Pleasant, Powerful Tea

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More tea is drank around the world than any other beverage. Tea is being rediscovered as more and more health benefits from it are found. January is National Tea Month – and, with our recent cold days and nights, a perfect time to appreciate tea.

I read about tea in “The Tea Companion”, by Jane Pettigrew* and found what the author calls “a colorful and fascinating story that weaves its way through the social and cultural history of many nations.”

We can go back as far as 2737 B.C., when, according to Chinese legend, Emperor Shen Nung, a scholar and herbalist, drank only boiled water for hygienic reasons. One day, as Shen Nung rested under a wild tea tree, a breeze caused a few tea leaves to drift into his simmering water. The brew that resulted he found refreshing and revitalizing and tea was “discovered.”

After centuries of use in China, we trace tea to Japan soon after, Dutch and Portuguese traders regularly shipped it and it became available throughout Europe in the early seventeenth century. Its appearance in London was first on record in 1658.

The British institution of “afternoon tea” is credited to Anna, seventh Dutchess of Bedford. One afternoon, because of a long gap between her light lunch and her evening meal, Anna said she had a “sinking feeling.” She asked her maid to bring a pot of tea and some light refreshments to her room. Anna liked this so well that she started to ask her friends to join her for afternoon tea. This “low tea, as it was also called, became the fashion. A robust, family meal of hearty foods known as “high tea” (or meat tea) comes at 5:30-6:00 P.M. in the evening, after a day’s work.

Tea made its way to North America with colonists and we all know what happened after that great tea party at Boston.

Somewhere during these revolutionary times my parents’ ancestors came to America. Most of them were from Wales. I’ve always been most interested in that part of my heritage and fascinated by Welsh culture – the folklore, the food, the intriguing language (one is hard-pressed to find enough vowels to help pronounce the words.)

One secret to making the Welsh speckled bread, “Bara Brith” in this week’s recipes, is to soak the fruit (raisins, currants, etc.) in cold tea overnight. Welsh recipes are usually hearty, cold weather comfort foods that go well with hot tea. Warm your whistle and soothe your soul with a cuppa!

*© 1997, Quintet Publishing Ltd., MACMILLAN * USA

A reader has asked where we found the origami calendar that I wrote about. For Bill, and anyone else who is interested, Mark bought it at the Barnes and Noble in Boardman, Ohio: “The Easy Origami Fold-a-Day Calendar,” by Margaret and Sarah Van Sicklen, © 2002, Accord Publishing LTD, Denver, Co. 303-298-1300.

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