Chagara

A lot of used tealeaves are thrown out here on a daily basis. Any day now I’ll get around to making some compost but in the mean time I came across a couple of articles on the uses of tea around the house. The general idea is that the chemicals in the tealeaves are not all removed (especially with low numbers of steepings) so some properties are retained and can be useful.

used leavesMost of these exploits involve the wet leaves straight after brewing and are used as skin treatments (acne, wart removal, eye compress), as cleaners and, of course as fertilisers. Roses in particular seem to like the acidic tannins in tea and benefit from the traces of nitrogen in the leaves. Earthworms like their tea too! As the earthworms prosper on the tealeaves they will enrich the soil.

An interesting option that I came across involves drying out the tealeaves after they’ve been used- the Japanese call this chagara. These dried leaves are sometimes used as seasoning in Japanese cooking.

Apart from cooking, the dried leaves have a range of other applications. They can be positioned in all the places where odours need to be neutralised. Loose leaves can be put directly in the fridge, cupboard or the cat litter box to act as a deodoriser, but they need to be wrapped up somehow if they are used in a gym bag or for shoes. Another use is to sprinkle dried tealeaves on the carpet before vacuuming to remove odours and dust.

The dried leaves can also be used as a fertiliser to sprinkle over plants. Crumbling the dried leaves avoids rotting that can happen when wet leaves are put on indoor plants.

I haven’t tried this but apparently the dried leaves can be packed into a pillowcase to make a tea pillow that aids restful sleep. These tea pillows need to be aired regularly to make sure they stay dry.

Now – no more excuses for binning old tea leaves 😉

 

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 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

Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Hooks, Helps and Hurts

Murray Carpenter approaches caffeine as a drug because most of us take it every day, it has predictable physiological effects and we are dependent on it. His new book Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Hooks, Helps and Hurts (Hudson Street Press) was launched on 13 March and sounds like it will make for a very interesting read:

  • Women on birth control metabolize caffeine twice as slowly—which means they get double the jolt from the same cup of coffee
  • Smokers metabolize it twice as fast so they needto up their intake to get the same buzz
  • Some people are genetically predisposed to metabolize caffeine slowly and they will be extremely sensitive to caffeine
  • 100 milligrams of caffeine daily is enough to get an adult dependent
  • 250ml of cola has ~24mg of caffeine but Coke used to contain ~80mg of caffeine (the same as Red Bull today)
  • Caffeine withdrawal-symptoms can include lethargy, irritability and headaches
  • Post-operative headaches are linked to caffeine withdrawal
  • Migraine, hangover and cold medicines often include caffeine and caffeine suppositories can be used medicinally
  • Extroverts get more cognitive enhancement from caffeine
  • A tablespoon of pure caffeine would kill you
Caffeinated Owls - Dave Mottram (Image Source)

Caffeinated Owls – Dave Mottram (Image Source)

 

As I previously wrote, there have been several papers written on the effect of caffeine on sleep disruption and even more papers written on the positive and negative effects of caffeine on other health issues. A major problem in this type of research is that the papers tend to use very different values for the caffeine content in beverages and foods  and most ignore the effects of other substances like theobromine, tanninic acid, caffeol etc.

For tea in particular it can be hard to pin down the precise caffeine content. Preparation plays a large role and differences in the time and temperature of steepings, the size of the tea leaf and the type of tea used will all influence the caffeine content of tea. The plant variety, soil, nutrients, picking season and the part of plant used will also play a role.

After a lot of searching, I eventually collected some reliable information on the caffeine content of tea.

[Note: moderate caffeine use is generally considered to be 200 – 300 milligrams per day]

 

Tea (~200ml after one steeping of three minutes)

Chinese white tea – 75mg

Darjeeling white – 56mg

Indian Green – 59mg

Kenyan Green – 58 mg

Chinese Oolong (Ti Kwan Yin) – 37mg

Assam (FTGFOP) – 86mg

Darjeeling Black (SFTGFOP1) – 54mg

 

For comparison here are some for coffee and other beverages:

Coffee (~200ml)

Coffee (ground roasted) – 115mg

Coffee (instant) – 80mg

Cola – 20mg

Decaffeinated coffee – 4mg

Espresso, single shot – 75mg

Espresso, double shot – 150mg

Red Bull (250ml can) – 80mg

 

Chocolate

70% Green and Black dark chocolate (30g) – 4.5mg

Green and Black milk chocolate (30g) – 2mg

White chocolate (30g) – 0mg

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:

 

Matévana herbal tea

MatevanaThere’s been a lot of talk about Teavana over the past year as they became part of Starbucks and then opened the first Teavana tea bar in New York. I’ve never tasted any  tea from this brand so I was delighted when my husband picked some up on a stateside visit.

