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The Magic of a Cuppa Tea

blake ragghianti

During a brief visit to the United Kingdom I was introduced and educated in the
traditions and obsessions of English tea drinking by a large and burly Londoner,
Swindon. Despite his impressive and rather frightening size, massive labor worn hands
and deeply resonant voice, Swindon had the class and courtesy of an aristocratic
gentleman. He even lifted his cup with his chubby little pinky-finger delicately extended.

"So what's the deal with the English and this tea obsession?" I asked, immediately
embarrassed when I heard my typically pretentious American attitude. Swindon slowly
set down his cup, folded his hands on the table and prepared to explain what to him was
probably a clear and obvious truth and philosophy surrounding English tea appreciation.
He began to speak slowly as he looked me in the eyes over a pair of dainty 'opticals' that
teetered on the end of his nose. "As far as tea goes, the English are very much like
Americans and their coffee, only slightly more respectful, sophisticated and philosophical
about the whole procedure and purpose." With a twinkle in his eye and the hint of a smile
on his lips, I sensed that his quip of sarcasm was a gentle English jest toward my
American tone. But one thing was clear to me already; the English were world
professionals in this area, their position threatened only by the ancient tea drinking Asian
cultures.

Types of Teas

"You see, tea is really quite complicated and important to the English and not to be toyed
with. If enjoyed properly, the experience will be Brilliant. Tea and Cake is not a cigarette
break or any other distasteful habit. It is a serious life style." Swindon carefully explained
to me. During a seminar I had attended the previous day, we took a customary tea break
every two hours or so. Though I had partaken in the "tea" (short for 'tea time' or 'tea
break') out of cultural respect, I had thought their often occurrence and practically
religious observance somewhat overkill if not humorous. I was soon to be taught
otherwise. "Let me start simple; types of teas. Generally, darker, stronger, and more bitter
teas are used during colder, wetter months where as lighter and more aromatic, citric and
fruity teas are used in spring and summer months. Teas with hints of wood, leather,
nutmeg and cinnamon are primarily used during fall months but are often used for special
occasions at other times as well. The most precious teas are delicately flavored floral teas
from Asia. As far as herbal teas are concerned, they aren't technically a type of tea,
simply because they aren't made from leaves of a tea plant. Herbal tea is named so only
because it is made in a similar fashion as is tea but with a wide assortment of plants and
herbs. There also seems to be confusion regarding the difference between green and black
tea. Both of these fantastic teas come from the leaves of the Camellia Sinesis plant. The
leaves for Black tea are fully oxidized and those for green teas are lightly steamed before
being dried. However, Green Tea is by far the more nutritious tea. Why? Green Tea is far
richer in antioxidants because it contains higher levels of polyphenols. The oxidation
process that oolong tea and black tea are subjected to destroy many of the polyphenols
found in the green tea leaf. Green Tea also has less caffeine content, which might be
desirable for those wishing to keep their tea as health oriented as possible. Interestingly,
Green Tea doesn't stain teeth as much as Black Tea simply due to it's lighter color. Some
excellent Green Teas I highly recommend are (in order of preference): Japan Green Tea,
Sencha, Gyokuro, Matcha, Jasime Pearls, and Dragon Well.

Listening to Swindon download this fascinating information, I reflected on my


previous day of tea and cake and found that it really had been rather relaxing, not to
mention effective in keeping my mental energy levels up, state of mind calm and focused,
and legs stretched. Perhaps most importantly, it helped to maintain an extremely civil
social and professional vibe in the large group of diverse people attending the seminar.
Perhaps this is why it is custom for English diplomats to drink tea with visiting
politicians prior to any political discussions. Another interesting thing Swindon
enlightened me to concerning avid tea breaks during an extended learning or
production/business situation is that the caffeine in tea (twice that vs. coffee per pound ),
not to mention multiple B Vitamins, has been scientifically proven to not only keep the
brain and body active and awake, but to heighten awareness, alertness and focus to very
high levels. Why do you think caffeine rich coffee so quickly became a trend among tired
and overly stressed business types throughout the world. I challenge you to find a
business in the United States without a coffee related item behind it's doors.
Unfortunately, not only does coffee not have the same nutritional benefits of tea, it also
has multiple harmful effects. (see: http://www.mercola.com/2003/dec/10/coffee.htm )
Note that any overuse of a caffeine related food or drink can cause harmful effects just as,
for example, prescription drugs can often almost miraculously heal an ill person while
abuse can poison the liver and reduce white blood cell production among other disastrous
things. Remember, moderation combined with up to date information is the key in almost
all things. See the chapter below entitled "Caffeine Statistics" to see why and how a cup
of tea actually has LESS caffeine than a cup of coffee.

