Japanese Green Teas

I decided yesterday to taste two Japanese green teas together so I could compare them side by side. The first tea, a Sencha, is the most common type of Japanese Green Tea and would be drank on a daily basis in most Japanese homes.  Sencha is harvested in the Spring from the upper leaves of the tea plant that have been in direct sunlight.

The second tea, a Bancha, is also a common every-day tea in Japanese homes. It is made from later harvests of the tea plant or from the lower leaves and stems. It is therefore a coarser tea and it is considered to be a lower quality and less expensive tea than Sencha.

Although Sencha means roasted tea, both Sencha and Bancha are steamed and rolled soon after harvesting. The difference between the two teas is the quality of the leaves used. Where Bancha has come from lower, older leaves it will have less caffeine and less catechin (antioxidant) than sencha. However, where Bancha has come from a later harvest of upper leaves, it could have more catechins. Below is a short video from My Japanese Green Tea of the steaming, drying and rolling process at a Sencha plant


Sencha is considered a fussy tea in terms of preparation. While Bancha is can be prepared with boiling water for 30 seconds, boiling water on Sencha will bring out the bitterness and kill the flavor so Sencha needs a water temperature of ~80°C and a longer brewing time. For my comparison experiment, I decided to brew them both at 80°C for 2 minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer or a thermostatic kettle (I used my new Breville!), you can guess 80°C by waiting for small bubbles to appear on the inside of the kettle.  The bubbles need to be the size of shrimp’s eyes as opposed to crab eyes (85°C) or fish eyes (90°C)!

Looking at the dry leaf, both are flat leaf, emerald green. From the pictures below you can see that the Bancha includes stems. It probably isn’t obvious from the photos but it is clear when you have the leaves in front of you that the Bancha is also less regular and is more dusty. The Sencha has a deep musky aroma with some sweetness while the Bancha is more grassy with a malty sweetness.

Bancha leaves

Bancha leaves

Sencha Leaves

Sencha Leaves

To prepare these teas, I put 3g of tea in a warmed ceramic teapot and add 150ml of water at ~80°C. I steep for 2 minutes. Both give a yellow/green liquor and both are cloudy but the Bancha is noticeably more cloudy. The taste of the Sencha is bright and grassy with a background meaty taste (unami). There is a sweetness at the start that is matched by a bitterness and astringency that comes out later. The Bancha is grassy and malty sweet with less of the meaty flavor and noticeably less astringency. Both are light and refreshing but I would describe the Bancha as milder, gentler green tea.

I combined each with a small pinch of salt beforehand to see how it brings out the sweetness. For the Sencha it mutes the astringency and gives a rounder flavor but I didn’t notice a big difference with the Bancha. Both of these were samples so I don’t know the price but one of my local tea houses has a Sencha for €11/100g and a Bancha for half of that (€5/100g).

Review of the Breville Puratea VKJ436*

Coming home after time away is always a mixed bag of emotions. I’m happy to be back by the sea, glad to return to our weekend breakfast ritual, eager to see what weeds are thriving in the allotment and relieved to have a decent cup of pu-ehr. At the same time I’m usually sad that the break is over and right now coming home for me means figuring out career changes and deciding on next steps.

I have a few tricks up my sleeve to cheer myself up. Booking the next holiday usually works ;-) but so does new tea or new tea accessories. This time I had the Breville tea maker kettle waiting for me.

In short, this is a cordless kettle that has a removable carriage to hold loose leaf tea so it doubles as a kettle and a teapot. The tea is placed in a central tea carriage inside the kettle but the tea is suspended above the water while it is heating. Once the water is hot enough, turning the tea carriage knob, lowers the tea into the water. After brewing, the leaves can be separated from the water by raising the tea carriage again. They say that you can use a tea bag instead of loose tea in the tea carriage but what would be the point of that?! There are four pre-set temperature settings: low, medium, high and boil. There is also a keep warm feature that keeps the tea at 75°C for one hour. It automatically switches off after one hour but can be manually reset if you want to keep it warm for longer. The glass kettle means you can visually assess the strength of the tea and it looks good with the brushed steel base. Unfortunately the tea carriage is made from plastic instead of glass and this takes a little from the look and feel.

 

Reviews that I found online complained about the maximum capacity of 1 litre. I understand this complaint if it is being used just as a kettle (it comes with a lid that can replace the inner tea carriage) but this is a tea maker and the standard kettle size of 1.7 litres would just be ridiculous. If anything, the minimum quantity of 500ml is too much. 500ml is fine for teas that only need a single-steeping but for teas that are steeped three or four times, you are talking quantities that are not practical for one person. Last night I made rooibos which is good for single-steeping so after the water had boiled and the carriage was lowered, I just left it lowered in the water and used the keep warm function and went back for top ups throughout the evening. Perfect.

