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The swirl of claims about the health benefits of teas and herbals seems never-ending. How do you sort it all out? The best way to start is to consider the source. While the Internet has made access to good information even easier, it has also made fraudulent and just plain wrong information equally accessible. You have to be more vigilant than ever in separating one from the other. Add to that the convoluted language used on many medical sites, and you can see why more plain English versions abound. But are they real or made up? Often, it is hard to tell.

Tea – it just tastes great! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Tea – it just tastes great! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

One thing I know for sure: Some brief article written as a fluff filler piece on a site that focuses on news and politics is not a good source of information about any health claims, whether related to tea, herbal infusions (aka, tisanes), or other substances. I have learned over the years to take this things at arm’s length or ignore them altogether.

A better source, at least for some straight thinking about the issue of tea and health, is a tea blog like this one where the authors have looked at the details, not just at the glossy fluff filler piece. A great article popped up recently addressing the cringe-inspiring Dr. Oz. I have wanted to write something here about him, too, but can’t bring myself to watch him at all, so bravo to Nicole Martin for at least being able to stomach him enough to know how bad he is.

Another good tip: When you come across that fluff filler piece, take time to go to any sources the author has bothered to link to. You may even need to follow links in those source articles until you get to the beginning of the trail. The time will be worthwhile since there is so much fakery out there these days. They want your “eyeball time” on their site and try to write things that will attract the search engines to them (it’s called SEO – search engine optimization). In fact, most social media “experts” post something like “10 Tips to Getting More Site Traffic” to give themselves more site traffic (Hee!) and to get you at least to see the promotion for their latest book. (As a side note, this blog recently changed its URL to conform to Google’s new structure designed to have their search engine find it faster but others to not find it at all. It’s a way to shut out the competition.)

Getting back to that latest tea health claim tidbit spreading like wildfire online, just pass it by and go to a reputable source.

Updating a much-seen image off of Facebook. (Screen capture from site)

Updating a much-seen image off of Facebook. (Screen capture from site)

See more of A.C. Cargill’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 the U.S. a large percentage of folks drink both coffee and tea. A lot of them see tea as that beverage for when they are sick (remember that seen in Working Girl where Harrison Ford is offering a passed out Kathy Griffin some tea just because that’s what would sound good to him when he was in a similar condition?). Or they confuse herbals such as Rooibos and chamomile with true tea from the Camellia sinensis plant. But I propose, with a slight bit of prejudice as one who is devoted to tea and avoids coffee, that tea should be the drink of choice even for that morning wake-up cup. Here are a few reasons why:

Which gives the better uplift? (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Which gives the better uplift? (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

1 Coffee is not exactly a beautifier

Ask any dentist, and he/she will tell you that coffee, especially when drunk straight (without milk), is a teeth stainer. Now, in fairness, some teas can stain, too. Those strong black teas (when not drunk with milk) will stain. And I can’t advise you to use spent coffee grounds on your eyes to reduce puffiness the way you can use spent teabags.

2 You’ll spend more time in the…uh…privy

There is some research showing that coffee can cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). So, you could find yourself seeking out facilities with increased frequency. Of course, both tea and coffee are said to be diuretics (but some debate that claim), but add IBS on top of it… plus, the whole diuretic thing is questionable, which leaves just IBS to worry about, which is quite enough.

3 A caffeine seesaw

You get that initial jolt of caffeine with your morning cup. You float along on it awhile and then… CRASH! You suddenly feel down and need another cup. Or a donut. Or both. Anything to get you back “up.” The caffeine has other affects: shakiness, concentration problems, an increased chance of a heart attack. And the caffeine levels in coffee are on average about twice what they are in tea. (Espresso is even higher.)

4 You can experience symptoms when stopping drinking coffee

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration generally considers caffeine to be safe and not truly addictive the way that various controlled substances are, you can still get used to it and experience some physical symptoms when you stop drinking coffee: headaches and a general feeling of irritability.

5 Not nearly as social as tea

There is just something about tea that coffee doesn’t have, at least not for those of us a bit more inclined to such things: the social event. There is Afternoon Tea, High Tea, Elevenses, and so on. There is the Buckingham Palace Garden Tea Party. But you see no such equivalents for coffee. Yes, there’s the coffee klatch, but other than that, coffee is that cup in the morning, the shot of espresso after a gourmet meal, that cappuccino in-between. With tea you steep a cup or a potful and enjoy it either with a good book, your latest knitting project, or while watching a movie, or you enjoy some with friends, often at the nearest tea room.

If that’s not enough to convince you to drop the coffee and stick to tea, then consider that tea has greater longevity, having been consumed by humans for about 1900 years longer than coffee. Enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’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.

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.

