Mind the … tea!

For many who have visited London (or dream to), the words ‘mind the gap’ are nostalgic in their simplicity. They are a warning to passengers travelling on the Tube (London Underground), but they are so famous they have been printed on T-shirts, mugs, fridge magnets and all sorts of other paraphernalia. This is a great example of how a simple thing can acquire a higher meaning.

And I’d like to advocate we should do the same with tea.

Darker days and blue thoughts

Do you find yourself feeling a bit gloomier as the days get shorter in the winter? That’s okay, most people do! I personally get very excited about the preparations for Christmas so my mood is much higher in December. But come January, I count the days to spring. For others, though, Christmas time is stressful with all the shopping, preparations and thoughts of facing annoying relatives and being on your best behaviour. And that’s okay too.

Whatever makes us stressed or sad or just a bit blue, there’s a simple way in which your daily cup of tea can help elevate the spirit.

Take time to savour tea

Mindfulness has become an overhyped word, but I think it’s really important to a healthy life. Simply put, it’s about living  the moment and being aware of your feelings. You can do it really easily by taking the time to focus on your breathing and body presence for 5 minutes or longer. Or you can combine it with a cup of tea. Here’s what I do when I feel the need to just take a break from life and engage all the senses.

1. Go to the kitchen and pour water in the kettle. As you do, listen and really take in the sound of the water pouring. I know it’s easy to get distracted by thinking of what you’re cooking for dinner or how long you have until your next meeting, but just focus on the sound of the water.

2. Put the kettle to boil and focus on either the sound of the water starting to boil or, if you have a transparent kettle, watch the bubbles form as the water starts to boil. You mind might naturally drift off, but gently bring it back to the sound or sight.

3. Take your favourite tea out and measure it for your infuser. Or use a teabag if you must. But before you put it in the mug or cup, take a few seconds to smell the tea leaves.

4. As you pour the water on the leaves, watch the colour of the brew changing. If your mind drifts off again, close your eyes and try to smell the aroma of the tea.

5. Once you’re happy, take your leaves or teabag out and do something easy while waiting for the tea to cool down. Watch the people and cars pass in the street, for example. When you’re ready to taste it, take the time to think about the taste.

That’s it! You can definitely spare 5 minutes of your time to just detach from the day to day and let your mind wander. And you’ll be happier for it, I promise!

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The role of tea in World War II

With the recent announcement of a royal engagement, the world turns its attention to Britain once more (for some good news too this time!). And what can be more British than drinking tea? (Well, in truth, many things as drinking tea is also a big part of Chinese and Japanese culture.)

But the role tea plays in the life of the everyday Brit is something special. More than just something we drink in the morning or for elevenses, you could go as far to say that tea fueled the British Army during World War II.

What happened during the war?

Of course, it’s hard to summarise 6 horrendous years from history, but what I wanted to focus on was rationing. With limited supplies being available, pretty much all the countries participating in the war rationed food and drinks both for civilians and for the military. The typical weekly ration included:

  • 113g bacon or ham
  • 1 egg
  • 1.7l milk
  • 227g sugar
  • 57g loose tea – that’s about 23 cups per week!
  • 540g meat
  • 28g cheese
  • 55g preserves
  • 57g of butter
  • 113g of margarine
  • 57g lard
  • 85g sweets

Supplies of other things like fruit and veg were not rationed but they were limited.

For the soldiers the rations were:

  • 2.4kg meat
  • 230g bacon and ham
  • 380g butter and margarine
  • 110g cheese
  • 850g sugar
  • 110g tea
  • 230g preserves

As you can tell, the military portions were considerably larger but also necessary to sustain the physical strain of the war. Another interesting thing is that while most of life’s little luxuries disappeared, the story was slightly different with tea. 23 cups (or 55 for the military) doesn’t seem like a limitation at all if you ask me.

The British government buys most of the tea in the world in 1942

And by most of the tea, that means everything they could find from every country except Japan as they were the enemy. We’re likely only talking about black tea too, as that has been and remains the preferred type of tea in Britain.

Fun fact: some say the Government’s ‘shopping list’ had the following order of priority: bullets, tea, artillery shells, bombs and explosives! THAT’S how important tea was to the British army. And Churchill is said to have given sailors on ships the right to have unlimited tea.

