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Formosa oolong (ETS Image)

Formosa oolong (ETS Image)

There are a few significant tea producing countries or regions that have changed their name since tea began to be a significant industry there. Probably the most notable example is Sri Lanka. It used to be known as Ceylon, and to this day the tea produced there is known by the same name. And then there’s Taiwan.

Formerly known as Formosa, Taiwan is an island nation located directly to the east of mainland China. Unlike the situation in Sri Lanka, Taiwanese tea such as this one is no longer sold under the name Formosa. Much of the tea that’s produced in Taiwan today is one of a number of highly regarded varieties of oolong.

Writing about tea in the early twentieth century, in an article called The Tea Industry of Formosa, journalist Herbert Compton that there were “highly bright prospects” for the future of this industry. He also noted that Formosa, as it was still called, was “a most delightful realm for human habitation.”

Compton recounts that according to some tales wild tea plants were thought to be native to Formosa but suggests that it was more likely that the plant was brought there from neighboring China. Tea historians Victor Mair and Erling Hoh don’t go into the specifics of exactly when and how tea got to Taiwan but apparently there are records of it being grown there as early as 1701.

By 1861, according to a British government report, a fair amount of tea was being shipped from Formosa back to tea’s place of origin – China – but tea production was apparently still a relatively minor industry. Compton credits Englishman John Dodd with doing much to further the tea industry there in the years that followed.

In the half century from 1895 onward Formosa was a colony of Japan, and both sources agree that it was during this time that tea production really began to take off. Which is probably not surprising, given Japan’s long relationship with tea. Of course, Japan is best known for producing green tea and, while it would be interesting to determine how their colony became a hotbed for oolong tea, that’s a question that will have to wait for another day.

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.

Teamakers are becoming rather common these days, and there are some models that are quite elaborate, automating nearly every step of the teamaking process and then taking the dog for a walk when they’re finished. I’ve used a number of these gizmos over the years, and they’re quite fine, but I always seem to find myself drifting back to less elaborate methods of preparing tea.

But while I can see the sense of using one of these gadgets, I don’t have any desire to build my own. Apparently, there are those who do harbor such a desire, and presumably it all has to do with the rise of the so-called maker culture in recent years.

So if making your own teamaker is the kind of thing that might grab you, march forth to the Instructables site to check out this article. It promises to show you how to make something called the ATTiny Tea Maker, which shouldn’t cost you more than twenty dollars before it’s all said and done.

One starts by creating the circuit that will serve as the brains of the thing, then going on to building the framework, assembling and finishing it all. It seems like a lot of a work to build a very basic teamaker, but as someone who used to pore over Heathkit’s extensive catalogs of DIY electronics projects I guess I can relate, to some extent.

For an even more basic variation on this same theme take a look at this Instructables article about the Little Tea robotic tea brewer. It’s nothing fancy and as you can see from the accompanying photos its made with cardboard and a popsicle stick, among other things. But it you’re clever and ambitious enough to make this plain Jane model, I suspect that you can probably come up with a way to make it a bit more stylish. As for the mechanics of the thing, it appears that its primary objective is to remove the teabag from the cup at the appointed time. Not terribly elaborate, but there it is.

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.

Black tea in the cup (ETS image)

Black tea in the cup (ETS image)

If you’re looking for old books about tea there are plenty of them just a click away, thanks to the ongoing efforts to digitize what seems like every piece of printed material ever published. I’ve written about many of these over the years and keep waiting for the supply to run dry, but it hasn’t yet.

The latest one I’d like to discuss is a volume with the rather concise title, A Cup of Tea: Containing a History of the Tea Plant from Its Discovery to the Present Time, Including Its Botanical Characteristics … and Embracing Mr. William Saunders’ Pamphlet on Tea-culture–a Probable American Industry. That’s actually the condensed version, by the way, and you get bonus points for saying it three times fast.

The book was published in 1884 and its co-writer, Joseph M. Walsh, also penned a few other books on tea. They are Tea, Its History and Mystery and Tea-blending as a Fine Art, and he also wrote a book on coffee. The book starts, as so many tea books do, with a history of tea, noting how it started in China and spread to other parts of Asia and elsewhere and discussing how it eventually made its way to Europe and the United States.

Next up is a chapter on tea’s botanical characteristics and another on cultivation and preparation. The chapter on Chemical, Medicinal and Dietical Properties discusses the theine in tea, which is another word for caffeine and not to be confused with theanine, a compound that was discovered later. As for its medicinal properties, the author is mostly bullish on these, unlike some commentators of yesteryear who were not always convinced that tea was such a good thing.

