A Nice Cup of Tea

by frankbeswick

England's favourite drink comes in several kinds,according to the blend and place of origin.

Tea is any drink brewed from leaves and/or their buds, but in English we often use the word to denote char, the name by which the drink is still sometimes known. This is the drink brewed from the leaves of Camelia sinensis, a shrub which originated in China. Many people just drink tea undiscerningly, not aware that there are different kinds, but tea is like wine in that there are different teas from different regions, and there are different ways of preparing the leaves. In this article I will explain the various kinds.

Image courtesy of Monicore, of Pixabay

Types of Tea

The simplest kind of tea is white tea, which the Chinese call yellow tea, though despite its simplicity it is a gourmet taste, full of flavour. It is made from the leaves or buds of Camelia, but they are barely processed, just allowed to dry out naturally in the sun. White tea is not the tea most commonly drunk, for the barely processed leaves need to be used quickly before they lose flavour.

Green tea, which I drunk this morning, is processed a little more than white tea is, and so it stores longer. I bought myself a small box of tea bags to drink because of its health benefits. It is full of anti-oxidants known  as flavenoids that are claimed to benefit health by attacking dangerous free radicals. Like white tea it does not keep for a long time, so it must be drunk within a year of being bought. Like white tea it is often taken without milk, which is the way in which tea is taken in continental Europe. British are lovers of tea taken with milk, but a word to be heeded here! Unlike coffee tea does not taste good with cream. I like mine with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. Another tip for you is whatever tea you take, ensure that the water is boiling when you pour it on the leaves, as this gives you the best flavour.

[Here the writer pauses to brew a mug of green tea.Well,  he is British, isn't he!]

A traditional Chinese tea that lies between green and black tea is oolong. While green tea has undergone oxidation in processing oolong has undergone semi-oxidation.The leaves are not shredded, but can be rolled into small balls or rolls. Like white tea it was not meant to be stored for long, so it is a gourmet taste for Europeans and Americans. There is a large range of oolongs depending on the area from which they come.

The commonest tea is black tea, which stores well because it is well-dried. It will keep for years. Most of the common blends sold in the UK and Europe are black teas. This tea is commonly taken with milk, though some take it black [milkless.]  Tastes vary, some like it strong, and to get the tea this way leave it to brew in the pot or cup for a couple of minutes. Some people press the teabag with a spoon to release flavour. However, tea kept too long "stews" in the pot and is not pleasant.  Some drinkers like tea sweet, and two spoonfuls of sugar per mug is about all that you need, though I prefer mine unsweetened.

A point to be noted, redbush, known as rooibos, is a tea, but it is not char. It is a caffeine free leaf from the South African shrub Aspalanthus linearis. It is a drink popular with people concerned about their caffeine intake, though you can also get decaffeinated tea. 




Various Areas and Types

In the last few days I have drunk teas from Darjeeling and Assam, which are in India. But tea plants are grown in several countries.Much tea drunk in Britain comes from East Africa, and there is a strong tea growing tradition in Sri Lanka, whose teas are known as Ceylon tea. In fact, a Sri Lankan in-law of mine gave me a tea book, a metal book-shaped box which contained a bag of tea. The box itself is Russian. 

Teas can be like wines, they are from specific areas. Assam tea is a variety of tea called scientifically Camelia sinensis var. assamensis, which distinguishes it from the Chinese variety Camelia sinensis var.sinensis. Assam has its own distinct taste, for while it tastes like other teas there is a stronger flavour on the back of the palate than I have found with other teas.Darjeeling has a gentle flavour to it. Estate Darjeeling is a tea made solely from bushes grown on the Moneviot estate, so it is a single origin tea. This is mainly taken by gourmet tea drinkers.Ceylon tea seems to me to be not so strong and to be quite gentle.

But teas that you buy are often carefully prepared blends put together by tea experts. One specialist blend is Lakeland tea, blended to make the most of the soft water of the English Lake District, Cumbria. This is a tea that is sometimes sold to tourists in Cumbrian cafes. The blend is substantially based on Ceylon tea.So blends can be linked to specific areas. One such blend is Yorkshire. England's largest county, Yorkshire, has always been proud of its reputation for the no-nonsense character  of its inhabitants, and this has meant that they claim to like their tea strong, getting the best value from their purchase as it were, so Yorkshire tea is a strong variety. Those are the only two teas linked to specific areas of England. But there are blends linked to breakfast, as many English people like to commence their day with tea. I am like this, I never drink coffee in the morning! So we find teas called English Breakfast and Strong English Breakfast.

