Focus: Russian Tea

A lot of people don’t know that Russia has a rich tea culture. Russia drinks 3.051 pounds of tea per person annually[1] making them the fourth biggest tea drinkers in the world but tea was not always a popular drink in Russia. It was first introduced in 1638 when Altyun-Khan, the ruler of Mongolia gifted tea to Tsar Michael I. At first he did not accept the gift because he assumed he had no use for dried leaves. Once he tried it, tea was integrated into Russian culture and they haven’t stopped drinking it since.

The tea that Russians drank was delivered from China in the form of loose leaf and tea bricks via Camel caravans along the Siberian route. This is why this type of tea is called Russian Caravan Tea or Camel Caravan Tea. Due to the length of time it took to travel that distance the price was extremely high which meant that tea was reserved only for royalty. However, after the Trans-Siberian railroad was finished in 1880 the price of tea declined and Russia began importing tea from other places.

Box used to transport the tea from China, and a Tea Caravan. Pictures: Kungur City Museum

Russian caravan tea has a smoky flavor. It is usually a blend of lapsang shouchong and oolong with black tea but companies tend to have their own take on how they blend it. There is a story about why this tea has a smoky flavor and it was due to the tea absorbing the smoke from the campfires during the journey.

Traditionally Russian tea was brewed in a samovar but today you will find a porcelain tea pot at Russian tea parties.Samovars work very similarly to the double tea pot I wrote about in the previous tea focus on Turkish tea but they tend to be more intricately designed.

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Traditionally tea was drunk in the afternoon but nowerdays it is drank all day. It is served with lemon and sugar and usually accompanied by Sushki. These looks like a mini bagel but they are slightly sweet round cookies and are served on a string which is draped around the samovar.

Drink On!

Footnotes

1. Map: The Countries That Drink the Most Tea

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Health Benefits of Tea

Every day we are bombarded by the media with claims of antioxidants in products and superfoods that we should eat because it can prevent cancer. All these  marketing terms and foods  being labelled as healthy, often with no scientific background to prove it. We’ve all read so many articles about the health benefits of tea but they all seem to contradict themselves or make ridiculous claims. I’ve decided to get to the bottom of this  so I’ve researched into the teas that are always in the media about having health benefits to sort the fact from fiction.

Chamomile tea

Chamomile tea

First up is Chamomile tea. People usually drink this before bed and it claims to cure insomnia and help reduce anxiety. Chamomile extracts exhibit benzodiazepinic activity which when it binds to the brain results in sleep inducing effect. Benzodiazepines are actively used in treating insomnia and anxiety disorders. However, in a study about the effects of drinking chamomile tea on sleep quality and depression the positive effect was limited to the immediate term of consumption. Which meant participants did not experience the sleep inducing effects and reduced depression 4 weeks after the test.

Conclusion: Mostly true. Chamomile has been reported to alleviate those struggling with sleep and depression but  these effects only last as long as the drink itself.

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Ginger tea

Next up: ginger tea. The most common health claim for ginger in tea is that it relieves gastrointestinal upset. Many studies and preliminary trials have shown that  ginger does indeed have an antiemetic effect. Antiemetics are drugs that help to alleviate nausea and sickness. This drug that is present in ginger helps to expel intestinal gas. The most common use of ginger is to alleviate the vomiting and nausea associated with pregnancy, chemotherapy, and some types of surgery. Ginger also appears to reduce cholesterol and improve lipid metabolism, thereby helping to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes but more research needs to be conducted.

Conclusion: True. Ginger has been reported to help with gastrointestinal upsets and relieve gas and other properties of ginger are still be researched.

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Green tea

Tea contains catechin which is an antioxidant. An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits oxidation which is a process that damages cells. Vitamins can counteract this effect. There are many articles and studies that suggest that these Antioxidants can prevent diseases and help with curing cancer. However, there is no clear cut evidence from clinical studies that states that this is the case. It is mostly speculation. Antioxidants are mainly used in the gasoline industry to prevent oxidation of the fuel in the tank which would lead to residual fuel deposits in your tank.

The biggest claim for Green tea today is that it help you lose weight. Although some studies show that green tea extract increases fat metabolism when ingested, results of other studies have not. The results have not been consistent and warrant more human trials.

Conclusion: Mostly False. There is no clear evidence to support either of these claims. The effects of green tea on metabolism look promising but it is not clear whether it is catechins or caffeine in tea causing said effects.

Peppermint-Tea

Peppermint tea

Finally, peppermint tea. It has been suggested that peppermint tea helps relieve stomach discomfort.  In a trial which investigated the effectiveness of antispasmodics, fiber and peppermint oil on people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), the peppermint oil had the greatest effect. Peppermint oil is also an antispasmodic which means it relaxes muscle spasms. There is still ongoing research into the use of peppermint oil to relieve the symptoms of IBS but so far the studies are looking promising.

