The infusing of those magic leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush has been going on for a long time – over 5,000 years according to some historical records and archeological digs. They were not only capable of transforming water into a cup of flavorful aromatic liquid, but they brought folks together in a very social way. Long before social media sites like Twitter and long before there were hashtags, there were regular gatherings, tea ceremonies, and special occasions celebrated with tea. These very often took place in tea rooms. The original social media (as stated by the author of an inspiring article I saw online recently)!

The Tea Dance – very social! (From Yahoo! Images)

The Tea Dance – very social! (From Yahoo! Images)

An Historic Chinese Tea Room

The Heming Teahouse is part of the history and culture of China and remains a favorite with locals even now, serving only locally grown green teas that are made with hot water poured from special long-spouted copper pots. The Chinese game of mahjong, very popular also here in the U.S. these days, and open conversation (tea houses have always been one of the few places in China where people could speak freely, making them targets of shutdowns during times of unrest) are still ongoing in this teahouse that has been around well over a century. It has seen the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, a Cultural Revolution, and rioting in 1989. Chats while sipping tea were and are often their only way of exchanging opinions on life around them. No Twitter. No Facebook. This teahouse and others remain unchanged as the world around them changes faster and faster. And that is another aspect of their continuing appeal.

Tea Rooms Take Over Europe

Tea came to The Netherlands and France in the 1600s and shortly thereafter to England. But tea rooms didn’t begin their take-over as a social venue until the late 1880s. Tea was still too expensive for casual consumption until the early 1800s and having tea at home was considered more normal. People would also take turns hosting afternoon tea for their neighbors who would come to call and partake in the front parlor, set up especially to receive guests (see my article here).

As tea prices came down, however, a change occurred. Hotels began setting up special tea rooms and offering tea service there, usually in the late afternoon. It was a way to build up business by offering a social venue for many single and even married women to gather in a public place in a respectable manner. Elegance was the byword. Good manners and polite conversation were expected. But a bit of gossip, sharing of domestic information (servant problems, recipes, issues with the male elements of their lives, etc.), and even daring to discuss politics, foreign relations, and other matters about which they were not supposed to “worry their pretty little heads” were also spoken of. Again, no Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc., for such exchanges. Just lots of “face time.” Add in some dancing as men began attending these tea functions (hey, they go wherever female companionship can be found), and the social aspect was complete.

These days tea rooms dominate Europe, with France being a top country for such gathering places. The U.S. picked up on the trend at places like The Ritz in Boston and The Plaza in New York back in the late 1880s to early 1900s, but today the country lags behind in tea room numbers. People are too busy tweeting and skyping to sit still long enough for a nice cuppa and a chat.

You can still toss aside that laptop, iPhone, computer tablet, etc., and go to a physical tea room to enjoy the real thing. Time to get social!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Getting the gold can sure be a thrill. (via Yahoo! Images)

Getting the gold can sure be a thrill. (via Yahoo! Images)

Awards are great…sometimes. And other times they serve other purposes. It’s true just about everywhere, including in the world of tea. So I present here a few personal thoughts on these tea awards and welcome yours.

Awards for tea are a sign that someone thinks that the time and effort invested in the award-winning tea was well-spent. However, there is no guarantees with that award that you will like the tea so honored. Some of the awards aren’t even related to the tea’s flavor. The ones for package design and marketing plans come to mind here. Setting those aside, though, I have to note that even the awards related to taste, such as best in category (black, green, flavored, etc.), are rather iffy. The judges are focused on certain aspects of the tea and also taste it differently than you do, slurping in a mouthful, swishing, and then spitting it out. I don’t know too many folks who do that at home or in a restaurant or tea room, but then I haven’t done any official surveys. Plus, no two sets of tastebuds are alike, and taste perceptions are influenced by several things, including your health and what flavors you grew up with. Just check out popular ice cream flavors in Asian countries as an example. Wasabi Ice Cream with Honey is one, and Chile, Ginger, and Lemongrass Ice Cream is another; they aren’t very appealing sounding to me, even though I love these flavors in other things (in fact, I’m craving some wasabi right now just writing about it here).

