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TEA FAQ


Welcome to The Tea FAQ                         Tea &  Etiquette

 

*   How can I decaffeinate my tea?
The method sometimes referred to as “second potting,” is an effective way to remove approximately 80% of the caffeine from any caffeinated tea.  Steep your tea leaves in boiling water for a quick 30 seconds, in which time the majority of the caffeine will have been extracted from the tea leaves and gone into the water.  Discard this water and steep the same tea leaves again with fresh boiling water for the recommended time.  Enjoy your tea without having sacrificed any of the flavor or health benefits!

*   I recently learned that holding your teacup with your pinkie out is poor etiquette.  What is the reason behind holding out the pinkie finger?
The answer is “handles” on teacups.  Originally, teacups did not have any handles (and in many countries still do not).  In order to hold the cup balanced properly, one needed to extend the pinkies.  However, in the mid 1750’s the English put handles on the teacups to prevent ladies’dainty fingers from burning.  The proper way to hold a teacup nowadays is to slip the index finger through the handle with the thumb resting on top and then curve the remaining fingers underneath the handle.

*   Why are some china pieces marked “Occupied Japan?”
If you own one of these pieces – that’s a good thing!  Collectors vie for such marked items.  Pieces imported from Japan to the US following the end of WWII between 1945 and 1952 were required to have markings showing that they were produced during the US Occupied Japan period.  The preferred markings would say “Made in Occupied Japan” or “Occupied Japan” on each piece.

*   Does drinking tea boost the immune system?
It definitely does!  We could all use some increased immunity during this flu season!  Tea contains L-theanine, which helps support the immune system.  (Please keep in mind that I am talking about real tea – black, green, or oolong – not herbal teas.)  As with all other good habits, it is important to be consistent – you should drink at least 3-5 cups of tea a day to reap the full benefits.  Along with boosting your immune system, you will also get the added benefits of antioxidants when drinking tea.

*   What do you think about electric kettles vs. the traditional stovetop kettles?
Personally, I just love the sound of the whistling teakettle, and it sits so pretty on the stovetop!  However, I also have an electric pot by Zojirushi, which is much more technologically advanced.  These electric pots have settings for different temperatures (for preparing a variety of teas), contain filters, and keep the water at the perfect temperature at all times.  If you drink tea all day long or have to prepare tea for a large group or drink many different types of tea, I would suggest the electric pot.  You can also use the readily available hot water for preparing other foods such as oatmeal, etc.  Keep in mind that they are much more expensive than the traditional kettle – and still do not whistle!

*   What is yerba maté?
There is much to be said about this unique drink, which is quickly gaining popularity in the US (even Smoothie King offers yerba maté smoothies!).  Pronounced yerba mahtay, it is an infusion that originated in South America, especially in Argentina.  Yerba maté falls under the category of tisanes since it is not a true tea.  It is from a plant called yerba maté from the holly family.  It is a drink rich in caffeine.  To prepare the drink, a gourd is filled with the maté leaves and then topped with cold or room temperature water.  Boiling water is never used for the first infusion.  After a short interval, a drinking pipe or straw known as the bombilla is pushed to the bottom of the gourd with the thumb, and the first, bitter infusion sucked up and spat out.  The gourd is then filled with hot water and the mate is ready for drinking.  Traditionally, the gourd is passed around to the guests.  The maté leaves can be infused several times.

*   What is the official time for Afternoon Tea?
I always say, “Anytime is tea time!”  However, many say, “The official pour is at four!”  As with many other things, traditions have evolved to fit our hectic lifestyles.  Rather than choosing to give up offering a proper tea served only between 3 pm and 5 pm, many venues offer it throughout the day to accommodate those busy schedules (or tourists!).  No matter what time you enjoy this repast, just remember to sit, sip and savor the moment!