 

A small issue I found is that it is not designed for rinsing the leaves. The first steeping of tea should really be a rapid steeping and the liquid discarded and not drank. Lowering the leaves into the water means that you would need to discard the contents of the first kettle and start all over again with a second kettle of water. You could get around this by briefly rinsing the leaves before brewing in the tea maker but that gets fiddly and so far has involved me removing the carriage and using a second kettle of boiling water for the rinse.

 

I found that lowering the tea into water is not quite the same as pouring water on tea. The dry leaf tends to sit on top of the water for a little while before it starts to sink. This just means that a longer infusion time is needed and I’m still experimenting with what works well for timings. On that note, while I like the sleek and simple design, it is a shame that there isn’t a simple timer on it to allow the steepings to be timed.

In terms of speed, it took just under 3 minutes to bring 1 litre of water to boil, which is about the same as the Philips kettle that I use. For some reason the cord is much shorter (~40cm) than the standard kettle cord. It doesn’t bother me at all but some people seem to be annoyed by it.

The bottom line is that I really like the design and I think it works well without being overly complicated. I can see myself using it for herbal infusions more than real tea. If I could change one thing, I would make the tea carriage glass instead of plastic but at £29 (approx. €34), I consider this tea maker a steal and it cheered me up no-end while I was plotting my next holiday.

 

* Note: this is NOT a sponsored post or a paid review. Just some of my thoughts on a recent purchase.

Guinness World Records for Tea

I’m away for this week without access to technology of any kind (no email, phone, internet etc.) so this is a scheduled post that I wrote last Thursday.  I was in holiday mode when I wrote this and was looking for something fun so here are some world records on tea:

 

Largest cup of Tea
The largest cup of tea is 4000 litres (7039.01 pt) in volume and was produced by GlaxoSmithKline Beecham (Private) Ltd (Sri Lanka) for Viva, at Burgher Recreation Club grounds in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 9 October 2010. The tea cup was named the “VIVA” tea cup. The tea cup itself measured 10 ft in height and 8 ft in width. Six 2000 watt heaters and a stirrer powered by motors and generators maintained the temperature of the tea at 75 degrees celsius.

 

Most cups of tea made in one hour (team of 12)
The most cups of tea made in one hour by a team of 12 was 725 and this was achieved by Devonshire Tea Limited (UK), at ‘Flavour Fest’ festival, in Plymouth, UK, on 19 August 2011. This attempt took place on day one of the event called ‘Food Fest’ in Plymouth.

 

Largest tea bag
The largest tea bag weighs 120 kg (264 lb 8.8 oz) and was achieved by All About Tea (UK) on board HMS Warrior in Portsmouth, UK, on 16 November 2011. The tea bag measures 2.48 m (8 ft 1.64 in) in length and width.
This event was in celebration of GWR Day 2011. The tea used is called ‘Portsmouth Tea’ and is a blend of African and Indian teas. The tea bag, which was made from cotton, is capable of making over 50,000 cups of tea.

 

Largest collection of tea bag tags:
The largest collection of tea bag tags is 839 tags and belongs to Daniel Szabo (Hungary), in Budapest, Hungary, on 4 September 2011.
The collection was displayed to the public at SzeptEmber Feszt 2011 and has been featured in several news articles.

 

 

Largest Tea Party
The record for the largest tea party is 32,681 participants and was achieved by Dainik Bhaskar (India) for the City of Indore, at Nehru Stadium, in Indore, India, on 24 February 2008. The official brew for the event was Brooke Bond Red Label and the event was supported by Tea Board of India.

 

Largest Tea Cosy Knitted
The largest tea cosy was knitted by members of the public, Bupa care homes residents across the UK and resident care homes in Spain and New Zealand at Ashley Park nursing home in Guilford, UK, on 9 April 2009. The final tea cosy included 1924 squares in total. It stands at 3.9 metres high and 11.1 metres in Circumference.

 

Largest Tea Monument
This isn’t in the Guinness World Records but World Record Academy says that “MEITAN, China–At 73.8 meters in height, and featuring a floor area of over 5,000 square meters, this unique teapot museum of Meitan, south west China, sets the new world record for the Largest Teapot Monument”

Let the record show….

In case there is an impression that I sit around drinking only good tea, let the record show that I drink my fair share of foul liquids. In the interest of not turning the site into a rant I have gathered some of the worst offenders into one post. Some are bad teas but some are just teas that do not appeal to my palate.

Pu-ehr AntiqueThis first tea is probably the worst of the lot so let’s just get it over and done with. It is a pu-ehr that was stupidly bought by me in a supermarket in France. The dried leaf of this tea has off-notes that is a mix of rancid and tar. If the aroma of the dried leaf is so strong it doesn’t bode well for the liquor but I brewed it anyway. It is undrinkable and I mean undrinkable in the sense of I’m afraid to put the dried leaves into the compost-bin in case it contaminates the compost and I end up eating carrots next year that taste like this tea. As pu-ehr goes, it wasn’t at all expensive (I think around €7-8) but I hate to think of someone who normally buys black tea deciding to experiment with this loose leaf pu-ehr. I can see them now mentally filing pu-ehr into the same category as cod liver oil.