Flavor and Additives

Now for some insider details I picked up on the Isle of Wight, specifically, flavor and
additives, perhaps the most widely misunderstood aspect of tea preparation.

Milk first became popular in 17th century England when tea drinkers, fearing that hot tea
would crack a porcelain cup if poured directly into it added a little cold milk first. Soon
enough they found that milk enhanced the flavor of full-bodied black teas (like Assam).
Cream does not have the same effect. Delicate teas such as green teas or many of the
scented and flavored teas should not be served with milk. So how does it work? Simple.
Milk reacts chemically with tea, binding with the tannins to give it a smoother, less
astringent taste (yep, tannins just like in wine). Many fruits have tannic content,
specifically in the stalk leaves and fruit skin. Scientific research with tannins increasingly
shows signs of health benefits. Some people are, however, very tannin sensitive. This is
directly related to a week production of serotonin in the brain. If you find that even a
small amount of tea (or wine) gives you a headache, you are probably very tannin
sensitive and should consult a doctor for advise on drinking levels.
Whether milk or tea is put into the cup first is a matter of great contention in Great
Britain. The earliest porcelain cups manufactured in England were likely to crack if very
hot tea was poured directly into them, so placing the milk in the cup before adding the tea
helped protect the cup. But since modern porcelain does not need a buffer (it's actually
incredibly robust), the debate centers around whether milk-first or tea-first scalds the
milk and whether scalding the milk is good or bad; some say it improves the flavor,
others say it ruins the milk. The controversy even created a nickname, "miffers," for milk
in former. Swindon claims to be a fence rider on this subject as he wishes to avoid
controversy in his social circles, however, he does note that the correct answer seems to
be situational, not definite. Typical Englishman.

Lemon was introduced to British tea drinkers by Queen Victoria after a visit to the
Prussian King. Lemon can complement the flavor of scented teas and brighten the flavor
of some black teas. If both sugar and lemon are used, the sugar should be added first
since the citric acid in the lemon may prevent the sugar from dissolving completely.

Sugar or honey accents the flavor of most darker teas, though in subtly different ways.
Fruit-flavored teas are excellent served with sugar or honey since the added sweetness
brings out the flavor of the fruit. Honey, even in small amounts tends to alter the genuine
flavor of tea, though it's health benefits are considered by the modern scientific world to
be phenomenal, especially if strained for maximum Royal Jelly. (for more information on
natures 'miracle food' Royal Jelly, search google.com for Honey and/or Royal Jelly and
be amazed). Remember that most Americans are wild abusers of sugar due to it's
relatively cheap price and ready availability. I urge you to begin to use less and less sugar
in all your teas (and foods) as any more than 1/8 tsp per cup begins to mask the true and
complex flavors of the tea instead of simply enhancing them, not to mention 146
extremely adverse effects excess sugar has on your health
( http://rheumatic.org/sugar.htm ). Remember that the idea of sugar and honey in tea is to
enhance the flavor, not to mask it! I also urge the use of All Natural Brown Cane sugar as
it has not been chemically modified, stripped or loaded with additives like our most
common commercial sugars. (Sugar is only white if it has been strained through bleach!
Yummy!) Tea and coffee and the included caffeine are often blamed for causing one to
become jittery or nervous when often it is more probably a mix of caffeine and a more
notable overuse of sugar.