There were definite grumblings when I saw that Matévana was a flavoured blend and I very nearly gave up altogether when I saw it had artificial flavouring. Look at this for a list of ingredients: Mate, cocoa kernels, red rooibos, chocolate chips (sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa powder), artificial flavouring, almond pieces, marigold petals. There is no real tea in the mix but part of me still wants to complain about the contamination of maté and rooibos, their intermingling, the use of artificial flavouring and the addition of sugar and cocoa mass.

Truth be told though, I surprised myself by liking this tea. The taste of cocoa matches the maté well. I don’t agree that it is dark, rich or robust as its description claims but it does have a smooth sweetness and a gentle flavour of roasted nuts.

Preparation: I used 3g with 200ml of water just below boiling and left it for several minutes. This tea was $6 for a 2oz pack but it looks it’s on sale at the moment on the Teavana site for $1.50 (for 2oz).

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.

The Kombucha experiment – Part II

I’m tying up the loose ends of 2013 by writing Part II of the Kombucha experiment (see Part I here).

Since I the experiment started, I received a very kind offer of a SCOBY from the good people at l’Heure Bleue in Belgium. Unfortunately, security at Brussels Airport had other ideas about international trafficking of SCOBYs in containers that are larger than 100ml and sadly is was consigned to the bin.

In the mean-time, my own SCOBY seems to be doing pretty well. Three weeks after it started to grow, the SCOBY was thin looking but there was no mould and it had patches that were thick and white so I deemed it safe and went ahead a brewed my first batch of Kombucha.

SCOBY

I don’t know how important the rules of SCOBY-handling are but one of the most common rules is no metal touching the SCOBY so no spoons, jewellery, metal containers etc. Before handling the SCOBY hands should be clean but not with antibacterial soup. Cider vinegar seems to be the best way to clean your hands before handling.

Once you have successfully grown the SCOBY, here’s what is needed to prepare the first brew of Kombucha:

  • 200-300ml of the liquid that the SCOBY formed in
  • 2 litres of tea
  • 175g of sugar
  • A large, clean glass container
  • A tea towel and elastic band

Brew the tea by steeping the tea leaves in 2 litres of boiling water. Add the sugar and allow it to brew for at least 30 minutes. At this stage it is ok to use metal to stir because the SCOBY has not been introduced. Strain the leaves and pour into the clean glass container then leave to cool. It took around four hours for mine to cool to room temperature. Any hotter than this will harm the SCOBY but too cold is not good either (temperamental, these SCOBYs!!).

SCOBY in new homeOnce it is cool enough, slide the SCOBY into the large glass container and add approx. 300ml of the liquid that it grew in. The rest of the liquid that the SCOBY formed in can be discarded. Apparently it is safe to drink but is just very weak kombucha and not very tasty.

When the SCOBY is added it might float or sink or it might try some acrobatics with a half-floating manoeuvre, like mine did. It doesn’t really matter. Cover the glass container with a tea towel and elastic band and put it in a warm dry place.

 

Kombucha takes about 2 weeks to brew but the brew time can be adjusted to personal taste. It becomes less sweet with time but factors like temperature and surface area will also affect the speed of the process. Ideally, brewing should take place between 22 and 29°C. Mine is at 18°C so brewing time will definitely be longer.

Rehoming SCOBY

Once the first batch is ready you can bottle the kombucha and transfer the SCOBY (with 200ml of the brewed kombucha) to a new preparation of sweetened tea and the process starts all over again.

Kombucha naturally has very gentle carbonation that gives a tingling sensation but to get more fizz, let it sit in an airtight bottles at room temperature for a day or two. I’ve read about adding blueberries or ginger to boost carbonation but haven’t tried this yet.

Each time you brew a batch of Kombucha, a new SCOBY will grow adjacent to the original SCOBY. You can leave them together or separate to share with friends or start making jewellery!