Another issue is that not all tea producers or vendors can afford to enter such competitions and attend the events at which the awards are presented. So the winners are folks who can afford these things. It shuts out smaller, and possibly superior, growers/processors. I have tasted teas from these shut-outs and compared them with some award winners. And since I don’t use the slurp/swish/spit method, my taste experience is going to be more like yours, even though our tastebuds are different. And I can tell you that the shut-outs are often unknown (and therefore undervalued) treasures.

So, why pay any attention to the whole tea award thing? For the same reason we seem to be riveted to beauty pageants, the Oscars, and the Grammys. We just like competitions. It is the struggle of one against another, pitting skills and achievements. And just as we may not be thrilled by the winner of Best Picture or the Rock Album of the Year, we may not be thrilled with that winner of best tea in category. It happens a lot. After all, as I said earlier, the judging of tea is done under special conditions using special methods by highly trained and experienced individuals. In other words, this is not like your life situation, your kitchen, your teawares, even your water. And don’t forget your own unique tastebuds.

That’s life. If you want to venture to try a tea because it won an award, here’s hoping the experience meets expectations. But don’t be surprised if it doesn’t. Enjoy the experience!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ceylon Tea (ETS image)

Ceylon Tea (ETS image)

Once upon a time the country off the southeastern coast of India that we now know as Sri Lanka had another name. It was called Ceylon and though the name would eventually change the tea that is grown there still bears the old one. Ceylon tea is a relatively new development, coming to the island only about a century and a half ago after the coffee crops there were severely damaged by disease.

It was in 1907, just a few decades after tea growing got underway there, that a publication called The Tropical Agriculturist and Magazine of the Ceylon Agricultural Society featured an article called “The Leading Teas of the World – Ceylon.” It was written by a gentleman identified as “the late Herbert Compton” and it’s perhaps just a bit on the dry side, with plenty of facts and figures, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Compton opens with a reference to the island’s “nine (commercial) lives,” which also included such commodities as spices, pepper, and cocoa, but stresses that tea “still holds current pride of place as the staple crop of the Colony.” He summarizes the fall of coffee and the rise of tea and notes that about 160 million pounds of the latter was being produced annually at the time.

The majority of this ended up in the United Kingdom, not surprisingly, but substantial quantities ended up in Australasia, North America, and Russia. Next up is a description of Ceylon teas, which he likens to “a blend of Indian and China leaf,” and remarks that it is “silky and smooth to the palate.” From there it’s on to intricacies of pricing and whatnot that are more geared to professional tea buyers followed by a summary of some of the notable tea growing regions there.

Compton closes things by noting that Ceylon growers were beginning to turn their efforts from producing mostly black teas and including more green tea, the latter of which was designed to appeal to the American markets.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lifeguards at Bethany Beach Delaware (via Yahoo! Images)

Lifeguards at Bethany Beach Delaware (via Yahoo! Images)

Some parts of the U.S. have seen snow. And unseasonably cold temperatures. (There was also an early snowfall in northern India around the beginning of September.) And too much rain. And flooding. With such events going on, some of us are prompted to relish the last hurrahs of Summer with some suitable tea moments. I’m here to show you how.

Keep the Iced Tea Flowing

For you folks who live in the warmer parts of the U.S. (primarily southern states), iced tea can be a year round phenomenon. But some folks up in those northern states can enjoy this version of tea also throughout the seasons. It can have a real psychological benefit, even when you’re enjoying it before a log fire and have three sweaters, a muffler, ear muffs, and two knit caps on, plus a blanket or two wrapped around your legs as you sit on the sofa before that fireplace ablaze.

Stick with Summer Tea Favorites

Some teas just seem to go naturally with the fun of Summer. Green teas with fruity flavors added come to mind here. The heavier tasting teas, such as Assam CTC black teas and Young Pu-erh, are more Wintry teas. They also go well with foods more popular in colder weather: macaroni and cheese, beef stew, pumpkin pie, etc. The lighter green tea flavors will not only squeeze out that last hurrah of Summer but go well with the last of the Summer time foods such as fresh strawberries and green salads. Even some grilled hotdogs and burgers would be good here, just to keep that picnic-like feeling going.

