A Guide to Tea Drinking for All Levels on International Tea Day

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Hi, my name is Eloise, I’m English and I love tea. I mean, you can hardly blame me, it’s a well known fact us English folks are addicted to tea and I am no different.

Tea plays an important role not just in the social and culinary world, but also in the economy of many countries. In order to bring attention to the impact of the global tea trade, International Tea Day was established, with the first formal celebrations starting in 2005.

I know in general, the love for tea isn’t as deeply ingrained into the American’s daily routine but since it’s International Tea Day on the 15th December, I’m here to show you the magic of tea!

Back in the day…

In approximately 750BC (according to the India Brand Equity Foundation), India was already falling in love with tea and at a later date even used tea leaves in a vegetable recipe with oil and garlic so they could drink and eat this wonderful plant. They kept their tea leaves to themselves until the 18th century; the British who by then had an expensive tea habit which was being sourced from China, wanted to commercialize tea growing in India to bring down the price. Since then India has been renowned and prosperous from its tea industry.

The Brits then brought it over to the US but there was a battle about tax and duty-free tea and some “naughty” opportunists tried to smuggle tea into the US without the London tax. If you think about it, tea had a strong part to play in the birth of the United States. However, it was also the time when tea in the US got sparse and wasn’t as good quality so it went out of fashion in favor of coffee. But recently it’s been taking off again and so this blog is here for the novices through to the experts to discover something new in this age-old drink. The Camellia sinensis plant which tea leaves grow on originally comes from areas in China, India, Myanmar and Tibet but is now grown all around the world and can be found at affordable prices wherever you live.

What’s your tea leaf?

Throughout history the English really have gone to extraordinary lengths to put their stamp on something and we certainly did just that when it comes to tea. The classic English tea is for all to drink but there are certainly more eloquent ways of serving tea, especially if you’re planning on bumping into the Queen on your trip to England. Here’s a couple of ways to drink your tea the way your Trans-Atlantic cousins do.

Afternoon Tea

Yeahhh, so we managed to make a whole meal focused on drinking tea. Afternoon tea was traditionally served around 4pm but now it is served from as early as 12pm in certain hotels and restaurants. It consists of finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and an assortment of homemade cakes served with limitless English Breakfast Tea (figure that one out, breakfast tea drink with afternoon tea food).

In 1840 the Duchess of Bedford, Anna, started to ask for tea, bread and butter and cake around 4pm as she would get hungry between lunch and her dinner that was to be served at around 8pm. Once she started doing this she would invite friends and then all too soon many upper-class and well-off women would meet, dressed up in their nicest clothes and gloves, to have tea out of dainty teacups, from a beautiful teapot with sandwiches and cake. Well, I can’t think of anything more splendid myself! So do try having tea with scones, cake and sandwiches if you have the chance.

Builder’s Tea

As much as tea can be eloquent and upper class, it can be extremely dividing, controversial and can tear up friendships and relationships. And I can prove it, just look at this tweet by Yorkshire Problems.

So to get an accurate representation of the spectrum, this guy used the letters to indicate the strength of the tea and the numbers showing the increasing amount of milk added. The strength and amount of milk in your tea says a lot about you as person, and we even turn to childish name calling. A builder’s tea describes a cheap tea strongly brewed with excessive amounts of milk and sugar and is a derogatory term about someone’s tea drinking habit- oh yeah, we went there! It seems crazy but it really does start a national tantrum.

International Tea Cuisine

Despite our very rigid and somewhat concerning obsession with tea in England, I soon discovered that tea is like a cuisine. Wherever you go in the world it is slightly different from the last place and depending on where your from you might have a completely different idea of tea. When I was about eleven years old my family and I went on holiday to Turkey, and as we walked from shop to shop looking at all the different things to buy and unique ornaments, the shop owners would always welcome us in and offer a cold glass of Turkish apple tea to cool us down from the heat. It was this sweet, fruity, refreshing drink that back then was completely out of the box from my understanding of tea, which I only new as hot and steamy with milk added to it. I can’t explain my excitement, when despite the language barrier on the labels; we managed to find a packet of this magical drink in a supermarket and took it home with us.