Conclusion: True. Peppermint oil has shown positive effects to relieve stomach discomfort and more studies are being done to   help people with IBS.


I’ve only concentrated on a few of the health benefits these teas claim to have. There are many claims that have been reported, for example research has been conducted into chamomile tea lowering blood sugar levels and how green tea can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. If you know of any other teas with research that can prove their health benefits please comment below!

Drink On!

Drinking Tea in Space

If you’re like me, you can’t survive the day without your morning tea. For some of you, it’s coffee but we can all agree that without it the day can go horribly wrong… On Earth, we take drinking our favorite beverage for granted because it is not as easy for our fellow Astronauts to get their morning brew. Astronauts can’t drink from their prized mug like we can but they can recreate the act of sipping from a cup by drinking from these oddly shaped vessel. This is an upgrade for the Astronauts as they used to stuck out the tea or coffee from a bag with a straw.

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Credit: NASA

So how do these little booties allow the Astronauts to drink tea (or coffee) without bubbles of liquid flying everywhere? When two solid surfaces meet at a narrow angle, the fluid in microgravity naturally flows along the join. The combination of the way that the cup has been designed, the surface tension and wetting, drives the liquid forward to the Astronauts mouth. This is called the capillary effect. This effect is very difficult to simulate on Earth due to the interference of gravity but in the weightlessness of space is it very easy to recreate.

However, this is only one part of the capillary experiment. NASA will continue to research into this effect as it could also be used to guide other liquid systems through the spacecraft. Watch the video below for more information!

Credit: NASA

Drink On!

 

The Perfect Cup of Tea

Is there a perfect way to brew a cup of tea? Well I believe it’s up to personal preference but there’s a couple of tips I can give you. For this I will be focusing on how to brew the traditional cup of loose English tea or ‘cuppa’ as we call it.

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Firstly, use freshly drawn water as boiling water reduces the amount of Oxygen present and tea needs the Oxygen as it is important for the flavor.

The pot you use (I recommend ceramic or porcelain) should be warmed beforehand so the tea can achieve the high temperature it requires for brewing. You can do this by adding boiled water in the teapot and leaving for a couple of minutes

After your teapot has been warmed, pour out the water, add the tea, (about a teaspoon per cup or more if you like your tea strong), add the boiling water and brew for 3 to 4 minutes. However, depending on the type of tea you have it could be less or more, check the recommended time on the package before brewing.

Now comes the age old debate of whether you add the milk before or after you pour the tea into your favorite mug. According to the British Standard BS 6008:1980 (ISO 3103:1980) the milk should be put in first. The reason being because denaturation of milk proteins is liable to occur if milk encounters high temperatures. However the standard also counters that by stating:

 “If the milk is added afterwards, experience has shown that the best results are obtained when the temperature of the liquor is in the range 65 to 80°C when the milk is added.”

Not everyone (including me) will agree with putting the milk in first and George Orwell was one of them. In January 12, 1946 he wrote an article for the Evening Standard called ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’. He wrote:

“The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.”

Lastly, you may add sugar to taste and then drink your tea when it reaches optimal temperature, which is recommended to be between 60-65°C (140-149°F).

So there you have it, a perfect cup of tea. If you have any more tips please comment below and I’ll try them out!

Drink On!

Image taken from https://www.sundaypost.com/in10/food/make-perfect-cup-tea/

Etymology of tea

As I sat there sipping on my English Breakfast tea, thinking about what to write, a friend asked me ‘Why is tea, called tea?’ Well needless to say I did not know the answer to that. In English it’s tea, in French it’s thé but in Russian and Turkish it’s chai and çay. In most of the languages there seems to be two types of forms of the word tea but why is this?

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The two different forms of the word originated from China. The Chinese character for tea 茶 is pronounced differently depending on the dialect of the area. In Mandarin it is chá but in the Amoy dialect from the Fujian province it is pronounced tê. So depending on which part of the world was trading with that area of China, determined how that country would then pronounce it.

The European traders first traded with China through Xiamen, which was their main port at the time of the East India Trading Company. The traders would buy tea from China through here and as they spoke Amoy in this region they adopted the tê derivative of the word. Other countries such as Russia, Turkey, Persia and Greece brought tea overland (which was very expensive) from the provinces of China that spoke Mandarin so that’s why they all use the chá derivative in their language.

There are a few languages that do not follow these two forms and that is due to tea being a native plant to that region. In Burmese it is ‘Lahpet’, alongside with drinking tea they also pickle it and use it in salads.

So now you know where the word tea comes from! From this post you can see language doesn’t always depend on geographical location to influence each other. In this situation it was the trading routes that determined how the country adopted the word tea. What country are you from and how do you say tea? Comment below!

Drink On!