Steeping

Steeping time is as crucial as using clean and healthy water. To avoid bitter tasting tea,
steep your tea for 45 seconds or less. However, most teas can be brewed for up to 3
minutes without becoming overly bitter. For every extra 30 seconds longer you brew your
tea, expect it to become noticeably more bitter, though the longer you brew your tea (to
an extent), the more the vitamins and flavanoids will release into the tea water. The
Japanese place a metal filter or cheese cloth filled with tea leaves over their cup or teapot
and simply strain hot water through the tea. This method gives the tea leaves less than
one or two seconds of contact with the hot water. You'll note that most Asian countries
prefer their tea thin or what we might call weak. It all comes down to personal
preference. Everybody has their own opinion and you are sure to develop your own.
Despite what kind of tea or tradition you prefer, there is one universal: Never boil your
tea water. Boiling will cause your tea to quickly become flat which dulls the taste of what
might otherwise be a brilliant tea. This is due to the rapid dismissal of oxygen from water
when it's boiling. As in beer, for example, oxygen (combined with carbon as in co2,
carbon dioxide), is what gives your tea the ability to have a bight and/or a colorful nose.
This fact is highly debated among uneducated tea drinkers. However, the fact is that
when making soup, sauce, coffee, tea or any other heated water based food, unless
specifically required by the recipe or to purify questionable water, do NOT boil. I suggest
you try an experiment at home. Take two identical pots with enough water in each for a
few cups of tea. Boil the first and heat the second to a near boil. Next, in two identical
cups with two identical tea bags, pour your differing waters. Taste. Now... what do YOU
think?

Miraculous Health Benefits

All teas have numerous nutritious and antioxidant quality's. In our conversations,
Swindon repeatedly alluded to these qualities but seemed more keen on the social and
psychological effects of tea. Intrigued by it's 4,000 year history and global spread, I
began to research the health benefits of tea. What I found was a world full of flavorful
medicine, too much in fact for my purposes here. If you are interested in learning more
than what I've written here, a simple Google search relating to "tea and health benefits"
will quickly take you down the rabbit hole.

It is well known that fruits and vegetables are fine sources of antioxidants, however what
is less well known is the amount of antioxidants present in tea. Antioxidants are one of
the key necessities for human nutrition. The major groups of antioxidants in tea are
flavonoids. Flavonoids greatly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease,
cancers, cataracts, cognitive impairment, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's and liver diseases.
Flavonoids also have a favorable effect in changing intestinal bacterial growth as well as
helping to prevent cancer. They also help to keep breath fresh by killing oral bacteria
which thrive in a dry mouth, especially one low on flavanoids). Do you enjoy having
strong bones, health finger nails and solid teeth? Well, if you drink mostly purified or
bottled water, then tea provides most if not all of your daily fluoride intake. ( for more on
fluoride, visit: http://www.vitamins-nutrition.org/vitamins/fluoride. html ) Tea provides
an enormous number of vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin's B1, B2, B6, C and
Potassium (a great natural anti-acid). For more important information on the incredibly
important B Vitamins: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B_vitamins and
http://health.howstuffworks.com/vitamin-b.htm :for more information on vitamin C:
http://www.thefactsaboutfitness.com/research/vitamin c.htm :for more information on
Potassium: http://www.healthcatchers.com/potassium.html

Studies have also shown green tea in particular has immense anti-inflammatory,
cholesterol lowering (similar effect with the tannins found in wine), antiviral, and
antibacterial properties. Companies are supplementing their skin care products with green
tea extracts, which you may have noticed in your shampoo, body soaps, and body creams.
Additional research is required before conclusions about green tea and weight loss can be
drawn. However, preliminary research suggests extract from green tea may help with
weight loss by speeding up fat oxidation. Bleeding can be checked almost immediately if
a fresh but cool tea bag is applied on a wound. The tannins in tea activate the
thrombocytes for rapid clotting. A similar reaction occurs between tannins and starches
and tannins and soluble fats. This is suspected to be a large part of the reason why wine
drinking countries like Italy and France have nearly half the rate of heart attacks as non-
wine drinking countries. Interestingly enough, Psychologists are linking lifestyle, relaxed
attitude, and other psychological states and social outlooks associated with wine drinking
(specifically in Europe) and tea drinking (specifically in England and Asia) to the
massive reduction of stress related heart attacks in corresponding countries. Perhaps we
should all start to take tea and cake breaks during the day followed by a little evening
wine drinking to smooth over a stressful day.

For those who enjoy tea for all it's benefits but wish to avoid caffeine, there are numerous
100% caffeine free teas available throughout the world, presenting the same health
benefits as caffeine teas, simply without the effects of caffeine. Some very popular ones
are "Sleepy Time Tea" and "Sweet Dreams Tea." Usually, these teas are of the herbal
strain making them very aromatic and refreshing therefore not requiring the use of any
sugar or additives.

Loose Leaf or Tea Bag?

The following has been extracted from www.about.com.

"If your idea of a good cup of tea starts with plain tea bags from the grocery store, you
are likely missing out on truly superior tea. Before I explain why loose tea is better, I just
want to let you know that I am mainly talking about generic supermarket tea bags. There
are some excellent bagged teas out there, made up of whole tea leaves. Quality tea
merchants often carry bags as well as loose.

