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If you have seen an episode of the Great British Bake Off, you will notice some of the contestants explaining their ingredients. If you hear names like “caster sugar”, treacle, or “black treacle”, you may be familiar with it or it may leave you scratching your head, depending on which side of the pond you are from.

When I am not making or drinking tea, I am baking and I tend to bake A LOT. When I first started to bake British recipes, I noticed that in order to have the best results, British ingredients are the best. I tried to use American ingredients like granulated sugar in place of caster sugar and the difference is a huge one. The difference between caster sugar and granulated sugar is that caster sugar is much more fine than the granulated sugar. The crystals are much more easier to dissolve when being stirred in and baked. Demerara sugar is a much different story. Demerara is much more coarse than caster sugar and looks much similar to Turbinado sugar, a certain sugar that we in America see in a little brown packet. This sugar has a toffee/molasses-like flavor. Other popular sugars in the UK are Muscovado sugars. Much like the brown sugars we have here in the US, there are light and brown versions. Muscovado sugar is a naturally brown sugar while brown sugar has molasses added to it. Muscovado sugar usually gets its color from sugar cane juice

It is not just the traditional ingredients and flavors that the competitors have used. Contestants bring their own flavors from home, ones they or their family enjoy that bring them such sweet (or savory) memories. They have made their own flavors from simple fruits like Morello cherries to sweets like Pontefract Cakes, and even cola flavors. Some of these flavors are combined, such as mango, hazelnut, and rosemary and made into a sweet treat that you would not believe. These home cooks have such incredible skills that it is astonishing.

You can also add tea to your baking, wet or dry! Tea loaf cakes are a common bake in the UK, which involve actually BREWING tea, soaking dried fruits in it, and adding it to the batter! If you prefer to use dry tea leaves, Stash Tea has a recipe that you can use to make Earl Grey Tea Bag cookies!


Tate Lyle Demerara Sugar

Tate Lyle Demerara Sugar

I’m pretty open about not being a fan of sugar or milk in my tea, though I am happy to tell others if I think that a black tea is strong and substantial enough to handle these additions. Still, I would encourage you to try tea on its own, without sugar, both for the health benefits as well as being able to fully enjoy the subtle flavors of the tea. Here are a few suggestions for finding teas and tisanes that you may wish to start with as you eliminate sugar from your tea.

A Few Basic Guidelines & Tea Recommendations:

  • White, green, and oolong teas are seldom consumed with sugar. If black tea without sugar proves to be too much of a shock, try one of these other types of tea.
  • Flavored black teas can be great for transitioning from added sugar to no sugar.
  • If you normally drink Ceylon, Indian or African teas, try switching to Chinese black teas, which are often less assertive, have more complex flavors and are often naturally sweet. I’ve found that many tea-drinking novices really like black tea from Yunnan, as this tea can be quite smooth, spicy and slightly sweet on its own without sugar.
  • Start by drinking unsweetened black iced tea and eventually work up to unsweetened hot black tea.
  • Add a thin slice of lemon to your black tea (don’t add any milk, it will curdle). This should neutralize any bitterness and help you get used to the lack of sweetener.

Tisanes That Don’t Need Sugar:

  • Mint: Mint is naturally sweet and adding sugar to the tisane just blunts its cool, crisp notes. Try drinking mint tisane between meals to curb food cravings.
  • Rooibos and Honeybush: These plants grow in South Africa and each produces a rich, sweet beverage that doesn’t need added sweetening. Those with a more serious sweet tooth may prefer honeybush over rooibos, as honeybush is the sweeter of the two.

Naturally Sweet Tea Flavorings:

  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon is naturally sweet and absolutely delicious. In addition, there is some evidence that it can help control blood sugar.
  • Vanilla: Vanilla has a slight sweetness and a lovely flavor that can counteract bitterness and add sweetness to a tea. If drinking an unflavored tea “straight” is too much for you, try a vanilla flavored tea.

Don’t miss reading Lainie’s many tea reviews on this blog!

© 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 never ceases to surprise me how many people apologize for wanting to put sugar in their tea, as if admitting a serious tea-drinking faux pas. I’ve always invited my guests to do what makes them comfortable and to drink their tea in any fashion they feel most pleasing. Still, I get meek apologies as if they feel that sugar in tea is just plain wrong. It got me thinking, is sweetening one’s tea a low-brow act of tasteless vulgarity?

Tea and Sugar

Tea and Sugar

Asian cultures traditionally drink their tea without any additives, yet the British are fond of sugar, milk and lemon! Traditionally, Russian Tea has a cube of sugar. In India, chai is sweetened by milk and honey and in Arab nations, Moroccan Mint Tea has quite a lot of sugar. So why then should Americans, who have a renowned appetite for sugar, feel apologetic when asking if it’s alright that they add sugar?

Quite often, a touch of sweetness brings out the taste of the tea. Yet, understandably, sugar is not a health food. There are many reasons to stay away from sugar (especially refined sugar).

You may want to explore some alternatives. The most obvious is honey (and all different types at that). Reported to have antimicrobial & antibacterial qualities and also good for soothing sore throats, this natural fruit sugar works with your body to increase energy and immunity.

Then there is Agave Nectar, which I have been using with much satisfaction as of late. I like that it does not crystallize and is easier to use. This natural sweetner is slowly becoming more readily available in local supermarkets as it gains popularity.

Another natural sweetner alternative is stevia. Stevia is a plant with very sweet leaves. Occasionally, you will find that stevia is used by many tea manufacturers to sweeten their blends. If not, either mix it in with your loose tea or find powdered versions at your natural health food store – but don’t use too much! This stuff is 30x sweeter than regular sugar!