A glorious tea,one of my favourites, is Earl Grey. This is a light, black tea derived from a Chinese tea known to Westerners as Keemun, which has a slightly fruity flavour and aroma to it. Earl Grey is flavoured with the oil of the herb bergamot, which gives it a distinct flavour. It was designed to be taken without milk, but milk can be added if desired. Lady Grey  is a tea with less bergamot than Earl Grey, but with finely shredded lemon and orange peel added.

Matcha is a very finely shredded green tea used in Asia, but it sometimes has coconut or other flavourings included.

Tea book
Tea book

Social Contexts

We British have no tea rituals similar to what they have in Japan, but tea has a social role. When someone has suffered something that makes them unhappy, e.g. bereavement, it is customary to offer them tea. Tea contains not only caffeine, but theanine, which is known to have a calming effect on the human system.Some people like a cup of tea before they go to bed, though I do not. 

Afternoon tea is the nearest that we get to a ritual. Not long ago Maureen got a voucher, a birthday present, if I recall rightly, which entitled her and one other to afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel in Manchester, so the two of us went. The "tea" was a light meal,composed of  fancy cakes, three each, and small sandwiches, again three apiece. We commenced with prosecco and then moved on to a drink of tea served in fine china. This was a delightful occasion, a nice little luxury.  I suppose that the aristocracy have their own rituals for tea, but I have only met two aristocrats, so I cannot speak from experience here. 

But tea is a major part of the British way of life that it has come to define the British. Some years ago I tutored a Hungarian girl in English. She found me amusingly British, for when she offered me a drink, whatever the weather, and it  was summertime, I would always opt for tea. "You are very British!" she would say with a hint of amusement in her voice. She was, of course, correct.

Updated: 05/05/2020, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 11/13/2020

No. A variety is served. Ham, soft cheese, egg and tuna or salmon are popular.

DerdriuMarriner on 11/12/2020

frankbeswick, Thank you for the picture of the tea book, the practicalities and the product.
Are there particular sandwiches that are served with fancy cakes?

frankbeswick on 10/27/2020

I take zinc tablets because zinc inhibits corona viruses and is good for the immune system.

Mira on 10/26/2020

Yes, it may help. I'm making a large pot of tea every day, and we're also taking supplements: vitamin D and vitamin C with Zinc. I'm also a firm believer in the power of nuts and seeds for the heart, mind, immune system, and general health (all of which are threatened by this virus...). I buy mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flax, and sesame), grind them in a coffee grinder, and add them to doughs when I cook -- or eat them with yogurt. And then we eat as much garlic as we can :)

frankbeswick on 10/25/2020

Elderberry helps the respiratory tract! This is useful advice during the pandemic.

Mira on 10/25/2020

I enjoyed this article. I didn't know that I have to consume green tea within one year. I'll have to be more careful in the future with this. These days I'm drinking a lot of yerba mate, although inspired by your article I read more about it just now and apparently it can cause some cancers on the respiratory tract despite being very healthy. I'll have to take it in moderation. I also take maca powder in some smoothies for energy (inspired by Katie here on Wizzley). I'll have to try matcha. I've been meaning to for quite a while, but I have so many teas opened that I kept putting it off. I make tea with both true teas and herbal teas, and as such I need a large variety :) Right now I'm often using elderberry tea, which helps the immune system and the respiratory tract -- and then for flavor I'm using rooibos and other fruity teas, such as hibiscus.

pateluday on 07/31/2020

Wonderful information. My favorite is Darjeeling and Assam Black. Often imbibe them mixed to cut cost!

blackspanielgallery on 06/28/2020

You not only become healthier, but you have a pleasant experience doing so. This is a nice remedy.

frankbeswick on 06/28/2020

It seems that the doctor had failed to inform me that one of the medications was causing dehydration. I am already noticing an improvement in how I feel.I double my tea consumption at meal times.

blackspanielgallery on 06/25/2020

May you enjoy many more.

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