Green Tea Sampler - chock full of memory enhancers? Hope so! (ETS image)

Green Tea Sampler – chock full of memory enhancers? Hope so! (ETS image)

I would drink green tea if there were no beneficial side effects at all – and for black tea that goes even more so. But as we all must surely know by now there are a lot of claims made for tea’s alleged benefits and many of these are focused on green tea.

One of the more recent of these claims is good news for anyone who’s been feeling a bit forgetful. According to researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland, green tea can help to enhance your memory. Subjects who took part in the study were given green tea extract in a beverage or a protein drink that was designed to simulate green tea (which is an interesting notion in itself).

Following that, the participants complete some tasks that tested their memory. Those who were given the green tea tended to perform better on those tasks. And, as one summary put it, “their brains showed a distinctly different activation pattern between their frontal and parietal lobes.” As said summary further noted, green tea improves communications between these areas of the brain and ultimately “boosts the neural juice that fuels memory.”

Which is somewhat promising, as far as it goes. If there’s anything about the study that could be construed as a downside it’s that there were only 12 subjects involved. It’s also important to note that green tea extract is considerably more concentrated than the stuff you drink from a cup. You’ll have to drink a fair amount of tea to get the same results but there are certainly worse things you could be doing with your day.

To access an abstract and the full results of this study, which appeared in the journal Psychopharmacology, look here. For more on this theme go back to this article I wrote about an earlier study that looked at the potential benefits green tea can have on memory. In a slightly different vein, here’s an article that looks at how green tea can help guard against Alzheimer’s disease.

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.

Earl Grey is plentiful here! (ETS image)

Earl Grey is plentiful here! (ETS image)

What can you say about the potential health benefits of Earl Grey tea that you can’t say about black tea? Now, I guess I should explain that one. As a general rule, Earl Grey tea and black tea are the same thing, with one key difference. Though other types of tea are occasionally used to make it, Earl Grey is most often made by adding oil of bergamot – a small citrus fruit that’s grown primarily in Italy – to black tea.

Well, as it turns out, it’s bergamot that’s been identified as being potentially beneficial in a recent study on Earl Grey tea and heart disease. So to be nitpicky about it it’s more of a study on bergamot than tea, but how many other uses for bergamot can you name besides Earl Grey tea? Me neither. In an article from the British press that reported on these findings, we’re reminded that Earl Grey is, of course, a blend that’s “much favoured in Downton Abbey.” Just in case you were wondering.

As the aforementioned article notes, the research suggests that bergamot contains “enzymes known as HMGF (hydroxy methyl glutaryl flavonones) which can treat heart diseases as effectively as statins.” Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the study was carried out by Italian researchers at the University of Calabria, who published their results in the Journal of Functional Foods. You can access the abstract of the study here though you’ll need to pay for the full results.

The study found that HMGF tended to reduce the levels of “bad” cholesterol which can lead to while also increasing levels of so-called good cholesterol. In the former case the effects of HMGF were found to be as useful as the statins that are also used to treat heart disease. Which may be good news for anyone who drinks Earl Grey tea and, for those of us who were wondering, the article notes that bergamot apparently also turns up sometimes in jams, ice cream and folk medicines, the latter due to its alleged antiseptic properties.

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.

Let’s be blunt about this whole tea and health thing. There are a lot of flaky claims being made these days. Which is not to say that there are no benefits to your health to be gained by drinking tea. It’s just that you need to take a lot of these claims with a grain of salt – and sometimes a handful.

Oolong-Sencha-Puerh: Health benefit triple threat? Or nightmarish tea blend? (ETS images)

Oolong-Sencha-Puerh: Health benefit triple threat? Or nightmarish tea blend? (ETS images)

This is a topic I’ve written about a number of times, just as I’ve written numerous articles about tea’s potential health benefits. So I’d like to think that I’m pretty neutral on the subject. But recently, as I was looking through a news feed I subscribe to with the keyword of “tea,” I noticed that there were many lofty claims being made. Here’s a look at some of the claims I ran across in a little less than a week. The names and other pertinent details have been omitted to protect the innocent – or whatever.

For starters, we find an article that claims that the high antioxidant content of green tea might help contribute to radiant skin. Well, radiant might be a bit of a strong term, but since I wrote about tea and skin I don’t suppose I can really quibble about this one. Next up, an article that reads more like a press release and makes a number of health claims for a tea that blends oolong, sencha, and puerh. All I can say about this is that, health claims aside, oolong, sencha and puerh don’t strike me as a very appetizing blend.

The next two items on my list are press releases, and they’re for different brands of slimming tea. I see a lot about these miracle elixirs but maybe that’s because I write and research about tea. I’ve written about tea and weight loss in the past, and my position on slimming teas remains the same – while the claims they make might be based on a few grains of truth, they seem to be greatly exaggerated.

