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.

Honeybush

Honeybush packetI’m a long time fan of rooibos but hadn’t tasted its honey-flavoured relative, honeybush, until I was in South Africa two years ago. Even in South Africa, honeybush is the underdog to rooibos but I happened across this packet from the Langkloof mountain and ended up regretting that I hadn’t bought more. A lot more!

The honeybush plant grows naturally in the mountains of the Eastern Cape and spreads down along the Langeberg and Swartberg mountains into the Western Cape towards the coast as far as Bredasdorp. It comes from the same Fabaceae family as rooibos and is similarly low in tannins and caffeine-free. There are ~24 known species of honeybush in the genus Cyclopia but only a few have been successfully cultivated. As a result, most of our honeybush is harvested in the wild (70%) and the remaining 30% is produced from the 230 hetares of cultivated honeybush. A recent report from the South African Broadcasting Corp. (SABC) warned about this unsustainable harvest putting honeybush at risk of extinction.

Honeybush loose teaIt’s not surprising that demand for honeybush far outweighs supply. Honeybush is consumed worldwide but Germany accounts for over half of the 220 tons of exported Honeybush. Together with the US and the Netherlands these three countries buy nearly 90% of all the Honeybush that leaves SA.

In terms of taste, it is sweet and has less of that distinctive malty rooibos taste, which some people dislike. It is soothing but the bright honeyed flavour makes it less of an after-dinner tea. Because of the natural sweet flavour, I think it works best as an afternoon tea.

To prepare, 250-300ml of freshly boiled water (100° C) is added to 5g of loose leaf tea. I leave it for several minutes for a deeper taste because unlike real tea it doesn’t get bitter when steeped for a long time.

For more information on honeybush there is an good profile report available from the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

 

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).

Tea with food

food and teaThere will be plenty of eating going on over the next week or two and there are bound to be a few times when wine will need a substitute. Here are some of the basic guidlines on combining tea with food.

As a general rule, green tea is the savoury tea. Salt will bring out its flavour and crispness while sweet foods will bring out the astringency and bitterness. So vegetal green teas will go well with prawns, anchovies, other seafood and olives. It is better with light meats and snacks rather than greasy foods. Light salty crackers like water biscuits work well and especially crackers with thyme. Light rice-based dishes are also complemented by green tea.

Strong black tea (from Africa, India and Sri Lanka) goes very well with red meat and spicy dishes (especially peppers) but goes equally well with rich creamy deserts, cream cheeses, dark chocolate and nuts such as pecans. Tea with desert is quite common and black tea is ideal for deserts such as rich chocolate cake or pecan pie.

It seems a shame to eat food with oolong but if you must then lighter oolongs go well with seafood, salty crackers and walnuts. Salty crackers with rosemary go particularly well. Similar to green tea, lighter oolongs do not combine will with heavy foods that contain butter and fat. Dark roasted oolongs go well with rosemary, honey, pecan, almonds and cashew nuts.

In my opinion pu-ehr should not be drank with food but shou pu-ehr is very soothing after a heavy meal.

White tea doesn’t blend well with food but I’ve heard it can be used as a palate cleanser between courses instead of sorbet (I’ve never tried this).

For the tisanes, rooibos and honeybush have a natural hint of sweetness so they go well with pastries and chocolate. Christmas rooibos usually has cinnamon, spices and orange that complement fruit cake, pudding and mince pies.

Finally, fennel, peppermint, ginger and anise are all excellent for aiding digestion. Anise is sweet and spicy and calming for digestion at night time while fennel is particularly good after a heavy meals and for helping with heartburn. Fennel and ginger are also excellent for nausea.

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.

Ronnefeldt – Rooibos Vital

I bought this Ronnefeldt tea in Germany and I knew it was a rooibos but the rest of the ingredients were a mystery until I got home to use Google translate. It is part of the Ronnefeldt Wellness range and contains unoxidised rooibos (green), papaya, elderberries, carrot, natural flavours, blackberry leaves, apple mint and sunflower blossoms. The mix of colours and textures are interesting to photograph – if anyone would like to see the other 50 variations of this shot, do let me know!

Vital Tea

The list of ingredients sounds like a lot but the taste is light and not too sweet. The mint is refreshing and the overall taste is lively even though there is no caffeine. As with all rooibos, the preparation is straightforward. Just 5-7g tea and freshly boiled water. I left it for several minutes for a fuller taste.

In other news, I am off to the World Tea Expo tomorrow so Friday’s post will be sent from the conference centre in Las Vegas (or the roulette table of the LVH!) . I haven’t been using twitter at all but I’m going to try to start at this event. If any readers are going to the conference and would like to meet up, please drop me a mail.

