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

 

Radio documentary on tea

This Saturday, July 12th at 7am and Sunday, July 13th at 6pm Newstalk have a documentary that will explore the reasons why Irish people drink so much tea.

Producer Caoilin Rafferty uncovers the many secrets behind Irish tea, why we are one of the biggest tea drinking nations in the world and how our tea taste habits have changed throughout the years

The feature documentary also examines the tea rations in Ireland during World War 2, which consequently lead to the set up of the Irish Tea Importers Ltd. This meant the Irish bypassed the London Tea Auctions and bought quality tea direct from source themselves.

Tea Please also takes a trip down memory lane to talk to those who grew up drinking orthodox leaf tea and how tea bags changed everything in the seventies.

The show can be heard live on the Newstalk online player (www.newstalk.ie/player) and will be available as a podcast afterwards.

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.

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.

Puer Tea of Yunnan

The pressure is on this week and the chances of getting a proper blog post written are slim to none so I leave you with this interesting video on Puer Tea of Yunnan. I’m away in Spain next week so Part 2 of the documentary will be published in my absence and then it will be back to blog posts as usual. ;-)

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

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.

Moleskine Tea Journal

Moleskine Tea Journal C

Moleskine Tea Journal (Source)

Not only is my tea fixation well-tolerated around here, sometimes it is actively encouraged. Last week I received a gift of this lovely Moleskine Tea Journal. This is just one of the Themed Notebooks which also includes journals for coffee, gardening, cats, beer etc.

With a hardback black cover and high quality paper, the look and feel of the journal is tasteful and elegant. It starts off with a basic explanation of tea processing, grading and types of tea. Anyone interested enough to buy a tea journal won’t learn anything new but it does include an interesting fold out tea-timeline. Then there are a few pages for a wish list before it gets into the Tastings section. The tea tasting is well thought-out with a vocabulary listing first and then blank tasting templates. The templates are fairly complete and although they are laid out with just one steeping in mind, there is probably enough room for notes on 2/3 steepings, if you have small writing. Sadly there are less than 40 templates for tea tasting before it moves on to a section called Teatime.

Tastings Section - Tea Journal

Tasting Section (Source)

Teatime starts off with instructions on how to make tea and then has some pages on tea etiquette. The templates that follow are peculiar. They seem to be about the preparation of tea (water temperature, steeping time, preparation notes) but there is no room for tasting notes. I’m not too sure how I’ll use these. They are followed by over 40 recipe templates and I would happily swap 39 of these for tasting templates if I could. To be fair, it is possible to download and print extra blank templates for each section but loose pages and pasting would start to get messy.

The next section is Places, for reminders about tea-rooms and cafés and then a section for Websites of note. The last section then is called My Collection for listing when and where teas were bought. There are some blank pages in the back and then a pouch with stickers on the back cover, which are a bit gimmicky.

Overall this is a lovely present for a tea enthusiast and it was very well received last week. My only suggestion for improvement would be to cut out the Teatime section and to have far more of the Tasting templates. Another, more personal problem, is the feeling that I’m going to ruin its sophistication with my scrawly hand-writing.

Some calmness

Celebrations, such as Christmas, bring joy, sadness, happiness and emptiness and all of this while we are hectically rushing around being busy and jolly. For me, calmness can be found in a cup of tea and the paragraph below from Thích Nhất Hạnh.

 

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves.

Slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.

Live the actual moment.IMG_5820

Only this moment is life.

You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.

Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.

Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.

If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea.

You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.

Life is like that.

If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone.

You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life.

It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished.

Learn from it and let it go.

The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.

Worrying is worthless.

When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.

Then you will begin to experience joy in life.

Thích Nhất Hạnh