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With all of the attention to the many alleged health benefits of tea nowadays, you tend to hear certain terms a lot. One of those terms is catechins. Which leads to the obvious question – what are they? I have to admit that, as much as I write about tea, I wasn’t completely clear on this issue myself. So I set out to demystify the matter.

Let’s start with a dictionary definition and go from there. Merriam-Webster says catechins are “a crystalline compound C15H14O6 that is related chemically to the flavones, is found in catechu, and is used in dyeing and tanning.” Which doesn’t much sound like something one wants in their tea but let’s look into the matter a little more closely.

Wikipedia says that a catechins are “a flavan-3-ol, a type of natural phenol and antioxidant. It is a plant secondary metabolite. It belongs to the group of flavan-3-ols (or simply flavanols), part of the chemical family of flavonoids” and thankfully does not reference it as something used in tanning. Besides tea, catechins are also found in cocoa, argan oil, many types of fruit and dark chocolate, to name a few.

A fact sheet from the University of California at Davis breaks things down in terms that are generally more suited for laypeople. If you’ve wondered, like I have, if a catechin is different from a flavonol, they clarify the matter by noting, “catechins are classified as flavanols and include the following compounds: catechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, and epigallocatechin gallate.

They also provide a chart of some items that are high in catechin content. Tea doesn’t rank too high when it comes to catechins and epicatechin but green tea is number one on the list when it comes to epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, and epigallocatechin gallate, with black tea taking second place. The sheet goes on to comment on some of the alleged benefits of catechins and “media hype” regarding red wine, chocolate and tea.

For yet another perspective on the above take a look at this summary of components and health benefits of tea, courtesy of a Japanese tea maker.

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.

Green Tea Sampler (ETS image)

Green Tea Sampler (ETS image)

Those of us who have been drinking tea for a while might tend to forget that there are a lot of people for whom tea is a mystery. Which is probably more likely to be the case in a country like our own United States than someplace that’s more tea-centric, like the United Kingdom. I can vouch for this since a mere nine years ago I was one of these people who found tea quite mysterious.

This came to mind recently when I ran across a comment on Twitter recounting a tea novice’s first experience with green tea. This individual seemed surprised and perhaps a bit relieved (and perhaps a bit of both) to discover, as they put it, “it’s actually not horrible!” Well, what a relief.

Which brought to mind a few beginner’s type tea-related incidents from my own past. One concerned yours truly, in the early days of my acquaintance with tea. As it so happens someone at the office where I worked had a box of something alleged to be green tea. It was in tea bag form and so I proceeded to steep a cup of it. And proceeded to taste it. And while I didn’t spew it across the room like a character in a sitcom, I might as well have. Because it actually was quite horrible. I was familiar enough with green tea to realize that this just a bad specimen or it might have put me off green tea for a while.

The other incident took place when I had become better acquainted with tea and had gotten my hands on green tea that I considered to be not in the least bit horrible. In fact, it was nearly spectacular. I thought I would share some of this fine elixir with someone I knew who had a passing interest in green tea but not much experience with it. Who took a few sips of a it and asked for sweetener.

Needless to say I was quite floored, baffled, and put out, though I tried not to let on. But looking back on it from the perspective of someone who’s been drinking “good” tea for a while, I can see that it sort of kind of made sense. It had taken me years to get to the point where I could appreciate the subtle flavors of a delicate green tea, and so it was asking a bit much to expect a tea novice to love it at first taste.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dripping Teapot Solved (screen capture from site)

Dripping Teapot Solved (screen capture from site)

Pouring tea is how we get the tea from the pot to the cup, and that’s about all there is to it. Right? Well, perhaps not so much, now that you mention it. There’s actually a little more to it than that. As previous articles in these pages have noted, you can learn how to pour tea in the proper British style and the mechanics of the teapot spout might have an effect on the tea itself.

Or you can pour tea like a Moroccan waiter, which is to say holding the teapot far from the cup and performing a death defying feat that supposedly almost never sees a drop of tea go astray. According to various sources, this is done throughout northern Africa, where the preferred tea is gunpowder green served with a healthy dose of mint and sugar. All of which is done to aerate the tea and thus improve the flavor, to give it a head like beer, or to cool it down – or perhaps a combination of all of these.

Which is an activity that’s not confined to Morocco, mind you. In Malaysia, a similar process is used to make teh tarik, a sweet black tea that’s made with condensed milk. Or you can do a cursory search of the web and can find a number of videos of intrepid Chinese tea pouring acrobats. Who perform amazing feats using special teapots with long thin spouts. Here’s an example. According to one Chinese tea blogger, high pouring (though presumably not of such an acrobatic variety) when pouring water to steep the leaves helps produce a better cup of tea as it agitates the leaves which then achieve more contact with the water.

Of course, I would probably be remiss if I wrote about tea pouring and didn’t discuss that pesky problem of why the teapot always drips when you’re finished pouring your tea. The problem was apparently solved by a team of scientists a few years back but whether teapot makers got the memo or not is up in the air – pardon the expression.

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.