The rest of the book is given over to chapters on classification, adulteration and blending. Walsh, an American, close things with a chapter called Tea-Culture, A Probable American Industry. As the name suggests, the chapter focuses on the ins and outs of setting up a tea industry here in the United States. Which, alas, was not really something that came to pass. Tea was already being grown in the US at the time and still is even to this day, but has always been more of a curiosity than a significant industry.

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 have to admit that I was only vaguely aware of the Seychelles until recently and really only due to its reputation as a vacation destination. For those who also might not be that familiar with it, the Seychelles is a nation off the east coast of Africa that is made up of more than 100 islands. It’s a balmy place with photogenic beaches and, as a matter of fact, tourism is indeed the primary industry there.

The Seychelles are not really the first place you’d think of when you think of tea production, but then again you could say the same thing about the United States or England, two other unlikely places where tea is grown in relatively small quantities. Tea is indeed such a minor part of the economy there that it doesn’t even merit a mention in the country’s Wikipedia entry.

It’s actually not all that improbable that the Seychelles grow tea, given that Africa as a whole is one of the world’s top tea producing regions. Additionally, one Africa’s top tea growing countries – Kenya – is located directly to the west of the Seychelles.

While the population of the Seychelles is relatively small and tea production there is quite modest, it’s interesting to pause for a moment and note that its citizens can hold their own when it comes to tea consumption. On a per capita basis, they rank sixth among the world’s top tea drinkers, just after the United Kingdom, which is no small feat. Per capita tea consumption there averages just over four and a half pounds, which is about a pound less than they drink in the United Kingdom.

As for tea production, here’s a page from the government’s official tourism site about a tea factory located in Sans Souci, Mahé. As the description notes, “Established in 1962, this unit is responsible for growing and manufacturing tea in the Seychelles.” For more specifics, take a look at this article from the local press, which focuses on the Seychelles Trading Company and its SeyTe brand of tea, which is a mix of the locally grown product and imports from Sri Lanka. According to the article, tea growing in the Seychelles began relatively recently, in 1960.

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 made it this far in life without being completely sure what a crumpet is, though I have a general idea. I grew up in a region of the United States where Tastykakes were a popular snack food, including various flavors of a pastry known as Krimpets. While there seems an obvious connection between crumpets and Krimpets, the latter actually take their name from the fact that they are crimped and thus have indentations on their sides. But this contributed to my confusion over what a crumpet is.

The crumpet, as I discovered, is something like a pancake. Rather than rehash the specifics of what it’s all about I’ll direct you to a previous article that appeared here. I also found it interesting that a forum thread at a food site examining the differences between crumpets and English muffins had generated nearly 50 responses over the course of several years. Apparently, there are those who take their crumpets seriously.

Of course, this being a tea site, the proper question to ask is how – and perhaps when – did the crumpet and tea become a pair. It was only about a decade ago that I became familiar with tea and much less than that for the crumpet, and yet I can recall hearing the phrase “tea and crumpets” when I was just a kid.

The first reference I was able to locate dates all the way back to 1786, in a book called The Experienced English Housekeeper. It includes a recipe for those who would like “To Make Tea Crumpets.” It’s a pretty basic recipe that only runs to a few paragraphs but it suggests that the relationship between tea and crumpets was already well-established by then.

The first reference to the actual phrase “tea and crumpets” comes in 1808, in a novel called Miss Balmaine’s Past, by Bithia Mary Croker, a prolific English novelist who spent many years in India. In it, one of her characters settles down “in a roomy armchair to enjoy tea and crumpets.” The phrase turns up again in 1824, in Mornings at Bow Street: A Selection of the Most Humourous and Entertaining Reports which Have Appeared in the Morning Herald, by John Wight.

Of course, after that the floodgates were opened the and the uses of the phrase became too numerous to count. But let’s close with a snippet from the Irish poet, Thomas Moore, who immortalized it in verse:

Ye spinsters, spread your tea and crumpets;
And you, ye countless Tracts for Sinners,
Blow all your little penny trumpets.

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.

Each time I embark upon the writing of this column, I find myself getting a little nervous. After all, the supply of new tea books has to run out some time. Doesn’t it? Well, maybe it will at some point, but we apparently haven’t gotten to that point just yet. So let’s get on with it.