One site that focuses on women’s style and fashion contributes an article that states that the benefits of drinking tea are “endless,” though it’s a little vague when it comes to citing evidence. Another site takes the less trodden path of presenting Earl Grey as a miracle health tea, though almost all of the benefits are somewhat overstated and not related specifically to Earl Grey, but more to tea in general. Then there’s kombucha, a beverage which is often blended with tea and which is mentioned in an article on fermented foods that are said to be good for digestive health.

Finally, in this last case I will name names. Here’s a recent article by a Dr. K (Komaroff), a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School, who takes what seems to me to be a brief but rather sensible and balanced look at the potential health benefits of tea. While the other types of claims I’ve discussed are quite common, you don’t really see much of this.

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.

Once upon a time there was tea. It was black – for the most part. It was a time, here in the West, when tea and black tea were nearly synonymous. But in the last decade or so it’s green tea that’s grabbed the overwhelming share of attention.

With the popularity of green tea there’s also been a search for the next big thing in tea – a search that has turned up the likes of white tea, oolong, and even puerh. The latter is a type of tea that’s not known to most people and isn’t even known to many tea drinkers.

Pu-erhs to consider, with flavored versions becoming more popular. (ETS Image)

Pu-erhs to consider, with flavored versions becoming more popular. (ETS Image)

The super-condensed version of what puerh is: a type of tea that’s produced in Yunnan, China, and that’s notable for being fermented after the processing stages. If you do even a cursory scan of the web, you could be forgiven for believing that puerh is something of a magic elixir brimming over with health benefits.

What you’ll also notice is that a lot of those making claims for puerh seem to have a horse in the race, as the saying goes. Which is to say a lot of the claims for puerh’s benefits come from merchants who are keen to sell you…puerh tea. Which is an easy enough claim to make about a type of tea that’s considered to be rather exotic.

But is there any truth to the health claims made for puerh tea? This is no place for an in-depth study, but we’ll look at a few of them. Though it’s also worth considering whether any benefits said to arise from puerh have to do with puerh specifically or tea in general.

As the popular Dr. Andrew Weil notes at his web site, some of the claims made for puerh are “promotion of weight loss, reduction of serum cholesterol, and cardiovascular protection.” However, he goes on to claim, “not many scientific studies exist on pu-erh tea, so we don’t know how valid these health claims are. Some research suggests that pu-erh may help lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk, but this hasn’t been confirmed in humans.” An article at one major city paper echoes some of these claims and references a 2009 Chinese study that indicates that puerh lowers cholesterol. It also points to a 2011 study that suggests that puerh can inhibit tumor growth.

As for those claims regarding puerh and weight loss, there are actually several studies that have looked at this topic. All were carried out by Chinese researchers, not surprisingly. This one used rats as subjects and suggested that puerh might have some benefits with regard to weight loss and cholesterol reduction.

This study used puerh extract and human subjects and claimed a slight reduction in weight over a three-month period, but no significant reduction in cholesterol. Here’s a study that summarizes “current progress on understanding the mechanisms and bioactive components of Pu-erh’s weight-cutting effects as well as highlighting current weaknesses in the field.” Last up, a study that compares antioxidant content of puerh and various other teas and finds that it compares favorably.

Which is just a brief look at a topic that probably merits a closer look. It also merits at least a tiny bit of healthy skepticism. But that’s probably true any time health claims are being made for foods or beverages.

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.

Mouthwash? Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

Mouthwash? Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

The next time you reach for that bottle of mouthwash maybe you should reach for a cup of tea instead. Or should you?

I’ve written about tea and oral health a few times in the pages so far. Here’s a more recent article on the topic and here’s one from several years back that looks at the benefits tea might have for your teeth. Several of the studies in those articles referred to the ability of tea to reduce the bacteria in the mouth that can contribute to bad breath.

One of the facts that I skimmed over when discussing one of those studies is the fact that researchers had their subjects rinse their mouths with black tea. The results, “In one trial, those who rinsed with black tea for one minute 10 times a day had less plaque accumulation. In another, a single 30-second rinse had no effect, but multiple rinsings prevented bacteria from growing further, as well as lowered acid production.”

An article from Best Health looks at green tea and is titled 5 Ways Green Tea is Good for Your Oral Health. The five benefits they list are cavity prevention, gum health, reduced tooth loss, cancer control and better breath. The article cites a study by the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Dentistry that found that the green tea powder given to research subjects “outperformed mints, chewing gum and even parsley-seed oil in this study.” A study by researchers in Thailand, titled Effect of Green Tea Mouthwash on Oral Malodor, found that “green tea mouthwash could significantly reduce VSC [volatile sulfur compounds] level in gingivitis subjects after rinsing for 4 weeks.”

