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I’ve lost track of how many old tea books I’ve written about by now. But it’s safe to say that, if you were so inclined, you could spend quite a bit of time reading these volumes, all of which I’ve accessed online for free. I was starting to think I was exhausting the supply of said tomes when I ran across an 1868 book by Edward Fisher Bamber. Who doesn’t get points for creativity when it came to naming his book – it’s simply called Tea.

But even though there wasn’t much thought put into the name and though it’s not a very long book, it’s always interesting to look at tea from the perspective of someone who lived a century and a half ago. Given that he seemed to write mostly on topics related to mechanics and engineering, it’s not completely clear what led Bamber to write about tea. But he suggests in the Preface that perhaps the “general” reader “may care to know more about the Tea he drinks than the price of it.”

It’s hard to find much biographical data about Bamber, but it appears that he was British and the book is written from the perspective of a British subject. He claims that at the time he and his countrymen consumed more than twice as much tea as the rest of the world. As he notes, “there is probably not a house in the United Kingdom in which Tea is not infused.”

He goes on to present a brief history of tea, noting that it made its way into Europe in 1610, into Holland, and then into Britain just over a half century later. Green tea supposedly came around in 1715, says Bamber, and by this time larger quantities of tea were being imported and the specter of adulteration was beginning to rear its ugly head more frequently.

Bamber proceeds to give a rather detailed breakdown of tea prices and tax rates and the like, which the casual reader might want to skim (or skip) over. Next up is a fairly in-depth – but more readable – chapter on tea cultivation and another on manufacture. He closes with a few brief travelogue type pieces about tea estates in India and that’s the extent of it. Take a look at it 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.

It’s likely that most of the robots actually in use these days are being put to work in less than glamorous situations, such as being employed in some type of industry. But it’s the more or less human type robots that we see in science fiction that tend to capture people’s imagination. Robots that tend to act in ways that real humans might. Including robots that serve tea.

Yes, that’s right. Something I’ve noticed over the years that I’ve been writing about tea is that for some reason robot designers like to give their creations the ability to serve tea. Depending on your definition of what a robot is, this sort of thing goes back several hundred years to the Karakuri of Japan. The Wikipedia entry for them describes Karakuri as “mechanized puppets or automata” that perform one or more activities.

As this article from Smithsonian magazine notes, these activities might include shooting arrows or serving tea, to name a few. If you’re feeling ambitious, that article links to another one that provides instructions to actually make a Gakken Tea Serving Robot, which is modeled after a Karakuri. It’s not for the faint of heart but there it is. For some quite technical background on how a more modern version of a tea serving robot operates, take a look at this research paper from a team of Japanese scientists.

Here’s an article from several years ago about a tea-serving robot of a more recent vintage. It also originated in Japan, thanks to the efforts of the automaker, Honda. The robot, named Asimo, has a section at Honda’s web site, where you can keep up with the latest news, watch videos and even download a related desktop widget.

As of a few years ago, Popular Mechanics reported that Asimo’s services could be rented for a mere $100,000, a price tag that’s obviously out of most people’s range. If this is too pricey for you but you absolutely have to have a tea robot you might be able to console yourself with this relatively affordable robot tea infuser.

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.

Collectible Teapot and Tea Calendar 2015 (from Yahoo Images)

Collectible Teapot and Tea Calendar 2015 (from Yahoo Images)

When I wrote a profile of tea person and author Babette Donaldson a little while back it somehow escaped my notice that she had written a tea-themed book for children. Although I guess it’s more correct to call it a book for both children and adults. It’s called Fun With Tea: Activities for Tea Loving Adults to Share With Their Favorite Young Sippers and it’s described as a “teatime activity book for all ages and various kinds of tea parties.”

Over the years I’ve written about some of the various ways that tea has made its way into fiction and here’s yet another example. It’s the recently released Tempest in a Teapot, by Amanda Cooper. It’s billed as A Teapot Collector Mystery and it’s apparently the first in yet another series in the popular field of whimsical themed cozy mysteries. And while we’re speaking of teapots it’s as good a time as any to make a note on your calendar to pick up The Collectible Teapot & Tea Calendar 2015, by Annabel Freyberg and photographer Martin Brigdale.

Speaking of tea and fiction, one of the better known titles that uses tea and yet has nothing directly to do with tea is due for a reissue later this year – when it will appear for the first time in a trade paperback edition. That’s The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, by the late Douglas Adams, best known for his The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

If it’s tea houses that thrill your soul then you might want to get a look at Neo-Chinese Style Tea Houses, which just made its way to bookstore shelves. Which I first mentioned in an article on tea houses and the like called A Space for Tea. It’s an impressive coffee table (pardon the expression) type book and as the description notes, it “showcases some of the most elegant teahouses, simple yet contemporary in design; beautiful corridors and intimate rooms lead towards escape and sanctuary with a unique purpose.”

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 avalanche of tea books seems neverending, with many of them highlighted on this blog by my fellow blogger Bill Lengeman (his latest: Recent and Upcoming Tea Books 17). At some point my mind starts to overheat, the gears start to go “Screeeeee!” and I call out “Enough!” The next words out of my mouth are usually “Are there too many tea books?” As usual, it depends.

Sipping Vanilla Comoro while leafing through “The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea” (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Sipping Vanilla Comoro while leafing through “The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea” (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

“Too many” usually means there is far more than is needed to meet a specific requirement. In my early days of writing about tea, my Harney & Sons tea book was a must, but a horde of books on tea would have been repetitive and overwhelming. This book covers basics and helps those just starting to learn about tea. Another book called simply Tea was also a great intro. And it has lots more large, gorgeous photos. Ah! The visually oriented part of my brain was made very happy.