*   How do I find tea rooms when I am traveling?
Thankfully, there are several ways of finding places to have tea – from the grand hotels to eclectic tea rooms.  Many of the books published usually cover the large cities.  Tea in the City is a series featuring London, Paris and New York.  Hopefully, they will continue to publish more books to cover other cities around the world.  You can always check with the local visitors’ bureau or the Chamber of Commerce for local publications.  There are also various travel and foodie websites that may contain tea rooms as part of their listings.  However, the websites below are specifically dedicated to tea room listings – location, contact, website, reviews – usually sorted by town, city, or zip code.  Please be sure to call ahead to make sure the information is accurate and up to date.

www.GreatTeaRoomsOfAmerica.com (United States)
www.TeaMap.com (United States, Canada, United Kingdom)
www.TeaGuide.net (Worldwide)
www.TeaRoomsCanada.com (Canada)
www.FindATeaRoom.co.uk (Britain)

*   What is a Brown Betty teapot?
This very plain yet much sought after teapot is said to make the best tea!  The secret lies in its rotund shape and the special clay from which it is made.  The red terracotta clay is found exclusively near Stoke-on-Trent, England, and has the wonderful ability of retaining heat better than most other teapots. The teapot’s shiny brown glaze is its trademark.  The best way to make tea in a Brown Betty is to drop the loose tea leaves directly into the teapot (do not use an infuser) and then pour in the boiling water.  The shape of the pot causes the tea leaves to swirl around and open to release the tea’s maximum flavor.

*   What is the proper way to eat finger sandwiches?
No confusion here as to which fork to use – as the name implies, finger sandwiches are finger foods.  When preparing finger sandwiches, make sure they are creative in flavors and design but small enough to be no more than 2-3 bites.

*   Does tea really taste better from a china teacup?
This has been tested by many (although I cannot back it up with any real research!), and I really do not believe that this is just another old wives’ tale.  However, resoundingly, YES! tea really does taste better when sipped from a thin delicate fine bone china teacup.  Perhaps it has something to do with the quality of the china, or the thinness of the rim, or even the value of the teacup itself!  Whatever the reason, try it and see what a difference bone china makes!

*   What does it mean when a tea is labeled “singe estate” tea?
Unlike blended teas, which may consist of a variety of teas from different estates, regions and countries, single estate teas come from only one particular estate and are never blended with any other teas.  Since single estate teas are usually from a highly regarded estate with a reputation for exceptional quality, tea rooms or tea shops carrying these teas will be proud to name the particular estate. Similar to wine, single estate teas will vary slightly in character from year to year, depending on the rainfall and climate conditions for that particular year.  There are many tea drinkers who become great followers of a particular estate and will go to great lengths to seek out that incomparable tea

*   What does the tea plant look like?
The tea plant (camellia sinensis) is an evergreen, producing flowers with delicate white petals. It flourishes in a jungle-like environment with plenty of rainfall, heat and humidity.  With proper care and cultivation, it can produce tea for 70-100 years. If left in the wild, the tea plant can grow up to 60 feet tall; however, it is kept at the height of 3-4 feet by constant pruning.  This process encourages the growth of new young shoots and also makes it easier for the tea pickers to pluck the top two leaves and bud which produce the finest of teas.  Leaves lower on the tea plant are also plucked, producing a larger quantity but lower quality of tea.  It takes about 80 pounds of green tea leaves to produce about 20 pounds of black tea.

*   Can I buy tea directly from a tea plantation?
I wish!!  Unfortunately, tea is sold in bulk at auctions, usually in the local country that produces the tea.  These auctions have not changed much over the past 100 years.  Initially, the teas brought in from the various tea plantations are tested for taste and appearance by professional tea tasters.  They are then graded for their appearance and quality.  All of these teas are listed in a catalogue, each with a brief description.  The auctioneer goes through the catalogue of teas as the buyers bid on the individual teas.

*   What is “pouching” tea?
Pouchong teas fall under the Oolong tea category.  They are less oxidized form of oolong teas and are mainly from China and Taiwan (formerly Formosa).  Traditionally scented with jasmine flowers, it yields a very delicate brew in appearance and taste.  Another wonderful combination with pouchong tea are roses – a beautiful scented tea that is, unfortunately, a bit more difficult to find in the US still.

*   How many calories does tea have?
As if you could not say enough great things about this wonder beverage, here is another – by itself, tea does not contain any calories!  The calories come into count when you start adding milk and sugar.  As I always say, drink your tea unadulterated to get the true taste of the tea and enjoy it guilt-free!

