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Avert your eyes, if you must, and move on to the next paragraph, but I’m going to kick off this installment of the tea book column with a book about coffee. Gasp. It’s called Coffee Gives Me Superpowers: An Illustrated Book about the Most Awesome Beverage on Earth and it’s by Ryoko Iwata. I mention it not to quibble with the idea that coffee is the most awesome beverage on Earth (though I certainly disagree) but to note that it might be interesting to see a similar volume – one that’s “full of infographics, quizzes, and other fun and interesting facts” – discussing the wonders of tea.

I’m not well versed when it comes to the later Disney characters, but I gather that young ladies of a certain age might be familiar with one named Sofia the First. In the interests of getting those young Sofia fans on the right path (of tea drinking) at an early age, I’ll direct you to the teacup-shaped Sofia the First: Sofia’s Cup of Tea, which hits the stores early in 2015.

Sofia the First: Sofia's Cup of Tea (via Yahoo! images)

Sofia the First: Sofia’s Cup of Tea (via Yahoo! images)

In the same vein is the Hello Kitty: Tea Party Set, which rolls out this September and which “has a chunky eight-page board book and 15 puzzle pieces to match to the spaces on the book pages, as Hello Kitty gets everything ready to host a tea party for her friends.” Also up in early 2015 is yet another book for those who fancy fiction with a tea-related theme. It’s called The Traveling Tea Shop, by Belinda Jones, and concerns the adventures of the assistant to and the host of a tea-themed TV show.

If it was a real TV show, they might want to keep in mind a nonfiction tea book that’s also coming out in 2015. It’s another entry into the increasingly crowded field of tea cuisine books and it’s called Steeped: Recipes to Infuse Your Day with Tea, by Annelies Zijderveld. As the publisher’s description puts it, “tea is also very of the moment, and rising ever-higher in the food world, starring in Martha Stewart’s Jasmine Shortbread Sandwich Cookies, Food 52’s Darjeeling Tea Pain Perdu, and the Beard Foundation’s Tea Sorbet.”

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As someone who prefers tea without milk, I consider myself an impartial observer when it comes to that apparently contentious matter of how to actually combine tea and milk.

Milk first, stir - perfect! (screen capture from ETS video)

Milk first, stir – perfect! (screen capture from ETS video)

As a brief aside I’ll note that as I was looking into this matter I came across the phrase “have you milked your tea?” Which dates back to at least 1877. It seems like a term you might use on the farm, but it’s actually just a quaint way of asking if someone has added milk to their tea. Or vice versa.

According to a study that took place about a decade ago, the Royal Society of Chemistry determined that milk first was the way to go. The reason, according to a researcher, “If milk is poured into hot tea, individual drops separate from the bulk of the milk, and come into contact with the high temperatures of the tea for enough time for significant denaturation – degradation – to occur.” The same British paper that reported on this study also allowed readers a separate forum to weigh in on the issue.

More than a half century earlier, in 1946, a prominent British tea lover and writer named George Orwell took the tea first road. He noted in a famous essay about tea, “I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.”

About a decade earlier than that, scientist Ronald Fisher devised a somewhat famous mathematical experiment to test the assertion of a lady who “claimed to be able to tell whether the tea or the milk was added first to a cup.” Which has more to do with math and probability than with tea but it’s interesting to note even so.

According to some accounts none other than Queen Elizabeth is an adherent of the tea first school of thought, which would be appropriate given her social standing. As the story goes, milk first was a popular tactic for those drinking tea from poor quality china cups that often couldn’t stand up to hot tea. Of course, poor quality china is not an inconvenience the Queen and others in the upper classes have to concern themselves with. Thus the English writer Evelyn Waugh is said to have coined the phrase “rather milk in first” as shorthand for referring to the lower classes.

It’s hard to say exactly when the tea/milk controversy got its start. But one could speculate that it goes back to a time when tea, once a rare and expensive commodity, became more affordable and thus could be consumed by people who had to make do with second rate china.

As for the notion of combining milk and tea, many note that it was mentioned as early as 1680 by a French aristocrat, who claimed that another French noblewoman came up with the idea. Which doesn’t take into consideration that, sometime around 1660, not all that long after tea came to England, tea pioneer Thomas Garraway noted that the tea of that era was sometimes “prepared with Milk and Water.”

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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.

The general consensus these days is that tea is not bad for you – and there is a fair amount of evidence that it might even be quite good for you. There are exceptions, of course. Like the woman who drank excessive amounts of iced black tea over many years and suffered some unpleasant side effects. But if consumed in moderation – or even moderate excess (guilty) – you could do a lot worse than tea.

