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the Magic in a Cuppa Tea

the Magic in a Cuppa Tea

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Published by Blake Ragghianti
There's alot more to a simple cup of tea than most people know.
There's alot more to a simple cup of tea than most people know.

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Published by: Blake Ragghianti on Jul 29, 2008
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06/16/2009

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The Magic of a Cuppa Tea
 blake ragghiantiDuring a brief visit to the United Kingdom I was introduced and educated in thetraditions and obsessions of English tea drinking by a large and burly Londoner,Swindon. Despite his impressive and rather frightening size, massive labor worn handsand deeply resonant voice, Swindon had the class and courtesy of an aristocraticgentleman. 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, immediatelyembarrassed when I heard my typically pretentious American attitude. Swindon slowlyset 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' thatteetered on the end of his nose. "As far as tea goes, the English are very much likeAmericans and their coffee, only slightly more respectful, sophisticated and philosophicalabout the whole procedure and purpose." With a twinkle in his eye and the hint of a smileon his lips, I sensed that his quip of sarcasm was a gentle English jest toward myAmerican 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 Asiancultures.
Types of Teas
"You see, tea is really quite complicated and important to the English and not to be toyedwith. 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 explainedto 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 practicallyreligious observance somewhat overkill if not humorous. I was soon to be taughtotherwise. "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 andfruity 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 specialoccasions at other times as well. The most precious teas are delicately flavored floral teasfrom 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 andherbs. 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. Theleaves 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 bedesirable 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. Someexcellent 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 tomention 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 civilsocial 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 Swindonenlightened 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 veryhigh levels. Why do you think caffeine rich coffee so quickly became a trend among tiredand 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 alsohas 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 whileabuse can poison the liver and reduce white blood cell production among other disastrousthings. Remember, moderation combined with up to date information is the key in almostall things. See the chapter below entitled "Caffeine Statistics" to see why and how a cupof 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 andadditives, perhaps the most widely misunderstood aspect of tea preparation.Milk first became popular in 17th century England when tea drinkers, fearing that hot teawould crack a porcelain cup if poured directly into it added a little cold milk first. Soonenough 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 thescented 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, lessastringent taste (yep, tannins just like in wine). Many fruits have tannic content,specifically in the stalk leaves and fruit skin. Scientific research with tannins increasinglyshows signs of health benefits. Some people are, however, very tannin sensitive. This isdirectly related to a week production of serotonin in the brain. If you find that even asmall amount of tea (or wine) gives you a headache, you are probably very tanninsensitive 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 GreatBritain. The earliest porcelain cups manufactured in England were likely to crack if veryhot tea was poured directly into them, so placing the milk in the cup before adding the teahelped protect the cup. But since modern porcelain does not need a buffer (it's actuallyincredibly robust), the debate centers around whether milk-first or tea-first scalds themilk 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 avoidcontroversy 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 thePrussian 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 firstsince 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 genuineflavor 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 onnatures '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'srelatively 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 andcomplex flavors of the tea instead of simply enhancing them, not to mention 146extremely adverse effects excess sugar has on your health( http://rheumatic.org/sugar.htm ). Remember that the idea of sugar and honey in tea is toenhance the flavor, not to mask it! I also urge the use of All Natural Brown Cane sugar asit has not been chemically modified, stripped or loaded with additives like our mostcommon 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 morenotable 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 3minutes 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 (toan extent), the more the vitamins and flavanoids will release into the tea water. TheJapanese place a metal filter or cheese cloth filled with tea leaves over their cup or teapotand simply strain hot water through the tea. This method gives the tea leaves less thanone 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.

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