*   What is the difference between a “breakfast blend” and an “afternoon blend” in teas?
The relative strength of the tea is the determining factor for the resulting blend.  Breakfast blends tend to be stronger for that much needed jolt in the morning.  They are usually a blend of Assam and Ceylon teas and take well to the addition of milk and sugar.  The afternoon blends tend to be lighter and are usually a blend of Ceylon and Darjeeling.  The delicate flavor of this blend is a perfect accompaniment to dainty finger sandwiches and scones!

*   Someone told me that you can deodorize with tea – is this true?
Tea just continues to amaze everyone!  Yes, indeed it is true.  You can use tea leaves to deodorize your fridge, storage containers, kitchen utensils and even your shoes!  Place tea leaves in a container and place in your fridge (or sprinkle in your tennis shoes!) to absorb those unwanted odors.  This works really well in removing odors from plastic storage containers that hold those pungent foods – just sprinkle some tea into the containers, cover, and let the tea do its magic.  An important note:  After having learned about the odor-absorbing power of tea leaves, keep in mind that if you do not want your Earl Grey tea leaves to smell like anything but Earl Grey, keep it in an airtight container away from those strong odors!

*   Celebrate National Hot Tea Month!
Yes, indeed, January is National Hot Tea Month.  (For all of you iced tea lovers, you will have to wait until June to celebrate National Iced Tea Month.)  I guess it is no coincidence that the beginning of the New Year, a time for renewal and change, is dedicated to tea.  We all make our resolutions to lead a healthier lifestyle – physically and mentally.  A few cups of hot tea a day can actually help towards that goal.  One of your resolutions should be to “toss the tea bag” and drink only loose leaf tea!  Unless labeled otherwise, tea bags contain the dust of the whole leaf tea and offer only caffeine and color.  Whereas, the loose leaf tea contains all of the health benefits that are so sought after in aiding weight loss, reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as fighting viral infections. Loose leaf tea also offers the antioxidants and the numerous vitamins and minerals that make it the second most consumed beverage in the world (second only to water).  Most importantly, to answer the question that so many people ask me, “What is the best tea for me?”  My response is always the same, “The tea that you will actually drink everyday and enjoy drinking!”  Whether you enjoy Green, Black, or Oolong, you really cannot go wrong with drinking tea.  So, sit and sip to the new you!

*   Is chintz a specific pattern or design?
Chintz is a pattern characterized by dense, bold, bright, and mainly floral motifs on a pale background.  The pattern heavily covers the fabric or pottery almost completely.  It originated in India mainly in fabrics and became popular in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe.  The many variations of the pattern were used in decorating everything from window treatments to bedding to furniture to pottery.

*   What is a Samovar?
Symbolic of Russian tea drinking, this utensil is a kettle-shaped urn that heats the hot water and dispenses it through a spigot located at the bottom – much like a coffee urn but more shapely and ornate.  Samovars are usually made out of silver, bronze or copper and heat the water using charcoal (or in current times, electricity).  On top of the samovar sits a small teapot containing a concentrated form of black tea called zavarka.  When preparing to drink, a small amount of the concentrated tea is poured from the teapot and then diluted with the addition of hot water from the samovar.  This method of preparation conveniently provides tea at a moment’s notice without the wait of boiling and steeping.  Although samovars are not frequently used these days, they are often seen as a collector’s item, evoking nostalgia and romance.

*   Can you cook with tea?
Yes, you most certainly can cook with tea!   In the winter 2007 issue of Tea in Texas, Chef Elizabeth Escobedo of Houston talks about her passion of cooking with tea.  She mentions how she substitutes tea for water to broil, braise, and steam foods.  Chef Elizabeth also uses tea as a base for punches, baked goods, and marinades for meats, as well as a spice rub for grilling recipes.  She advises to use good quality loose leaf tea and, as with wine, do not cook with a tea that you would not deem worthy of drinking.  Just pick up any book or magazine about tea and you will find recipes for soups, main dishes, desserts and drinks with tea as an ingredient!

*   What are “flowering” teas?
Flowering teas are the showstoppers of the tea world!  Tea leaves are hand-sewn densely around various flowers such as chrysanthemum, jasmine and lotus, resulting in a thick tea ball.  Upon infusion into hot water, the tea leaves unfurl and reveal the blooming flower within.  This performance by the tea can be observed unhindered by using a clear glass teapot or teacup for steeping.  Since the tea ball is so densely packed, you can enjoy multiple infusions of the flowering tea.  These teas offer all the health benefits of the tea plant, along with the added benefits of the various flowers hidden within.

