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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.

Black Tea - full of aroma-makers! (stock image)

Black Tea – full of aroma-makers! (stock image)

Given the close connections between taste and smell, it’s pretty hard to separate the two when it comes to experiencing tea. For many of us the aroma of tea is significant before we even have a chance to prepare it. I’ve found that you can’t always make a direct correlation between the aroma of dry leaves and the quality of the tea, but they often go hand in, and getting a strong whoosh of that tea leaf aroma is a nice prelude to the tea drinking experience.

But exactly what is it about tea that gives this aroma? Well, it seems that there’s been no shortage of research on this topic, so much so that I’ll have to limit myself to sharing a few studies that seemed interesting. If you’re looking for more detail about this subject, it’s there in abundance.

For whatever reason it seems that there a lot of the studies I ran across took place in the early to mid-Seventies. Here’s oneOn the Formation of Black Tea Aroma – that came out in 1973. You’ll have to pay to get all of the nitty gritty details but the short summary that kicks things off should suffice for most of us. To summarize that even further, let’s say that much of black tea’s aroma comes about during the first 24 hours of processing when volatile compounds are formed that contribute to tea’s aroma. New Volatile Constituents of Black Tea Aroma, from two years later, takes a closer look at the 56 aroma components that study identified. Here’s even more on black tea and aroma.

Lest one accuse us of weighting the article in favor of black tea I’ll point that green tea is well treated in this field of research and other types of tea are represented as well. But if you’re looking for a more down to earth explanation of what gives tea its aroma that won’t cost you anything take a look at this overview from a Japanese tea company.

As they note, tea contains hundreds of fragrance components, with more of them found in black tea than green. But the “essence” that makes up the actual aroma is found in rather minute quantities. The process that creates fragrance in tea leaves begins when they are harvested. Because this process is interrupted during the actual processing phase for green tea those leaves tend to develop less fragrance than teas such as black and oolong. Although, if you’ve ever caught a good whiff of a high quality green tea it’s obvious that this process is not quite as cut and dried as this explanation would suggest.

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.

Sencha - a cuppa Vitamin C? (ETS image)

Sencha – a cuppa Vitamin C? (ETS image)

For most of us the be all and end all for vitamin C is orange juice. Or you could just use supplements. But what about tea?

Well, first things first. If you want a fairly in-depth look at vitamin C check out this one from the National Institutes of Health, which notes, “Humans, unlike most animals, are unable to synthesize vitamin C endogenously, so it is an essential dietary component.” They go on to give a Recommended Daily Allowance, which varies by age and sex and which, for yours truly, works out to 90 mg a day.

As for where to get your hands on this substance, the consensus is that “Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C.” At the top of the chart? Well, it’s red pepper, of course, which tops orange juice by a narrow margin. Some other surprises on the list (at least for me) – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomato juice, cabbage, and potatoes.

Tea doesn’t come in for a mention on this list, but according to this summary from a Japanese tea company, the amount of vitamin C contained in tea varies according to the type of tea and the amount of processing it has been subjected to. Black tea has no vitamin C while types like oolong tend to have very little. On the other hand, a green tea like sencha – which is a Japanese variety of green tea – is said to have a rather astounding vitamin C content that’s about 1.5 times that of red peppers. Which means that it exceeds orange juice by just a little more than that.

If you go the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference you can find nutrient information on over 8,000 foods. Unfortunately, the 21 types of tea analyzed there are rather heavily weighted toward instant tea. However, the list does confirm that black tea does not contain any vitamin C. Which is the same for a number of ready-to-drink teas that were tested and one fast food variety. Chamomile “tea” also has no vitamin C while hibiscus actually has a somewhat significant amount, though it’s important to note that neither of these are tea, in the strictest sense of the word.

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.

(ETS Image)

(ETS Image)

Nowadays, when we turn to Cosmopolitan magazine, it’s for advice on such topics of earth-shaking importance as love tricks, lean thighs, and flat abs. But it was not always thus. If you’re not up on the history of that publication, then you might not be aware that is was started in 1886 and included in its pages works by such literary luminaries as Theodore Dreiser, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton.

