Sunday, April 27, 2014

How The Teaspoon Got Its Name

I saw it in the tea shop…silver, shiny and sleek.  It had a pocket that was round and deep.  I picked it up and found it solid and slightly heavy.  This was no dainty little spoon for stirring, but a sturdy one for scooping a measured amount of loose leaf tea.  I was hooked even before I read the inscription on the handle, “one cup of perfect tea.”  Sure enough, my new beautiful teaspoon gives me just that.

Teaspoons @janetbianchini

Is a teaspoon called a teaspoon because of tea? I did some research into the etymology and origins of the teaspoon to find out. The short and sweet answer is, yes. In British dictionaries, a teaspoon is defined in two ways.  It is not only defined as a measurement but “as a small spoon” used for “adding sugar to tea” and to “stir tea.”[1]  The word teaspoon is quintessentially English as the word and the spoon developed from England’s love of drinking tea as well as England’s colonial sugar wealth. 

Tea was first introduced to England in the 1600s and it is commonly believed to have become fashionable due to Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese princess[2], who became Queen of England when she married  King Charles II in 1662.  Catherine was an avid tea drinker and tea soon became a fad in courtly and aristocratic circles.[2]  

Sugar, like tea, was an expensive import in the early 1600s that only rulers and the rich could afford.[3]  Whether to lessen any bitter taste in their tea or as a means of flaunting one’s wealth, tea drinkers in England, unlike China, added sugar to their tea.  
Towards the end of the 1600s, tea and sugar became less expensive and more common to the average English citizen.  In fact, the first written appearance of the word "teaspoon" was in a 1686 edition of the London Gazette.[4]  The reference appeared in an ad listing a reward for a stolen "three small gilded Tea Spoons."[5] 

Tea became less expensive thanks to the British East India Company.  Charles II had granted the company a monopoly over trade between England and the East.[5]  Because of the company’s increasing importation of tea from Asia, the prices of tea fell in England.[5]  Sugar also became less expensive in England as England imported ever greater amounts of sugar from the colonies in the New World - where sugar plantations were run on African slave labor.[7]   

An interesting side note about that 1686 edition of the London Gazette which listed a reward for the stolen gilded tea spoons.  On the same page is another ad listing a reward for a 15 year old run-away negro boy, last seen on Christmas Day (presumably a slave).[5]  Just a reminder of the realities of 17th century world labor conditions that made the proliferation of tea and sugar so affordable to many.

London Gazette Issue 2203 27 December 1686 page 2


[1] MacMillan British Dictionary,; and Cambridge Dictionary,;

[2] United Kingdom Tea Council, Influence of a Portuguese Princess,

[5] 1686 London Gazette No. 2203/4,

[6] Catherine Braganza and Charles II,

[7] The Brittish Library, Sugar in Britain, 1715

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On the Go Tea Glass at NYC Coffee & Tea Festival

Some people every morning pick up a cup of coffee or tea at a café.  I make tea at home and bring it to work in an average looking thermos.  Last March at the Coffee & Tea Festival in New York City, I saw an attractive glass container designed to carry tea, hot or cold.  

The Libre Tea glass (affil.) is slender and sleek, with a pretty gold logo design on the cap and a solid silver bottom and trim.  It reminded me of zen-like yoga gear – a look that suggests health, nature and spirituality at the same time.  Even the logo looked like a drop of water or maybe a flame.

I spoke with Wendy Weir, the creator and founder of the Libre Tea Glasses.  She was inspired to create her tea glasses when she was in China and saw so many people walking around drinking tea.[1]  Libre Tea glasses are designed not only for drinking tea “on the go” but for brewing tea “on the go” too.  The glasses have two suggested brewing methods for loose leaf tea and the company’s website has a video tutorial on “How to use your Libre."  I tried the two methods at home with a sample Wendy gave me.