*   I would love to know the history of tea rooms in the southern United States.   What is their origin?
Many of us are very familiar with English-style tea rooms serving Afternoon Tea.  However, tea rooms in the southern United States are very different – mainly with a large female clientele and lunch as the focus. Author and food historian Millie Coleman summarizes tea rooms in America by saying, “It’s not about the tea, it’s about the room.”  Tea rooms came about as women demanded equality with men in the early 20th century – to vote, attend college and own businesses.  Tea rooms were women-owned and operated, and women accounted for as much as 60% of the diners, with approximately 40% being in the workforce. Very often, the main meal for most of these women was lunch.  Tea rooms offered service to women without a gentleman escort, as well a good nutritious meal that was fast and affordable.   Tea rooms continued to gain popularity through the 1940s when they gained a reputation as a local restaurant that served good wholesome food for women and their families. They saw a decline in the 1960s as many of the tea room owners grew older and the younger generation of the peace and love era did not embrace the tea room concept. Also during this time, women were allowed into all eating and drinking establishments without escorts and ventured out beyond dining mainly in tea rooms. To read a more detailed history of tea rooms in America, I would suggest the following two books:   The South’s Legendary Frances Virginia Tea Room by Millie Coleman and Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn by Jan Whitaker.  Thankfully, tea room history does not end with the 1960s!  There has been a huge resurgence of tea rooms yet again in the United States.  They are still mainly women-owned and operated, offering mainly lunch; however, they have evolved with a greater focus on tea drinking and include men as a growing part of their clientele.

*    What is the proper order in which the food served at an Afternoon Tea should be eaten?
The practical rule is from savories to sweets.  Therefore, start with the finger sandwiches, followed by scones, and finally the dessert.   This rule applies no matter in which order the three-tiered tray is set up – some prefer to put the desserts on the top and the finger sandwiches on the bottom or the reverse.  I always prefer to put the desserts at the bottom (I like to keep my desserts at eye level at all times!) and work my way from the top to the bottom of the tray.

*   What is the story behind the beautiful Blue Willow pattern that I have seen on so many tea sets?
The tragic romance between a wealthy Mandarin girl named Koong-see and a clerk named Chang was immortalized on the Blue Willow pattern introduced by Thomas Turner in the 1780s.  The legend tells of the young lovers who were forbidden to see each other – the young Chang being banished from the land and the beautiful Koong-se imprisoned behind a wooden fence surrounding her house and garden, waiting for her fate to be sealed in marriage with an ageing duke.  The ill-fated lovers find a way to escape and run away together, taking refuge in an old servant’s house across the river.  The father chases them, but they make yet another dramatic escape down the river to a far away island.  They build a new life together and find happiness for some time.  However, the rejected duke finds the lovers and takes his revenge against Chang for stealing his betrothed.  Koong-se is inconsolable, sets fire to the house they had built together and dies in the burning embers.  The young lovers depart this earth separated by fate.  Thankfully, the gods take pity on them and transform them into doves, forever in flight together, as depicted on the Blue Willow Pattern

*   Can alcohol/spirits be added to tea?
The practical rule is from savories to sweets.  Therefore, start with the finger sandwiches, followed by scones, and finally the dessert.   This rule applies no matter in which order the three-tiered tray is set up – some prefer to put the desserts on the top and the finger sandwiches on the bottom or the reverse.  I always prefer to put the desserts at the bottom (I like to keep my desserts at eye level at all times!) and work my way from the top to the bottom of the tray

*   Why do some people pour milk first into their teacup before pouring the tea?
I say, why pour milk into the teacup at all?  Take a sip and enjoy tea in its purest form!  Nevertheless, to answer the question, it is believed that the practice of adding milk first into the teacup came about to help prevent the delicate china teacups from cracking by the scalding hot water. However, this is really not necessary since fine bone china is rather resilient.  Others believe that milk blends better with the tea if poured in first. My concern with adding milk in first is how well can you gauge how much milk to put in without weakening the tea too much?  Tea drinkers will continue to be divided on this practice of whether one is a miffy or a tiffy. Do you pour milk first or tea first into your teacup? In the end, I truly believe that it is a personal preference.  If you are looking for a good example to follow – Her Majesty The Queen is a tiffy!