The main difference between loose teas and bagged teas is the size of the leaves. That's
what effects the resulting cup of tea. Tea leaves contain chemicals and essential oils,
which are the basis for the delightful flavor of tea. When the tea leaves are broken up,
those oils can evaporate, leaving a dull and tasteless tea. Typical tea bags are filled with
the tiniest pieces of broken leaves, called fannings. Loose teas are typically whole leaves
or at least large(r) pieces of leaves.

On top of the leaf size, there is also the space factor. Tea leaves need space to swell,
expand and unfurl. Good water circulation around the leaves is important, which doesn't
typically happen in a cramped little tea bag.

A quick aside: the declaration of "Orange Pekoe" that you'll find on boxes of tea bags
doesn't refer to the flavor or kind of tea. Orange Pekoe is actually a grade of tea. It's a
good grade, but not a great grade. The grade is based on leaf size, but even Orange Pekoe
tea is an inferior tea to a true whole leaf tea.

Even if you prefer a simple cup of black Keemun, or Assam (which is the major
component of most bagged teas), try getting your tea loose instead of in bags. If you
enjoy a change now and again, you can get a wide variety of teas in bags, but there are
many more to choose from if you shop for loose tea." - www.about.com
OK, so then how much loose tea should you use? This is tricky. It all depends on your
personal preferences. Typically, an optimum quantity is 1.5 grams per 6 ounces of water.
I suggest you start with a lower amount such as a level teaspoon of loose leaves. Then
adjust your amount of leaves up until you reach the preferred strength. Keep in mind two
things; 1. using too much tea is not only a waste of product but can result in a bitter and
distasteful cup of tea. 2. your preference levels will vary between types of teas as all teas
have different strengths. However, within about 3 or 4 cups you should be able to
discover your preferred loose leaf amount and proper brew time. Careful! Don't try to
skimp and save product by brewing less tea for a longer amount of time. This will also
result in a bitter and distasteful tea!

Coffee vs. Tea. The Economics.

Coffee costs an average $20.00 per 1 lb bag


which will provide approximately 30-40 cups of coffee.

At half the price loose leaf tea costs an average of $10 - 12.00 per 1 lb bag
which will provide approximately 200-250 cups! And this is a conservative number.

Caffeine Statistics

So what is the truth about caffeine in tea versus coffee? Earlier I stated that tea contained
nearly twice the amount of caffeine than coffee per pound. Like everything else in life,
there is not one simple answer. It truly depends on your starting point and preference. On
a per pound basis, tea has more caffeine than does coffee. However, a pound of tea will
yield about 200-250 cups, depending on how strong you like your tea. A pound of coffee
will make between 30-40 cups, depending on how strong you like your coffee. As you
can see, a cup of tea has less caffeine than does a cup of coffee. This is because you use
less product per cup of water. In the long run, you get more caffeine for your buck with
tea, however, you consume it in a more regulated way.

6 oz cup. Milligrams of Caffeine

Coffee 75
Black Tea 30
Green Tea 30
Decaff Tea 3
Herbal Tea 0

Where can I find high quality teas?

There are many places in your local city where you can find high quality teas. One of the
premier locations in our little town of Pittsburgh being the infamous Nicholas Coffee Co.,

in business since 1919, the premier purveyor of fine coffee's and teas,
bagged and or loose leaf.
http://www.nicholascoffee.com/

In Conclusion

"In the end, it truly does matter how and why you sip your tea.
So educate yourself, steep a cup while you're at it." ~ Swindon

Whether you find your tea to be an aromatic indulgence,


an antioxidant and nutritional staple, a social courtesy,
or simply just a cup of tea . . .
I hope that you can now enjoy each leaf to its fullest potential.

A Link Everybody Should Visit


Green Tea, The Drink of Life

http://www.usgyms.net/greentea.htm

I cannot recommend this site anymore highly if you are interested in understanding
why regular drinking of tea will greatly help you avoid (among a hundred other diseases)
heart problems, weight problems, cancer, etc. Have a problem?
The ancient cure-all for you is more than likely tea.
Read this site carefully.

Links of General Interest

The United Kingdom Tea Council; Home of Tea


http://www.tea.co.uk/

History of Tea, British Research


http://www.britainexpress.com/History/tea-in-brita in.htm