No matter how you like your tea, never be afraid to enjoy it the way you like it most!

For more great articles, check out Madam Potts’ blog, Mad Pots of Tea!

© 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.

Lemon Tree

Lemon Tree

Adding milk, lemon, or sugar to your tea will likely make a tea purist pop his top. The purist considers adding a spoonful of sugar to be the equivalent of wasting a perfectly good cup of tea, because you could get the same result by adding a spoonful of sugar to a cup of hot water. The sugar, milk or lemon simply overpowers the delicate flavor of tea. But aside from the connoisseur’s arguing over whether or not adding milk, sugar or lemon destroys tea’s flavor, some of these additives can actually destroy its health benefits as well.

Because of tea’s magnificent health benefits and antioxidants many people have worked it into their daily diets to help fight cardiovascular disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high cholesterol levels, infection and impaired immune function. Then, with a simple dollop of milk, they negate all of those benefits.

Studies have shown that human artery function improved after a person had consumed up to a half a liter of black tea, helping to prevent cardiovascular problems. When milk was added to the tea, there was no improvement in the arteries. Milk contains a protein called casein that blocks the effect of the tea, so even the smallest addition of milk to your tea will negate its cardiovascular health benefits.

Caster Sugar

Caster Sugar

But take heart, if instead of milk you  add a little twist of citrus peel to your hot tea, you could actually be protecting your skin against cancer. Studies have found that people afflicted with skin cancer drink significantly less hot tea than people with no skin cancer, and adding a citrus peel to the tea lead to a further 70% reduction in the disease.

As far as adding a little sugar to your tea, it does not seem to have any ill effect except on the taste of your tea (says the purist), and it helps keep your dentist in business!

Editor’s note: This was originally posted on our sister blog, which is being phased out.  I am including a comment (as it appears on the other blog, typos and all) that corrects some of the above assertions. As always, this article should not be considered as medical advice.

Marlena, September 2nd, 2009 at 1:54 pm — About milk in tea – if you are referring to a study that made the tea rounds a few months ago, that was a scientifically unsound dtudy. First of all there were only 10 women in the studay – far too small a number to be statistically accurate. Second, it was not a study over time. Thirdly, the amount of milk in the tea was, as far as I could tell, a really large amount, which most people do not drink. I’d appreciate it if you would cite the study so we could check on it. Thanks, Marlena

By William I. Lengeman III

When it comes to tea and milk – as with tea and sugar – everyone likes what they like and there is no correct answer. For many tea drinkers the idea of downing a cup without milk is inconceivable. On the other hand are those who couldn’t imagine sullying their tea leaves with anything more substantial than hot water.

Beautiful Woman Milking Cow

The milk/no milk divide is one that may never be bridged. Which is fine since it’s all a matter of personal preference. But if we put aside matters of taste, we find that there is research that indicates that adding milk to tea may have negative effects on some of its health benefits.

Results of a study published in the European Heart Journal in 2007 suggested that milk is problematic in relation to the potential cardiovascular health benefits said to be provided by tea. German researchers found that black tea caused arteries to relax and expand but adding milk to tea counteracted this effect.

The sticking point with tea and milk, from the standpoint of health benefits, is that certain proteins in milk called caseins interact with tea and decrease the total amount of catechins. Catechins are a type of flavonoid found in tea that contribute to its many alleged health benefits.

While it seems that green tea and milk should provide similar results, green tea is not typically adulterated with milk. As one of the researchers noted, “It is important to bear in mind that green tea is almost exclusively drunk without milk. So we are talking only about those countries and regions where black tea is consumed and where milk is added.”

William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks, is another place to find interesting articles on tea!

by William I. Lengeman III

In the opinion of novelist Henry Fielding, “love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.” But for so many of Fielding’s countrymen, black tea with milk and sugar is a right and a requirement that’s become one of the icons with which the British are closely associated.

Sugar CaneFor many other tea drinkers, however, anything other than love and scandal in their tea is nothing short of an abomination. The ancient Chinese tea master Lu Yu called flavored tea “the swill of gutters and ditches.” Another British writer, George Orwell, acknowledged that he was in the minority when he said, “how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt.”

It’s beyond the scope of such a short article to determine when sugar was first used to sweeten tea. But the practice became common in Great Britain in the eighteenth century thanks to a boom in sugar production in Caribbean colonies that resulted in significantly lower prices. Sweetened tea became so common in this part of the world that one commentator noted, “wherever the English went, whether aristocrat or commoner, tea and sugar went with them.”

In many other parts of the world, tea is rarely sweetened. The thick, strong black tea that’s a staple in Tibet is almost always made with butter and salt, but is not generally sweetened.

Written recipes for iced sweet tea, an institution in the southern United States, have been found dating back as far as 1839. Even George Orwell allowed that tea could be sweetened with sugar, if “one is drinking it in the Russian style.” Strong black Russian tea is often dispensed from a samovar and may be sweetened with jam or a sugar cube clenched between the teeth. Russian writer Alexander Pushkin said, “ecstasy is a glass full of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth.”

Black tea is most often sweetened, but there are a few exceptions. In Morocco and other northern African countries, green tea is served with mint and a healthy dose of sugar is also common.

Whether or not to sweeten your tea is ultimately a matter of personal preference, but if you’re drinking a premium tea you might want to sample it before reaching for sugar. High-end teas are often flavorful enough without anything added and sweetening tends to overpower the subtleties of a fine tea.

Please check out William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks, for more awesome writing!


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© Online Stores, LLC, and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2017. 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, LLC., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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