In the 1899 issues of the magazine you could find articles about fashion and food but also about topics like marine disasters, air-ships, and the Philippines. Or one called “Tea-Drinking in Many Lands,” by Laura B. Starr. It’s an extensive piece, illustrated with numerous photos and drawings. And, as the name suggests, it examines tea culture in various countries.

Although from the beginning of the article the author takes a broad view of what constitutes tea, a term that’s technically given to an infusion made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. We are informed that the “Coreans” might resort to infusing ginger when they can’t afford tea while the Siberians sometimes drink cabbage tea – or should that be cabbage soup?

In Japan, the “tea” is sometimes made of salted cherry blossoms, parched barley, or beans. In China and France ginseng is likely to be the infusion of choice, while South American yerba mate also comes in for a mention, well over a century before it became trendy to own a bombilla.

But it’s not long before the author moves on to “real” tea, giving a legend for its origin and a brief history of how it originated in China and later wound up in Japan and then Europe. After a few humorous stories about tea, she moves on to give a short overview of what tea is and where it comes from.

The author notes that the United States is one of biggest customers for Japanese green tea and that tea is “indispensable” and the national drink in Russia. The author then reveals that some North American Indians were quite keen fans of tea (who knew?) and goes on to discuss tea culture in Morocco, Japan, and China.

It’s an interesting look at how tea was once done in various parts of the world. You can access the full article 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.

Teas are much easier to get these days! (ETS image)

Teas are much easier to get these days! (ETS image)

Once upon a time, as tea began to make its way to Europe, it was a commodity that wasn’t consumed by anyone who was afflicted with shallow pockets. Much, if not most, of the tea shipped there in the early days came from China, which meant a voyage of several months. Add to this the fact that some countries levied considerable taxes on this new commodity and you can see why it wasn’t meant for bargain shoppers.

As the title of this article suggests, this is not an in-depth look at tea smuggling so I’ll just touch on the situation in England. Where one company held a monopoly on imports of tea – the East India Company. It was also a place where the tax on tea was well over one hundred percent by the time of The Commutation Act of 1784, which I wrote about here and which eased the tax burden considerably. While some sources suggested that at one point the amount of tea smuggled into the country was three times as much as the amount of legal tea brought in, the reduction in taxes served to put a considerable crimp in the smuggling trade.

Though tea smuggling was clearly against the law back in the day it was not something “common” people – the ones with the shallow pockets – were likely to get too worked up about, as it meant that they were more likely to have a source of affordable tea. And, while this might have caused some consternation among the East India Company, the fact was that many of their ship’s officers contributed to the problem – if indeed it even was one – by selling tea that they themselves smuggled in using the private cargo spaces they were entitled to.

As this more extensive overview (courtesy of the UK Tea Council) notes, tea smuggling operations tended to become larger and better organized as the years went on. And while the smugglers might have been doing a favor, of sorts, for people of more modest means, they weren’t necessarily the kind of people you’d want to invite to your next tea party. Among the better known and more unsavory of these were the rather notorious Hawkhurst Gang, who, to put it rather mildly, were not a very nice 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.

The well of novelty tea infusers is so deep that it can surely never run dry. It’s become kind of a tradition in these gadget reports to comment on a notable one of these gizmos and this edition is no exception. But this time around we’ll feature not just one but two outstanding novelty tea infusers – all for our usual low price. First, for those who’d like to add a bit of a scientific feel to tea time, there’s this Lab Beaker Tea Infuser. Next up, you could probably almost guess what the Teatanic Unsinkable Tea Infuser is like, but if you need to confirm it look here.

One of the more unusual tea gizmos I’ve run across lately is a tea bag that’s emblazoned with a symbol that’s made of an ink that’s safe to ingest. Which is kind of nifty. But wait – there’s more. When the tea bag is steeped the symbol morphs into something else entirely. For example, as the tea is steeping, a hawk might change into a dove.

