Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 29 -- Even more about coffee and tea

Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company. ~Author Unknown

Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary. ~Chinese Proverb

Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea. ~Author Unknown

Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors. ~Alice Walker

Iced tea is too pure and natural a creation not to have been invented as soon as tea, ice, and hot weather crossed paths. ~John Egerton

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. ~C.S. Lewis

Tea is second only to water in worldwide consumption of beverages.

Here's a little more about milk and its effects on the health benefits of tea. One study used ultrasound to measure the function of an artery in the arms of 16 healthy women before drinking tea and two hours after drinking tea. Black tea without milk significantly improved blood flow in the arteries. Black tea with milk did not produce the same results. Tests on rats produced similar data. There is a theory that this is why in Asian countries, where it is not as common to add milk or cream to tea, tea seems to prevent strokes and improve blood flow, while this does not seem to work in countries like England, where it is common to take cream and milk in tea.

Here's a very short video about the tea plant and a video about the way the different parts of the tea plant are used. According to this video by a tea expert, the lower parts of the tea plant, which have almost no nutritional value, are used in tea bags. Therefore, she is an advocate of using loose tea leaves, which comes form the upper part of the plant and are fresher and have more health benefits. Who knew? I don't think I'll ever give up tea bags completely, but from what I am learning, I do think I will start using loose leaf tea frequently.

Tea plant -- also see this short one on Tea plant
Parts of tea plant that are used
Where to find good loose leaf teas

Now, on to coffee (except that I am throwing out an appeal to Seraphim or one of our other British readers to write a little article for us about how tea is observed in England. If we have any Asian or Indian or Middle Eastern readers, we'd love to hear your thoughts on tea, as well.)

Do you know why coffee, tea, and chocolate were very important in the original 13 British Colonies in Colonial America? If you are ever in Williamsburg, Virginia, and you love to learn about the domestic arts in history, visit the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. Among other things, they have a dizzying array of beautiful china, pewter, silver, pottery, punch bowls, devices for making hot chocolate, etc. I learned there that in our country's Colonial Days, it was very difficult to keep drinks free of contaminants. Of course, the Colonists had some means at their disposal to keep beverages from spoiling, but, obviously, they didn't have refrigerators and freezers as we have today. Milk, juices, and even water spoiled quickly and might not have come from the purest source to begin with. One early solution was to create mildly alcoholic punches that could be drunk throughout the day. The alchohol served as a preservative that allowed people to drink fruit juices safely. Later on, as coffee, tea, and chocolate became more plentiful in the American Colonies, Colonists turned to these drinks as means of consuming liquids safely.
Thus, punch bowls and special pots for making coffee, tea, and chocolate were essential items in every household and in every commercial establishment that served food and drink. Many of these wonderful items have been preserved, and many are quite beautiful.

Over second and third cups flow matters of high finance, high state, common gossip and low comedy...From roadside mugs to the classic demitasse, it is the perfect democrat. ~Author Unknown

No coffee can be good in the mouth that does not first send a sweet offering of odor to the nostrils. ~Henry Ward Beecher

In Seattle you haven't had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it's running. ~Jeff Bezos

Coffee is beloved all over the world. However, it's especially hard to imagine many households in the Americas -- North or South -- that don't offer coffee when showing hospitality. My beloved husband and I don't make coffee for ourselves very often. However, we do always offer it when we have guests. Just as a true iced tea fan will drink iced tea on a zero degree day, a true coffee fan will drink scalding hot coffee on an evening when it's 100 degrees and humid.

A good cup of coffee starts with a good brand of coffee. However, this doesn't meant that you have to pay a lot to have good coffee. Look for a reliable brand and for coffee that is fresh, not stale. If you truly enjoy coffee, you might think about grinding your own beans, rather than using pre-ground coffee. Or, you can grind it at the grocery store. You can store coffee in a tight container in your fridge or freezer to preserve some of the freshness.

Many people believe that hot tea, being a delicate beverage, actually tastes better when served in thin, porcelain tea cups. I, myself, do think it's lovely to have hot tea in a beautiful china cup. Whether or not it truly affects the taste, I don't know. I do know, however, that a pretty and dainty cup adds at least a psychological boost to the act of drinking hot tea. It makes sitting down with a cup of hot tea seem like a special moment.

On the other hand, while I think it's loveliest to use a china tea cup, I have no objection to drinking hot tea from a mug. If I make a cup of hot tea for myself or if I make a hot tea drink for someone in my family who has a cold, I'll likely use a mug or at least a heavy cup. If I am served hot tea in a mug at someone else's house, I enjoy the tea and friendship. It might be easier for me to take such an easy-going attitude toward hot tea because I am more likely to serve or be served iced tea, and I drink hot tea only occasionally. If you are a real hot tea fan, you might always prefer to serve it in pretty tea cups.

Coffee is considered to be a more robust beverage than tea, and people enjoy it either in mugs or cups. Traditionally, porcelain tea cups were made slightly smaller than porcelain coffee cups, and people made a distinction between the two. Today, most people use tea cups or coffee cups for both tea and coffee. This saves a family from having to have two sets of cups and saucers -- one for tea and one for coffee. If you make Turkish coffee or expresso or even coffee as strong as South Americans generally drink it, you might want to have small demitasse (French word for half-cup) on hand. The world's very strongest coffees are best served in smaller portions.

There are many types of coffeemakers. The automatic drip machine is one of the easiest ways to make coffee, and I would imagine that it has become the most popular method in the U.S. Some people do not like the automatic drip method, and they cite various reasons why coffee made in these machines is not as good as coffee made by other methods. However, you can't beat it for ease and convenience, and it's a great way to make coffee if you drink or serve coffee frequently. If you don't like the way the coffee tastes from being left on the machine's burner, pour it into a carafe as soon as you make it.

Coffee can be ground until it is either fine, coarse, or medium. The longer the coffee is going to be in contact with the hot water during the brewing method, the coarser grind you want.

Here are some types of coffee makers and the type of grind that is appropriate for each one. (This is according to Cheryl Mendleson's book, "Home Comforts):

Expresso: very fine
Vacuum pot: fine
Drip coffeemaker: medium fine to medium
Percolator: medium to medium coarse
Melior or French press or plunger coffee maker: coarse.

There are coffee substitutes if you do not want to drink coffee, tea, or chocolate but would like to have a hot beverage on hand. In the past, some coffee substitutes were created by necessity during times when people could not get coffee (Southerners during the Civil War experimented with various grains to make coffee substitutes, for example). C. W. Post felt that coffee was not healthy, and he came up with a grain based substitute known as Postum. It was sold until quite recently, but, as of last year, it is not made anymore.

Here is an article about the five top coffee substitutes that are around today:
http://altmedicine.about.com/cs/dietarytherapy/tp/080402.htm

Happy Homemaking!
Elizabeth

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