By Enyeribe Ejiogu
Coffee is to Americans what tea is to Britons. Both are treasured beverages. On the website of UK Tea, an industry trade group, a real time, electronic tally machine tracks the number of cups of tea drank by Britons, beginning from a set time in the morning till the day is over. On the day that this reporter stumbled on it at 8.32 pm (Wednesday, October 25, this year), Britons across the country had poured 128, 967,778 cups of tea down their throats from morning to the very minute when the figure was noted. And the figures of the electronic dial of the digital clock were still spinning past the mark and pushing up the daily tally.
If it were possible to digitally track daily tea consumption in Nigeria’s urban cities, as it is done in Britain by the British tea trade group, the result would show clearly that Nigerians also love drinking tea. And do in fact consume a lot of it.
Tea is a very healthy beverage. Taking it in the afternoon whether at home or the office is nice way, and indeed the best way, to give your mood a lift – especially if you have been engaged in mentally tasking work or activity. It is for this reason that what seminars or such corporate events are held, tea breaks are held to allow participants mingle a bit and allow the mind to ‘reboot’ as it were.
The reason tea is able to lift the mood is because it contains a certain amount of caffeine but not as much as coffee, gramme-for-gramme. According to Wkipedia, caffeine constitutes about 3 per cent of the dry weight of tea. This translates to between 30 mg and 90 mg per 8-oz (250-ml) cup depending on type, brand, and brewing method. A study found that the caffeine content of 1 g of black tea ranged from 22 to 28 mg, while the caffeine content of 1 g of green tea ranged from 11 to 20 mg, reflecting a significant difference.
The astringency in tea can be attributed to the presence of diverse polyphenols, including flavonoids, epigallocatechin gallate (commonly noted as EGCG) and other catechins. These are the most abundant compounds in tea leaves, making up 30-40 per cent of their composition.
Tea also contains small amounts of theobromine and theophylline, which are stimulants, and xanthines which are similar to caffeine.
Physically speaking, tea has properties of both a solution and a suspension. It is a solution of all the water-soluble compounds that have been extracted from the tea leaves, such as the polyphenols and amino acids, but is a suspension when all of the insoluble components are considered, such as the cellulose in the tea leaves.
Most people who drink tea do not take just the extract of the basic tea leaf and water. There are some flavourings added to the tea during processing before sale and those added during preparation or drinking. The flavourings added during preparation could be floral, herbal or spices. During preparation, milk, sugar, lemon and honey, among other things could be added.
The milk added to tea brew is believed to neutralise remaining tannins and reduce acidity. Among the Han Chinese, tea is not usually taken with tea. Tibetans and other Himalayan peoples traditionally drink tea with milk or yak butter and salt. In Eastern European countries (Russia, Poland and Hungary) and in Italy, tea is commonly served with lemon juice. In Poland, tea with milk is called a bawarka (“Bavarian style”), and is often drunk by pregnant and nursing women. In Australia, tea with milk is white tea.
The order of steps in preparing a cup of tea is a much-debated topic, and can vary widely between cultures or even individuals. Some say it is preferable to add the milk before the tea, as the high temperature of freshly brewed tea can denature the proteins found in fresh milk, similar to the change in taste of UHT milk, resulting in an inferior-tasting beverage. Others insist it is better to add the milk after brewing the tea, as black tea is often brewed as close to boiling as possible. The addition of milk chills the beverage during the crucial brewing phase, if brewing in a cup rather than using a pot, meaning the delicate flavour of a good tea cannot be fully appreciated. By adding the milk afterwards, it is easier to dissolve sugar in the tea and also to ensure the desired amount of milk is added, as the colour of the tea can be observed. Historically, the order of steps was taken as an indication of class: only those wealthy enough to afford good-quality porcelain would be confident of its being able to cope with being exposed to boiling water unadulterated with milk. Higher temperature difference means faster heat transfer so the earlier you add milk the slower the drink cools. A 2007 study published in the European Heart Journal found certain beneficial effects of tea may be lost through the addition of milk.
Many flavourings are added to varieties of tea during processing. Among the best known are Chinese jasmine tea which has jasmine oil or flowers, the spices in Indian masala chai, and Earl Grey tea, which contains oil of bergamot. A great range of modern flavours have been added to these traditional ones. In eastern India, people also drink lemon tea or lemon masala tea. Lemon tea simply contains hot tea with lemon juice and sugar. Masala lemon tea contains hot tea with roasted cumin seed powder, lemon juice, black salt and sugar, which gives it a tangy, spicy taste. Adding a piece of ginger when brewing tea is a popular habit of Sri Lankans, who also use other types of spices such as cinnamon to sweeten the aroma.