Nobel Tea

The “Nobel Museum Tea Blend” caught my eye on the Nobel banquet program.

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Söderblandning (Image Source: The Tea Centre of Stockholm)

There’s no official description but it’s been reported as a blend of Chinese Keemun and Indian Assam, flavoured with Italian bergamot, Swedish raspberries and orange. (Bergamot is the fruit used in Earl Grey tea). It is possible to buy the tea at the Nobel Museum shop but you’ll need to go in person as they don’t take orders by phone or email.

From what I’ve read, the Nobel Museum Tea Blend was created in collaboration with tea specialist Vernon Mauris of The Tea Centre of Stockholm.

Sweden are not heavy consumers of tea but seem to like blended and flavoured teas. In fact in 1979, the same Vernon Mauris created the popular Swedish tea called Söderblandning. In English it is known as the “blend of south Stockholm” but is also  known as “Swedish mistake tea”. Vernon is from Sri Lanka so it is not surprising that Söderblandning has a base of Ceylon blended with Chinese black tea. The ingredients of this blend, again, are not officially stated but it also includes flowers and citrus fruits. Cornflowers, marigold and red berries feature in variations of the popular Swedish tea.

US Trip

And we’re back……from an amazing trip in the US where we visited the beautiful Yellowstone (and several other National Parks).

Yellowstone - water fallsFor this trip I didn’t bring tea with me. I got some abuse for being unreliable but I think it turned out to be a good thing because it meant we were more aware of the differences in tea cultures.

Every day over 160 million Americans are drinking tea but approximately 85% of tea consumed in America is iced. I noticed that when we were in the cold areas (below 0°C with snow), people drank coffee and when it was warm (above 30°C) people opted for iced-tea. It pays to be specific when you want hot tea (lesson learnt the hard way!). To add to the confusion “cream” is offered with coffee but they seem to mean milk when they say cream. I’ve no idea what cream is called.

Lipton is the number one brand of tea in the US followed by Bigelow and Twinnings of London (source). Again, this is skewed with the iced-tea thing because Lipton seems to dominate the iced tea market but Bigelow and Twinnings seem cover the tea leaf market. Celestial tea comes from Colorado so they featured in a lot of places there.

We were surprised by how expensive tea is in supermarkets. The average seems to be around $5 for a box of herbal tea (18-20 teabags) but several times we came across boxes of teabags for $9 or more. Gulp!

Black tea, accounts for more than half of all tea consumed in the country. Green, white, oolong etc take a much lower percentage and pu-ehr not featuring at all. Food in general tends to be more flavoured in the US and this carried over to tea. Fruit and herbal tea, accounts for just over a 25% of U.S. tea consumption and blends and flavoured herbal teas seem most popular. Unflavoured rooibos was especially difficult to find. :-(

Over 65% of the tea brewed in the US is prepared using tea bags. Several restaurants in Denver had loose tea but outside of Denver the loose-leaf tea drinker seems to be an endangered species. People seemed much more concerned about the quality of the coffee that they offered rather than the tea. We fell into line and drank gallons (not litres) of good coffee instead.

Overall a great trip and if the price is a small coffee addiction then it’s definitely a price worth paying.

Grand Teton

 

Transparency of tea prices

On my quest for Darjeeling this year, I came across Tee Kampagne. The company was set up in Berlin in 1985 and deals exclusively with Darjeeling loose tea. They reduce packaging and shipping costs by selling in large quantities, online, directly to consumers. What impresses me most is the transparency of the costs and margins. I have not seen this level of disclosure by any other tea company.

Disclosure of Calculation - Tee Kampagne

Disclosure of Calculation – Tee Kampagne (Source)

Their 2014 first flush will only available in August. I’m not sure why it’s so late but from what I’ve read it will be worth the wait.

Tea for Children

child tea withdrawal

Me aged four with a definite look of caffeine withdrawal!!

Growing up I was sent to school every day with a 500ml flask of black tea. The tea was left in the flask so it steeped for about 4 hours before I got to it! A conservative estimate would put my caffeine intake at about 215mg. Most studies suggest that children should limit daily caffeine consumption to 2.5 mg per kg body weight. High caffeine intakes (i.e. >5 mg per kg body weight) are associated with an increased risk of anxiety and withdrawal symptoms (see photo right!). I was getting at least three times my daily allowance but it’s unclear what exactly are the cumulative affects of stimulants on a developing brain. Wikipedia reassures me that there is no evidence that coffee stunts a child’s growth but a 2010 review study by Temple was concerned about the “particular areas of the brain involved in executive function, impulsivity control, and planning”.

