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  • Martin Castle

"A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water."

Apologies for the silence but my new shed arrived last Monday so I spent a joyous week kitting it out which means I have been able to recover my workshop from under the heaps of items that had no home - now they do!

My ear was caught by the issue of tea that was over the news. What a strange story - an American TikTok user going by the name of Michelle from North Carolina posted a video on how to make "British tea". They started by microwaving the water, pouring in a third of a cup of milk, dropping in a tea bag, and then drowning it all in sugar. For UK tea drinkers you can imagine the response! (All was not quite as it seemed as Michelle actually lives in Britain and has proven herself to be a supremely effective wind-up merchant).

Like many, making tea, is an important and regular part of my day and the 'failure' of others is a point of contention. I'm in agreement with the writer Christopher Hitchens, who in a 2011 newspaper piece bemoaned the impossibility of finding a decent brew in the US – “It’s quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate”. It is not much better on the Continent - too cold and insipid. I don't consider myself a tea-snob - hot and brown generally does it - but I do follow a set routine when I make tea:

  • Fresh cold water in a kettle

  • Warmed teapot next to the kettle with leaves or bags already in - the sound of the water boiling next to it heightens the tea

  • Sniff the milk and pour a little into the cup

  • Boiling water over the tea and a cosy over the pot.

  • Leave for a couple of minutes, swirl the pot and pour into cups

Tea originated in the region encompassing today's north Myanmar (Burma) and southwestern China, where it was used as a medicinal drink and mentioned in a 3rd century AD medical text. It was popularised as a recreational drink during the Chinese Tang dynasty and tea drinking spread to other East Asian countries. Portuguese priests and merchants introduced it to Europe during the 16th century and during the 17th century drinking tea became fashionable among the English, who started large-scale production and commercialisation of the plant in India.

Drinking tea is often believed to result in calm alertness - Mr. Bartlett, the teacher who ran our DofE group at school had served in the RAF Mountain Rescue during National Service and was adamant that at the end of the day's walking tea was to be made by one of the group whilst tents were erected. He claimed that the process of making the tea was doubling refreshing as the process allowed a rest from the work of walking and navigating.

It is a strange fact that powdered tea tastes lovely and refreshing at 1000' above sea-level and will refresh you for the descent. But, at sea-level it tastes like the Devil's spit.

Tea bag patents date from 1903 and the first modern tea bags were hand-sewn fabric bags designed to be emptied of its leaves before adding hot water. Appearing commercially around 1904, tea bags were successfully marketed in about 1908 . Customers found it easier to brew the tea with the tea leaves still enclosed in the porous bags. I once saw a teabag making machine in a blenders in Portsmouth - Heath Robinson was the inventor!

The Chinese character for tea is 茶, (pronounced tú - a word for a bitter herb). The word is pronounced differently in the different varieties of Chinese but it was the the Dutch East India Company, as early importers of tea into Europe, that used the word thee (from the Min Chinese) and from that the name entered other European languages including English tea, French thé, Spanish , and German tee.

The Portuguese adopted the Cantonese pronunciation "chá", and spread it to India and a third form, chai, came from Persian, derived from the Northern Chinese pronunciation of chá, which passed overland to Central Asia and Persia. The Persians i know drink their traditional tea black with sugar and very hot in a glass with a picture of someone who looks like Katayoun's grandfather on the teapot!

Tea plantation in Assam, India

Tea is generally divided into categories based on how it is processed. At least six different types are produced:

  • White: wilted and unoxidized;

  • Yellow: unwilted and unoxidized but allowed to yellow;

  • Green: unwilted and unoxidized;

  • Oolong: wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized;

  • Black: wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized (called 紅茶 [hóngchá], "red tea" in Chinese and other East Asian tea cultures);

  • Post-fermented (Dark): green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost (called 黑茶 [hēichá] "black tea" in Chinese tea culture).

My little ritual is very low key and all parts of the tea-drinking world have their own versions, some very elaborate. I am taken by the process in Mali - gunpowder (green) tea is served in series of three, starting with the highest oxidisation or strongest, unsweetened tea, locally referred to as "strong like death", followed by a second serving, where the same tea leaves are boiled again with some sugar added ("pleasant as life"), and a third one, where the same tea leaves are boiled for the third time with yet more sugar added ("sweet as love").


This one's a little out of left field but we all need an adventure now and again -

Black Tea-Smoked Chicken Wings

You could halve the number of wings

Beware – it can create a lot of smoke so have the extractor on high or try cooking over an outdoor fire


16 whole chicken wings

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

1 tablespoon honey

3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup cream sherry

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup loose leaf black tea

Sesame seeds as garnish

(You can use 3 to 4 lbs. boneless chicken thighs in place of wings.)


1. Place garlic, ginger, honey, soy sauce and sherry in a blender and process for 20 seconds to create a marinade.

2. Pour marinade into a 9"x13" baking pan. Add wings and toss to coat with marinade. Cover pan and refrigerate at least two hours, turning wings over in marinade about halfway through.

3. Line a heavy cast iron skillet or stainless-steel roasting pan with heavy-duty aluminium and sprinkle the sugar and tea on the foil. Place a cake or wire rack in the skillet or pan and arrange the marinated wings on top of the rack. Cover tightly with a lid or more foil.

4. Set the pan over high heat for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the pan from the heat and keep the wings covered for 20 more minutes so they have time to infuse with the tea smoke created by the high heat. For more browned, crisp wings, coat with a little sesame oil, set on a foil lined baking sheet, and roast in a 230°C/450°F oven for about 5 minutes.

6. Serve with sprinkled sesame seeds. Great with peanut or mustard sauce.

The word of the Day is ...



Adjective: causing annoyance, irritation or aversion.

Unattractive or objectionable.

From the French and first used in 1892.

Overly loud and speeding motor bikes along the road by my house is, in my view, a rebarbative event!

ps:The title quote is from Eleanor Roosevelt - Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962) was the wife of FDR and a political figure, diplomat and activist in her own right. She served as the First Lady of the United States from 1933, to 1945, during her husband's four terms in office, making her the longest-serving First Lady of the United States. Eleanor was a controversial First Lady at the time for her outspokenness, particularly on civil rights for African-Americans. She was the first presidential spouse to hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column, write a monthly magazine column, host a weekly radio show, and speak at a national party convention. On a few occasions, she publicly disagreed with her husband's policies.She served as United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952.

President Harry S. Truman later called her the "First Lady of the World" in tribute to her human rights achievements.


"Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less." - Marie Curie
"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Jun 30, 2020

Part of my chemistry A level curriculum was about the temperature for brewing tea. It has to be at least 99 C to allow the flavour to develop properly which is why you can’t make a decent cuppa at the top of a mountain due to lower barometric pressure. The lower the pressure the lower the temperature water boils at. This may be why powdered tea tastes okay up a mountain and not down at sea level.


Jun 30, 2020

That’s the only way to make good strong builders’ tea! I love the Word of the Day every time and am incorporating them into my daily persiflage


David Burns
David Burns
Jun 30, 2020

Rachel will love this tea education!

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