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Tea Bag Squeezer (ETS image)

Tea Bag Squeezer (ETS image)

To dunk or not to dunk? To squeeze or not to squeeze?

I suspect that for many people who use a teabag to prepare tea it’s probably quite common to dunk the bag repeatedly and to squeeze it when you’re finished. There are even specially constructed tongs that are designed to assist with the latter action. But should you be inflicting all of this on your teabag? What exactly is the proper way to handle your teabag? Our very own esteemed editor tackled that topic a little while back and came down on the side of not squeezing, but I thought I’d look around to see if any research had been done on the topic.

Lo and behold. It turns out that there has been some research. With regard to the dunking question, here’s an article that recently appeared in the Irish press that weighed in on the matter, courtesy of a chap identified as a tea chemist. Read it all, if you’re so inclined, but here’s the conclusion, “I cannot find a difference between dunking and not dunking under controlled circumstances – so do it how you want.” Here’s a more detailed version of the same article that even includes some math that supposedly helps explain it all.

But what about squeezing? There’s no research cited, but some of the great names of British tea selling have weighed in on this very matter. At the Twinings web site they offer a primer called “How To Taste Tea” which suggests that squeezing your tea bag is not necessarily a bad thing, but “Its best not to overly squeeze your tea bag because this could release deep rooted tannins and they taste very bitter.”

At the web site for yet another British tea maker, Yorkshire Tea (part of Taylors of Harrogate), they offer some tips on how to make a proper brew and also suggest that squeezing in moderation is probably the best course of action, “Remove the teabag with a spoon giving it just one gentle squeeze.”

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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 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.

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.

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.

IngenuiTEA (ETS image)

IngenuiTEA (ETS image)

There are many resources nowadays that claim to tell you the secret of preparing perfect tea. I remain skeptical that such a thing exists. But if you’re willing to settle for a great cup of tea, I’d suggest that you focus on a few key factors – the quality of the tea, the time spent steeping it, and the temperature at which it’s steeped.

But let’s talk steeping. In addition to the time you spend steeping tea, the method you use is important. There are any number of methods you can use to steep tea nowadays, including automated gadgets that take care of most preparation steps and which will do your windows in their down time. But to simplify this discussion, we’ll focus on a few steeping methods, such as teabags and some of the assorted and sundry infusers on the market.

First, the teabag – the old tried and true. It’s a fairly well-known fact these days that the “two dollars for a 100″ type teabags that you buy in a grocery store might not necessarily contain the highest quality of tea. Even if they did, they did the construction of the teabag is not such that it would allow the tea to steep properly. One of the primary concerns when steeping tea is that the water should be able to circulate freely among the tea leaves to be able to make maximum contact with those leaves and release the greatest amount of flavor. When the tea is scrunched tightly into a tea bag this is not the optimum situation.

Which can also be the case with many tea infusers. The first one that comes to mind is that small metal strainer type tea ball that still seems to be quite popular these days. But the same advice can be applied any type of infuser that’s so small that it constrains the tea leaves and doesn’t allow the water to circulate properly.

A better choice – though one of many – might be the infusers that are shaped like a cup and have a lip around the top that allows them to rest inside your tea cup. Or simply a teapot that allows the water and tea to circulate and contains some mechanism for separating one from the other. My own preference is for a gravity type infuser that I pour the water into. When steeping is complete, place it on top of your tea cup and the tea is released.

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.

Writing a bunch of monthly columns about tea books, as well as some miscellaneous articles about tea books, I assumed that I was aware of absolutely every tea book that’s been loosed on the world in recent years. But that’s not quite true, as I realized when I was contacted recently by a company that has published a number of tea-related titles. While I wait for the supply of recent and upcoming books to replenish itself a bit I thought I’d take a look at a few volumes I’ve managed to overlook.

Judging from the title there’s no doubt about what The Japanese Tea Ceremony, from a few years ago, is all about. It’s actually a reissue of a 1933 volume by A. L. Sadler, an Australian professor of oriental studies. The publisher claims that “this classic remains the gold standard for books on the five-centuries-old tea ceremony.”

For another variation on the same theme, but one well over a century older, you can try Stories from a Tearoom Window, by Shigenori Chikamatsu. An eighteenth century warrior, Chikamatsu “set down scores of legends, anecdotes and bits of lore to express the essence of the tea ceremony for the edification of tea connoisseurs.” It was first translated into English in 1982 and reissued a few decades later.

