Globally, we're famed for our fondness for the beverage - to the point where we get suspicious when a stereotypical British character isn't drinking the stuff by the gallon in films and cartoons. BUT, when push comes to shove, what do we actually know about tea?
If your knowledge of the nation's beverage begins and ends with a little bag and a boiling kettle read on for an infusion of wisdom concocted by MyDaily and with thanks to Sean Farrell, founder of the Chateau Rouge tea company:
1. Let's start at the very beginning: What IS tea?
Tea is a drink made from water and the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Only drinks which use those leaves in varying states are considered true teas. Herbal teas (which use leaves, fruit, herbs or spices from other plants) are more accurately described as tisanes or herbal infusions.
2. What's the difference between green and black tea?
Black tea is the most commonly drunk tea in the UK and is wilted and oxidised before being dried. That means that once the leaves are picked they're left to darken and break down slightly, releasing tannins [the compounds responsible for the bitter taste]. Green tea uses the same leaves but is heated and dried before the wilting and oxidation take place.
3. Any other types I should know about?
White tea is made from the buds and the first few leaves of the tea plant which are wilted a little in sunlight but not allowed to oxidise so the resulting drink is very light indeed. It also tends to be more expensive because it's a bit more specialised and refined. There's also Oolong which is midway between green and black tea on the oxidation spectrum.
4. So what on earth is English Breakfast Tea?
There's no such thing as the "English Breakfast Tea" tree - instead, the popular infusion is usually a blend of Assam, Ceylon and African black tea varieties.
When making loose leaf teas the water should be just off boiling. Ideally you stop the kettle before it boils [apparently boiling and reboiling water strips it of oxygen dissolved in the liquid and makes it taste flat] but if you can't be bothered with that, boil the kettle and then wait one minute before adding to the leaves for black tea and wait three minutes for green tea. Allow the drink to infuse for two to three minutes and then remove the leaves and drink as you fancy - milk, slice of lemon, plain...
6. Can't I just leave the tea leaves in?
The longer the leaves infuse, the more bitter the tea becomes. If you like that sort of thing (or if you fancy doing a spot of fortune telling through tea leaf reading after you've finished the cup) then by all means, go ahead. Otherwise stop being a rebel and just take our advice!
7. Fine. So how do I get them out?
Several ways - there's a traditional tea strainer (check your kitchen drawers for something that looks like a miniature sieve). There's also the tried and tested technique of carefully pouring your tea from a teapot or a jug into a mug. Or, if your kitchen has space for an extra bit of kit, you can get some handy dandy tea filters which you can perch over the top of your mug. Very useful.
Sean explained to us that the "milk before" rule originated in centuries past when we used cheap china instead of hardy ceramics for our tea cups. Pouring the boiling water straight into cold china would result in cracks so the milk would function as a kind of temperature cushion. Nowadays we don't have that problem so - if you think you can taste a difference between "milk before" and "milk after" - go with what you prefer. Fun fact: The Royal Society of Chemistry are an ardent "milk before" supporters while the British Institute of Physics are all about the "milk after" method.
9. Okay, I'm interested in branching out from my usual builders' brew - what's a good starting point?
Sean recommends the Ceylon variety of black tea as a great starting point. You'll already be a little familiar with the taste thanks to the English Breakfast mashup [see question 4] so it won't be completely new territory but you'll start to be able to notice the more subtle flavours and aromas. If you're truly interested in exploring different types of tea Sean also recommends shunning milk and sugar altogether. You'll be far better able to get a feel for the differences between types.
10. Any advice if I'm trying to cut down on my caffeine intake?
Well, all true teas contain caffeine so if you're truly looking to cut down on caffeine you might just need to drink the stuff sparingly, especially in the evening if you're having troubled sleep. We'd suggest trading your traditional cuppa for a mug of Rooibos (redbush) tea - it's really a tisane but has a similar comforting, full bodied-ness to regular black tea and you can add a splash of milk if you must!
For more information on excellent teas from around the world just head over to the tea section of Chateau Rouge's website (we're particularly fond of the tea-based quotations which accompany all the different brands!)
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