There is a lot of concern these days over caffeine and about drinking something that will help this ailment or that ailment or make your hair shinier, your skin glow, and other such beneficial effects. Several herbals have come to the forefront, mainly through the constant marketing of them as miracle cures. But some of these also taste good. Imagine that! I selected five that seem to be the most common.

Top to bottom: Rooibos, Honeybush, Chamomile, Yerba Mate, Peppermint (ETS images)

Top to bottom: Rooibos, Honeybush, Chamomile, Yerba Mate, Peppermint (ETS images)

1 Rooibos

Rooibos (Dutch for “Redbush”) is from the plant Aspalathus linearis. The leaves turn red after being processed and infuse a red liquid containing some beneficial ingredients including calcium, potassium, and iron, but caffeine-free. This herbal became popular as a substitute for true tea during World War II due to difficulty shipping tea from Asia to Europe, just as chicory became a substitute for coffee when bean prices spiked. When this infusion started getting introduced to the U.S. market, a vendor decided it would sell better if called “red tea.” They ended up adding to the already sizable name confusion out there. Plus, there was already a red tea (it’s what Asians call a fully oxidized tea – we call that a “black tea”).

2 Honeybush

Honeybush is not a “tea” but rather one of those herbals made from an entirely different plant than the tea bush (Camellia Sinensis). The plant is from the cyclopia species and grows in South Africa in the rugged, inaccessible areas of the mountains near the Cape. The flowers and leaves, which are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, have been used to make infusions for centuries by natives of the area as a relief for various ailments. The infusion is caffeine-free, a great attraction for people who want to avoid anything stimulating and another great reason not to call it “tea.” The flavor is usually sweet and smooth, but it also lends itself to added flavorings.

3 Chamomile

Chamomile (aka “camomile”) is one of the most popular and well-known floral herbals. It is a flower similar in appearance to the daisy and in the same botanical family. Snow white wide, flat petals encircle a sunny yellow somewhat spherical center that is much larger than a daisy’s. This flower has been part of the herbalist’s “toolkit” since ancient Egyptian times, where it was used as a cure for malaria and was dedicated to the sun god, Ra. There is Roman chamomile and German chamomile (don’t let the names fool you, since they are grown elsewhere). However, Egyptian chamomile is widely noted as far more fragrant and flavorful than those. When buying chamomile, be sure to deal with a reputable vendor to assure you get true chamomile, not pineapple weed, which is sometimes substituted and can cause strong allergic reactions in hayfever sufferers (more so than from true chamomile).

4 Yerba Mate

Yerba mate is an herbal beverage that’s wildly popular in many countries in South America. It is traditionally drunk as a hot beverage that is served in a gourd called a “mate.” You sip it through a metal straw (a bombilla) that filters out the leaves and gritty bits. The flavor in its pure form can be a bit tough for the uninitiated to take but is still becoming increasingly popular in North America and elsewhere around the world. Added flavorings help many folks adjust to it. Plus, you can find it in a convenient bagged form.

5 Mint

Peppermint is a North American grown herb that contains no caffeine. Since it has a number of digestive aid properties, peppermint is often consumed after meals, including in a tisane or infusion. The oils in peppermint are said to stimulate the flow of secretions in the stomach and help relieve gas pains and calm your stomach. It’s use as a breath fresher is well-known. There are several brands, including Taylors of Harrogate, Twinings, and Harrison & Crosfield, plus blends like Moroccan Mint, or China White with Mint.

Choice galore for those of you ultra sensitive to caffeine or who just want something different. Enjoy!

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.

There are any number of things you can do while drinking tea. The possibilities are probably limited only by the imagination. But there might be a few things you don’t want to try. I don’t drink tea while sleeping (I’m still working on that one), and I’m betting that trying to drink it while you’re surfing is a bad idea. Here’s another activity that’s not recommended unless you have a very specific skill set. We all surely have our own preferences when it comes to multitasking with tea, but here are a few suggestions for activities that might pair up well.

There is some evidence that the caffeine and theanine in tea combine to give your brain and your thought processes a boost. Science and research aside, most of us have probably noticed this in our day to day tea drinking. Which could be useful for a task that requires brainpower, such as crossword puzzles. Will Shortz, puzzle guy at the New York Times, apparently agreed and a while back came up with a volume called The New York Times A Cup of Tea Crosswords.