Collectible Teapot and Tea Calendar 2015 (from Yahoo Images)

Collectible Teapot and Tea Calendar 2015 (from Yahoo Images)

When I wrote a profile of tea person and author Babette Donaldson a little while back it somehow escaped my notice that she had written a tea-themed book for children. Although I guess it’s more correct to call it a book for both children and adults. It’s called Fun With Tea: Activities for Tea Loving Adults to Share With Their Favorite Young Sippers and it’s described as a “teatime activity book for all ages and various kinds of tea parties.”

Over the years I’ve written about some of the various ways that tea has made its way into fiction and here’s yet another example. It’s the recently released Tempest in a Teapot, by Amanda Cooper. It’s billed as A Teapot Collector Mystery and it’s apparently the first in yet another series in the popular field of whimsical themed cozy mysteries. And while we’re speaking of teapots it’s as good a time as any to make a note on your calendar to pick up The Collectible Teapot & Tea Calendar 2015, by Annabel Freyberg and photographer Martin Brigdale.

Speaking of tea and fiction, one of the better known titles that uses tea and yet has nothing directly to do with tea is due for a reissue later this year – when it will appear for the first time in a trade paperback edition. That’s The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, by the late Douglas Adams, best known for his The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

If it’s tea houses that thrill your soul then you might want to get a look at Neo-Chinese Style Tea Houses, which just made its way to bookstore shelves. Which I first mentioned in an article on tea houses and the like called A Space for Tea. It’s an impressive coffee table (pardon the expression) type book and as the description notes, it “showcases some of the most elegant teahouses, simple yet contemporary in design; beautiful corridors and intimate rooms lead towards escape and sanctuary with a unique purpose.”

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.

Australia, home of billy tea

Australia, home of billy tea

For tea at its most basic (and probably hair-raisingly strong) you might try preparing it in the manner that’s used in the Australian bush – using a billycan, sometimes simply referred to as a billy. Rather than attempt to instruct you in this art I’ll point you to our previous articles on the topic. As the story goes, this no-frills item of tea gadgetry took its name from the cans that were used to ship corned beef to Australia, which back in the day were pressed into service to make tea.

It might sound like pretty simple stuff, but according to at least one scholar, it might not be so, at least not if you closely analyze a certain popular song that references this object. Death Watch: Reading the Common Object of the Billycan in ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is some pretty deep stuff, if you ask me, but there it is. For a more down to earth explanation of why there were two versions of this great old Australian tune, one that was altered a bit in service of product placement, have a look at this article from the Australian press.

As the article notes, there was once an actual Billy Tea Company. Further research reveals that this was started by a Scottish businessman in 1881 and a couple decades later began using said song to push its products. Some decades later the song was so popular that it received a substantial chunk of votes recommending it as a new national anthem – which didn’t happen. More details here and have a look at some Billy Tea advertising material here.

It’s hard to say exactly when this sort of thing came about but one of the oldest references I was able to find comes from 1849. In a volume called The Working Man’s Handbook to South Australia: With Advice to the Farmer, and Detailed Information for the Several Classes of Labourers and Artizans, by George Blakinston Wilkinson, the billy is synonymous with a tea kettle. But for the last word on billycans, billy tea and the like don’t miss this article from the National Museum of Australia that’s enhanced with a number of interesting photos and drawings.

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.

I ran across a press release recently that announced that a certain well known convenience store chain was rolling out something called “fresh-brewed” iced tea in its stores. Which got me to wondering. I’ve seen this phrase used before and have never thought much about it, but just exactly what does fresh-brewed tea mean? I have my own thoughts on the matter. Which is to expect that “fresh-brewed” iced tea would be tea made on the spot from actual tea leaves.

But exactly how would this work, especially in the busy environment of a convenience store or a restaurant or somewhere where the employees don’t necessarily have a lot of time to spend on steeping tea leaves? As it so happens, the press release in question suggests that actual tea leaves are steeped as needed, with a “proprietary blend of black tea leaves” that are “brewed fresh throughout the day” and “dispensed from lined, stainless-steel urns.” I’m sure we’ve all seen the latter in our convenience store or restaurant of choice. On the flip side, the company also offers a liquid tea concentrate for those times when circumstances preclude whipping up a batch of the real thing.

According to the web site of a firm that claims to be the top supplier of iced tea to the foodservice market in the United States, they deliver “fresh brewed taste prepared from choice tea leaves,” using blends of tea leaves from China and other parts of Asia and South America. They go on to reveal that they use a patented type of square tea bag in which said leaves are actually contained and steeped. So it appears that for this foodservice iced tea behemoth, at least, fresh-brewed might actually mean what it says.

Of course, like anything else in the great wide world of tea, methods and results are sure to vary from place to place. As a general rule, I’ve found that iced tea that’s available in these settings often leaves a lot to be desired, with some of it dipping into the barely drinkable category. But that’s not a given and I should point out that one of the best iced teas I’d ever had the good fortune to sample was served at a restaurant I used to frequent – from one of those “lined, stainless-steel urns.”

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

C 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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© 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 blog’s author and/or 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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