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All about savouring a cup of tea
Tuesday, 28 April, 2015 05:41pm  
All about savouring a cup of tea
"If you are cold, it 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," stated William Gladstone, 4 times British PM during the 19th century, speaking about the versatility of the popular beverage -- tea.

"The best things in life are either illegal, immoral or fattening," goes the old adage, but what a delight to discover that one of the greatest pleasures in life, and one that doesn't cost a fortune; drinking tea is actually good for you!

Both the Indians and Brits love a cup of tea, the former relishing their steaming cup first thing in the morning to stimulate their senses for the day ahead or as a comforting evening beverage, while the Brits mostly take their tea in the afternoon, accompanied by small sandwiches and cake, making quite a tradition of it. Every day in Britain about 165 million cups of tea are consumed but this is outnumbered by the Indians, who are the largest tea drinking country in the world. Over the years, tea drinking has become an integral part of both nations.
In the countries of the east, India, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, to name a few, tea is regarded as the key to health, happiness and wisdom. This caught the eye of the west, who have also discovered the health benefits. The tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, native to China and India, has been found to contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which are said to help fight free radicals that can contribute to cancer, heart disease and clogged arteries. In addition, it contains caffeine and theanine, which can assist in achieving mental alertness. Tea polyphrenols are also thought to strengthen bones. In short, tea is beneficial in: Helping fight cancer, heart disease and diabetes, encouraging weight loss, lowering cholesterol, keeping mental alertness, providing antimicrobial qualities

More specifically:

Green tea is made with steamed tea leaves, high in flavanoids, and may inhibit the growth of cancers in the bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreas and colorectal region. It also burns fat and the antioxidants reduce the risk of neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Not only these, but it is also aid to protect the skin against harmful UV rays, thus working like a sunscreen.

Black tea is fermented from tea leaves and has the highest caffeine content. It is reputed to protect the lungs from damage from cigarette smoke as well as reduce the risk of stroke and to lower blood pressure.

White tea comes from fermented and aged leaves and can reduce bad LDL cholesterol and, at the same time, inhibit weight gain.

Oolong tea is similar to black tea but fermented for a shorter time, giving it a richer taste. It,too, can help with weight loss and, with a caffeine content of 30 mg per cup, is useful for alertness. Oolong tea activates an enzyme responsible for dissolving triglycerides in fat found in the cells.

Here we will not deal with the various herbal teas since they are infused from herbs, berries and fruit and therefore are not technically true teas.

One important point, however, is the fact that the water for tea is boiled, making it much safer than a drink of suspect water which may contain dangerous micro-organisms. The simple act of boiling the water kills them, rendering the tea healthier.

Tea has a long history. It was possibly discovered first in China during the Shang dynasty and used as a medicinal drink. However, tea drinking in India dates back to 750 BC when locals used wild native plants for brewing this beverage. Long before Europeans started the commercial production of tea in the late 1830s, the tea plant was growing wild in the jungles of north east Assam, where the Indians ate the leaves as a vegetable with garlic and oil, and boiled the leaves to make a brew.

The first Europeans to discover tea were, in fact, Portuguese priests and merchants in China in the 15th century. Tea didn't reach Britain until the 17th century when it became popular. It was the British who introduced mass tea production in India in order to compete with the Chinese monopoly on tea. Huge tracts of land in India were converted to large scale tea production. The popularity of tea grew in India in the 1920s after the successful advertising campaign by the Tea Board, coupled with mass production drives from the Government, using railway stations as a base.

India today is one of the largest tea producers in the world and has the most technologically equipped tea industry, controlled by the Tea Board of India. 70 percent of all the tea produced in India is consumed at home. The famous high quality Assam and Darjeeling teas grow exclusively in India.

Tea loving counties each have their own particular way of taking tea. Russians, for example, use the samovar, a large decorative copper or silver vessel that can keep the water hot all day. A teapot on the top is kept warm and holds a concentrated tea to which water can be added whenever a cup should be needed or a guest should arrive. It soon became the symbol of Russian hospitality. In Japan, on the other hand, the serving of tea has become almost a ceremony to be enjoyed with honoured guests. But in Britain we have the tradition of afternoon tea.

This afternoon delight was begun by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, who found she got hungry in the hours between the large English breakfast and the late dinner at 8 or 9 o'clock, which was usual in the 19th century. She asked for some refreshment to go with a cup of tea and so this became popular among her friends and the tradition was born. Visit any top hotel in London or a country house or a good quality teashop in a town or village between 3 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It is an experience not to be missed. This is not just a cup of tea; it is serious business! An elegant silver-plated teapot with a matching pot of boiling water. A jug of milk and a sugar bowl are placed on the crisp linen table cloth. A fine china teacup and saucer for each customer plus a matching side plate are added. A wide range of teas are offered, the most popular being Darjeeling, Earl Grey and black tea, Then comes the food, a sight to be relished as the waiter arrives with a three tier cake stand laden with goodies: finger sandwiches filled with various delectable ingredients, like smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese or pate , on the lowest tier, then little pastries, fruit tarts and tiny chocolate ecclairs in the middle. On the top will be found a mound of baked scones. To go with them are pots of fresh thick cream, strawberry jam and pats of butter.

Real tea then is four main types, black, green, white and Oolong. It has been shown to have real health benefits, it tastes good and it is easy to make. Not only that, it can be a social event and it helps the local tea industry and, therefore, the economy of the country. Enough said. Case closed.

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