If your brain is pumped up by tea but you’d like a slightly more passive pursuit than crosswords, you could simply read. You could read about anything but, if tea’s the topic you seek, you can keep up with the topic at this very web site, in my columns about recent and upcoming tea books and other related articles. There are even quite a few works of fiction that take tea as their topic in one way or another. Read our articles about tea books here.

But you’re not limited to quiet pursuits when you’re having a cup of tea. As I noted in an article here a few years back, there is some evidence that tea might help boost your performance no matter what type of exercise you prefer. Though you might need to forego the dainty china cup and saucer and go with iced tea in a portable container. As for that notion that the caffeine in tea (and anything else) might tend to dehydrate you, take a look here for some thoughts on why that might not be the case. You could even take tea on a hike. If you’ve never considered it before then maybe you should.

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.

No matter what useful object there is out there, some artist can take it over and make it into something extraordinary. The teapot has been a key subject over the centuries for such makeovers. And taking it a step further to the sculpture stage seems to be quite the rage. I’ve certainly come across a fair number of these in my “travels” around the internet, especially sites that focuses on sharing pictures.

3 examples of teapots transcending to the sculpture category (from Pinterest)

3 examples of teapots transcending to the sculpture category (from Pinterest)

  1. Hull Ebb Tide Teapot Found on images.replacements.com
  2. A very sculptural teapot found on new.artbash.co.nz
  3. James Diem’s teapot sculpture from the 2013 Utah Arts Festival

When transcending a teapot from function to form, from steeper to statue, from kitchen necessity to décor frivolity, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, it needs to retain the essential elements of that teapot that is its heart and soul. That means there must be a handle, a spout, an interior cavity to hold liquid, an access to that interior, and of course a way to sit upright. Second, it must in some elevate the form above the function, emphasize the aesthetic over the practical, look so delightful, beautiful, or just plain unusual that you wouldn’t think of it first as a teapot but as a sculpture.

The line between objectified teapots and these teapot sculptures can be pretty ephemeral, shifting, and impossible to define in any very straightforward manner. It’s the sort of thing about which you say “I’ll know it when I see it.” Sadler is the example that comes quickly to mind here. They do teapots shaped like Big Ben, cottages, Henry VIII, and so on. The style, colors, and overall designs keeps these from making that transcendence to sculpture. But their usability and quality make them very collectible!

A final word on those teapot sculptures: if you see one you like and can afford it, go ahead and buy it. A tea lover can never have too much tea paraphernalia around.

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.

I’ve lost track of how many old tea books I’ve written about by now. But it’s safe to say that, if you were so inclined, you could spend quite a bit of time reading these volumes, all of which I’ve accessed online for free. I was starting to think I was exhausting the supply of said tomes when I ran across an 1868 book by Edward Fisher Bamber. Who doesn’t get points for creativity when it came to naming his book – it’s simply called Tea.

But even though there wasn’t much thought put into the name and though it’s not a very long book, it’s always interesting to look at tea from the perspective of someone who lived a century and a half ago. Given that he seemed to write mostly on topics related to mechanics and engineering, it’s not completely clear what led Bamber to write about tea. But he suggests in the Preface that perhaps the “general” reader “may care to know more about the Tea he drinks than the price of it.”

It’s hard to find much biographical data about Bamber, but it appears that he was British and the book is written from the perspective of a British subject. He claims that at the time he and his countrymen consumed more than twice as much tea as the rest of the world. As he notes, “there is probably not a house in the United Kingdom in which Tea is not infused.”

He goes on to present a brief history of tea, noting that it made its way into Europe in 1610, into Holland, and then into Britain just over a half century later. Green tea supposedly came around in 1715, says Bamber, and by this time larger quantities of tea were being imported and the specter of adulteration was beginning to rear its ugly head more frequently.

Bamber proceeds to give a rather detailed breakdown of tea prices and tax rates and the like, which the casual reader might want to skim (or skip) over. Next up is a fairly in-depth – but more readable – chapter on tea cultivation and another on manufacture. He closes with a few brief travelogue type pieces about tea estates in India and that’s the extent of it. Take a look at it here.