Pop a Summer Time Movie in the DVR

…or pull it up on Netflix. Whatever. Just get Beach Blanket Bingo or even Jaws going on the TV indoors so you can ignore the blizzard going on outdoors. Again, psychology is the key here. You might even call it self-hypnosis. Just as Dorothy had her magic phrase repeating while clicking together the heels of those ruby slippers, you can keep repeating this magic phrase: “There’s no time like Summer. There’s no time like Summer.”

Hope it works for you. I got a nice tan just writing this!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In an article I recently wrote on tea drinking in the American colonies and the early United States I mentioned that a significant quantity of Japanese green tea was exported here during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Which led me to think that it might be interesting to look at Japanese tea history as it relates to interactions with the Western world.

Tea Growing Regions of Japan

Tea Growing Regions of Japan

While this is hardly an exhaustive study of the topic, one early reference that I found to tea and Japan comes from a book by Russian naval officer Vasily Mikhailovich Golovnin, that was quite popular in its day. Captivity in Japan During the Years 1811, 1812, 1813 came out in the early part of that century with the title serving a good summary of its contents. Golovnin makes numerous references to tea throughout, at one point remarking that it was served in “the Japanese fashion,” with cups half filled, no saucers and on trays of varnished wood.

A few decades later The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany remarked in an article about the East-India Company that at the time tea was being grown in most provinces of China, as well as Japan and a few other places. The article later notes that some of the tea grown in China at the time was making its way to various places, including Japan. Which is thought by most to be how tea got to Japan in the first place.

In 1873, in Harper’s magazine, an article called “Report on Tea Culture in Japan” took about a half of a page to discuss the topic. As of 1872, as mentioned above, most of the tea exported from Japan wound up in the US – about 15 million pounds for the year ending May 31. That tea was usually “refired” after processing to give it the “toasty flavor” and “greenish color” that were desirable here. The best tea in Japan was said to be grown by priests and, as is the case to this day, the first tea of the spring harvest was the most eagerly awaited.

If that’s not enough tea culture in Japan, consider that an article with a similar title – “Tea Culture in Japan” – appeared in 1907 in The Tropical Agriculturist and Magazine of the Ceylon Agricultural Society. It goes into much more depth – about six pages in all – than the aforementioned. Among the topics covered, a look at some of the teas grown in Japan and the growing regions, as well as detailed descriptions of each stage of processing for each type of tea.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A pastry fork is totally indispensible. True. Have you ever tried to hold a plate in one hand and cut a piece off that slice of pie, tart, or other goodie residing on it with a regular fork? I have. Not a pretty sight. Makes a total mush of that lovely pastry (especially éclairs and cream puffs), British-style pudding (which is more like a cake), or other delectable goodie that some talented pastry chef slaved over in a hot kitchen for weeks (okay, it was probably just days…uh, hours…anyway, you get the point). So, why is a pastry fork (aka, a “pie fork”) indispensible? Glad you asked. Here’s why:

1 Only Three Tines

First, I need to clarify that this isn’t the kind of pastry fork used to work a batch of pastry dough prior to baking. It’s for using after all that hard work is done and you get to enjoy those efforts. Salad and dinner forks mostly have four tines. But a pastry fork has only three. And they are a bit further apart to spread them across the full head of the fork, which is the same width as the salad fork. Why is three tines better? Because of how that third one is shaped.

The pastry fork explained. (ETS image composite by A.C. Cargill)

The pastry fork explained. (ETS image composite by A.C. Cargill)

2 An Extra-Wide Third Tine

The third tine, counting left to right as shown in the image here) is twice as wide as the others. You are supposed to hold the plate in your left hand and cut a bite-sized piece out of the pastry or pie with the wide tine of the fork in your right hand. Thus this pastry fork is indispensible for the more casual style of tea time served buffet style.

3 Challenges Lefties

The one drawback is that pastry forks are designed for right-handed people. At least, I couldn’t find any online made for the lefties out there. So using such a fork will be a bit of a challenge for them. Maybe a left-handed pastry fork is needed. Any of you designers out there have a golden opportunity here. And an indispensible need for inventors is a problem to solve. And that’s the lack of a left-handed pastry fork!

