International Tea Day: Let’s Talk About Tea

by Luke, 1/3 of

We Brits like to think of ourselves as the true custodians of tea: enthusiasts – perhaps even connoisseurs.

But let’s not kid ourselves. We didn’t invent it.

The stuff comes from China. It’s the national drink of Afghanistan. It’s grown everywhere south of Blighty, from Kenya to Vietnam.

Supposedly it’s Ireland which has the highest proportion of tea drinkers, and Turkey tops the list for per capita consumption.

We may have ‘English Breakfast’ in the UK. And ‘Lady Grey’ (or ‘Countess Grey’, I’m told, if you shop at Fortnum and Masons).

But I went to China this year and got laughed at when I asked for a builders’ tea.

For starters, they call it ‘chá’ (茶). There it’s all about green, red, jasmine, longjing, pu-erh and tens more fancy-sounding ones.

Real builders in China walk around with transparent flasks of home-brewed ‘lü chá’ (绿茶, green tea) with the loose leaves floating around. No milk, no sugar.

My lack of sophistication on this front was all too obvious to the Chinese.

So 15th December is ‘International Tea Day’ and I’m determined to brush up on my tea knowledge while drinking a cup of cha.

What’s the point of International Tea Day, I hear you ask? Just another way for corporations to get us to overindulge?

Not this time. It’s an annual celebration started in 2005 by trade union movements in tea producing countries like India, Kenya and Vietnam.

The day is meant to draw attention to the global tea trade and its impact on workers.

So if ever you needed an excuse for an extra cuppa, here it is. Preferably ethically traded from a business that has a personal relationship with the growers such as our friend Bev’s Tea Co (when you make an order, you can get free postage and a taster sample if you use the code ‘RTT’).

Tea’s meant to be pretty healthy for you too: antioxidants, moderate caffeine levels (compared to coffee), hydrating effects and no calories to boot.

Anyway, despite the rest of the world being pretty advanced in their appreciation of tea, all is not lost for the UK’s hopes for tea-worthiness.

There is in fact one tea-based invention that a Brit abroad can claim credit for.

It is, of course, the humble tea towel.

The English upper classes invented it to dry their crockery in the time of Jane Austen, whose birthday is 16th December.

And now the Radical Tea Towel Company has brought it to the masses:

Happy International Tea Day!

How To Talk Politics When You Don’t Know Much About It

Ask anyone’s advice on having a good conversation with someone you’ve just met, and they’re sure to advise you to steer clear of the danger topics of politics, religion and Paris Hilton. Well, that’s ok because you’re not really interested in politics anyway and would rather stick to less controversial topics like the health benefits of tea (oh yeah and Scottish independence, right?).

Paris Hilton
Paris Hilton: she’d know what to say. Photo credit: Glenn Francis

But what if it’s not you making that choice? You’ve just met your girlfriend’s father, and he insists on rabbiting on about how President Obama faked Bin Laden’s death in order to distract from a nose job. How you handle these moments early on could make the difference between a healthy relationship with a new acquaintance or years of awkward water cooler conversation.

Here are a few tips to survive when you’re forced into a conversation about politics and you feel you have little to contribute. Continue reading “How To Talk Politics When You Don’t Know Much About It”

History of the Tea Cosy – From Duchesses to WW2 Soldiers

Feminist tea cosy
Commemorating the suffragettes – but the tea cosy also has a story of its own to tell

The tea cosy (tea cozy in the US), like the tea towel, apparently traces its origins back to 19th century Britain. It is thought likely that the Duchess of Bedford, who established a tradition of ‘afternoon tea’ in 1840 to occupy affluent women, first popularised the tea cosy among the upper classes.

Its primary function was to keep the tea pot warm so that the tea wouldn’t go cold quickly during all the chatter and gossip of an afternoon tea gathering. These were of course the days well before electric kettles and microwaves which can quickly reheat cold water.

The late Victorian era saw tea cosies become popular in the houses of the middle class. They were often embroidered and their function expanded to a decorative piece. This period also saw tea cosies become popular in North America.

British Second World War soldiers spending time in a military hospital in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) were told to knit tea cosies to avoid boredom. Their patterned designs were in stark contrast to the experience of death and destruction around them, and a gentle reminder of life at home. This tea cosy, telling the story of one such soldier, was featured in the BBC’s series ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’. Continue reading “History of the Tea Cosy – From Duchesses to WW2 Soldiers”

The Health Benefits of Tea

First introduced to Europe and then North America in the 17th century, but having an established history before then in China and the east, tea has long been a drink of choice for cultures across the world. Here we list some claimed health benefits of tea derived from the camellia sinensis plant, that is, green, black, white and oolong varieties.

1. Tea contains antioxidants called ‘flavonoids’. These compounds inhibit certain reactions in the body that release free radicals that can cause cell damage and even cancer.

2. Tea has negligible levels of carbohydrate (and calories), and provided it’s not sweetened, no sugar either. Given the numerous studies that have linked sugar to weight gain, tea is the perfect drink for inclusion in weight-loss diets where you want something a little more interesting than plain water.

Cup of tea and teapot on a blurred background of nature.
Better to leave out the sugar… [licensed image from DepositPhotos]
Continue reading “The Health Benefits of Tea”