Tea For Two and Two For Tea

Tea is one of the world's most important drinks, and is certainly one of the UK's greatest cultural icons. After all, what could be more quintessentially British that afternoon or high tea? Or of sitting down to a cup of tea and a slice of cake? Although traditions differ from family to family and region to region, it is possible to argue that tea plays a major role within the social fabric of British society; for example, it is often served during social engagements, at breakfast, during the giving of good news, and as an accompaniment to some relaxing pastime.

And although we are familiar with tea in both its loose and bagged forms, the preparation of tea has taken other forms in previous centuries. Initially prepared as a brick, tea has also been ground into a fine powder. Tealeaves prepared in this way are turned into a drink by emptying the tea directly into the cup before adding the water. After the liquid has been added, a bamboo whisk is then used to mix the tea and water into a deliciously frothy brew. Originating from China's Sung dynasty, this method of creating tea was later incorporated into Japanese culture and forms the basis of the renowned tea ceremony, which exists to this day.

Although originating from China, the Camellia Sinensis plant is now cultivated in a number of different countries, including Japan, Sri Lanka, India and Korea. The four main true types of tea are green, white, black and oolong, a partially oxidised tea that is somewhere in between green and black tea. However, other types of tea, such as yellow tea and post-fermented tea are also available.

This fine beverage was introduced into the UK during the 1660s, following the marriage of King Charles II with princess Catherine of Braganza. Although initially introduced for medicinal use as had been the case in China the drink became a popular beverage among the aristocracy by the time of the final years of the 17th century. In particular, the importance of tea increased significantly between 1690 and 1750. It is now known that, when not drunk to excess, tea has a number of beneficial effects upon the body.

While it cannot be denied that tea contains tannins, in addition to the presence of methylxanthines such as theobromine which is also found in chocolate - and caffeine, which has been associated with a number of unpleasant side effects, tea is also incredibly good for you. Tannins have a great antioxidant effect, and tea is also a source of theanine, an amino acid with powers to reduce levels of stress.

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