Do days pass by without that quiet moment which includes a steaming cup of tea? I hope not. Did you know that tea is an antioxidant and has many healthful properties? A cup of tea a day is a stroke preventative, for instance. Of course most of the world does understand the value of tea. After water, it is the most consumed beverage on the planet.
Although the British have turned tea time into an art form, they didn't discover this Asian native product until 1669 when the first imports were received in the British Isles. At that time only the extremely wealthy could afford a cup of tea. An average wage earner would have to pay 9 months of his salary for one pound of tea.
Strictly speaking, herbal blends are not tea. Tea refers to a specific plant which provides black, green and white tea leaves. There are about 1500 varieties of tea available today.
Brewing your tea correctly is a science unto itself. As the British say, take the cup to the tea kettle, and not the kettle to the cup. Water must be boiling. Asian tea brewing is the most refined. Different size of boiling water bubbles have specific names and are used to brew different teas. Shrimp eyes, the first tiny bubbles about the size of a pin head which appear when the water begins to boil, indicate that the water temperature is between 155ª-174ª F. This is an ideal temperature for brewing delicate green teas. Crab eyes are a little bigger and begin to form at about 175ªF, the ideal temperature for brewing white teas. Fish eyes are formed between 176ª-180ªF. This is the correct temperature for brewing hearty green teas. Rope of Pearls, so named because the bubbles have now formed a steady stream, indicates 195ª-205ªF, just right for black teas. Raging Torrent or Old Man Water (212ª) is considered ruined water, too hot for most teas but acceptable for herbal blends. If your tea is bitter, the water with which you brewed it was too hot.
Serving your tea is a proper tea cup increases your pleasure. Tea cups, by the way, used to be given to girls when they became engaged, and women would have large collections of beautiful, unmatched tea cups.
Tea bags are so very convenient, but loose tea makes a much better brew.
In Britain, a cup of tea can be part of a mini meal. Low tea is served in the afternoon with scones, cakes, clotted cream and biscuits. High tea is an evening meal, served with meats and other savories.
Gathering with friends around a beautifully laid table to enjoy a cup of tea in the afternoon is one of the most pleasant activities imaginable. How civilized!