The first brewing method was simple and fast.  No waiting for the tea to brew, just throw the loose leaf tea directly in the glass with the hot water, close the cap and go.  No removing the tea leaves either. There is a built-in filter in the cap and because the leaves are beneath the filter, they are strained out as you drink. 

Tea aficionados are conscious of the recommended brewing times and know that leaving tea leaves in the water for too long can sometimes make a bitter cup of tea.  I chose a rooibos tisane blend, one that I knew did well with an extended steeping.

The second brewing method took a little more finesse, but allowed for the removal of the tea leaves.  You put the leaves on top of the filter, add hot water and close the cap.  Then turn the bottle upside down. Since the filter is at the top of the bottle, the water doesn’t touch the tea leaves unless you turn the bottle over so that the water completely saturates the tea leaves.  When the tea is fully steeped, flip the bottle back over, open the cap and dispose of the tea leaves from the strainer.  When I tried this the first time, I didn’t close the cap completely before I flipped the bottle over and I spilled a little.  On my second try, I got it right.

I compared my thermos to my Libre Tea glass.  The Libre Tea glass is definitely more elegant looking.  Both containers are about the same weight and hold about the same amount of liquid.  I found that my tea in the Libre Tea glass was still nice and warm over an hour later.  My old thermos keeps my tea piping hot for hours but does not brew loose leaves and I can’t admire the color of my tea.

Overall, my husband would use my old thermos and leave the Libre Tea glass for me because the glass is “just too pretty,” he says.  I’ll use the Libre Tea glass but probably stick with the simple brewing method for  tisanes when I’m on the go.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tea & Cheese

 Tomme Blanche, Brie Paysan, Kaskaval by MOs810
While attending the Coffee & Tea Festival in New York City last week, I took a tea seminar that would make a cheese lover smile.  The seminar was called “Tea and Cheese” and it was presented by Chef Cynthia Gold, Tea Sommelier and co-author of the book Culinary Tea.  Gold has developed her own unique ‘Tea Cuisine, including lines of signature teas as well as Tea Cocktails and ‘Tea Cuisine’ dishes.  Her culinary training is from Johnson and Wales and the Culinary Institute of America.

Wearing her white chef’s uniform, Gold discussed how to balance flavor, texture and feel when pairing teas and cheeses.  Gold recommended pairing an astringent tea with a soft rich fatty cheese.  The astringent tea essentially cleanses the palate so that the taster's next bite of the cheese can be fully experienced.  With a sip of astringent tea, balance is returned to a person's palate after eating a cheese that contains a good amount of fat. 

In class, we tried a first flush Darjeeling with a brie cheese.  Brie cheese is known for its fatty creaminess and First Flush Darjeeling is known for its astringency.  Normally my brie quota is a couple of bites before I find I can’t go on due to the richness.  But sipping the First Flush Darjeeling in between bites of the brie made me feel like I could eat brie all day.  Gold also recommended pairing a gunpowder green tea (another astringent tea) with brie cheese.

License: artlibre
Taming pungency” is another concept Gold discussed.  For example, Gold recommended a smoky tea to tame a pungent cheese.  The class sampled a pungent blue cheese with a Lapsang Souchong.  This tea is traditionally smoke-dried over pinewood fires and consequently has a distinctive smoky flavor.  I did find that the powerful smoky flavor of the Lapsang Souchong nicely counterbalanced the strong taste of the blue cheese.  I am usually not a blue cheese fan but this pairing made the blue cheese taste pretty good. 

Matching subtle flavors, explained Gold, is another good way to pair teas and cheeses.  By matching the subtle flavors, the taste of that subtle flavor becomes more pronounced in both the tea and cheese.  The class experimented in matching the delicate tastes of nuts.  The class tried a Dragon Well green tea with a gruyere cheese.  Both are known for having a hint of nuts.  This was my favorite of the sample pairings.  Gold identified other teas with hints of nuttiness such as a Keemun, Ceylon or Autumnal Darjeeling.  I’m now excited about pairing these teas at home with a slightly nutty cheese.


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