But the idea that tea was a healthy drink was not always thus. From the time that tea came to Europe in the early seventeenth century there were those who praised it, but there were also those who cautioned against the ill effects that would surely result from consuming it. This sort of thing was still going on in 1833, when a certain John Cole, of London, penned a paper called On The Deleterious Effects Produced By Drinking Tea And Coffee In Excessive Quantities.

He goes on at length – nearly five pages – and, for obvious reasons, we’ll focus on his thoughts regarding the perceived evils of tea. Early on, Cole, a medical man who read and debated the pros and cons of his paper in front of the London Medical Society that year, sums things up by noting that tea seems “to have the power of reducing the constitution.” He does note that this is the result of “excessive” consumption, but doesn’t define what that means. I personally don’t consider my 6-8 cups per day to be excessive but some might.

Cole goes on to describe some of the supposed ill effects of tea, such as a gnawing in the stomach, a feeling of fullness in the neck and a flushed face and sparkling eyes. And that’s not the end of it. Next up are a number of case studies. Several of these look at women aged 25-40, who were experiencing mostly stomach problems, supposedly from drinking tea, and one unfortunate woman who “suffered sudden attacks of Insensibility” after drinking tea.

Which sounds like grim enough stuff. But over the years I’ve been writing about tea I’ve come to learn that the tea of yesteryear was frequently adulterated, sometimes with mostly innocuous substances and other times with more scary ingredients. Which leads one to wonder if tea was really the culprit in these cases or not.

In any event, if you’d like to read Cole’s letter in its entirety, go here.

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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.

Teabag and useful but annoying string. (stock image)

Teabag and useful but annoying string. (stock image)

Let’s put aside for now the matter of whether tea bags are a good thing or not. Some would say they are, and others scorn them. But the fact is that there are plenty of tea drinkers who use them. Probably all of whom have experienced that nagging problem of the tea bag string that escapes from its designated spot outside the tea cup and ends up in the tea.

It’s a problem that has inspired a significant amount of innovation and gadgetry. As I noted in an article here last year, some of the gadgets devised to get around the problem included the Tea Bag Buddy and the Tie Tea Cup. The Washington Post even deemed the problem significant enough that they compiled a list of suggestions from their readers of how to get around it.

But wait. There’s more. Of course there’s more when it comes to those pesky tea bag strings. This Tea Bag Cup Lid patent was filed for in 2007. It resembles the Tea Bag Buddy mentioned above in that it somehow attaches the tea bag to the lid and, as the application says, “a resilient stopper (38) is disposed within the access opening in the lid, holding the tea bag string (36) between the stopper and the access opening, permitting the tea bag (22) to be initially immersed in hot water within the cup for brewing with the capability of retaining the tea bag string when the tea bag is manually drawn upward away from the tea after brewing. The invention allows brewed tea to be consumed through the lid body without of removing the tea bag until any time after drinking the brewed tea.”

Here’s a patent awarded a year earlier for an “an improved tea bag has a pouch containing tea and a string connected to the pouch. A securing element is connected to the string. The securing element is releaseably attachable to an object such as a tea cup or tea pot.” Or you could try a 2003 patent from Germany whose name describes exactly what it sets out to do – Elongated Handle With Slit for Holding String of Tea Bag Has V-Shaped End to Slit to Facilitate Insertion of String Into Slit

Here’s a rather intricate patent from 1967 for a Teabag Dipper that doesn’t seem to attack the string problem head on but solves it anyway. It’s described, in part, as “a teabag dipper in the form of a saucer for a teacup combined with a receptacle and provided with an arm to which is attached a teabag which, by rotation of a crank mounted upon the arm, can be transferred from a position whereby the teabag is dipped into the water in the teacup to a position whereby the teabag is dumped into the receptacle for disposal.”

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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.

Since I’ve been writing about tea I’ve run across some pretty strange stuff. Poo poo puerh is one of the types of tea that stands out from the pack. Yes, if you’re wondering, it’s kind of what it sounds like. Read more about it here.

But tea that’s flavored (in a manner of speaking) with dehydrated ants has to take a close second to the above mentioned. Of course, for those of you who prefer not to take your dehydrated ants straight up, you’ll be glad to know that this blend also contains raspberry leaves and other unspecified flavors. It’s made with a base of black tea and comes to us from an Australian tea company who teamed with an entomologist to create the blend.