4 Keeps Those Dessert Spoons Company

Dessert spoons can get pretty lonely in your silverware drawer. A lot of people think they are just an odd-shaped teaspoon. So, they generate a chuckle or two and then get passed over in favor of the more normal teaspoon. But those who discover the wonders of a pastry fork (the kind you eat with) will soon learn how well it pairs with the dessert spoon. According to an etiquette site, “Traditionally, a dessert spoon and dessert fork are used when eating such pastries as cream puffs and éclairs; the pastry is held in place with the spoon and cut and eaten with the fork.” So the pastry fork is indispensible for keeping the creamy fillings from squirting out too much. And for keeping dessert spoons from languishing in the silverware drawer.

5 A Conversation Starter

Whether you’re a leftie dealing with that awkward, odd-looking fork your host foisted on you, or just one prone to observing and commenting on unusual items that cross your path, you can certainly have plenty of conversational ammo here. Awkward pauses at tea time will be a thing of the past as your host regales you with an elaborate (and probably mostly fictional) account of how the pastry fork came to be while you spend your mental capacities working out which tidbit is fact and which is falderal. So the pastry fork is indispensible here, too!

Whatever the case, your tea time (solo or en masse) will be unforgettable, thanks to the indispensible pastry fork!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The name “bread pudding” often evokes feelings of good will and joy. Something mom used to make that just says love in every bite. This recipe is true decadence with no corners cut. Cinnamon rolls by themselves are wonderfully delicious. Though it is often true that several will be bought or made and it will take several days for one family to eat the all. The longer they sit the drier they can get. Now you can have them for breakfast and then make them into a spectacular dessert the next day. Brought back to life with warm tea and crisp juicy apples, it is sure to be unforgettable.

Tea Apple Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding (photo by Janet Sanchez, all rights reserved)

Tea Apple Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding (photo by Janet Sanchez, all rights reserved)

Preheat the oven to 350°F

2/3 cup apple cider
1 tbsp gold needle black tea
6-8 day old cinnamon rolls cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup heavy cream
3 eggs
3 cups diced and peeled Granny Smith apples
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Bring the cider to a boil, remove from heat and steep the tea in it for 5 minutes. Place the diced apples into a large mixing bowl along with the brown sugar and cinnamon and tea cider. Mix together, then add in the cinnamon roll pieces and toss until all the liquid has been absorbed. Beat the eggs and cream together in a bowl just until combined. Evenly distribute the cinnamon roll and apple mixture into a greased baking dish. Pour the egg and cream mixture evenly over the top. Let set at room temperature covered for 30 minutes. Place into the preheated oven for 55-65 minutes or until the center is done. Remove and serve with whip cream or ice cream.

Recipe serves about 8 people.

See more of Janet Sanchez’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A “leaf peeping” map so you can find the best “shows”! (via Yahoo! Images)

A “leaf peeping” map so you can find the best “shows”! (via Yahoo! Images)

It’s that time of year when the leaves on those deciduous trees start to lose their chlorophyll and go from green to various hues of yellow, orange, red, and brown. Lots of maps appear across the Internet to guide you to the best spots for a bit of “leaf peeping.” A wonderful pastime. But here we are talking about a different kind of leaf peeping – taking a good gander at those tea leaves after they’ve steeped. It can be quite an eyeful and avoids all those extra miles on your car’s odometer.

While the appearance of tea leaves does not always indicate the value and flavor quality of the tea, it can certainly help you feel connected to where the teas come from. Tea growers in an increasing number of countries, including here in the U.S., work hard to bring those leaves to market. So a moment of your time to ogle and drool over those leaves is a small thing to do by way of saying, “Thanks!”

Top to bottom: black tea, Dragon Pearl green tea, and Spring Pouchong oolong tea. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Top to bottom: black tea, Dragon Pearl green tea, and Spring Pouchong oolong tea. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

One thing you will note is that the colors of the tea leaves shown here are rather Autumn-like in their hues. The top one is a tippy black tea with coppery color to the leaves. The middle is Dragon Pearls Green Tea showing those “pearls” fully opened after two or three infusions and sporting a bright yellowish green hue. The bottom one is Spring Pouchong Tea, a lightly oxidized oolong (although some consider it a green tea) with a mix of those small tip leaves and larger ones from further down the stem (but not too far) and displaying a bright green (kind of like a tree that is resisting the call of that time of change).