*   What is “sweet” tea?
Most southern states when referring to tea mean iced tea, not hot tea.  A further distinction is made between pre-sweetened and unsweetened iced tea by calling one sweet tea and the other black or regular.  The key to making sweet tea is to add sugar while the tea is still hot.  The most basic recipe is to boil the water, use an unflavored black tea (such as Assam) and steep the tea for about five minutes, remove the tea leaves (or tea bags), add the desired amount of sugar and stir until totally dissolved.  Add cold water and let cool before pouring over ice. You can further garnish with lemons and other citrus fruits.

*   What is a “yixing” teapot?
Yixing is actually a region in China located about 120 miles northwest of Shanghai. The teapots, named after this region, are made of the local purple or red clay called zisha.  This clay gives these unglazed teapots the ability to absorb the tea flavor with continued usage. Therefore, it is recommended that each Yixing teapot should be dedicated to a single type/flavor of tea.  These small teapots, which are usually made for individual use (1-2 cups servings), come in unusual and distinctive designs and are very much sought after by collectors and enthusiasts.


*   How much tea do I need to drink to get all of the benefits that tea has to offer?
You should try to drink at least 3-4 cups of loose leaf tea (not tea bags!) a day to take advantage of all of the health benefits.  These benefits range from helping increase bone strength, building a better immune system, lowering cholesterol, to helping with weight loss.  Studies have shown that tea is also a preventative for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease.  However, the two benefits that have made tea so popular are antioxidants and caffeine.  The caffeine contained in tea is about half that of coffee and is absorbed more slowly, resulting in a relaxing yet refreshed feeling.  However, if you are sensitive to caffeine, decaf tea is a great substitute.

*   What is “white” tea?
White tea is made from the unopened new buds of the tea plant.  These delicate young buds which are covered in downy white hairs are plucked right before they are about to open. This type of tea is minimally processed and has a very delicate and mild flavor. The production of white tea is extremely limited, resulting in a very high cost. For a long time it was destined for the Chinese emperor alone.  However, these days it is somewhat of an affordable luxury.  Although you may have difficulty finding pure white tea, many companies do sell it blended with other types of teas or herbs.

*   What does the term “Elevenses” mean?
Elevenses refers to an English saying for a mid-morning break that is taken with tea.  The tea break began in England over 200 years ago when employers decided to give employees a mid-morning and afternoon break to compensate for the long working hours.


*   Does green tea have less caffeine than black tea?
Although the common belief is that green tea has less caffeine than black tea, the answer is both yes and no.  Since green tea and black tea both come from the same plant – Camellia sinensis – in nature, they are the same.  However, the method of preparation determines the amount of caffeine in the resulting tea, and the key is water temperature.  The chemical property of caffeine is that is leeches out in high temperatures.  Since green tea is prepared with lower water temperature (almost boiling), less of the caffeine is released into the tea.  Whereas, black tea is prepared with boiling water in which the caffeine releases very quickly.  Below is a water temperature and steep time guide to steeping the different types of tea:

Type of Tea Water Temp. Steep Time
Black teas 212F 5 minutes
Green teas 180F 3 minutes
Oolong teas 180F-212F 3-5 minutes
White teas 180F 3-7 minutes
Herbal teas 212F 7 minutes

*    What are people referring to when they say, “two leaves and a bud” in relation to tea?
This phrase refers to the topmost two leaves (the youngest shoots) and the bud at the top of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis).  This produces the finest quality of tea.  The tea bushes are trimmed down to a height where the tea pickers can easily gather these new shoots.  As you pick from the lower parts of the plant, the quality lessens and the taste is generally harsher.

*   What is a tea dance?
A tea dance or thé dansant generally refers to an afternoon or early evening dance.  It is believed to have originated in Morocco where guests enjoyed dancing during afternoon tea time.   Parisians and the British soon caught on to the craze in the late 1800s and did the waltz during their afternoon tea gatherings.  The waltz was later replaced with the more seductive tango in the early 1900s as the main tea dance.  However, during the war period, popularity of the tea dance waned but has lately enjoyed a slow but enthusiastic revival.