The singer Lady Gaga is probably one of the more high profile celebrities these days who is known to be a tea lover. When she passed through Minnesota recently a local tea merchant was given the task of creating a custom blend for her. The full details are not available, but apparently it contained a curious mix of Minnesota wild rice, juniper berries, saffron, and whole vanilla bean – and presumably some other ingredients. I’d have thought that someone with Lady Gaga’s means could afford to travel with her own tea sommelier but apparently she hasn’t gone to that extreme just yet.

I’ve never tried tea made with one of those single serving pod type machines, and I’m not really itching to. But our Esteemed Editor had a less than stellar experience with one not so long ago, which she discusses here. Whether or not you like tea prepared this way, you might find it interesting to know that one company is making a recyclable version of the pods that are used therein.

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.

Merchant X selling Tea A, B, and C (ETS image)

Merchant X selling Tea A, B, and C (ETS image)

Tea – it’s what for dinner. Or something like that. As a general rule, I suspect that most of us who drink tea regularly don’t think much about the makeup of that tea. At least not beyond the fact that it’s black or green or white or whatnot or that it’s brought to us by merchant X or merchant Y.

But exactly what is tea made up of? I guess first and foremost the answer is water. That’s pretty obvious and I only mention it to underscore the importance of using good water for your tea. But of course there’s more to it than that.

I have to admit that this was a bit of an educational experience for me. It’s not like I went into this knowing the answers and wanting to share my wisdom with the reader. As it turns out it seems that there’s been quite a bit of research on this topic. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, given tea’s popularity. Since this is a short article that seeks to entertain (one hopes) rather than a dissertation, I’ll confine myself to sharing a few highlights.

One listing of the components of black tea reveals that it is composed of catechins, theaflavins, thearubigins, flavonols, methylxanthines (caffeine), phenolic acids and amino acids (theanine) and provides specific details on each of these compounds. For example, you might not have been aware – as I wasn’t – that there are separate and distinct flavonols, such as quercetin, keampherol, rutin or that there are phenolic acids like caffeic acid, quinic acid and gallic acid. None of which sound terribly appetizing but as an avid fan of black tea I can attest to the fact that the parts combine to make a pretty good whole.

Here’s another take on black tea from India’s Upasi Tea Research Foundation. As they note, tea “contains a full complement of enzymes, biochemical intermediates, carbohydrates, proteins and lipids,” which they go on to describe in some detail.

Of course, with green tea being all the rage these days you might wonder what you’ll find in a cup of that. Not surprisingly, given that at all types of tea are derived from the same plant, there are a lot of things in common. For more details on all of this, as well as descriptions of each of the components, look here. This study of the relationship between tea’s components and perceived quality isn’t really geared to the layperson and the full results will cost you but it’s worth mentioning even so.

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.

Drawstring Tea Filters (ETS Image)

Drawstring Tea Filters (ETS Image)

Like it or not, the tea bag is probably not going anywhere. Common wisdom suggests that it was invented just over a century ago and that it has undergone many changes since then. You can still get dubious tea in a standard issue tea bag, if you choose to do so. Or you can upgrade to high quality loose leaf tea in various “gourmet” tea bags that allow the leaves more room to steep.

Here are a few things you may or may not have known about tea bags:

Origin I
It’s often said that the tea bag was “invented” more or less by accident by a New York tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan who offered samples of his tea in silk bags. Which the recipients unwittingly steeped in hot water. It seemed more like myth than truth to me, and so I attempted to sort it out in an article I wrote here a few years ago.

Origin II
In The Century Cook Book, by Mary Ronald, the author suggests that when making a large quantity of tea “it is well to put the tea into a swiss muslin bag, using enough to make a very strong infusion.” Which sounds a lot like a tea bag, if you ask me. In the next paragraph the author goes on to describe silver balls that sound a lot like the tea infusers we use nowadays. Which is noteworthy since the book was published in 1895, about a decade before the tea bag was supposedly invented.

Origin III
Going back more than another decade, to 1883, an article in The Coffee Public-House News and Temperance Hotel Journal suggests using “a muslin or other bag” to make larger quantities of tea at one time. Which also sounds a lot like a tea bag.