One thing is for sure: you don’t get to leaf-peep with a bagged tea, especially one filled with tea dust. So every now and then go for some loose leaf tea and an infuser or strainer, like one of these. It’s a bit more effort, but will put forth a bounty of tea time pleasure that the bagged teas can’t. Or is that just the artist in me talking?

Enjoy the leaf peeping at your next tea time!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

There many ways to prepare tea. You can do it the old school way with a tea kettle and a teapot. You can do it in a more newfangled way (guilty) with water heated in a microwave and a gravity type infuser. Or the even more newfangled method of using a fancy gadget that does much of the work for you.

But when you boil it down, preparing tea is about applying hot water to tea leaves. The details of it are up to the individual, but that’s how it’s done – except when it’s not. I’m no scientist and this is a layperson’s description of the process, but what’s important about preparing tea is to transfer the essence of the tea leaves to the water. Hot water will accelerate the process, but if you have a little more time on your hands cold brewing might work just as well.

Some of the benefits of doing things this way are fairly obvious. If you’re preparing tea in warm weather, it’s a plus not to have to use the stove to heat the teakettle – and the surrounding environment. One of the other main benefits of this method is simplicity. All that’s needed is a container and something to hold or strain the leaves. You can spend money for a fancy “cold infusion set” and whatnot, if that’s what grabs you. But a simple glass container should work just fine. Finally, there are those who claim that tea prepared this way has a better flavor.

As for that question of when steeping is complete, it’s kind of up for grabs. Overnight is a term that gets tossed around a lot when discussing this sort of thing, but it can vary according to the type of tea and whom you’re asking. The consensus seems to be that lighter teas such as green should be steeped for a shorter time, perhaps as little as four hours. One primer I read recommended steeping the Japanese green tea known as Gyokuro in ice and serving it when the ice had fully melted. More robust teas such as black are likely to call for a longer steep times, though I might question the wisdom of the four-day steep recommended in one how-to article.

Like so many other things that have to do with tea, the best course of action when it comes to cold infusing is to experiment and see what works best for you.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lots of turmoil in the world. It ranges from international all the way down to one-on-one. Tea can play a role as peacemaker here. In fact, tea has been playing that role for some time now in various countries around the world. Maybe it’s time to start a “Stop and have a cuppa tea” campaign. Sort of like moms and dads would tell us as kids: “Count to ten before you respond.” Emotions flare up easily. That small bit of time can help cool things, even just a little, which helps a whole lot.

Time out – have a cuppa! (Image by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Time out – have a cuppa! (Image by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Some Examples from Other Countries

In some cultures where tea is as integral to their lives as air is, tea has become a way to apologize, ask for forgiveness, and also to keep things from flaring up into heated events:

  • China – Serving tea can be a sign of respect. It can also be an act of attrition. When a young adult does something to anger his/her parents, making tea and offering it to them is a form of apology; if the parents take the tea and drink it, it is a sign that all is forgiven (or at least understood).
  • Turkey – Price haggling is almost the national pastime, but keeping it civil takes some finessing…not to mention a lot of tea!
  • Japan – In the Edo period (1603-1868), Japan’s samurai laid down their swords, entering these peaceful Chashitsu courtyards, and enjoying teas prepared with masterful precision. That simple bowl of tea was a moment of escape from harsh realities.

What to Do on a Personal Level

Most of us here are not in a position to affect things on such a grand scale, but we can improve personal relations with those in our immediate vicinity, be they family, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or mere acquaintance. Some ideas:

  • Hold a tea open house – hard for people to stay mad at folks who treat them with such hospitality (but it’s still possible, sad to say).
  • Have a tea time that abides by the Chashitsu rules – language is polite and the conversation revolves around tea.
  • Resort to the traditions of some of my ancestors (the ones who were here to greet those Europeans) – hold a sort of tea pow wow, were passing the pot of tea replaces that pipe of sacred tobacco, and where you can examine your issues and resolve your differences over those hot cuppas.

Maybe a “Tea for World Peace” Day needs to be declared!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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