*    What basic items do I need in order to make a good cup of tea at home?
What basic items do I need in order to make a good cup of tea at home?
Whether you are making a cup for one or a teapot for you and your guests, the basic implements remain the same (although the sizes may vary).
- A kettle to boil water – do not heat the water in a mircrowave and use good quality filtered water.
- An infuser to steep the tea – a tea ball or basket, or T-Sac.
- Good quality loose leaf tea – use the proper amount of tea and follow the recommended steep time (use a timer to avoid over/under steeping).
When purchasing your tea at your local tea shop, ask the staff to give you a quick demonstration – they are usually more than happy to oblige!!

*    How do I make iced tea from loose leaf tea?
For many, iced tea is a refreshing alternative in the summertime to their daily cuppa.  To ice down any tea, always prepare it the same way as you would hot tea.  However, I like to use a bit more tea leaves when steeping since the icing down process dilutes the strength of the tea.  After you have steeped it (do not alter the steep time), simply pour it over ice.  Many of the flavored teas such as black currant and apricot make wonderful iced teas.

*    Why are tea towels called tea towels?  What is their purpose?
Tea towels were originally made of special linen and were used to dry the precious china tea items.  They also acted as drip catchers when placed under the spout when pouring tea, helping to protect the fine linen on the tables. They were equivalent to what we would refer today to as dish towels. However, nowadays tea towels are usually novelty items in the form of souvenirs or collectibles.

*   What kind of tea is orange pekoe?
First and foremost, let’s clear up a very common misconception – orange pekoe has nothing to do with oranges or with orange flavor in tea.  Technically, orange pekoe (pronounced “peck-o”) is not a type of tea at all but rather a term denoting the size of the tea leaf – a whole or a large piece of the whole tea leaf.  Therefore, any of the popular teas such as Earl Grey or English Breakfast may contain the good quality orange pekoe grade of tea. Sadly, the term orange pekoe has become synonymous with tea bags which actually do not contain any orange pekoe grades of tea, but rather the fannings or dust of the tea leaves – the lowest quality of tea available.


*   Crumpets and scones – sound wonderful, but what exactly are they?
They are as delightful to eat as they sound!  I have found two American comparisons that are not exact but come close enough to give a good idea of what you might expect to eat.  A crumpet is a sort of a flat muffin riddled with holes, most closely resembling a split open Thomas’ English muffin.  Crumpets are served warm or toasted with butter and strawberry jam.  Scones (pronounced either to rhyme with “fawns” or “stones”) most closely resemble an American biscuit.  Scones are served warm with lemon curd or strawberry jam and topped with clotted cream.  They are what you might expect to be served as part of an Afternoon Tea service.

*   Where is tea grown?
The major countries producing tea are China, India, Sri Lanka, and Japan.  Other large tea-producing countries include Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya Malawi, and Tanzania. Many people are under the false belief that tea comes from England since many of the well-known brand names of tea are English. Unfortunately, England has never been able to produce tea until recently.  Tregothnan Estate, located in the southwestern tip of England, grows tea and sells it under the Tregothnan English Estate Tea label.  America has also had a small success story in tea production.  The Charleston Tea Gardens, located in Charleston, South Carolina, grow tea and sell it under the label American Classic Tea.

*    Is Earl Grey tea really named after a person?
It is an interesting twist that a man so well accomplished in the political arena is now known mainly for the name of one of the most popular teas in the world – Earl Grey.  Yes, believe it or not, this tea is indeed named after a real person – the British Prime Minister Earl Grey (1830-1834).  The origin of the specific blend is not well documented; however, there are various legends that tell about Earl Grey (or maybe one of his diplomats) saving the life of a Chinese mandarin (or his son’s life) from perhaps drowning.  In gratitude, the Earl was presented with the recipe for a distinctively flavored tea.  The blend of Chinese or Ceylon and Indian black teas are flavored with the oil from the rind of a bergamot orange (a cross between Seville or sour orange and the sweet or pear lemon).  This unique tea was reproduced by the English tea merchants using the recipe and henceforth became known as Earl Grey!