But why? Well, apart from being a warm drink, very useful in the colder days and nights of the war, tea was both physically and psychologically comforting. It was one of the few things soldiers and civilians could keep enjoying as if nothing had ever happened, and it united people regardless of ethnicity and social status. It also kept the soldiers happy and sober at the same time. And we have proof of it in many pictures of people enjoying it; I found these ones particularly expressive:

In fact, it was so important to enjoy this comfort from home that tank soldiers would use the heat from firing bullets to boil the water in buckets to make tea. However, this involved going on the outside of the tank and many were killed in the ‘mission’. So it led to a special request for new tanks to have a kettle inside the cabin, a feature which remains included to this day.

Did tea help Britain win the war? I’d like to think it played a part.

Until next time,

Anca

Flowering tea, when tea leaves become art

Many of you probably haven’t heard of flowering tea, let alone seen one unfold so I’ve decided to share with you this piece of theatre. I say that because watching a flowering tea take shape is an impressive experience, testament to the wondrous talent of those who have build the little nugget of tea. It’s nothing short of a work of art and it’s believed that it may have been created for the Imperial Court in China.

Many years ago, my husband (then boyfriend) gifted me a box of flowering teas and I am still fascinated by them. So before I tell you more about them, I think you should watch a video I took of one of them called Dancing Lovers from the Exotic Teapot. My teapot got a bit steamed up but you’ll get the idea!

How are they made?

Flowering tea buds are traditionally made in Yunnan, a province of China, using long leaves of green or white tea, usually picked in the spring harvest to create a really delicate brew. Silver Needles is commonly used. Skilled artisan tea makers then thread or fix the leaves together at the bottom, placing a flower in the middle. As you can expect the chosen flower is dried, not fresh, and it’s carefully selected to be a perfect blossom. Roses, lotus flowers and jasmine flowers are the most common, but amaranth and chrysanthemums can be used too.

After fully positioning the flower and leaving air gaps in selected places, the tea leaves encase the blossom at the top and they are tied again to seal the flowering tea. The finished product looks a bit like a walnut still in its shell. This is then fired (as all green and white teas) to remove the moisture.

flowring tea bud

How to brew flowering tea

The first thing you need is a transparent container. A glass teapot would be ideal, but if you don’t have one, try a large pint glass or a jug. You don’t want to miss the show!

Boil the water to 80 degrees (or until the bubbles start to form in the kettle ). Boiling water would ruin the delicate tea leaves. As the heat releases the air gaps, this will push the bud to open up and within 3 minutes you will have a truly impressive centrepiece. Fit for a party or an afternoon tea.

As with any green or white tea, you can rebrew the leaves another two times, but the tea is very delicate to begin with so it might not be the strength that you expect.

Even so, I’d recommend witnessing this majestic tea creation at least once as you can’t help but be amazed at the skill that is involved in creating them.

I’ll leave you with some more videos to capture your imagination.

Until next time,

Anca

More videos

17 reasons why we drink tea

In my first post, I explained to you why I’m so passionate about tea. But as autumn settles in and I find myself craving hot drinks even more than usual, I’ve started thinking more about the role tea plays in our life. I’m probably biased, but I really do think that no other drink in the world has such an important and universal role, across cultures and countries.

So, why do we have a cuppa?

  1. Baby, it’s cold outside
  2. When we have a cold

giphy cold

3. When we wake up and there is nothing like an English Breakfast

4. Because it’s bed time and a chamomile tea will help you sleep

 

  1. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon, as it’s the perfect excuse for a break
  2. When we’re sad

cheer up

  1. When the stress is getting to us

tea angry

  1. When we’re happy
  2. When we want to celebrate, few things are better than afternoon tea
  3. When someone else is sad, you offer them a cup of tea
  4. Because boiling the kettle brings us together to chat
  5. If our tummies are upset, a mint tea can do wonders
  6. When we have guests and we’d like to offer them something
  7. If the gardener, plumber or builder has been working hard and you want to reward them and give them a break
  8. Nothing says walk around town to see the shops then with a cup of tea in your hand
  9. When a herbal remedy can help heal your body – like strawberry leaf tea can aid reduce stomach acid
  10. Because it’s cosy to hold a warm cup and drink your favourite tea.

cosy tea

Can you think of more reasons? Write a comment and I’ll add them to the list! With all the opportunities I listed above, you’d be surprised to learn I do anything apart from drinking tea all day! I do, I just know that tea is my reliable companion.

