Friday, January 18, 2013

The ABCs of Tea

When the weather gets cold and damp, my beverage of choice is a restorative cup of hot tea. And during cold and flu season nothing feels better to a scratchy throat than tea, preferably flavored with honey and lemon.

Here in the South, we are known for our iced tea, and most people drink it year ‘round. It seems that in recent years, however, more people here are enjoying tea served hot from a mug or poured from a teapot.

I want my coffee in the morning, but by noon I’m ready for a mug of Earl Grey, a tea blend with a distinctive flavor. Its aroma and taste is derived from the addition of oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit.

I may have another cup of green or white tea in the afternoon; peppermint to soothe an upset stomach; and Chamomile at bedtime.
I used to drink a lot of Twinings Lapsang Souchong, a smokey tasting tea infused with pinewood. For some reason I haven’t bought it in a while but need to add to my next shopping list.

Another tea I really enjoy is Rooibos tea from South Africa. It’s unique taste, with hints of toffee, cherry and vanilla, has a very smooth taste.

There are tons of teas on the market and taste is such a personal thing so sometimes you just have to experiment until you find the one that suits you.

Here are some fun facts about tea

Tea Facts A to Z: 26 Things You Didn't Know About Tea

Astrotea. You can use tea leaves to read the future. Just leave a small amount of tea in the bottom of the cup along with some tea leaves, and after stirring the remains three times, the pattern you’re left with will tell you what’s in store. In Asia, readers of tea leaves are just as respected as astrologers.

Bags. Tea bags were invented in America in the early 1800s, and were initially used to hold samples of teas brought from India. Today, 96% of all cups of tea served around the world were made using teabags.

Camellia sinensis. There are many different kinds of tea, but they are all derived from just one plant: Camellia sinensis. The color and variety of the tea (green, black, white, oolong) depends, however, on the way the leaves are treated.

Darjeeling. It’s called the champagne of tea: a black tea, it is grown in the eponymous area of Indian Bengal. One of the world’s most highly-prized tea varieties, teas are often falsely sold as coming from this area: for every 400 tons of tea sold under this name every year, only 100 tons actually comes from Darjeeling.

Elevenses. At 11 o’clock in the morning, to stay alert, in England it’s common to take a break with a cup of tea and some cakes: Elevenses. Before dinner, however, you can take ‘high tea’: a kind of reinforced snack.

Food. You can’t have a cup without something to go with it: from cookies and English cucumber sandwiches to seafood accompanied by green tea in Japan, by way of spicy Indian meat dishes, and all-chocolate desserts from Assam.

Gin. Mix gin and cold tea, flavor with little lemon rind, and you’ll get a great summer cocktail. In the mid 1700s, in Great Britain, tea replaced gin as the drink of the masses, and became the nation’s favorite beverage.

Hot or cold. Perfect when drunk steaming hot, tea is also one of the most thirst-quenching summer drinks when drunk cold, perhaps with ice, and possibly some lemon, lime or leaves of mint to add flavor.

India. After tourism, the cultivation of tea is India’s second largest industry. And India tea is the variety most commonly drunk the world over, despite the fact that it originally came from China.

Joan Cusack. "Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Me?" is one of cinema’s best-known quotes. It’s the famously cheeky line uttered by Joan Cusack to Harrison Ford in the classic film Working Girl.

Kettle. You won’t find a kitchen in England without one: the kettle, used to boil the water for tea, can be either electric or heated up on the hob.

Loose tea. Loose tea is, for connoisseurs, the best way to taste tea: the quality of the tea leaves, which are often whole, and not broken up as in tea bags, is often higher, and retains more of their original flavor.

Mosquitoes. Tea leaves are a natural means of keeping mosquitoes away. All you have to do is use slightly damp leaves to add the scent of tea to the areas you want to keep insect-free.

Not just for drinking. Here are five good reasons for not giving up tea, even if you don’t drink it - it helps to heal shaving cuts, eliminates bad odors when added to a foot bath, can be used to marinade meat, is a great fertilizer for roses, and is also good for cleaning floors.

Oolong. Oolong tea, a Chinese and Taiwanese tea with a fruity aroma, is also often called Dragon’s Tea: these tea leaves, when put in teapot, often start to look like a dragon. The world’s most expensive tea is an oolong tea: it’s called Tieguanyin, and its leaves cost up to $3,000 per kilo.

Party. The Tea Party is the American political movement which calls for less state intervention in key areas like the economy and healthcare. Its name harks back to the Boston Tea Party, an act of protest carried out in the 1700s when Americans rebelled against the British government, destroying cases of tea which had arrived from India.

Quotes. «Women are like tea bags. They do not know how strong they are until they get into hot water.» - Eleanor Roosevelt.

Ritz Carlton of Hong Kong. This is where the world’s most expensive afternoon tea is drunk – you can spend up to $8,888 dollars here. You can taste the world’s best teas, finger food, fantastic cakes and enjoy the best view of the city.

Samovar. In Russia, the water for tea is boiled using a samovar. They were initially heated using coal, but these days usually run on electricity. They’re traditional, common household items found in Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Theanine. The stimulant found in tea leaves is theanine, an antioxidant whose equivalent in coffee is caffeine. Tea, however, contains less caffeine than coffee: around half the amount.