If you’ve ever thought that drinking tea in an airplane was a less than optimum experience that’s likely due to the effects of flying on your taste buds. That’s assuming that the airline chooses to serve decent tea. As I noted last year Twinings and British Airways teamed up to solve this problem by creating British Airways Signature Blend. More about that here. As the Trinidad press noted, British Airways recently held a tea at a hotel there to introduce and sing the praises of this blend.

If you’ve never heard of pandan before then you’re not alone. I’ve been writing about tea for nearly a decade and I hadn’t either, at least not until I ran across a merchant recently – presumably an Asian one – who sells it. It’s not a tea in the strictest sense of the word, but rather is more of a tisane. The merchant says it’s “well-known for its aromatic flavors and most predominantly used in the Southeast Asian cooking” while Wikipedia weighs in on Pandanus amaryllifolius, the plant it is derived from, 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.

Drawstring Tea Filters (ETS image)

Drawstring Tea Filters (ETS image)

There are any number of alleged uses for a used tea bag, including various cleaning tasks, soothing your weary eyes, and fertilizing plants. Tea has also been used in various ways to make art, and the same goes for tea bags. But what about making your own tea bags? Well, I’d have to say this article is the first time I’ve ever run across such an unusual notion. Instructions are included, if you’d like to play along, and the end result is interesting. Although it seems like more effort than I’m willing to expend.

Did you know that boiled lambskin used to be used as armor for Icelandic warriors? Me neither. Not until I ran across this article that notes that nowadays it is being used for more mundane purposes such as sleeves for iPads and teapots. Great stuff – unless you’re the lamb.

I’ve written a number of articles about offbeat tea patents but think I might have overlooked the one that offered a “method of enhancing tea flavor and aroma,” one that makes use of various extracts from fruits such as apricots, bananas, apples, and more.

Tea at its most basic – leaves, hot water, and something to steep it in – seems like a formula that can’t be improved on much but that doesn’t stop people from trying. There’s the tea bag, for example, and more recently there are those single-serving tea pods that are alleged to be an improvement on the basic tea formula. Along the same lines is the Teadrop, which is said to be “a portable morsel comprised of finely sourced tea, natural sugar, and aromatic spices creating a blissful tea blend that can be enjoyed any time, any place, with just hot water.”

Finally, it’s become something of a tradition to mention an exceptional novelty tea infuser in each one of these monthly gadget reports. This time around we were going to present the Octeapus. Which is probably about what you’d expect, given the name. As the manufacturer’s description puts it, it’s a Tentacled Tea Infuser. Sadly, it’s already sold out.

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 very British tea store! (ETS image)

A very British tea store! (ETS image)

There are a few countries whose citizens drink more tea than the British but none of them roll right off the tip of the tongue. If you’re like me, when you think of great tea-drinking peoples throughout history you probably think of the British. Which is why the recent flap over tennis and tea there probably should come as no surprise.

It all has to do with Wimbledon – you’ve probably heard of it. Apparently it’s something of a tradition, at this oldest of the world’s tennis tournaments, to bring your own eats. Given that the attendees are mostly British their drink of choice often turns out to be tea. If you buy a cup of it on the grounds it can be kind of expensive, at about $3.60 in US dollars. The obvious solution, at least until lately, has been to bring your own tea.

Nowadays though, a ban on vacuum flask containers (of the Thermos type) that apparently went into effect last year, is starting to be enforced and tea lovers at Wimbledon are quite out of sorts to find their containers of tea being confiscated.

As one article in the British press noted, “coolboxes and camping chairs are also banned, but bottles of wine and spirits are permitted.” The problem with such containers and the reason for the ban is the possibility that they can be used in improvised explosive devices. Some of the other banned items on the list are a little more obvious, according to an article from an Australian paper that covered the issue. They include “knives, illegal substances, political slogans, ambush marketing, tents, camping chairs, flares, klaxons and long lenses.”

Not surprisingly, there are still options for taking afternoon tea at Wimbledon (they are British, after all), as you can see at this page at the tournament web site (scroll down). It claims that afternoon tea, which was supposedly invented just about 40 years before the inception of Wimbledon, was served at the very first incarnation of the tournament, in 1877.

Thirty years later, in 1907, a certain Mrs. Hillyard was playing in the event. During a rain delay she apparently overindulged a bit at afternoon tea. Then, when the tournament commenced again, she proceeded to lose and was rather distraught over it all – the implication being that the rain delay and overindulgence at tea negatively affected her tennis game.

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.

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.

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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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