When do you drink it?

What tea should I try if I like a normal black tea?

I’ve ran into this situation a lot of times: most people just like their ‘normal’ cup of tea. Of course, everyone has a slightly different ‘normal’ especially when it comes to the amount of milk added. But generally, a ‘normal’ cup is an English Breakfast – a strong tea that you can personalise with milk and sugar (or not add any at all).

Yet sometimes, you can be forced into a situation where you’ll have to pick a different tea. Maybe they’re out of English Breakfast in the restaurant. Or maybe you’re visiting someone else’s office for a meeting and they show you their tea box full of options to choose from. And you get stuck.

No need for panic attacks, I’m here to help you out of a sticky situation. I’ve suggested some teas that will give you the same satisfaction based on what you love in your cuppa.

Teas that are similar in strength

Some teas have a strong body. You know when you add milk and it tastes good and it turns the perfect colour? Not grey, not white either? That’s a strong tea. If that’s what you like, I recommend you try anything labelled:

Assam (second flush if you have the choice)

Tippy Assam
Picture from Whittard’s tea collection. You can buy the tea here.

Keemun – well-regarded and flavoursome Chinese black tea

Lapsang Souchong – very smoky aroma (you can’t miss it, it’s a bit like a bonfire smell) but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea

Lapsang Souchong
Image from Seven Cups – online seller of Chinese teas

If you’re after that dark, malty taste of tea

Darjeeling – light black tea referred to by many as the “champagne of teas”

darjeeling fortnums
Image from Fortnum & Mason where you can buy it, and even find some from a single origin (called single estate).

Yunnan – light Chinese black tea with a beautiful dark golden liquor

yunnan-gold_infusion_gallery
The picture of this beautiful Yunnan is from JING Tea. The golden loose leaves look great too!

Russian Caravan – a slightly smoky black tea blend, though the ‘bonfire’ is not as potent as it is for Lapsang

Earl Grey – a light blend of black tea with bergamot (another one which divides people)

For the caffeine kick

Any of the teas above will give you caffeine, but if you really want to buzz with energy, I recommend trying something different from black tea.

A darker Oolong will be the easiest choice without stepping out of your comfort zone. Something like Dong Ding Oolong or the Iron Goddess of Mercy (how do they come up with these names? Haha!) should do the trick.

iron-goddess-of-mercy
Image from the Tea Palace where you can get this tea at a good price.

Alternatively, white tea has the most amount of caffeine because it’s the least processed, but it’s also the most delicate in flavour which means some of you will find it bland.

If you like mint, try the unique combination of a fresh taste with caffeine in Morrocan Mint – a combination of Gunpowder and spearmint.

moroccan mint fortnums
Image from Fortnum & Mason’s Moroccan Mint product page. Notice the tightly rolled green tea against the mint leaves!

There’s no need to be stressed anymore when faced with a choice other than your ‘usual’. Or perhaps you’ve been inspired to try something new? Either way, let me know how it goes.

Until next time,

Anca

 

The best teas for when it’s cold outside

My ears and hands felt cold this morning as I waited for the bus to get to work. So, it’s official: autumn is here. Goodbye ice teas, PIMMS and picnics and hello cosy blankets, fireplaces and a warm cup of tea. Of course, the weather never stops us having our favourite cuppa no matter the temperature, but there is something comforting and almost magical in warming your body and hands with a tea. 

As the pumpkin spice and gingerbread lattes show up in coffee shops, tea drinkers also have some seasonal choices to be delighted about, which I want to explore. Not only are they natural and sugar-free by default (unlike those flavoured syrups in coffee) but they are also good for you. 

Chai – warming spices

A traditional Indian drink, chai is usually black tea with spices like cinnamon, cardamom and cloves mixed with warm milk. It’s up to personal preference how milky you make it, but it has to be more than a splash! Similar to a latte, you’d put quite a bit of milk in it. In India, they also use some sort of sweetener, like sugar, to bring out the spices but I think that is up to drinker. I hate any sugar in my tea, so I wouldn’t add it. 