Rooibos dispute

Geographical Indications

Some well-known Geographic Indications (Source)

I was surprised to hear that Rooibos is at the centre of a dispute between the South African Department of Trade and Industry and a French Company (Compagnie de Trucy). Matthias Leridon, president of Compagnie de Trucy, an investment company, says that they aim to create a luxury brand that includes Rooibos supplied by small producers. Leridon was a special advisor to the French Ministry of Defence and worked as a consultant in the office of the Minister for the Civil Service. Apart from Compagnie de Trucy, Leridon has set up a communications consultancy firm (Tilder) and sits on the board of directors of “African Artists for Development”.

Compagnie de Trucy is trying to secure the exclusive rights to market Rooibos in France by applying for a French trademark. Their application for the terms “Rooibos” and “South African Rooibos” was rejected but terms such as “Le comptoir du rooibos”, “Le palais du rooibos” are still under consideration. If successful, it would complicate the export of this local speciality to France and would involve the payment of royalties to the French firm. There is a trademark protection system call Geographic Indication (GI), which could be used to protect Rooibos. GIs points to a specific place, or region of production, that determines the characteristic qualities of the product. Examples include Darjeeling Tea from India, Champagne Wine from France, Gruyère from France and Connemara Hill lamb from Ireland. The database of EU geographical indications is here .

Rooibos overviewThe process for achieving GI protection isn’t straightforward though. Rooibos needs to be protected within its country of origin and receive official trademark status there before it could qualify as a GI in the EU. This caused some problems because South African law did not previously have protection for geographical indications. However, the government has just approved a new Act (the Traditional Knowledge Act) that includes a provision for the protection of good “originating in the territory of the Republic or in a region or locality in that territory”.

It seems a little paradoxical that GI legislation was led by the wine industry in France and yet now they are at the centre of a dispute on the opposing side of GI protection. I personally think that Rooibos is the Champagne of South Africa and should be protected as such.

Health benefits of Rooibos

The health benefits of tea are constantly mentioned in the media and a lot of people seem to start drinking tea (especially green tea and herbal teas) for health reasons. So, from time to time, I will gather and review the research that is published on particular health aspects of tea.

Rooibos Farm (source)

Rooibos Farm (source)

Since I talked about Rooibos last week, I thought I might start with it. Rooibos is a caffeine-free tisane that comes from the leaf of Aspalathus linearis. Since it does not come from Camellia sinensis it is not a real tea so we call it a herbal tea or tisane. Traditional medicinal uses of rooibos have included alleviation of infantile colic, asthma, allergies, dermatological problems, digestive discomfort and anxiety.

Many studies have been done on the antioxidant content of Rooibos. Marnewick found that a 200ml serving of Rooibos has 58.5 – 68.9mg of pholyphenol antioxidants (depending on amount of leaves used and brewing time). Studies on the chemical constituents of the antioxidants in Rooibos have shown the presence of nothofagin, aspalathin and isoorientin, orientin, rutin and several other flavonoids and phenolic acids. The types of polyphenols in Rooibos are different to those in Green tea and Black tea and in particular, the antioxidant aspalathin can not been found in any other natural sources besides Rooibos. Researchers have found that “an aspalathin-enriched extract of green rooibos is able to lower raised glucose levels in the blood of diabetic rats” (source).

Two of Rooibos’s antioxidants (quercetin and luteolin) have been shown, in vitro, to induce the death of cancer cells (in vitro just means that the tests were carried out in a controlled environment outside a living body, e.g. in a test tube). Rutin has been found to prevent the formation of thrombosis (blood clots) in mice and orientin has been associated with a reducing damage to the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract after mice were exposed to radiation.

Aspalathus linearis

Aspalathus linearis (source)

Although, the antioxidant content of Rooibos is well documented and there are many laboratory results on the benefits of those antioxidants, I found it very difficult to find scientific, peer-reviewed articles on human studies involving Rooibos. One paper, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, looked at the effect of Rooibos on specific parameters for adults at risk of developing heart disease. The results were positive and Rooibos significantly improved the lipid profile and the redox status. However, just 40 participants were involved in the study so presumably it would need to be repeated with a much larger group before it could be cited as conclusive evidence.

Rooibos has long been used to soothe colic in babies but the tea gained particular attention in the late 1960s when a South African woman, Annique Theron, found that it eased her infant’s colic. The story goes that she found no documentation on the benefits of Rooibos so she began her own experiments with babies who had colic and allergies. She concluded that Rooibos helped with the symptoms and she published a book in 1970 entitled “Allergies: An Amazing Discovery”. Rooibos seems to be still recommended by South African physicians in the treatment of colic even though the scientific evidence as a treatment does not seem to exist. Similarly, there is no scientific research into Rooibos as a treatment for skin allergies or digestive problems but its use as a treatment for both seem widely accepted.