Mess Prevention
One of the long standing problems with tea bags is that they tend to be messy. A lot of time and energy has gone into getting around this and I’ve written about a number of these gadgets. Here’s a rather intricate solution from 1959 that was known as a Self-Squeezing Tea or Coffee Bag.

Popularity
According to the Tea Association of the USA, as of 2012, over 65 percent of the tea brewed in the United States was prepared using tea bags. Which is a drop in the tea bucket next to the UK. There, as most accounts seem to agree, more than 90 percent of tea is made using tea bags.

Know When to Fold ‘Em
Last of all, let us make note of the fact that tea bag folding is a thing you can do. A thing that’s not completely unlike origami. Find out more at one of the many web sites devoted to this art.

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 seems that the Internet exists to presents us with a seemingly endless flow of novelties and gimmicks – and you can also go there to pay your electric bill. Many of the novelties seem to fall into the category of frivolous time wasters, but occasionally you run across one that seems to be a little more worthwhile. Take the Ngram Viewer, for example, which is apparently part of an ongoing attempt to take over the entire world, but without doing evil.

The Ngram Viewer, for those who might not have encountered it before, tracks the usage of words over a period of time that you can specify. Or, as the Ngram people put it, “When you enter phrases into the…Ngram Viewer, it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g., “British English”, “English Fiction”, “French”) over the selected years.”

Which seems a bit less frivolous than videos of cats playing the piano and whatnot, and its rather entertaining in its own right. My first thought upon encountering it was to track a variety of tea terms, which produced some interesting results.

The obvious place to start, of course, is with the word “tea” itself. Which first turns up in the first decade of the century. For whatever reason there is a significant spike in usage just after 1660 before things calm down again. [Editor's note: That year is about a half century after tea was introduced to Europe.] From here it’s pretty much a steady rise until the 1930s and then a slump until the early 1970s when it turns abruptly upward and continues to do so until the present time.

Green tea doesn’t really turn up until after 1740 and then spikes over the course of the next two decades before settling down. It spikes again around 1850 and then dwindles for another century or so. Then, not surprisingly, given its great popularity these days, takes a dramatic upswing. Black tea describes a similar path, with less variation at either end, and oolong and white tea are about the same, but decidedly less popular than the aforementioned types, as one might expect.

None of which comes across as well in print as it does with the visual component included. If you’d like to see it and more all laid out on the (web) page, look 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.

A Dome Cozy - the most popular basic style (ETS Image)

A Dome Cozy – the most popular basic style (ETS Image)

Because I didn’t grow up in a traditional tea drinking household and because I don’t prepare tea in the traditional manner – with a tea kettle and a tea pot – there are some aspects of that way of doing things that I’m not so familiar with. Like tea cosies, for instance. I had no idea that these were so popular nowadays, and I’d always assumed they were kind of fuddy-duddyish. But that’s apparently not the case. As I noted in a recent article in a thriving subset of the publishing industry devoted to books about tea cosies.

As I started to do some more research into this topic I began to suspect that tea cosies are serious business for some people. Serious business, that is, if you consider that there are people who gather to pit their tea cosy making skills against a field of equally worthy opponents. I ran across several of these competitions without having to look too hard and I suspect there are probably many more.

Correct me if you know better, but it seems that The Fish Creek Tea Cosy Festival, held annually in Fish Creek, Victoria, in Australia, is one of the more noteworthy of these events. The 2014 event took place over the course of nine days and the competitions took place in such categories as Traditional, Aquatic, Butch, and Exuberant Whimsy.

That one’s done for this year but there’s still time to make The National Tea Cosy Competition, which will be held in Dublin in October, 2014. As they note at their web site, “Every medium of craft is accepted. All that we ask is that it is handmade!”

If you act quickly you might also make The Port Eliot Tea Cosy Competition, in Cornwall, England, which will be held in July this year. Or hold off until November, when The Great Exeter Tea Cosy Competition will be held in Exeter, England. Last, but certainly not least, there’s the Tea Cosy Competition at St. George’s Market, in Belfast.

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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