Chai tea
Chai tea from M&S

While black tea is traditionally used in chai, I absolutely love a green chai! Whittard sell a blend called Shanghai Chai and as soon as the cold weather is settled I probably have it at least 3-4 times per week. I find the spices complement the smoothness of a Chinese green tea, whereas with black tea they work to get rid of the astringency and elevate the brew. 

Green chai
Green chai tea from Whittard

Lemon and ginger

Many people regard lemon and ginger tea as something to drink when you have a cold, but who is to say you can’t use it to warm you up too? A naturally caffeine-free brew, lemon and ginger tea is perfect for when you come back from work in the evening and you want to warm up after the journey, or if you fancy taking a cup of tea to bed! I drink quite a bit of tea at my desk at work so I use it in between my caffeinated cups to prevent me from becoming a jitterbug!

Lemon and ginger tea
Lemon and ginger tea from M&S

You can find lemon and ginger teabags in any supermarket and, as they don’t contain tea leaves, I find it acceptable to have it from a teabag. However, you can also try the real deal by slicing some ginger and lemons and pouring hot water on top! Just make sure to brew it for longer as you’re using large fresh pieces so the water doesn’t infuse as fast. I’d recommend 5-10 minutes depending on how much ginger fire floats your boat.

Milk Oolong – buttery popcorn

This is one of my all time favourite tea and I couldn’t miss it from this list. If the feeling of a hug would have to be reproduced in a drink, it would be Milk Oolong. The name, and butteriness, come from the fact that the tea leaves are traditionally steeped in milk during the manufacturing process, before they are dried and rolled. Although some tea producers add milk flavouring to the tea, so you’ll have to check the label before buying. 

Oolong is a type of tea originating in Taiwan and, depending on the way the leaves are processed, is on a scale between black and green tea. Some are more like black teas, some are more like green. Milk Oolong is definitely a greener Oolong and you can read the full brewing notes here. 

Milk Oolong
Milk Oolong tea

Of course, nothing will be able to replace your favourite cup of tea for that comforting feeling of warming up from the cold, but I hope I’ve given you some seasonal ideas to experiment with. Who says coffee drinkers should have all the fun when it comes to the cold season?

Until next time, 

Anca 

Tea review: Hotel Chocolat’s Unwind blend

I have a rather special choice of tea for you this week! Instead of a product from any of the well-known tea merchants, I’ve chosen Hotel Chocolat’s Unwind blend. They’re calling their tea products teaolat, but I’m not entirely sure if the name will catch on so a ‘blend’ is a fit description.


Unlike before, when I’ve suggested some of my favourite teas, I’ve never actually tried this one so I’m going on a journey of discovery with you, my readers.

Dry leaves: as it’s not a blend of tea with actual tea leaves, the dry mix is a combination of cacao nibs, chamomile flowers and lemon balm leaves (no, I didn’t know that was a plant either, it’s part of mint family). The aroma is, as you might expect, chocolaty and rich, with a hint of sweetness coming from the chamomile, but the mint doesn’t come through.


Water temperature: 100 degrees Celsius

Amount: one teabag (3.5g)

Brewing time: 4-5 minutes.

Wet leaves: brewing the tea seems to strip the leaves of any sweet aroma, focusing instead on the bitterness of cocoa (not chocolate), with dried fruit and tobacco notes.


Brew: the resulting tea is light bodied, but a bit astringent. The flavour is a combination of dried fruits with burnt notes so the cocoa transfers that way and it leaves quite a similar aftertaste to that of light black teas, just without the malty flavour. I personally liked the combination although I didn’t find it particularly unwinding, but I think it will be a divisive blend in terms of taste. Some will like it, and some won’t.

hotel chocolate unwin teaolat itea

Ready to try it?

You’ll be able to find it in most Hotel Chocolat stores and in their online shop, along with some other flavours. I purchased a single teabag as an impulse buy (sorry, my dear husband, I’ll never be able to resist tea!) from the till area. And I suggest you do that too, just to see if you like it. But you can also buy them as a pack of 10 pyramid teabags for £5 (at the time of writing) or already infused for on-the-go enjoyment.

If you’re looking for a novel gift idea for a tea lover friend or family member, give Hotel Chocolat’s teaolats a go! I think they will be quite surprised.

Thanks for reading!

Anca