 

 

Pu-ehr lemonThe second offender also involves pu-ehr but in this instance it is more subjective. I very rarely drink flavoured tea and I cannot imagine a situation where I would pick up a packet of lemon pu-ehr and hand over cash for its purchase. I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a a free sample that I picked up somewhere. It tastes unsurprisingly of lemon but it is artificial and dull and is just so wrong.

 

 

This next one is completely subjective and I’m sure plenty of people would like it. I visited Nigiro Tea last year when I was in South Africa to buy some of their famous “Orange & Spices” rooibos which is flavoured with cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and orange. I could have cried when they told me that they were all out and would not be restocking until the following week. I wanted to buy one of their rooibos teas to take home so the shop assistant recommended the caramel rooibos. My conspiracy theory says that she knew I was flying out the next day and figured that the chances of me calling back to complain and return any tea were low so she sold me the dud tea that wasn’t selling. The less paranoid side of me says that some people might actually like this sickly sweet blend.

 

Immune BoostThe Immune Boost from Tea Palace is next on the list. It has a nice list of ingredients: orange peel, ginger, echinacea and ginseng but the taste is bitter and unpleasant. This tea usually ends up in a competition with Lemsip for the award of worst tasting medicinal fluid. In case my taste buds were altered by being sick, I tried to drink this when I was well again but the outcome is the same. It wasn’t bought with flavour in mind but my immune system will have to do without this particular boost.

 

And finally, cold infusions. Yesterday seemed like a good day to embrace the concept of cold infusion after Met Éireann announced that it was the hottest day in Ireland for seven years. I’m still a little bewildered at the idea of of making tea from cold water but I was ready to be the early adopter and started with a green tea/rooibos/lemon myrtle mixture. It doesn’t taste like green tea or rooibos. It is just water with a dull hint of citrusy flavour. I could drink this as a water replacement but definitely not as a tea replacement so after being so open-minded in the build-up to the tasting, I have made the snap decision that cold infusions are not for me.

It is difficult to avoid the occasional cup of bad tea but most of the incidents above  could have been avoided by sticking to my guiding principles of tea-buying ;-)

  1. Don’t expect to find good quality loose leaf tea in supermarkets
  2. Don’t fall for the sales pitch/taste before you buy
  3. Tea is not a medicine
  4. Tea needs to be made with hot water

 

Rooibos health updates

I have written previously about some of the research on rooibos but since then I came across a few new pieces:

  1. A study looking at the potential of Rooibos to increase the shelf life of Ostrich meat patties!
  2. A piece of on-going research involving the influence of Rooibos on prostate cancer.
  3. A study on the liver-related benefits of Rooibos and Red Palm Oil that was published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The press releases around the last one grabbed my attention by saying that this research proved that rooibos could improve liver function and protect against oxidative damage to the liver.

Rooibos Natural

 

The inclusion of Red Palm Oil (RPO) in the title sent me off on a tangent to find out more about it. This in turn led to a diversion down the road of Palm Oil and Oxidised Palm Oil. Several hours later I had lost most of Saturday and was so far down a byroad of nutritional science that I didn’t think I would ever find my way back.  But the detour did turn up some interesting information albeit mostly unrelated to rooibos or tea.

It seems that palm oil comes from the palm fruit and is popular with food manufacturers because it is cheap and after processing has a long shelf life, is odourless and is solid at room temperature.  Oxidised palm oil is commonly used in food products and the oxidation seems to be responsible for the generation of toxicants and the introduction of “reproductive toxicity and toxicity of the kidney, lung, liver and heart” (Edem, 2002).

Red palm oil on the other hand comes from the same part of the palm tree but is red in colour from its high concentration of carotenes. Unprocessed, it contains high amounts of antioxidants and is associated with cardiovascular and nutritional benefits. At moderate levels, RPO is believed to promote the utilisation of nutrients, improves immune function and activate hepatic drug metabolising enzymes (Oguntibeju, 2009). Nutritional supplementation seems to show promise in lowering LDL cholesterol and experiments on rats show improved protection of the heart. [For entertainment see Dr Oz’s dramatic endorsements of RPO].

This new rooibos study worked from the basis that both rooibos and RPO had been shown to be liver-protective and it aimed to investigate if the positive effect could be heightened by combining rooibos and RPO. The results suggested that rooibos and RPO both protect the liver but the level of protection was only equal to that of either rooibos or RPO so a synergy in the combined protective effects could not be shown. Unfortunately, the study was carried out on rats so we still can not say for sure that a similar liver-protection effect happens when humans drink rooibos.

In fact, the only report involving rooibos and human liver that I found was a report in the Eur J Clin Pharmacology about a 42 year old patient with a previous medical history who experienced signs of liver damage after starting to drink rooibos. Clearly, a single case is not a basis for any kind of conclusion but it does indicate once again the need for human studies to confirm health benefits.