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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.

I’ve never been a superstitious person. Black cats and the number 13 don’t fill me with a sense of foreboding and I don’t get too worked up over spilling salt – except for the fact that salt is notoriously difficult to clean up. So it never really occurred to me that there might be superstitions associated with tea. But apparently that’s the case.

For anyone who might be interested in this sort of thing, Dr. Alec Gill, a British author and folk historian, has collected “a variety of ancient superstitions which once infused every aspect of British tea-drinking – especially in the pre-teabag days when leaves were free-range.” It’s a fairly extensive list and if you want to know more I’ll direct you there.

However, there were a few items on the list that I found especially worthy of a mention. For instance, there’s the rather off the wall notion that “fishermen afloat considered it unlucky to pass a mug of tea through a porthole or the rungs of a ladder.” It’s not so much that I’m questioning whether these practices might bring bad luck as much as I’m wondering what circumstances would find you need to pass a cup of tea through the rungs of ladder.

Since I don’t use milk, cream, sugar and the like in my own tea I have no need to stir it and so I’m breathing a sigh of relief. Because apparently there are some offbeat notions tied to tea spoons. Gill relates that “unwittingly” placing two spoons in the same cup “had a number of different meanings around the country: a wedding was imminent, the drinker would marry twice, or twins were due.” Again, I don’t so much question the end result as much as how you can slip a spoon into a tea cup without noticing that there’s already one in there. On the plus side, if you like kids and are a bit clumsy take heart for “a falling tea-spoon meant a child would visit.”

If you’re looking for more on tea superstitions, albeit in the form of a printed book, you might try a 1979 volume, Giant Book of Superstitions, by Claudia De Lys. Who wrote several books on superstitions and who included several pages to tea superstitions in this volume.

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.

Cup #15,637 and counting... (stock image)

Cup #15,637 and counting… (stock image)

So how much tea will the average tea drinker consume in a lifetime? Well, it goes without saying that there are a large number of variables when it comes to figuring this sort of thing out. But we can at least try to arrive at some ballpark figures. Nowadays, the average lifespan of a human being on this earth is 71 years. For the sake of argument, let’s say that you start drinking when you become an adult, at age 18, and also for the sake of argument and round figures we’ll round off those 53 years to 50.

I suspect that most tea drinkers are like me and aren’t too keen to skip a day. So over a lifetime of tea drinking you will have a total of 18,250 days in which you drink tea. Next we’ll have to determine how much tea you consume in a day. For the sake of argument let’s say that a light tea drinker will put away about two cups a day at about six ounces per cup. That’s 219,000 ounces in a lifetime or 1,710.94 gallons. Adjust accordingly if you drink more or less tea in a day.

In my own case I probably drink at least six cups a day, which would be more than 5,000 gallons in a lifetime. However, I got my start with tea fairly late in life and so I’ll probably never make that mark unless I live to be really old.

So for all you six-cup-a-day tea drinkers, exactly how much is 5,000 gallons? Well, to put that in perspective, you will consume more than 213 bathtubs worth of tea in a lifetime. To put it another way, that’s about a small swimming pool full of tea – if you consider that an above ground swimming pool that’s four feet deep and 15 feet in diameter contains about 5,300 gallons. If you’re feeling really ambitious and you’d like to drink enough tea to fill Lake Superior, be advised that it’s going to take a while – more than 584 billion lifetimes. Which sounds like a rather tall order to me.

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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