“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” C.S Lewis

Thursday, 21 November 2013

If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; if you are depressed, it will cheer you; if you are excited, it will calm you. --William Gladstone

A few weeks ago I got a comment on my blog from Brenna Ciummo of Seattle Coffee Gear. Now, I know when you people out there hear the word 'Seattle' you instantly think of coffee and the soft, velvet tones of Eddie Vedder's voice, and tea is not necessarily something that springs to mind. But Brenna, who is a web marketing super ninja from the sounds of things, wanted to know if I was interested in having a guest post on my blog about tea. And I certainly was. And I hope you are interested in reading it, as here it is...

How can a beverage be all things to all people? Over tea’s long and illustrious history, it seems we should be able to separate fact from fiction by now. Since its discovery in China circa 1500 BC it has been the topic of cross-disciplinary study in medicine, religion, culinary arts and philosophy. However, the line is still blurred between what passes for general wisdom and proven science when it comes to tea. Here is what we know to be true today:

A True Story
Current research shows that the antioxidants and chemical compounds in tea, especially green tea, help regulate blood pressure and improve blood vessel reactivity. This results in better blood flow to the heart which minimizes the risk of many cardiovascular health complications.

Another benefit of drinking tea includes a reduced risk of diabetes and obesity due to how polyphenols, specifically the catechins, control insulin and boost metabolism. Diabetes is a serious problem in the United States. Tea’s growing popularity here may inspire more people to incorporate tea drinking into a healthy lifestyle.

Black, green, Oolong, white and Pu-erh teas have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate cold and flu symptoms. The sensory comfort that comes from holding the steaming cup is a bonus. While an apple a day may keep the doctor away, there are many more antioxidants in a single cup of tea than from a serving of fruits or vegetables. Stick with a balanced diet though and supplement your recommended servings of fruits and veggies with tea time. Bonus: Tea also counts towards your daily water intake goal of eight glasses.

A good tea is delicious without additives, but if you enjoy adding a splash of cream to your cup you are still in luck. Contrary to popular belief, adding milk to tea doesn’t negate any of tea’s health benefits.

A Cautionary Tale
It is not coffee that pregnant women should avoid but the caffeine it it. Anyone sensitive to caffeine should be aware tea contains caffeine too. All tea comes from one plant species Camellia sinensis and all teas have caffeine. Different processing and roasting methods naturally increase or decrease the level of caffeine but it is always present (unless it has gone through a decaffeination process). Herbal teas are not teas at all, they are called tisanes or infusions and do not contain caffeine with one exception. Mate is one of the few plants on earth (along with coffee, cocoa and tea) that contain caffeine. Make sure you know what is in your cup--tea or tisane.

If you have allergies to certain plants, you may have allergies to certain tea blends and tisanes. Tea leaves are all from the same species but what gets blended with it or what is sold as herbal can have multiple ingredients like herbs, spices, and wild or cultivated plant material. Use caution when trying a new tea if you have plant allergies.

Finally, tea (and coffee) may be kitchen pantry staples, but they have a shelf life like any other food products. Many types of tea start to lose antioxidant properties after six months even when stored in a cool dry place. Make sure to store tea in an airtight container away from light, moisture and strong odors. Tea will take care of you, if you take care of your tea!

Samantha Joyce is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear and enjoys sharing her knowledge of all things coffee and tea

Thursday, 26 September 2013

“Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age. The child is grown, and puts away childish things. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.” - Edna St. Vincent Millay

When I was pretty little, we're talking junior school age, I went on a school trip to York. I haven't thought about it for years, but today it came flooding back with a vengeance. And to explain why, I need to go back only to tuesday of this week.

On tuesday, a friend of mine put some money in my paypal account for an action figure I had found in my loft and consequently sold him. Now, I had plenty of sensible things I should have spent this money on, and tea was not one of those things. But I had been eyeing up the Bluebird Tea Company for a while and, in a fit of 'sensible be damned, I want tea', I ordered four of their fantastically named and very tasty sounding teas. It was free shipping on tuesday as well - I think they did that because they knew it would tip me over the edge...

Very efficiently they shipped my order out the same day, and just as efficiently the postman got it to me two days later. Two hours ago. I will write about and review the others as I come to drink them, but the first one I decided to try was Rhubarb and Custard. Oh and what a good decision that was.

Rhubarb and Custard by Bluebird Tea Co

The blurb from the company - Hardy British super fruit, much loved vintage cartoon characters, top boiled sweet and crumble of the Gods... Rhubarb + Custard really is a pairing made in heaven. This naturally caffeine free, antioxidant rich blend will satisfy your sweet tooth with less than 1 calorie p/cup! Sounds like a super sweet deal to us!

The bit by me -

On that trip to York we visited the castle museum, and there was this bit of it that was made up like an old fashioned street - Victorian I think.