While we’re on the topic of Japanese tea it’s a good time to mention The Book of Tea Classic Edition, a deluxe edition of Okakura Kakuzo’s 1906 volume, a volume that has remained in print, in one form or another, for more than a century. Or, in a similar vein, Tea Cult Of Japan, by Tasunosuke Fukukita, which first appeared in the 1930s and which was reissued about seven decades later.

Last up, Healthy Teas, by Tammy Safi, has been around since the early days of the recent tea/health craze. But it’s worth seeking out if you’re looking for “a delightful introduction to the history and healing properties of green tea, the health benefits of black teas, and the life-enhancing attributes of herbal and fruit infusions and decoctions.”

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.

Far be it from me to set the rules for preparing tea, a beverage that’s probably consumed by more than a billion people around the world each and every day. But I can’t help finding myself a bit disconcerted at the trend toward shaving seconds – or even minutes – off of how long it takes to prepare it. While that sort of thing seems to fit in with what I know about the coffee drinking experience (which is not much), it doesn’t seem quite right for drinking tea, something that many of us perceive as a slower paced, more leisurely kind of experience.

Yorkshire Red Tea Bags (ETS image)

Yorkshire Red Tea Bags (ETS image)

I’ve written about this very same topic a few times before, most recently in this article. Which questioned the need for gadgetry that is supposedly able to turn out a cup of tea in about a minute. Which is useful if you’re on the retailer’s side of the equation and you want to prepare more tea in a short time. But how does it affect the quality of the tea itself, not to mention what for many is the more low-key experience of drinking tea?

Rather than rehash the topic of one-minute tea let’s move on and tackle the even more fast-paced and thrilling subject of 25-second tea. Yes, that’s right. It seems that the optimum amount of time to steep your tea in teabag form is a mere 25 seconds. That’s according to Martin Isark, a “professional food and drink taster,” who recently undertook to study the issue. Whatever his qualifications for doing so might be, the study was interesting enough to catch the attention of the press in that great tea-drinking part of the world that we know as the United Kingdom.

Over the course of two days Isark sampled 400 cups of tea made with teabags from some of the most well-known British tea firms. The manufacturer’s recommendations for steeping times for those teas ranged from 40 seconds to five minutes.

Though he claims that 25 seconds is an optimum time for tea steeping, Isark is not a fan of this type of tea, which he notes is often made “with tiny particles of broken leaves that have lost the wonderful flavour nuances” that we’re likely to find in other teas. Though he claims to be a fan of pricey first-flush Darjeeling tea, he did allow that of the teas that he surveyed Yorkshire Tea got his thumbs up as the best of the bunch.

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.

Quick – name a tea estate. Yeah, me too. Even though I’ve written about tea for nearly a decade, I find that I’m a bit stumped by that one. The few exceptions would be Tregothnan Estate in Britain, and our very own Charleston Tea Plantation, located in South Carolina. Though admittedly these stand out more for the fact that they are tea estates located in countries where such things are not normally found.

One of the few other tea estates that I personally know by name is Makaibari Tea Estate, in Darjeeling. The Darjeeling region of India, though it produces only a tiny fraction of the tea that issues forth from India’s more productive Assam region, has become synonymous for the most part with high-quality premium varieties of flavorful black tea.

As they claim at their web site, in a brief overview evocatively titled The Magical Mystical Makaibari, the estate “is the world’s first tea factory and was established in 1859.” Real Darjeeling tea (as opposed to the substantial amounts that are said to be counterfeited) generally sells at something of a premium, compared to many tea varieties. But some of the teas that come from Makaibari, and in particular their Silver Tips Imperial, take the notion of premium to a new level, with prices that are measured in multiples of many other Darjeeling teas.

As the company notes at their web site, Silver Tips Imperial is the world’s most expensive tea. As they put it, “Two decades of passionate devotion has resulted in the ultimate tea experience. Plucked under full moon beams, the blaze of Silver Tips Imperial highlights the subtleties of Darjeeling terroir, imperiously.”