Rooibos NaturalSo what’s the bottom line on the health benefits of Rooibos? Well, Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free, calorie-free, low in tannins and rich in antioxidants. Some lab and mouse work have been done on the specific benefits of the antioxidants in Rooibos but research on human models is scant. I think Ferreira et al put it best when he said “the growing body of evidence pointing towards the therapeutic value of Rooibos tea gives a considerable degree of credibility to the anti-ageing claims, but expectations of a healthier life rather than increasing lifespan would perhaps be a more realistic outlook”.

Rooibos

It’s hard to believe that I have been writing this blog for over a month now and this is the first time I am talking about Rooibos. I’m a devoted Rooibos and Honeybush fan and if you read this blog, you’ll have to put up with me gushing about both on a very regular basis.

Rooibos Natural

Rooibos (pronounced “roy-boss” in South Africa, pronounced “roo-y-boss” here) is not a tea at all (see categories here). It is a caffeine-free tisane that comes from the leaf of Aspalathus linearis and not Camellia sinensis. Rooibos is produced in South Africa and similar to tea processing, it can be oxidised (red) or non-oxidised (green).

Rooibos from above

 

It is generally said that Rooibos is an acquired taste. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like it (in fact, I can’t remember my life before Rooibos at all!) but the flavour is different to every other tea so maybe it takes a little while to get used to it. Rooibos often comes flavoured (e.g. vanilla, caramel) and these can be very sickly. If you haven’t tried Rooibos, my advice is to try an unflavoured Rooibos first and experiment with the flavoured varieties later if you like the basic taste.

 

Rooibos is a relaxing and hydrating drink and not one for energising or kick-starting your day. Because it is caffeine free, it can be taken at any time. I drink it mostly in the afternoons or as a soothing end to a heavy meal.

Rooibos TeaThe preparation of Rooibos is straightforward and one of the least fussy teas to prepare. Put 5g of loose leaf  tea into a brew-basket (or teapot) and add 200ml of freshly boiled water (100° C). It needs to settle for about 4 minutes but can be left longer for a deeper taste, as it never gets bitter. The leaves can be re-used for multiple steepings but it needs to be left for longer and will be noticeably weaker after several uses. I never use milk or sweetener but I’ve seen people adding both in South Africa.

The Rooibos pictured here is organic and fair-trade  and was bought in Ghent, Belgium for €2.95 (for 100g). The tea is a little hazy and not as clear and crisp as higher grades but I consider it extremely good value.

Getting sorted

I was setting up the categories for this tea blog and it got me thinking about the neatness of the tea classes. There are six classes or categories of tea (green, white, yellow, oolong, black and pu-erh) and I still find it fascinating (and handy now) that each of the thousands of different teas that are out there can fit into one of those six categories. Better again, all tea comes from the leaves of a single species of plant: Camellia sinensis.

Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis

Here are the categories that I have for the blog so far:

  • Tea:
    1. Black – almost fully-oxidised and mostly produced in India (Assam and Darjeeling), Kenya, Sri Lanka and China. E.g. Keemun, Zhenshan Xiaochung (lapsang souchong).
    2. Green – teas such as sencha, Matcha, Gunpowder, Longjing, Taiping Houkui that have had minimal oxidation and kept the green color of the leaves. Predominantly from China, Japan and Korea.
    3. Oolong – partially oxidised and complicated in production, this type includes Da Hong Pao (red robe) and Tieguanyin. Produced in China and Taiwan.
    4. Pu-erh – post-fermented tea from China and called ‘black tea’ in China. Comes as sheng (raw) or shou (cooked). My favourite!
    5. White – made from the buds of the Camellia sinensis and very lightly processed it includes bai mudan (white peony) and Baiho Yinzhen (silver needles).
    6. Yellow – these teas are not easy to find here so this category won’t be used too much to start with but it didn’t seem right to leave it out.
  • Buying tea & storage: looking at where to get good tea and how to store it or age it.
  • Tisanes: This will cover all the herbal drinks that are sometimes referred to as tea but are herbal infusions or herbal teas. This covers peppermint, chamomile, ginger, fennel etc.
  • Rooibos & Honeybush: Technically these are tisanes but they get their own category because I love them so much!
  • Out and About: This is where I post about going for afternoon tea or lunch to see what the tea is like out there.

I’m sure there are plenty more categories that I’ll need to add as I go along but theses will do for a starting point.