How to Store Loose Leaf Tea

So you bought your loose leaf tea from the store, you skip home and brew a cup of tea. You then go to put the rest away in your cupboard but you stop and decide to consult you favorite tea blog (that’s us) just in case you are storing it incorrectly. Well, I am here to tell you that there are a couple of rules when it comes to how to store your loose leaf tea appropriately. If tea is not stored correctly, it will go stale and the flavor will be affected. So fear not, I am here to help.


First of all your tea must be kept away from heat, moisture and light. So store it in a cool dry place, preferably inside a cabinet and not on display. However, if you do want to display your tea with pride then do not use a glass storage jar. The light will degrade tea and cause the color of your tea leaves to fade.

Make sure you tea is stored in air tight tins, being exposed to the oxygen in the air will compromise the taste of the tea. As explained in a previous post, oxidation is a process used to create the various types of tea. If not stored in an air tight container this oxidation will presume. This process will affect the lesser oxidized tea the most, such as green and white teas.

Note: Always buy tea leaves from a trusted online source or shop that rotates their stock frequently so that you are not buying tea that has been sitting on the shelf for a while.

When storing your tea in a cabinet or on a shelf, keep it away from spices or other teas with strong aromas. Tea leaves absorb the aromas around them very easily so you will find that your tea fragrance and taste will be different when you next go to drink it.

Lastly, if you are reusing tins for different teas, wash the tea tin and allow it to air completely before using it again. Some tea aromas will permeate the tin and no matter how much you wash or soak with vinegar the smell will remain, so take this into consideration when reusing tins.

DIY Vintage Tea Tins | Damask Love Blog

I also found a craft blogger who made her own vintage inspired tins (the image above was taken from her site). Click here to follow the link and make your own.

Well now you have the knowledge on how to store your tea correctly. If you have any questions about where to buy tea tins or what tea tins I use then comment underneath or email.

Drink on!

Tea Climate and Geography

In this post I would like to tell you about where tea is grown, the conditions it needs to grow and the seasons the tea leaves are picked. Camellia Sinensis can grow in many areas of the world, however to achieve the best quality and the taste it has certain conditions for growing:

Climate and Geography

Temperature: 21°C to 29°C is ideal for the production of tea. Although Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis (Chinese Tea) can handle some frost throughout the winter, Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica (Indian Assam Tea) cannot at all, these require subtropical Northen Indian temperatures.

Rainfall: Typically around 150-250 cm.

Soil: Tea shrubs require fertile acidic mountain soil around pH 4.5 to 5.5.

Land: Tea cultivation needs well drained land, such mountain slopes are good for tea cultivation.

Elevation: The highest commercial tea operations are around 8000 feet (about 2400m), which are the more expensive teas as they give a different flavor and characteristics but have lower yield.

Rainfall has traditionally been plentiful for growing tea, especially in India but with recent changes in the climate, surface and ground water are becoming important irrigation systems.

Tea growing Regions

Black Tea: Requires cooler and drier temperatures. It is usually grown at lower elevations than green tea. Indian Assam tea is made from Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica which has bigger leaves but other varieties of black teas are made from a mix of both varieties of the plant. Some types of black teas and where they are typically grown are as follows: Assam is typically grown in Northern India, Darjeeling by the foothills of the Himalayas and Ceylon in Sri Lanka.

Green Tea: Requires higher elevations and is typically grown in South and East of china where the climate ranges from tropical to subtropical and Southern japan. China has better rainfall due to Japan’s climate being moderated by the Ocean which makes Japan more humid. China tends to produce pan-fried green tea whereas Japan produces the steamed variety.

Oolong and White Teas: Both predominately grown and cultivated in Fujian province, China which has a subtropical climate. White tea is made from the buds of the tea plant and Oolong is made from rolling the leaves or curling them into small beads.

Pu-erh: Grown predominately in Yunnan province, China. Yunnan is mountainous and temperature range from tropical to subtropical. This tea is dried, rolled and shaped and is known as Red Tea in China.

Seasons

Tea can be cultivated during three seasons which produce three different flushes. Each flush has a different flavor and if you are an avid tea drinker you will tend to have a favorite flush.

Spring: First flush is a more delicate, lighter in flavor and are the more higher quality. This is the most popular and expensive as not a lot is produced.

Summer: Second flush has a darker color and stronger taste compared to the first flush. This will be the flush most commonly found in stores.

Autumn: Full bodied and lighter in flavor. This is sometimes considered the best flush by some tea connoisseurs and the more rare to find in stores.

If you have a favorite flush you buy every year be aware that the plant will always produce a different flavor each time it is cultivated as it depends on the conditions of growth. So be open minded when you drink your next cup of tea or keep notes how the flavor changes year to year!

Drink On!

Image taken from: http://www.thehindu.com/business/efforts-on-to-make-tea-industry-climatesmart/article7724021.ece