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.

Shiny surfaces, bright lighting, and basic materials seem to be hallmarks of the tea bar – the latest frenzy (it’s too fast-paced and seemingly long-lasting to be called a “fad”) in the world of tea. The high-tech yet minimalist design at one end and a warm and welcoming Asian motif at the other. They have one thing in common: great tea!

Tea Bar in the Mission district of San Francisco (Screen capture from site)

Tea Bar in the Mission district of San Francisco (Screen capture from site)

San Fran Tea Bar

The décor features lots of straight lines, stone surfaces, underlighting, large windows, and a service area that prepares teas one of two ways (as far as I can tell from the photos): in large copper pots on some type of heating element, and in glass steepers with a sleek high-tech appearance (no idea how properly they steep but I haven’t heard of any complaints so far). The color scheme is overall light and mostly muted with the focus being on the tea.

Their minimalism extends to the menu. The teas are limited to some very basic ones: English Breakfast, a green tea called “Green Ecstacy” [sic], an herbal called “Spearmint Sage,” a traditional Masala Chai and a vegan (unexplained – probably uses that “soy milk” stuff) Masala Chai, Matcha served as either a shot or a shake, an iced Plum Pu-erh (they don’t say if it’s sheng or shu), and something called “Rosie Palmer.” They also have an extremely limited selection of scones: sweet (lemon and tart cherry) or savory (scallion and dry jack).

Zhongshan Port, China

The tea bar in China is more of a store, but over there taking time to infuse a bit of the tea and discuss it with the tea shop experts is fairly common. This one specializes in a particular brand of pu-erh tea. There are lots of shiny surfaces (mainly that gorgeous flooring), plenty of direct and indirect lighting, plenty of touches of red (the color of good fortune in Chinese culture), and wonderful carved and very sturdy-looking tables and chairs. The emphasis is on trying and learning about the teas.

New Dayi flasgship store in Zhongshan Port, China (From Yahoo! Images)

New Dayi flasgship store in Zhongshan Port, China (From Yahoo! Images)

A Far Cry from Chintz and Lace

We often think of tea as being served in those tea rooms decorated with floral patterns, pastel shades of blue, yellow, green, and pink, and lacy curtains on the windows. Plenty of these cozy and inviting establishments are around, but the above two shops indicate that a change is in the works. Something for everybody and every taste – that’s the standard in the world of tea.

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.

When I was a younger feller I was not particularly aware of tea. But I knew enough to know that “tea” and black tea were one and the same. I’m sure there must have been a few people here in the United States – even in those unenlightened days – who drank other types of tea. But in this part of the world the recent fad for green tea and less popular types like oolong, puerh, white, and yellow has only come around in recent years.

China Tea Sampler (ETS image)

China Tea Sampler (ETS image)

Of course, in the greater scheme of things, green tea is hardly a flash in the pan. It’s likely that something like it has been around as long as there’s been tea. But I thought it might be interesting to try to look at some of its origins. In an old tea book that I wrote about for this site recently, a book that was published in 1868, the author noted that “Green Tea” began to be used in Great Britain around 1715.

Of course, given that green tea is closest to tea in its natural state, it stands to reason that it has been around longer than the other more processed types of tea like black, oolong, and puerh. In The True History of Tea, authors Victor Mair and Erling Hoh, write that loose leaf green tea had become the most popular type in China in the late Song dynasty, which ended in the latter years of the thirteenth century. Among the other types of tea that were popular at the time were powdered tea and wax tea. The latter was made by shaping tea leaves into a cake – as is often done with puerh – and then sealing it with camphor or some other type of aromatic oil.

Of course, when you talk about green tea you have to mention Japan, where they produce some of the best green teas and where black tea is something of a curiosity that’s only been produced in small amounts for the last century and a half. Tea is thought to have come to Japan from China during the Tang dynasty, sometime during the eighth century. But the sencha variety of green tea, which is one of the green teas that are so closely associated with Japan, actually came about during the early Ming dynasty in China, thanks to some changes in how green tea was processed.