Which paints a very nice picture indeed, though it should be noted that this and others of the company’s teas can be purchased directly from their site at comparatively reasonable prices. Nowadays the company is passing from the hands of Swaraj Kumar Banerjee, who took over the operation in 1970. Their long standing reputation goes a long way toward explaining why the new owners – the Luxmi Group, also of India – say that Makaibari “is the jewel in what is called the golden mile of the most important grow region in the world. If Darjeeling is the champagne of teas, Makaibari is the Krug or Henri Giraud.”

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.

The word is that tea can be good for your health. You might have already heard that one. Or you might have read some articles on the topic, such as the ones we have listed here. But as I was sorting through patent records recently, something I do from time to time, I discovered that tea has been proposed as a remedy for some ailments that we probably haven’t covered at this site.

If you’re like me, you can’t help but cast a skeptical eye on remedies and alleged cures for hair loss. I’m not saying that a patent for Hair Treatment Lotion is one to generate skepticism, but one can’t help wondering. It was issued a few years ago and, to summarize, “the invention provides a hair treatment lotion of green tea, gentian, and geranium in aqueous solution, and methods for using this lotion to prevent or treat hair loss.”

If that’s not enough hair loss remedies for you try, the even more recent Composition and Method for Treatment of Hair Loss With a Combination of Natural Ingredients. It apparently does not use actual tea as one of its components but rather epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), an active compound in tea that’s alleged to provide a wide range of health benefits. There’s also some caffeine and saw palmetto berry extract in there, just to liven things up.

If it’s the scourge of migraines that plagues you, then you might find it interesting to review a 2005 patent with the unwieldy title, Comprises Brewing Black Pekoe Tea, Then Adding Aspirin Tablets, Apple Cider Vinegar, and Honey. Which pretty much says it all, except to note that “The entire hot and concentrated composition is then cooled over ice so that a person suffering from a migraine headache may quickly drink it.”

If you’re looking to recover more quickly from your next bout of exercise, there may be hope in the form of a 2013 patent called Use of Tea-Derived, Theaflavin Enriched Extract to Increase Exercise Performance and Reduce Exercise Recovery Time. Then there’s the Anaerobic Tea Steeper and Method of Use. This one is not designed to address any specific treatment but rather is intended “to maximize the preservation of the antioxidants in the aqueous tea extract to be used as a health-promoting beverage.”

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.

Ecstasy is a glass full of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth. – Alexander Pushkin

Czar Nicolas Russian Caravan Tea (ETS image)

Czar Nicolas Russian Caravan Tea (ETS image)

If you’re like me, then when you think of great tea-drinking nations, you probably think of the United Kingdom. Who are actually topped in tea-drinking by countries like Turkey, where they consume nearly three times as much as the Brits on a per capita basis. Then, there’s Morocco, Ireland, and Mauritania, all of which fill the spots on the list just ahead of the UK.

One of the countries that you might not think of when you think of great tea drinkers is Russia. But they have a long history of tea drinking and are credited with popularizing and possibly even inventing the samovar, one of the world’s earliest tea gadgets.

Given the proximity of the two countries, it’s probably no surprise that China eventually started trading one of their precious and unique commodities – tea – with Russia. Russians are first thought to have tasted tea – at least according to the historical record – in the early seventeenth century when envoys from the Tsar, who were dispatched to Mongolia in 1616, encountered a strange beverage made with leaves. About two decades later Mongolia made a gift of about 600 pounds of tea (though that amount varies, depending on the source) to the Tsar. His envoy grumbled a bit, remarking that furs would have been a better choice than these curious leaves.

But tea began to catch on, and by 1674 a Swedish envoy noted that it was being sold in Moscow for 30 kopeks a pound and was claimed to be a remedy for the ills brought on by drinking too much of the harder stuff. By the early to mid-eighteenth century tea had begun to regularly make the long journey from China to Russia, often by camel caravan. Much like in Britain, as the popularity increased and larger supplies were imported, prices fell even further and things began to snowball. By 1810, according to one source, one Russian trading guild was responsible for importing nearly three million pounds of tea into the country.

And so it went. Nowadays the Russians are not ranked all the way at the top of the world’s tea drinking nations. But the beverage is still something of an institution there and enough tea is consumed to put Russia’s citizens fifteenth on the list of tea drinking peoples.

See also 5 Signs That You’re “Going Russian” at Tea Time

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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