In that street was a sweet shop - not a real sweet shop, all the fake sweets were behind glass so day tripping schoolkids couldn't gorge themselves on what were no doubt plaster of paris gobstoppers and modelling clay licorice whips. But it smelled like a real sweet shop. It was amazing to my young mind, and it clearly stuck with me.

30 odd years later, I remembered walking into that place. I remembered the Al Jolson machine outside the gift shop that took 2ps and played for half an hour. I remembered what my junior school teacher looked like.

This tea smells, tastes and feels like nostalgia. And that, today, is a very good thing.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

“The usual for me." The usual was a strong infusion of different kinds of Oriental teas, which raised her spirits after her siesta.” ― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Many of the most pleasurable little experiences in life start in the same way, with a smell. The loaf of bread proving in the kitchen, the slightly musty scent as you push open a door to a second hand book shop, and now the exotic mix of spices that invade my nostrils every time I crack open my jar of Masala Chai from the Brew Tea Company.

After writing my last blog an absolute age ago, I went on a bit of a hiatus from the realm of the internet. Doing family things - camping, playing, exploring - while the weather was good and my daughter is still young and thinks I'm an excellent person to spend time with (I know this will not last). I kept drinking tea, I kept reading books, I just stopped writing about it. However, I did on one occasion check into my blog and discovered I had a message from the lovely Aideen at the Brew Tea Company, and she seemed to like what I had written about my cuppa from Sweet Little Things. And while making people smile is always reward in itself, the fact that she offered to send me some tea was a rather groovy bonus :)

So, a couple of days later I received a lovely chunky parcel through the post, and in it was some English Breakfast Tea and some of the Masala Chai that I'd already expressed a liking for. And this is my review of that one.

Masala Chai by Brew Tea Co

The blurb from the company - So you've been to India, grown a beard and found yourself. Chances are you'll know this tea. If you're still clean shaven then all you need to know is: Amazing tea + A spice rack = Yummy chai.

The bit by me - Smell... flavour... smell... flavour... mmmmmmmmm. I drink this tea by the big pot full while watching obscure films I've never heard of on Netflix. It's a winning combination. I like to try many different types of tea, but this is being added to my list of teas I'll always try and keep on my shelf, as not having any would upset me.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle

Myself and my daughter used to spend quite a bit of time in cafes. We had two that we visited in Leigh, named 'The Red Cafe' and 'The White Cafe' by my daughter. She's a very observant little girl.

In the past year both cafes have closed down, and as our choices were now limited to places that sold either instant nescafe (that I won't drink) or a mug of PG Tips (which I will but I'm not paying 2 quid for it) our cafe visiting has been greatly limited.

To be honest, I never expected another decent place to get a cuppa to open in the town where I live. So today, walking back into town from the sorting office - it's a glamorous life I lead - I was ridiculously excited to discover we have a proper brand spanking new tearoom. And this is my review of it.

Sweet Little Things actually opened a week ago, and seems to be a bit of a hit in the town. Today it was pretty full, although we managed to get a table for four near the window where we could easily see the big drinks menu on the wall.

The style is a lovely, well thought out blend of modern and vintage. The walls are clean white, the crockery is vintage tea party. There's a piano (although no one was ivory tickling today), the tables are a good size. Very pleasant environment indeed.

The staff were great, and our order was delivered pretty darn quickly to say how busy it was.

The loose leaf tea is provided by the Brew Tea Co. I had a Masala Chai, and I have to say it was lovely. A bit like a cross between Mulled wine and a spiced cake, in tea form. Having never tried a chai before I will definitely be having it again.

I didn't partake in the cake today (yes, I know, I'm a fool) but as far as I can make out from my limited online searching the business has grown out of a cupcake baking business that the owner runs. And you can see they know what they're doing. It seems that there is constant baking going on, my wife saw cookies being taken out freshly baked. I will return, and I will gain weight :)

All in all, a great addition to our town, and for a man who despaired of ever having anywhere to even get a decent cup of PG at a decent price, to get a proper tea room selling proper tea - well, I think you can tell I'm quite happy.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

"I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam." -- Popeye the Sailor

Kihara Naturally Grown Kabusecha by Yunomi

The blurb from the company - Kabusecha, sometimes called Kabuse Sencha, is a tea that is shaded for approximately two weeks. Shading the tea leaves cuts out the sunlight that reaches the plant and forces the plant to retain more L-theanine (creating the savory umami flavor), and reduces catechins (the antioxidant which produces astringency). This results in a balanced tea that is rich and savory.

Kabusecha was most often used as a blender — combined with sencha to increase the quality of a large volume of sencha, or with gyokuro (tea shaded for approximately 3 weeks) to increase the quantity of gyokuro. Recently, it is sold by itself as more farmers attempt to create unique products for the market.