So it’s settled, then. Or is it? There is that issue of black tea staining teeth, after all. Web MD places tea second on its list of top staining foods and beverages, after wine. But the good news is that it notes that teas with fewer tannins, such as green and white are less likely to stain. So it is settled now. If you use tea as a mouthwash, it’s probably wise to use black tea sparingly.

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.

Izu Matcha (ETS image)

Izu Matcha (ETS image)

Here’s my oft-repeated opinion on the health benefits of tea, condensed to one sentence: I don’t deny that there’s evidence that tea can be healthy, but there’s no shortage of people who are eager to stretch those claims in the interest of selling tea.

While many claims for tea’s benefits center on green tea, there have also been efforts to call attention to the alleged health-giving properties of white tea and puerh, in particular. Then there’s matcha, which often seems to be the focus of health claims nowadays.

Which is another of the many varieties of green tea, mind you. It’s a powdered tea, often of high quality, that comes from Japan. Once upon a time, at least in the West, matcha was an obscure tea that was used mostly by those few people who took part in the Japanese tea ceremony. But in the last few years matcha has rallied to become something of a phenomenon, with a number of tea merchants who sell nothing else.

I decided to do a quick and completely unscientific survey of some matcha offerings from a few well-known tea companies and a few of these specialists. One simply mentions health benefits, while another zeros in on the vitamins, minerals and fiber therein. One claims that matcha contains 137 times more antioxidants than steeped green tea, while another makes the lofty claim that matcha has an “intense cleansing effect on the body” and “helps to pull the toxins into the blood stream and then filters them out of the body.”

It’s these last two claims or some variation of that I’ve noticed being put forth quite often for matcha. The theory, as I understand it, is that because matcha is made from the entire tea leaf (which is usually just steeped in hot water and thrown away), it contains more antioxidants than other teas. But is that true or just a nice way to sell more tea?

As it turns out, it seems that there’s some evidence to support these claims. In 2003, researchers at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs published a paper they titled Determination of Catechins in Matcha Green Tea by Micellar Electrokinetic Chromatography. Which sounds like pretty daunting stuff, but what it boils down to is this, “results indicate that the concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) available from drinking matcha is 137 times greater than the amount of EGCG available from China Green Tips green tea, and at least three times higher than the largest literature value for other green teas.”

In a more recent study, researchers from Croatia tested the antioxidant content of nine varieties of tea that ran the gamut and included matcha. At the top of the heap, along with a variety simply described as Twinings, was matcha. Gyokuro, which is also a type of Japanese green tea, also took a top spot in the rankings. To see the results in PDF format, click 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.

People have different reasons for drinking tea. Some do so because they grew up in a tea drinking household and that’s just the way things were done. Some people drink it for the taste – a group that I’d put myself in. Some like the contemplative aspects of the tea experience and the ritual of preparing and drinking tea. And of course there are those that drink it for the boost they get from the caffeine that tea contains.

PG Tips satisfies both those who and don't want caffeine (ETS images)

PG Tips satisfies both those who and don’t want caffeine (ETS images)

Tea is interesting in this latter respect. As a general rule it’s considered to contain less caffeine than coffee. However, the caffeine that tea does contain is offset, in a manner of speaking, by a compound called theanine, which has been found to produce a calming effect.

Which to my way of thinking makes tea a less than optimum choice if you’re just looking for a caffeine kick. But maybe I’m looking at things the wrong way. As it turns out, there are a few tea companies I’ve run across lately who are banking on the fact that there are tea drinkers who want tea with extra caffeine. Yes, that’s right. Tea with a caffeine content that’s over and above what it contains in its natural state.

I wrote about a few of these teas a while back in an article called Industrial Strength Tea. But recently I ran across yet another tea merchant, a rather well known one, who is introducing a line of high caffeine teas. As they put it, these teas are “boosted with green tea extract and pure caffeine from premium tea leaves for an invigorated calm alertness.”

I have mixed feelings about this sort of thing. First off, I drink tea in spite of the caffeine and if it were possible to find truly good decaffeinated tea I might consider going that route. I’m definitely not the target audience for this sort of thing and I’ve actually passed on an offer to sample this line.

As I’ve noted already, on the one hand it seems to me that tea is an odd choice for someone who wants extra caffeine, given that the market is already flooded with hyper-caffeinated energy drinks. And of course there’s coffee, in all of its many forms and varieties.

On the other hand, I’ve never been a fan of the taste or smell of coffee and the few energy drinks I’ve sampled over the years were plagued by a distinctly medicinal taste. So if I ever were to come to a point where I needed more caffeine in my day I guess I’d probably prefer to go with an enhanced version of a “premium” tea rather than any of the aforementioned.

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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