In Europe, contrary to the aforementioned date of 1715, it’s likely that green tea was present from the very beginning, about a century earlier. In 1702, as Mair and Hoh relate, a cargo of tea shipped in from China consisted primarily of various types of green tea. But, as a harbinger of things to come, particularly in Britain, a portion of the cargo was given over to black 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.

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

Once upon a time the best teas were reserved for the aristocrats, monarchs, emperors, etc., and were presented as “tribute teas.” It was at first voluntary and then mandated. That meant that the rest of the tea drinkers around got the leftovers, which were often quite passable, just not of premium quality. The tribute tea system has long since gone by the wayside, in part due to demand from other parts of the world for that level of quality and in part due to a rise in demand for cheaper teas to satiate a seemingly insatiable public. Tea cultivation spread to more and more countries with the focus on quantity and speedier production (meaning big shiny machines). After a couple of centuries of this, the pendulum in tea production and enjoyment seems to be swinging back toward those premium teas. Does that mean they are becoming more mainstream? I sure hope so!

Some Key Factors in Premium Teas

Premium teas aren’t just a tea that someone slaps a label on bearing the word “premium.” Such teas need to meet certain key standards. I’ve listed a few I look for:

  • Hand-harvested – this goes for teas like Silver Needle, Bi Luo Chun, or a nice tippy Assam.
  • Hand-processed – the teas named above are usually hand-processed, and this is preferred for a tea to be considered premium, but other teas such as matcha can be machine-harvested and –processed or hand-processed and still claim that honor.
  • Overall exceptionalism – that is where the matcha figures in here, along with top-grade gyokuro, and many private label pu-erhs put together by true tea masters.
  • General form – with the exception of matcha (and possibly some others), premium teas will generally not be in that “ground to dust” form filling those millions of teabags out there; in fact, they will usually not be in teabags but will be packed loose in a sealed pouch or tea tin.

Some Signs that Availability Is Increasing

You know how you can tell when your pristine, golfcourse-looking lawn has a dandelion problem? Yep, those bright yellow flowers dotting the landscape. Well, tea is a bit like that. Smaller vendors have been popping up like those sunny weedy flowers. I’m talking about the ones that focus on those premium teas, not the ones that focus on flavored teas (with lots of stuff added in among the tea leaves), and have them as 90% or more of their total tea line-up. Another sign of those premium teas becoming more mainstream is when you see big vendors start to carry them. I received several samples like that recently. The vendor generally carries only bagged teas in those tall, round tins. But they have brought out several more premium teas such as a first flush Darjeeling and a Milk Oolong. Still another sign for me was a photo of a guy in London… yes, that’s London, England! …who was demonstrating the gongfu style of preparing tea. Boy, things have sure changed in Merry Olde England! Yippee!

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.

With the heat of the summer beating down, tea has taken a turn to the cold varieties. Tea parties can be done with both hot and cold tea. Just imagine close friends, the sun shining, a slight summer breeze and a cup of sweet tea to embrace the conversation. Accompanied of course by wonderful finger sandwiches and chocolate covered strawberries.

Recipes for Sweet Tea Food Pairings (photo by Janet Sanchez, all rights reserved)

Recipes for Sweet Tea Food Pairings (photo by Janet Sanchez, all rights reserved)

Shopping list:

2 loaves soft white bread
½ lb sliced ham
½ lb sliced turkey
7 oz bag Arugula
2-3 tomatoes sliced thin
4 oz mascarpone cheese
4 oz cream cheese
3 oz goat cheese
1 bottle Balsamic glaze
1 jar honey
1 can tart cherries (sub: cranberries)
16 oz strawberries
6 oz bittersweet chocolate (50-70% cocoa)
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Sandwich spreads:

Combine 4 oz mascarpone with 2 tbsp honey
Combine 3 oz goat cheese with 4 tsp balsamic glaze
Combine 4 oz cream cheese with ¼ cup of tart cherries in a food processor or with a mixer

Sandwiches:

Thinly spread mascarpone and honey mixture on 2 pieces of bread. Place a few slices of ham between the slices of bread. Cut off the crusts then cut into thirds.