Iced chai tea was also a sweet, cold shock when I arrived in Thailand for the first time…and with jelly bubbles in! Although this actually comes from Taiwan it is easy to find in many Asian countries and over the last 10 years can be seen more and more frequently around the US in chains like Kung Fu Tea. It is definitely more suitable for those with a sweet tooth and can come in loads of flavors such as green tea, honeydew or mango.

Not so tea-pyical

As much nostalgia and smiles I get from referring back to the ridiculous tea traditions from that small little island I call home, I have to say there is much more to tea than the strength and amount of milk you put in it. This is where it gets really interesting! There really is a tea for almost anything and anybody.

One of my friend’s threw a tea party for her birthday (could we get more British?) and asked everyone to bring a tea flavor that represented them. We then tried everyone’s tea, decided if it suited the description and if the description and taste matched the person! It caused quite a few outbreaks of hysterical laughing at some people’s perception of themselves and their respective tea flavors. One of the flavors that was brought to the tea party table was Melbourne breakfast from T2 Tea which was said to “keep you cosy all year ’round” with its full-bodied vanilla sweet tea. For anyone who needs to sweeten up in the morning, maybe this one is for you? On a more mischievous note there was the White Monkey Jasmine tea which is named after the white tips that look like a monkey’s paw. This green tea is infused with Jasmine and doesn’t need any milk or sugar added to its delicious flavor, it’s perfect how it is! However, my favorite flavor of the party was one that annoyingly I couldn’t remember the name of or find it online. It was something about being an Ice Queen or cool or winter, but had a touch of saffron in for some fiery warmth and although it personally wasn’t my top taste of all the teas, it really did capture the personality of the tea-owner!

My advice when trying finding the tea that resonates with you is to try different brands and occasionally a flavor that you wouldn’t usually go for. A brand that I am never disappointed by is Pukka Herbs which are the producers of my number one tea: Vanilla Chai! It is made with a combination of herbs such as ginger and cinnamon alongside the vanilla which will give you a caffeine-free kick start of energy at any time in the day. Although if it’s caffeine you need to get you going, tea does naturally have caffeine in, and for those of us that need a bit more, there are many high caffeine teas to choose from.

Next on my list of recommendations is known as the “Champagne of teas” and is only found at the base of the Himalayas in West Bangal, a state in India. It’s one of the oldest tea flavors around and can be bought in any of the four types of tea; black, green, white or oolong. Darjeeling tea depending on the brand or type of tea can be woody and deep in taste or more floral and aromatic. It’s a great classic to start off with and most tea brands stock it so it is easy enough to get hold of.

We’ve all heard of the saying you are what you eat, but I think that rings true for what you drink as well. Tea companies offer options to conquer a range of issues we may have, you can detox with a brew, get a better sleep with a cuppa or help your digestion with a tea; which are usually green teas or mint teas. If you’re not a fan of green tea don’t shun it just yet, Twinnings do a range of delicious blends of green tea that can make it more palatable for you, like the fruity mango and lychee combination or an indulgent salted caramel green tea.

How to brew and essential teaware

Yup, teaware is a word. Apparently there’s so much equipment out there to get the perfect cuppa that it’s acquired its own category name.

Most teas come in teabags, and so all you need is a mug and hot water. You can either use a water boiler or kettle to get quick hot water when you need it. If you’d like to use loose tea, then make sure you have a strainer or reusable tea infuser to avoid having any loose tea float around in your drink. Last but not least, for a tea party or if you’re making a few cups of tea at a time, a teapot is a must have and is a lovely addition to any home! They are usually made from ceramic, steel, cast iron or heat resistant glass so take your pick to suit your home interior and kitchenware. But if you refuse to give up your tea drinking habits when it gets hot, then why not try making iced tea with your favorite flavors?

And that’s my guide to tea drinking- from tea as old as time to the newest blends on the market, I hope you’ve found something that tickles your fancy.

To learn more about International Tea Day, check out these sites:

If you need to get onboard with the whole teaware situation but you’re not sure where to start, take a look at TopProducts reviews from teapots to strainers to save you time. Once you’re sorted and ready to throw a tea party, please don’t forget to invite me…I’ll bring tea!

Eloise Bonney, TopProducts Staff Writer