I don’t recall seeing many (any?) books about that picturesque tea-growing region of India known as Darjeeling. Yes, you know the one. But that’s about to change, as of next May. When we’ll be presented with Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea, by Jeff Koehler. Information is still a bit sparse on this one but among the author’s other books, for what it’s worth, are cookbooks focused on the cuisine of Spain and Morocco.

Tea and Downton Abbey seem to go hand in hand for some reason and so it’s probably no surprise that an enterprising publisher has chosen to capitalize on this. With the recently published Tea at Downton: Afternoon Tea Recipes From The Unofficial Guide to Downton Abbey, by Elizabeth Fellow. Which promises to “share some recipes from the golden age of England.”

Once upon a time the only sommeliers to be found were the kind who tended to the wine drinking types. But the times are changing and author Jennifer Petersen has commemorated these changes with Foundations of Tea: Tea Sommelier Journal: Taste, Taste, Taste, which was also released recently. As the publisher’s description notes, the book “is a comprehensive organizational tool for organizing and recording your sensory evaluations of tea. This forward-thinking journal provides guidelines for tasting various types of tea, steeping times and evaluations for any type of tea or herbal infusions.”

If you don’t know anything about Persian tea, then we’re pretty much in the same boat. If you’d like to know more about Persian tea, you might want to start with The Art of Persian Tea, by Farahnaz Amirsoleymani. In which the author “highlights the essentials of Persian tea culture: tradition, blending, & brewing the perfect cup.”

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 growing up tea was a thing of mystery. My family drank powdered iced tea of dubious quality, but that was about all I knew about tea. Except that tea was black and you bought cheap teabags at the grocery store and steeped them and probably added milk, sugar, lemon or whatever.

Some of the many black teas available for tea drinkers. (ETS image)

Some of the many black teas available for tea drinkers. (ETS image)

Once upon a time, at least outside of Asia, this is how things were done. Tea and black tea were synonymous and that was that. Yes, as I’ve noted before, imports to the United States of Japanese green tea and other types were significant in the nineteenth century but somewhere along the way something changed and black began to prevail.

But there are indications lately that black tea is not quite the dominating force that it was. Even a casual observer to what’s happening in the tea world has probably noticed the surge of interest in green tea and some of the lesser known types.

As it turns out, there is apparently evidence to support all of this. In the United Kingdom, that great bastion of black tea drinking, a recent article in the press there notes that “While sales of ordinary black tea bags have dropped by nearly five per cent in the past year, demand for green tea has rocketed by almost 10 per cent.”

In addition to green tea, beverage lovers there are also turning to fruit flavored teas and tisanes such as peppermint and chamomile, all of which have seen an increase of eight percent in a year. The good news for black tea is that the category still accounts for nearly twice as much in sales as all others combined. Not that the news is bad for all tea companies, mind you. At Yorkshire Tea they’ve managed to buck the trend and claim that their sales of mostly black tea have jumped by 66 percent over the course of the last five years.

A recent article in the Washington Post claimed that we’re gradually becoming a nation of tea drinkers. Maybe so and maybe not and I’ve already discussed that claim in a recent article for this site. But it’s also interesting to note the facts that were cited in the article, courtesy of the U.S. Tea Association.

As they note, the tea market in the U.S. has jumped from about two billion dollars in 1990 to more than ten billion dollars last year. Half of all the tea we drink is of the black kind (I’m certainly doing my part on that front), followed by fruit and herbal “tea.” Both categories are faltering however, with a small increase in the latter since 2000 and a drop of about 2.5 percent for black tea.

Not so for green tea, which has grown by about 40 percent since 2000 and now accounts for about a tenth of all of our tea. So-called fringe and artisanal teas like white and oolong and others have grown by about 8,000 percent in the last decade but still make up a fairly small portion of our tea market overall.

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.

Iced tea with lemon (stock photo)

Iced tea with lemon (stock photo)

Lemon and tea. They go together like, well, like birthday cake and mustard. But that’s just my opinion. Yours may vary and for a lot of people lemon is an essential part of the tea-drinking experience. But how did this come to be? It might be a task for a mightier historian than yours truly but I figured I’d try to sort it out anyway.

As it turns out, finding a definitive answer was not as easy as I anticipated. But one point that came to mind while researching the topic was the term “limey,” formerly (and perhaps still?) used to refer to British sailors. The term is derived from the practice of giving limes to these sailors to help prevent a dreadful malaise known as scurvy. In truth lemon juice would do just as well as lime and was often – perhaps more so than lime – given to sailors and frequently mixed into their grog (watered down rum).

