to keeping the tea piping hot.
- Let the tea steep for about 4-6 minutes or a bit less if you prefer weaker tea.
- If you take milk in your tea (real milk, not creamer, half and half or any other milk pretender!) pour a little in the bottom of your cup. Then add the tea.
- Relax and enjoy your cuppa!
Tea time remembered
When visiting my Granny in Scotland, tea was a very important part of every day. My Granny had a very old, slightly chipped, traditional, brown teapot with a much "loved" knitted tea cosy on top. This particular teapot is called a Brown Betty and is made in the UK. I can still see it as clearly in my mind's eye as if it was yesterday!
Granny would pour me a cup in the morning and we would sit quietly contemplating our day. Then after a suitable pause, she'd offer me another cup and I'd always decline and she'd chuckle and say in her Scottish brogue, "that's right your a one cup girl! Well I'm away to warm the pot." Meaning, she would pour some more boiling water into the pot to wake up the tea leaves. She'd usually have at least 3 cups in the morning. The ceremony would repeat at lunchtime and then at tea time. There was something very comforting about the whole process. In fact, many's the time, I've consoled a friend over a cup of tea and I believe the process of making the tea is as therapeutic as the drinking. It gives you and your friend time to settle down while listening to the familiar sounds of tea preparation: the roar of the kettle, the chinking of mugs, the swish of the fridge door opening and closing as milk is fetched. By the time you sit down to listen to your friend's tale of woe, she is calmer and ready to talk. The tea is nice too!
The explanation for the efficacy of this soothing ceremony is probably the fact that tea contains L-theanine, and its consumption is strongly linked with a calm but alert and focused, relatively productive mental state in humans.
See the links at the end for a history of the Brown Betty teapot!
Tea but not a tea: red tea
Remember my Dad who would happily put away 8-10 cups of tea a day? Years later, during a visit home, he admitted to me that he was having difficulty sleeping so I reminded him of all the caffeine he was downing and how that could keep him awake. He thought about it and looked at me as if a veil had been lifted from his eyes! By the way, my Dad is a scientist, but sometimes it takes a regular "Joe" like myself to make the boffins of the world notice the obvious! So I suggested he try decaf. The next time I spoke to him he told me he hadn't much liked the decaf but he had found a completely new type of tea that he loved called Rooibos (pronounced Roy-bos) or redbush tea.
Rooibos does not come from the tea bush but from the Rooibos shrub grown in South Africa. The leaves are finely chopped, bruised and left to ferment in heaps. The tea is then left to dry in the African sun, where it changes from a vivid green to a deep mahogany red, the unique color which Rooibos tea is known by. It is also packed with antioxidants (far more than black or green tea) and is naturally decaffeinated. What's not to love, you ask? Well, it's a distinctive flavor is not loved by all. My husband, for example, calls it tree bark! I like it, but only now and then. Black tea is still my favorite but my parents swear by redbush now and it's all they drink. This from two "dyed in the wool" Scots who grew up drinking copious amounts of black tea! It is a very refreshing tea, probably more so than black tea and can be drunk with or without milk.
Green teas, from China, are made solely from the leaves of Camellia sinensis (teabush) that have undergone minimal oxidation during processing. I believe that you either love green tea or don't, there isn't much in between! Personally It's not my "cup of tea" as the odor and taste remind me too much of seaweed! However, it is a very popular tea and I wish I did like it as it has great healing benefits. According to a 2007 survey released by the U.S.D.A. the average content of flavonoids in a cup of green tea is higher than that in the same volume of other health giving foods and drinks such as fresh fruits, vegetables juices or wine. It has also been linked to a lower risk of diseases such as stroke, cognitive impairment, and osteoporosis in the elderly.
Lapsang Souchong and Earl Grey are two very aromatic favorites of mine:
Lapsang Souchong, from China, has a very distinctive smoky aroma and flavor. To attain this smokiness, the tea is smoke-dried over pinewood fires. The story goes that during the Qing era, when the passage of armies would delay the annual drying of the tea leaves in the Wuyi Mountains, the tea producers sped up the process by drying the leaves over pinewood fires. This tea is probably best drunk without milk, but I do drink it with milk. It's up to you!
Earl Grey, also from China, is made by adding oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit. The name comes from the 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s, who supposedly received a gift of tea from China flavored with bergamot oil. Jackson's of Piccadilly, London, claim to be the originators of Earl Grey tea, as they were the first to receive the recipe from Lord Grey.
History of the Brown Betty Teapot
- Brown Betty Teapots
Brown Betty Teapots - This little teapot has quite a history! Its origins date back to the end of the 17th Century and the birth of the British Ceramic Teapot. The original unglazed teapot was handmade out of red clay from the Bradell Woods area in .