*    What gives the Indian tea “Chai” that distinctly spiced flavor?
The traditional Indian tea that you are referring to is actually called “masala chai.”  The word chai simply means tea in the Indian language; therefore, asking for “chai tea” is rather redundant.  The word “masala” refers to the mixture of spices added to the chai.  Some of the most common spices used are cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves but others such as peppercorn, nutmeg and ginger may also be added according to your personal preference.  The conventional method of making masala chai is to boil the water with the spices and plain black tea, add milk and sugar and simmer.  As the popularity of masala chai has grown, there have been developed more convenient methods of enjoying the full flavor of this special tea.  Many places sell the masala chai in powder form with all of the spices already blended into the mix.  Simply add hot water and you have instant masala chai!

*    Can I boil my water for tea in the microwave instead of in the kettle on the stove?
Good quality water that has been properly boiled is the foundation of making a better tasting cup of tea.  Start with cold filtered water and use the good old-fashioned method of boiling it in a kettle on the stove.  This method of boiling increases the amount of oxygen in the water which helps release the optimal flavor of tea.  Avoid the quickie method of placing water in a mug and putting it in the microwave to boil.  Microwaving the water usually overheats it without the benefit of oxygen, which leaves the tea tasting flat.  Remember, no matter how good the quality of the loose leaf tea you are using, it is the water which helps release the full flavor of that tea.

*    What is Rooibos tea?
Rooibos (pronounced “roy-bŏss”), also known as “red tea,” is actually not a true tea but comes from the leaf of the South African plant Aspalathus linearis.  The flavor of Rooibos tea is sweet and slightly nutty.  Rooibos does not contain caffeine and boasts numerous health benefits – eases insomnia, relieves stomach cramps, treats hay fever, asthma and eczema, and boosts the immune system.  It is a great tea for pregnant women and nursing mothers.  There are so many minerals in the tea, that it can almost be considered a nutritional supplement – copper, iron, potassium, calcium, fluoride, zinc, manganese, alpha-hydroxy, and magnesium.


*    What is a tea cozy?
A tea cozy is a padded cover which is placed over the teapot in order to keep the tea warm during those long conversations.  The traditional tea cozy is placed over the entire teapot and the removed to unveil the lovely teapot and pour the tea.  Another version is known as the wrap-around tea cozy.  It is literally wrapped around the teapot with only the handle and spout protruding.  It is great for dressing up your everyday teapots since you don’t need to remove the cozy in order to pour the tea.  Yet another inventive cozy is the mug cozy, made especially to fit over an individual mug – not very traditional but very practical for those who want to keep their tea warm in their mugs.

*    What is the difference between decaffeinated and caffeine free tea?
For a tea to be legally labeled “decaffeinated” in the United States, 98% of the caffeine must be removed.  Since all true tea naturally contains caffeine, keep in mind that even decaffeinated teas may contain trace amounts of caffeine.  On the other hand, caffeine free means that the product naturally did not contain caffeine and, therefore, there was no need for decaffeination.  Herbal teas are a good example of caffeine free teas.  If you would like to reduce your caffeine intake but enjoy those wonderful caffeinated true teas, you can decaffeinate your tea at home to some extent.  Pour boiling water over the tea leaves and allow them to steep a maximum of 30 seconds, during which time most of the caffeine will be extracted from the leaves into the water.  Discard this water but keep the leaves.  Pour fresh boiling water over the rinsed leaves and steep for the suggested time.  Using this method, known as “second potting,” you will have probably removed approximately 80% of the caffeine from your tea.

*    Which is more popular – hot tea or iced tea?
Hot tea is second only to water in consumption around the world.  Only in the United States is iced tea more popular, where it was cleverly “invented” by an Englishman.  It was at the 1904 World Fair that Thomas Blechynden desperately tried serving hot tea to people in St. Louis the middle of the summer.  Since there were no takers, he decided to change his marketing strategy.  He poured it over ice and the people lined up for this cold refreshing drink that provided just the right amount of caffeine to perk them up.  And, the rest is history…

*    How do I store my loose tea and how long can I keep it?
Tea should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark place away from strong odors.   Keep it in an airtight tin – avoid glass jars since they expose the leaves to light.   Never keep tea in the refrigerator since the condensed moisture can deteriorate the flavor.  Under proper storage conditions, tea can generally be kept for six months to a year.   However, keep in mind that each type of tea has a different shelf life – white and green teas have a shorter shelf life than oolongs and black teas.  It is best to purchase tea in small quantities and replenish as needed.