A UK study, compared diets for children in 1950 with those of children of roughly the same age in 1992-93. In the 1950s, 55% of four-year-olds drank tea with their meals while just 10% had soft drinks and juice. The consumption of soft drinks and fruit juices rose to 90% for soft drinks and 36% for fruit juices in 1992. During the same period the consumption of tea dropped to 30%.  Since the nineties though the situation is turning around again with a decrease in the consumption of soft drinks for children and a correlated increase in tea and coffee. Similar studies in the US are showing the same trends with coffee increasing from 10% in 2000 to 24% in 2010 while tea remains steady at ~25%.

To avoid this flip-flopping between sugar and caffeine, maybe it’s time to consider herbal teas that are naturally sweet without the added sugar and sometimes helpful for minor ailments:

Peter Rabbit

Peter Rabbit (source)

Ginger: This tastes warm and will sooth upset stomachs and help with nausea and car sickness.

Chamomile is a mild sedative that is also considered to be a colic-remedy.

When Peter Rabbit was not very well during the evening, his mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea “One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.”

Rooibos: the south African plant is renowned for its soothing and calming effects especially on allergic and colicky babies.

 

 

 

Quick disclaimer: I am not a medical herbalist. Always check with a doctor before using herbs.

Tea Flavour Wheel

Similar to the wheels used for wine or beer, the aim of the tea flavour wheel is to associate perception with a label. In general, they are much easier to use than an alphabetical list but the full  list of tea terminology can be off-putting for beginners (e.g. cherry wood, cedar, hard wood, soft wood, cut wood, pine, maple).

For this reason I’ve developed the wheel below. We work from the inside out. The innermost circle in this wheel has words that relate to mouthfeel (watery, velvety etc.). The inner aroma circle has a broad description (vegetal, earthy, sweet etc), and the outer circle has a little more detail.

I’ve found that this level of detail works well when people are starting out with tea tasting.

Tea Flavour Wheel PouringTea

The Art of Tea

The Art of Tea collectionNormally, I’m all about quality of product rather than appearances but every so often that gets turned on its head. Take this set called “The Art of Tea” which was bought in South Africa. I’ve been reluctant to actually use any of the product inside but the primary motivation for buying this set was the attractive packaging.

Having said that tea degrades over time. Even though I didn’t buy it for the tea, it makes no sense to search high and low for the freshest first flush Darjeeling with the quickest shipping time and yet keep all of these (including one Darjeeling!) for over two years. It’s getting opened today, starting with the rooibos.

 Here’s what’s inside:AofT collection

  • Kenya Malaika (black)
  • Darjeeling (Indian black)
  • Genmaicha (Japanese green)
  • Jade Mountain (Chinese green)
  • Snow buds (Chinese white)
  • Jasmine pearls (Chinese flavoured green)
  • Earl Grey (Indian flavoured black)
  • Sakura (Chinese flavoured green)
  • Chai (flavoured black)
  • Sweet dreams (herbal)
  • Rooibos vanilla
  • Forest berries (fruit infusion)

It can be difficult to get tea gifts that are well packaged but this one certainly stands out. I think I paid around 200 ZAR (around €20 at the time) for the box. Good value considering anything similar that I’ve seen here costs double that.

Matcha muffins

When-life-gives-you3

I agree it’s not as catchy as the lemons and lemonade but I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation here (i.e. 100g of bad matcha). These muffins are easy to make and taste great but they are not the bright green I was hoping for. To fit the part for this weekend I’ll try making them again with maybe 3 tbsp of matcha.

This recipe is adapted from a breakfast muffin recipe that a friend gave me but these muffins could not be considered healthy. To gain the benefits of matcha it probably needs to be taken withouth sugar and white flour. ;-)

Matcha muffins:

  • 2 eggsmatcha muffins
  • 100g sugar
  • 100ml rapeseed oil
  • 200ml plain low-fat yoghurt
  • 220g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp matcha
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 100g chopped hazelnut

Whisk eggs, sugar and oil together in a bowl. Then add the yoghurt.

Sift flour, salt, matcha and ginger together and stir into egg mixture.

Add hazelnuts and then spoon into muffin cases.

Bake for 20 minutes at 175°C.

High Mountain Oolong

This is a light Oolong from the Taiwanese mountains. High mountain teas mostly come from central Taiwan and the particular growing environment at high elevation gives these “Gaoshan” teas a distinctly rich sweetness. It is semiball-rolled with the attached stems and was harvested in Spring 2013.