For my money the combination of tea and lemon doesn’t seem like a particularly intuitive one. But given the fact that the British were rather fond of tea by this time, it’s probably not a big leap to speculate that lemon juice managed to make its way into tea as well. In 1794, a British sailor named William Hutchinson even theorized that it was his consumption of tea that help drive away the scourge of scurvy, though he did not mention lemon or other citrus. Which might not be totally farfetched, given that some types of tea are rather high in vitamin C.

But that’s kind of beside the point for the purposes of this article and doesn’t quite sort out how lemon came to tea. Fortunately, a recent book called Modern Tea: A Fresh Look at an Ancient Beverage, by Lisa Boalt Richardson, gives a few more clues. It suggests that the concept of punch – supposedly from the Hindi word paunch – was picked up by British sailors in India. It was composed of water, sugar, lemon, arrack (distilled palm syrup) and tea. Later versions of punch might or might not have contained lemon and tea but in the end it’s likely that lemon might have made its way to tea through one of these paths.

Which ultimately led to what some feel is the greatest combination of tea and lemon. I think you know the one.

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 wouldn’t go so far as to say that there’s a festival to fit every taste or interest, but there are certainly some offbeat ones. For example, there’s the Underwater Music Festival, held in the Florida Keys, Australia’s Tunarama, which features a tuna tossing event, and Mexico’s Night of the Radishes. And of course, there are tea festivals. They might not be quite so offbeat as the above mentioned, but there’s certainly no shortage of them. As we noted most recently in an article located here. Which covered many of the “big name” tea fests that people are more likely to have heard of. But there are a few others that might not be as well-known that I thought were worth a mention.

Canada was well represented on previous lists with the Victoria Tea Festival and the Toronto Tea Festival but Ottawa is also getting in on things with the appropriately named Ottawa Tea Festival. The 2014 incarnation of the festival will take place in December, and it appears that it has been going on for at least two years already. Also in Canada, there’s a festival that’s geared more toward industry types and in which tea shares billing with that other drink. That’s The Canadian Coffee & Tea Show, which takes place in Mississauga, Ontario.

On the other side of the Atlantic, there’s Scotland’s Tea Festival, which I mentioned recently in another article. It got underway for the first time ever in August, 2014, but let’s hope to see more of it in upcoming years. Other festivals in this part of the world that also share billing with the other drink are the Dublin Coffee & Tea Festival and The Tea & Coffee Festival, which is held in London.

Finally, let’s be sure not to forget South Korea. Where the green tea growing region of Boseong celebrates with the Boseong Green Tea Festival. Their web site is mostly in Korean so here’s some information in English from a Korean tourism site.

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.

Is the United States a nation of tea drinkers? Most people who know anything about the topic would probably say that we are not. While we drink quite a bit of iced tea, at least relative to the hot kind, our overall consumption doesn’t rank us among the world’s great tea-drinking nations. In fact, our twelve ounces a year only places us near the bottom end of the top seventy of tea-drinking nations, in a tie with those voracious tea drinkers in Somalia.

But that’s all changing – if we’re to believe a recent article in none other than the Washington Post, titled “America is Slowly—But Surely—Becoming a Nation of Tea Drinkers.” Their claim is that “There’s a quiet, and lightly caffeinated, trend brewing in America.” Which I won’t quibble with. As we’ve noted many times in these very pages, tea has been on the upswing here in the United States in past decades.

The post quantifies this by noting that in just over two decades there’s been a five-fold increase to $10 billion dollars annually, according to numbers provided by the US Tea Association. If that’s not enough to convince you then consider the USDA’s estimate that tea imports to the US have jumped by more than 700 percent in the last 50 years.

The article goes on to note that we like iced tea best and prefer black over any other type but also notes that green tea drinking is on the rise. Oh, and coffee consumption has largely remained stagnant for about the last 40 years. Nor will I quibble with any of this.

But while I can’t really argue with any of the above I’d stop short of saying that we’ve become or are becoming a nation of tea drinkers, as much as I’d like that. The article claims that “Tea has infiltrated most Americans’ everyday routine,” but I’d venture to say that for many of the people I know – with a rare exception now and then – tea still is a subject that barely comes up on their radar. Which is anecdotal evidence at best but that’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it.

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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© 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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