Thinly spread goat cheese mixture on 2 pieces of bread. Place about ¼ cup of arugula and a few tomato slices between the bread slices. Cut off crusts then cut into thirds.

Thinly spread cream cheese and cherry mixture on 2 pieces of bread. Place a few slices of turkey between the slices of bread. Cut off the crusts then cut into thirds.

Do this for all of the bread making as many of each as you and your guests would prefer.

Chocolate dipped strawberries:

Fill a small sauce pot with water about 1 inch up the side of the pot over medium low heat. Place a metal bowl on top. Choose a metal bowl that does not touch the water when placed on top. Put the chocolate pieces in the bowl. Allow the chocolate to melt then add in 1/3 cup of the sweetened condensed milk. If the mixture is too thick thin it out with 1-2 teaspoons of milk. Once combined, leave the pot over the water but turn off the heat. Take each strawberry by the stem and swirl it around until almost completely covered. Place onto a greased baking sheet or a flexible cutting board. Place into the fridge for at least 10 minutes but not more than 4 hours.

Recipe serves 12-14 people generously.

Serve the above with the teas of your choice!

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.

Braving the outdoors for tea time! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Braving the outdoors for tea time! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

It’s Summer. You are probably spending a lot more time outdoors than you do in Winter. Hiking, boating, riding bikes, swimming… and enjoying tea! I have here a few do’s and don’ts that will help you enjoy that tea outdoors a bit better. At least, I hope they will.

1 Do Beware of Insects

Summer is sweet tea time for many folks. And for others, sweet tea is a year-round event but in Summer they get to enjoy it outdoors. The “sweet” in sweet tea usually comes from sugar. And that makes it attractive to certain critters, including bees and wasps. So a covered cup is a good thing.

2 Don’t Worry About Spills

A great thing about eating and drinking outdoors never seems to get mentioned: you don’t have to worry about spills! Well, not most of the time. And this is especially true of tea. You can certainly shed a tear over spilt tea, but you won’t need to worry about carpet stains, tablecloths ruined, etc. Your deck or patio are another matter.

3 Do Bring Enough to Share

Tea tends to draw a crowd. The sight of you swigging (and hopefully not spilling) your iced tea, sweet or not, will naturally attract attention. Be ready with a bit extra. Having some to share is always a friendly gesture.

4 Don’t Overstay the Tea

When the tea is gone, your time outdoors should be done. You need to go back inside the house or a store or a tea shop and get some more tea. It makes the great outdoors, with it myriad trials and tribulations (biting critters, rocks that trip you, sun that burns you, etc.) much more bearable.

5 Do Come Back Outside

When you have more tea, head back out and be ready for more outdoor enjoyment!

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.

It’s likely that most of the robots actually in use these days are being put to work in less than glamorous situations, such as being employed in some type of industry. But it’s the more or less human type robots that we see in science fiction that tend to capture people’s imagination. Robots that tend to act in ways that real humans might. Including robots that serve tea.

Yes, that’s right. Something I’ve noticed over the years that I’ve been writing about tea is that for some reason robot designers like to give their creations the ability to serve tea. Depending on your definition of what a robot is, this sort of thing goes back several hundred years to the Karakuri of Japan. The Wikipedia entry for them describes Karakuri as “mechanized puppets or automata” that perform one or more activities.

As this article from Smithsonian magazine notes, these activities might include shooting arrows or serving tea, to name a few. If you’re feeling ambitious, that article links to another one that provides instructions to actually make a Gakken Tea Serving Robot, which is modeled after a Karakuri. It’s not for the faint of heart but there it is. For some quite technical background on how a more modern version of a tea serving robot operates, take a look at this research paper from a team of Japanese scientists.

Here’s an article from several years ago about a tea-serving robot of a more recent vintage. It also originated in Japan, thanks to the efforts of the automaker, Honda. The robot, named Asimo, has a section at Honda’s web site, where you can keep up with the latest news, watch videos and even download a related desktop widget.

As of a few years ago, Popular Mechanics reported that Asimo’s services could be rented for a mere $100,000, a price tag that’s obviously out of most people’s range. If this is too pricey for you but you absolutely have to have a tea robot you might be able to console yourself with this relatively affordable robot tea infuser.

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.

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