High Mountain Oolong

Preparation: To prepare this tea, I put 4g of the tea in a warmed porcelain teapot. I add a little water at 85 °C (when medium bubbles appear in the water). This water is discarded as a rinse and then I add about 175ml of water and let the leaves unfurl for 30 seconds. The steeping time increases for each subsequent steeping and I find that I can get at least 5 steepings from this tea. The liquor is pale yellow in colour but the sweet floral aroma is magnificent. To taste, this tea is subtle, creamy and gentle and has a long aftertaste. Overall, I think that the price of £9.95 for 50g is worth it for this level of quality.

High Mountain Oolong is available from Postcard teas.

Note: As with all reviews on this site, I purchased this tea and have no affiliation with the sellers or the tea estate.

Sick Scoby

I’ve got a sick SCOBY on my hands. Things had been going well with the Kombucha brewing (see part I and part II of the experiment). I generally start off each batch and then forget about it until I get a reminder on my phone telling me that it should be nearly ready. Unfortunately, when I checked on the last batch, I found a sick SCOBY.

Scoby with grey edgeThis is definitely not mould but the SCOBY has a grey colour along the edges that doesn’t look good. There has always been brown stringy substances floating in the container and attached to the SCOBY. These are not a problem – it is just a by-product of the yeast culture. This greyness is different though and seems to be changing the colour of the SCOBY itself. The Kombucha from this batch is very cloudy and doesn’t taste good so I’m throwing it out.

From reading, it seems that the grey colour could be a sign that the SCOBY is worn out but apparently SCOBY exhaustion doesn’t happen very often and wearing out a SCOBY should take a long time. I suspect emotional contagion might be at play!

Sick scoby - side viewAnother (more realistic) possibility is that something contaminated my brew. I notice that the covering cloth is now discoloured so I think that maybe the SCOBY tried to climb out of the jar (yes it happens when there is too much CO2). If this was the case then the SCOBY would have been touching the cloth for some time and this might have caused the problem.

In any case, this is all part of the fun of home-brewing. There was a second SCOBY that had detached from the others and was sitting at the bottom of the jar. It doesn’t have any signs of greyness so I’ve added it to a new jar of tea. I didn’t think it was safe to use the Kombucha from the grey batch but had some left over from a previous batch so I used it instead. Now I just have to wait. Fingers crossed for no more exhausted SCOBYs.

If you are running into any Kombucha problems, I recommend these websites for troubleshooting:

 

Truth or myth: Green tea and weight loss

Well it’s that time of year again when tea is peddled as a weight-loss product. Green tea is often the focus of this attention but a Cochrane review was published in December 2012. This work reviewed all the published experiments that had been done on green tea for overweight or obese adults. The conclusion was that “green tea preparations appear to induce a small, statistically non-significant weight loss in overweight or obese adults”. The study also concluded that “green tea had no significant effect on the maintenance of weight loss”.

The full text of the review is available here and it is worth downloading for the appendices alone. The rationale for the systematic review was to provide healthcare providers and consumers with reliable information on the impact of green tea in weight loss and weight maintenance. The authors only looked at randomised controlled trials (the most thorough of investigations). The studies were all at least 12 weeks in duration and compared green tea preparations with a control in overweight or obese adults who had no other health problems.

Bancha - Green TeaA search was done across a very wide range of databases (MEDLINE, CINAHL, AMED etc) for studies that investigated weight-gain and green tea in humans. The search was not limited by language and around 919 studies were found. 72 of those were relevant and 18 met the criteria of this review (randomised control trial with just green tea, greater than 12 weeks, on participants who were overweight but had no other significant illness) . In total 2,076 people participated in these 18 studies (ranging from 19 to 270 for each). Half of the studies took place in Japan with the other 9 conducted in Netherlands, Australia, China, Taiwan, Thailand and the US.

Higher weight losses were reported in the Japanese studies with eight studies reporting weight losses that ranged from -3.5kg to -0.2kg but overall, the author concluded that green tea produced a “very small, statistically non-significant loss of weight, decrease in BMI, and decrease in waist circumference” compared to those who did not have the green tea. The role of caffeine is not clear but there are some indications that the catechins in green tea, and not caffeine, may have been responsible for the “modest effect on weight loss”.

It’s not very encouraging for people who have started drinking green tea to help with weight reduction but swapping a double-mocha for a green tea would obviously be a different story.  And green tea does bring other health benefits so as the author says “even though the changes may be small, any small loss combined with minimal adverse effects may have an overall positive impact on an individual attempting to lose weight”.

Jurgens  TM, Whelan  AM, Killian  L, Doucette  S, Kirk  S, Foy  E. Green tea for weight loss and weight maintenance in overweight or obese adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.  2012 Dec 12.