“The China Tea Book” – gorgeous and informative! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

“The China Tea Book” – gorgeous and informative! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Sooner or later, tea drinkers find that they want to focus on certain types of tea. In my case, I am shifting more towards an Asian experience (it’s about 20% of my tea drinking right now) and so wanted to focus my reading more in that direction. So, when I had the chance to receive a review copy of a book about tea in China, I said “Sure!” So, my tea library grew when The China Tea Book arrived. Great info and more gorgeous photos. The perfect book to peruse during my Afternoon Oolong session.

In between the books named above, other tea books came my way, some fiction, some more factual, and some a total jumble. Some were fun reads, others bored me to tears. But I digress. The question still remains about there being “too many” tea books.

As far as the world is concerned, there can probably never be too many tea books, but for my little library, I’m going to be very selective and avoid the daily barrage of new tea books that come on the market. One reason: most of them repeat information I can readily find elsewhere and others are published more as vanity books than to add to the array of knowledge about tea. That brings up another question: are there too many inaccurate and frivolous books out there about tea? The answer is……

Sorry, that’s for another article!

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.

(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.

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.

As recently discussed on this blog, there is a new(ish) tea plantation in Perthshire, Scotland. Being home to 2,000 Camellia sinensis plants, it is, apparently, one of the largest tea plantations in Europe. The interesting thing about this is that, considering that Asia (and to a lesser extend Africa) is the major tea-growing continent, there actually are a number of tea plantations in Europe. The increasing popularity of growing tea locally (local to its European consumers, that is) is certainly interesting, but is it merely a novelty?

I think that there are multiple reasons for the growing trend (pun intended) of local tea cultivation. The increasing emphasis on locally grown products is something seen across the food industry as more and more attention is paid to the environmental costs of shipping food around the globe. Additionally, supporting local businesses is attractive to many consumers. And for tea fans, the chance to try a new variety of tea and to experience how different growing locations give rise to different subtleties of taste holds obvious appeal.

But is this local tea cultivation more than a novelty, more than a passing trend? I would like to think so, as increasing the variety of tea being grown can only be a good thing—after all, it means more variety in the tea being sold, giving tea lovers more options to explore, compare, and contrast. It diversifies the market, and makes it more of a truly global industry.

But on the other hand, locally grown tea will almost certainly cost more than your standard tea imported from the tea plantations of China, India, or Kenya—it is inevitable considering the difference in the scale, and consequently cost, of tea production in these different places. In many cases, the locally grown tea will have to be blended with tea that is not local to make the venture financially viable. And if this is the case, is it really worth purchasing “locally grown” tea?

However, just like any specialty food product, if it is something you enjoy, you will probably decide that it is worth spending a little bit more on. It is unlikely that these local teas will replace the staple (cheap) teas, and so they are just one more option for a specialty tea blend—one that happens to be locally grown.

So where do I stand in regards to the local tea trend? Well, at the end of the day I am much less concerned with where the tea is grown than how it tastes; if the tea is good, I will drink it.

© 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.

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.

The World Tea Expo has been around for a few years now. The 2014 expo recently came and went. The venue had changed from Las Vegas (what happens there stays there) to Long Beach, California, where the Queen Mary is berthed permanently as a floating hotel with exhibits such as “Diana: Legacy of a Princess.” The expo is a great way for tea professionals to get together and share some “face time.” They show new products, schmooze with others who think that tea is one of the best things on the planet, and hope to win an award – recognition from others in their field. After that, though, what does it all matter?

The setting for a demo of the Korean Tea Ceremony by Kim Jyun Ji, one of the many sights at the expo. (photo from Facebook)

The setting for a demo of the Korean Tea Ceremony by Kim Jyun Ji, one of the many sights at the expo. (photo from Facebook)

The skeptics out there won’t think much of the whole event. Expos and exhibitions and conferences happen all the time. And awards to the attendees and exhibitors are handed out like candy to those trick-or-treaters at Halloween. The attendees are hopefully better off than before the event. Some get bragging rights for their awards. Others develop friendships and even business relationships with fellow attendees. For others, though, life returns to business as usual. For all, there are certainly memories that last a lifetime. At least, every conference I have ever attended has been that way.

The Award Winners

The first step is to plaster the award info all over their company store site, their social media pages, and anywhere else they can think of. I’ve already seen quite a few of these. A little tip here: be sure to mention the product that won the award. Just saying that you won for your “new product” leaves things a bit fuzzy.

The New Friendships

One of the best paybacks for going through all the effort and expense of setting up a booth and schlepping products halfway around the world (in some cases) or even just from across the U.S. is that “face time” I mentioned earlier. You can be online with folks, chatting on Facebook, exchanging tweets on Twitter, repinning their images on Pinterest, etc., but nothing beats steeping some Rou Gui oolong together and sipping it while quietly letting the aromas and flavors lift you to another mental level. You can also bond while discussing packaging, shipping issues, and other aspects of the business where you both find yourself relating to the challenges and rewards.

The Memories

Opening day, the crowds, meeting new people, meeting people you have previously only “talked” with online, the awards ceremony, closing day… so many memories are associated with such events. I remember just about every one I’ve ever attended (usually technology conferences showcasing new computer hardware and software). At a tea expo you can leave with bags full of tea samples, new teawares, a tea book or two, and more.

Maybe next year, the expo will be held somewhere more accessible to those of us who would rather not undergo being scanned so some agent can snicker at the practically nude image just so we can board an airplane. *Wink!*

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.

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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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