UK. The London Tea Auction was an institution which lasted for 300 years. Tea was sold using the ‘by the candle’ system: bidding for lots went on until an inch of a candle had burnt away.

Vitamins. Tea is a natural antioxidant, and rich in vitamins: it contains vitamins B2, B1 and B6. Tea, however, is also rich in potassium, manganese, folic acid and calcium.

Water. Experts have always advised on the best kind of water for making tea. In early Chinese texts we can find suggestions that the best water should be taken from rivers and lakes.

X-rated. Among the many thousands of qualities that tea can boast, it has relaxing effects that can help improve your sex life. In particular, Ashwagandha tea is regarded as a stimulant to virility.

Yin Zhen or Silver Needle. This is the most highly prized of white teas. It comes from China, and takes its name from the leaves used to make it, which are harvested when they’re young and still unfurled, and look like needles.

Zillah. The world’s oldest gas pump is still going strong, and can be found in Zillah, in Washington State. It’s known as the Teapot Dome Service Station, as it happens to look like a teapot.

My tea time usually doesn't include any of these delicious looking foods  associated with afternoon tea. Just a dry cookie, perhaps. But a girl can dream.

What kind of tea do you prefer? Do you have interesting tea facts to share?


  1. I definitely prefer strong coffee to tea, but in the evenings, I drink South African Rooibos tea. It is calming, I drink it as such.Somehow, evening is the only time of the day I ´ll have my tea.
    So much information once again, thank you Sanda!

    1. Thanks, Mette. There were some facts included that I'd never heard. Always looking to find and share new "stuff."

  2. Had dinner in Honolulu last night with a lady who had started her working life as a Flight Attendant. We laughed about the 1960's book, "Coffee, Tea, or Me" which was about the life of the original stewardess. These days it's odd to be able to get a cup of tea on a flight.
    I like plain black tea during the day and mint tea at night. When I read "No 1 Ladies Detective" books, I got all excited about drinking the red tea she drank in the books, but no matter which type I tried, could not drink it.

    1. How different was the work of flight attendants in those days. Must have been fun hearing her stories.

      Not familiar with those books you mention; will have to investigate!

  3. I love my tea made in a pot, own lots of teapots, and always start the day with several cups of weak black tea. Later comes the mid-morning coffee, more teas in the PM, and usually a camomile at night. I love Earl Grey and Lady Grey. The ABC of tea is very informative, and I like the illustrations.
    PS I have never been able to take a liking to the iced tea; just does not seem Australian I guess. A great post, thank you Sanda.

    1. I haven't tried lady Grey, in fact, don't think I've ever seen it in stores. Glad you enjoyed the post, Patricia.

  4. i enjoy hot tea. i like earl grey (especially since it gained a star trek connection) but most has too much of the bergamot flavor. i prefer a lighter touch.

    i discovered the rooibos tea in the ladies detective agency books some time ago but still haven't tried it.

    more people seem to know about reading tea leaves since it was used in the harry potter stories. you do have to use loose tea, i think, and most people seem to use the tea bags. i use both kinds and have tried reading the tea leaves but can't make those leaves look like anything. lol

    the abc of tea is so interesting. thx!

    1. I don't place much confidence in tea leaf reading, except as a fun conversation thing. Bags are much more convenient but I believe purists insist on loose leaves. I remember that my mother used to use loose leaf tea.

      Give the red a try; I think you'll like it!

  5. Another interesting fact filled post. I drink coffee first thing in the morning but switch to tea after that. Most tea at our house is made using loose leaf tea in a pot. Our usual tea is purchased at a local Indian market and I can't tell you the name of it because it isn't written in English, I just know it is the one in the yellow box :-) I do like Earl Gray tho and my favorite green tea is from a company called Stassen and has the addition of jasmine.
    I like ice tea in the summer but not sweetened, only with lemon or mint.


    1. I drink green tea for the health benefit, but can't say that I really "like" it. I should look up the Stassen brand; the jasmine addition sounds lovely.

      I don't like my iced tea sweetened either.

    2. Sanda, I know Stassen is online. I took some tea to my cousin in Oregon and when she ran out she told me she found a website for them. Most green tea has a bit of a bitter (or something) aftertaste to me, their green tea with jasmine doesn't.


    3. Thanks, Darla. I will check it out!

  6. I like a good strong cup of Earl Grey with milk and a cup of Roiboos with vanilla flavour is perfect before bedtime. I will look up the lapsang souchong tea you mentioned, the pine flavoured smokey taste sounds exciting!

    1. I hope you will like the lapsang souchong tea. Tastes so good in winter.

  7. Very interesting! I have a lot of pretty boxes of tea in the cupboard but never get around to making any of them. I buy it because it looks so attractive but really have never developed a taste for the hot tea. The old southern tradition of "sweet iced tea" is my choice but modified with splenda rather than sugar. Maybe I'll pull some tea out today and try it on this very cold day.

    1. You get that tea out and get the kettle boiling, girl! Best to drink a cup of tea while watching Downton Abbey!


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