*    What is the difference between an infuser and a strainer, and how do I use them?
Infusers and strainers are often confused – which of these implements to use depends on how you prepare your tea.
Infusers are the more popular choice these days due to their ease and efficiency.  They come in the form of popular mesh tea balls and spoons, the versatile infusing baskets, disposable paper filters, and even convenient built-in mesh or ceramic baskets in many teapots and mugs.  Simply place the tea leaves in the infuser and then place the infuser in the teapot.  (Remember not to over stuff the infuser with tea leaves since they need ample space to expand.)  Pour the boiling water over the leaves and allow to steep.  When the tea has steeped for the proper time, lift out the infuser and discard the tea leaves.  The last cup of tea will taste as good as the first cup!
Strainers are used when loose tea leaves are put directly into the teapot to steep. When the tea has steeped for the proper time, the strainer is placed over the cup and the tea  is poured through it to catch any leaves.  The advantage of this method of making tea is that the leaves have the maximum space to expand for optimal flavor.  The disadvantage is that if the tea leaves remain in the pot longer than the suggested steeping time, the taste will become bitter.  Therefore, use this method of brewing only if you will be pouring out all of the tea immediately into the teacups.

*    Is it correct to say High Tea or Afternoon Tea?
Many people erroneously refer to Afternoon Tea as High Tea.  This is worthy of correcting on every single occasion!  High Tea originated in England as a workingman’s supper consisting of strong black tea served with a substantial meal, usually around 6 o’clock.  Whereas Afternoon Tea, introduced by Anna, Duchess of Bedford, consists of delicate finger foods, scones and pastries usually served around 4 o’clock as an elegant social pastime.

*    Why is using loose tea better than the convenient little tea bag?
The main difference lies in the size of the leaf.  It is the whole or large parts of the leaf which contain essential oils and nutrients, giving tea its true flavor and providing the wide range of health benefits.  The fannings (tiny broken pieces) remaining from the sifting process to separate the various leaf sizes are packaged into tea bags.  They contain little to nothing of the wonderful qualities of tea and are lacking in the true flavor.  However, many companies are now realizing the difference in quality and have begun placing loose leaf teas into convenient tea bags. T-sacs are also easy to use and provide ample space for the loose leaf tea to expand properly.  Truly, there is no reason not to enjoy the full flavor of loose leaf tea!


*    How do I know how long I should steep the different teas?
There are certain rules of thumb that you can follow, but as with everything else, there are also exceptions.  Generally, black teas should be steeped 5 minutes (except Darjeeling which should be steeped only 4 minutes), oolong for 4 minutes, green teas for 3 minutes, and white and herbal teas for 7 minutes.  Over-steeping tea will give tea a bitter taste.  It is best to consult with the tea vendor when making your purchase for proper steep times and correct water temperatures since they know their teas the best and can guide you to making the perfect cup each time.

*    Do you put milk in all tea?
To truly appreciate the full flavor of the tea, it is best to drink it unadulterated.  That being said, milk may be added to most black or black blended teas such as Assam and Earl Grey.  However, is not recommended for green, oolong, or white teas and should not be added to herbal teas.

*    Is tea good for you?
Tea is generally known for relaxing the harried, invigorating the sluggish and serving as the initiator of intimate conversation.  These are good enough reasons to drink tea several times a day.    Additionally, tea is becoming more and more popular for its antioxidants which protect the body against cancer and aging.  Drinking tea is also associated with decreased incidences of cancers, cardiovascular disease, postmenopausal osteoporosis, and arthritis.  It is also known to lower cholesterol, boost the immune system and speed metabolism.  What more could one ask from a beverage?

*    What are herbal teas?
Roots, stems, flowers and parts of edible plants are used to make herbal teas or otherwise referred to as tisanes.  Herbal teas do not come from the leaves of the tea plant called Camellia sinensis, therefore, are not considered “real tea” and do not have the numerous benefits associated with real tea and are naturally caffeine free.  However, since they are prepared and consumed like tea, they are referred to as tea.  Each type of herbal tea carries its own beneficial property.  For example, chamomile tea is known to relax, ginger tea is known for aiding digestion, peppermint tea is known to refresh and so on depending on the herb or plant used to make the tea.