Tea farmer Shinichi Kihara inherited his farm from his father and follows an agricultural philosophy that prohibits the use of fertilizer and pesticides (synthetic, natural, organic or otherwise). This type of agricultural, called Shumei Natural Agriculture, aims to produce food that is as natural as possible.

The bit by me - In the last month I’ve been lucky enough to win two competitions run by Yunomi.us.

Each time I’ve won one main prize, and then they’ve sent me a 5gm sample of something else as well. This was one of those samples.

I wanted to try the warm water steeping method, but I have no means of testing my water temperature yet and I was less keen to wing it when I only have a 5g sample, so I went for standard (both of which are recommended). That’s 30secs in boiling water. The very first thing that strikes me when I’ve steeped it is that it looks like spinach. The second thing is that it smells like spinach.

I mean, really smells like it. I’m not talking ‘spinachy notes’. I’m talking what the water in the pan after your mum has overcooked the sunday dinner smells like.

Now, I think me and this tea have got off to a bad start. By the time I was getting to the end of my first cup I was thinking ‘Mmm, maybe…’. But at first all I could think was ‘This is weird, I’m drinking spinach water’.

I don’t want to dismiss this straight away, because I know even after this short amount of time my tastes are changing and I could end up absolutely loving this. But for a first time Sencha drinker – undecided.

Ten minutes later

Second steep

So, second steep, a mere 10 seconds. See, I knew my tastebuds would start to change their ideas pretty quick – (I wish they’d do that with olives, I really would like to like olives…).

The smell is still not really my, erm, cup of tea, but the taste is really growing on me. All the positive things you would expect from something that still does remind me an awful lot of spinach. A zinc tang, an earthiness. And it’s really green.

Not my favourite yet, but I did rather enjoy that.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

"The effect of tea is cooling and as a beverage it is most suitable. It is especially fitting for persons of self-restraint and inner worth.” ― Lu Yu

Pearl Jasmine Green Tea by Dragon Tea House

The blurb from the company - The most popular of all scented teas, Pearl jasmine are created by rolling specially plucked long downy shoots into little silvery “pearls” which are naturally scented multiple times with fresh, aromatic jasmine flowers. Pearl jasmine tea is named after the pearl like shape of the tea. Each small pearl is hand rolled. The tea is made by laying fresh jasmine petals atop the tea leaves, then tea leaves atop more petals, and so on. Up to six layers of blossoms alternating with tea leaves are used to create the highest- quality jasmines, using flowers picked at their aromatic peak. When the jasmine scent is fully merged with the leaves, the petals are removed, and the tea carefully dried again. Each pearl blosoms when added to water. This stunning tea has an intense flavour and the beautiful aroma of jasmine.

Jasmine tea is like champagne. It goes with almost everything, stands alone, and makes both a perfect hostess gift and a fabulous iced tea drink. Note that jasmine "pearls" are individual tea leaves are rolled by hand into tiny balls - each its own little world of flavor. Watch the pearls blossom before your eyes.

The bit by me - You know those photos of pretty bohemian looking girls walking through cornfields, or poppy fields, or orchards, or along a deserted railway track?

They may possibly have a floppy hat on, invariably a white flowy cotton dress?

They probably aren't looking at the camera, but if they are it's in a shy, furtive way as opposed to a full on, in your face stare?

There is almost certainly a bit of lens flare, maybe some scratches in the corner, and it’s faded so it looks like a photo that got left on a windowsill back in about 1968 and sat there until someone found it yesterday?

This tea tastes like that.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

“The one thing I regret is that I will never have time to read all the books I want to read.” ― Françoise Sagan

So last night I finished reading 'Aimez-vous Brahms...' by Françoise Sagan. And I decided to review it for this blog. Now, a book review is a strange thing. I'm basically trying to get you to want to read this book, but not telling you so much that you think there's no point. I'm not quite sure how to do that, but I'm going to give it a go.

'Aimez-vous Brahms...'

This is a short book, ostensibly about a short love affair. If I were to simplify it, I'd say it's about a woman who feels she is getting old, the relationship she is dependant on, and the young lover who comes into her life. So far so Mills and Boon, really. But simplifying is not something this novel(la) deserves.

Sagan weaves a tale about emotion, about how some people are slaves to it and about how our love isn't always under our control, even when we see that it's leading us down a lonely path.

I'm purposely steering away from spoilers here, but let me say the lead character of Paule is enchantingly created. I can totally understand why Simon (the young one) falls so totally for her. And she's so well realised that I see why she just can't give in to happiness, even while I'm shouting at her (internally, I'm not a nutter) when she's travelling down the road to a lonely life.

One thing that intrigues me, and I'm sure it's an important point and once it occurs to me I'll understand more, why is there no question mark in the title? Hmmm...