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



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

Tea Gifts

Maybe I’m biased but I think that tea makes a lovely gift. To coincide with the season of giving, below are some tea recommendations that are likely to be well-recieved. Shipping to Ireland is a bit of an issue and regularly seems to double the cost so the list below is specifically aimed at readers from Ireland and the UK.

Palais Des Thés - Thé N°25

Palais Des Thés – Thé N°25 (Source)


I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like the Rooibos Christmas Tea from Palais Des Thés (Thé N°25 Rooibos). This tea smells of spices and orange goes perfectly with a fire and mince pies. €7.50 is not unreasonable for the 100g pouch but as a gift, the metal tin would make for nicer presentation (€14). Delivery is a hefty €8 to Ireland and UK but they have a shop in Dublin Centre if you can make it there to pick it up.

Thé N°25 also comes in white, green and chai but for me rooibos is the clear winner as a Christmas tea and because rooibos has no caffeince it can be enjoyed in the evenings.


WTE Darjeeling sampler box

WTE Darjeeling sampler box (Source)


The presentation tin for this Darjeeling sampler box makes it perfect for gift-giving. It comes from Whittington’s Tea Emporium and inside are three high quality Darjeeling teas from Postcard Tea, Canton Tea Co. and Tea Studio. There is a full sheet of information on each tea including a description of the estate, tasting notes, brewing instructions etc. This is a great way to experiment and compare three high quality first flush Darjeelings from different estates and at £7.50 it is also excellent value.  WTE also offer other sampler boxes for Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Jasmine and Sencha.



In keeping with the sampler theme, House of Tea here in Dublin have some good starter packs. The China Selection contains 13 teas (various weights) for €28. (€5 P&P to Ireland). I havn’t sampled very many of these teas but I bought this selection for my sister a few years ago and she seemed very happy with it.


Postcard Teas - Ishikawa Matcha

Postcard Teas – Ishikawa Matcha (Source)


You could randomly pick any tea from Postcard Teas and it would make a great gift. They are known for having high quality tea from small farms and providing the precise origin of each tea. Some of my favourites are the Baozong green (£9 for 20g) and the Ishikawa Matcha (£19.95 for and the 40g). Shipping charges to Ireland depends on items purchased but it is usually £4-5 for an order of three teas.



Koyu Ceremonial Matcha Bowl Set

Koyu Matcha Bowl Set (Source)


Speaking of Matcha, I came across Koyu Matcha a few weeks ago and think that this Ceremonial Matcha Bowl Set would make a lovely gift for someone who likes matcha. It includes the bowl, whisk, scoop and Matcha tea for €51 (+€2.20 P&P to Ireland).





Blue Play Teaset

Blue Play Teaset (Source)


And finally, Christmas is a special time for children and having a pretend tea-party is an good way to round up the teddys and the dolls that haven’t seen each other in a while. I know from my nephew that tea parties are not just for girls so here is blue one made from tin that comes in a case. IKEA also have a cute tea set for €11. Extra imagination is needed for this one because it doesn’t come with a teapot!

Stale tea

Last weekend we spring-cleaned the kitchen (we are late for 2013 spring cleaning not early for 2014!). In the process, I found some very old matcha, which makes for an interesting comparison with the fresh matcha that I bought last week.

Matcha - Fresh and StaleHere are the photos. You can see that the fresh matcha is striking bright green but the old one is a dull, grey-green. Tea doesn’t spoil with time but it does loose its flavour and colour especially if exposed to air. Matcha is one of the brisker tea on the fading process. Ideally it should be used within a few weeks of opening but keeping it in an airtight container in the fridge can extend this a little. I’m ashamed to say that the old matcha was not in an airtight container, not in the fridge and has probably been on the shelf for well over a year. In other words, a perfect storm of matcha degradation!


The old matcha still has a strong vegetal aroma but it doesn’t form the nice froth and the taste is unpleasant and slightly sour.

Brewed Matcha - Fresh and Stale

Not all the examples of stale tea are as obvious as matcha and of course it varies with vacuum sealing, conditions etc. but here are the general rules that I use:  greens: within 4/5 months (of the harvest date), light oolongs and early Darjeeling: within 6/7 months, black tea (apart from Darjeeling) within 12-18 months, pu-ehr and heavily roasted oolongs: whenever they’re ready – both improve with age.

For the teas that don’t age, I have a terrible habit of not drinking them quickly enough. When I find a tea that I love, I sometimes wait until I can make enough time to really enjoy it, or the right occasion, or someone to share it with. Some fine teas have been lost in this way and the matcha was a good reminder. From now on, I am going to be dedicated in keeping my tea list updated with the date of purchase/harvest. That might sound nerdy but it’s nothing compared to the plans I have for rules in excel and automatic colour coding depending on the best time to drink ;-).

Plucking Tea

When tea is harvested, different parts of the plant are plucked, depending on the quality of the tea to be produced, the type of tea, the country etc. Tea picking is an important stage in tea processing and historically much has been written about the activity and the women who carried it out. Chatterjee (reference below) for example, mentions one account of labour management in the Tang Dynasty where tea pickers were required to abstain from eathing fish and certain kinds of meat so that their breath might not affect the bouquet of the leaves. He also talks about how women’s hands and fingernails were inspected to ensure body oils and perspiration would not contaminate the leaves.

Today, it is generally accepted that for high quality orthodox tea, the leaves at the tip of the stem are hand-picked. Plucking the bud and adjacent leaves  encourages new shoots to grow. Dexterity and speed are required, as the pickers snap the top, tender stems using the index finger and thumb and breaking the leaves off with a quick snap although many farmers have adopted the time-saving method of attaching a blade to the index finger for snipping the stem.


tea pluck types: imerial, fine, average

Image Source

The tender leaves at the top of the plant are the freshest growth and the most tender and are the richest in catechins and theanine. Imperial plucking involves just the bud and one leaf. Fine plucking takes the bud and the two adjacent leaves at the top of the plant stem. Average plucking takes the bud and three leaves.



Below are two photos of a jasmine pearl tea. The photo on the left is before steeping and the one on the right is the unfurled leaf after steeping. The beauty and perfection of the unfurled bud with its adjacent leaf or two leaves strikes me every time I make this tea.

Jasmine pearls before and after steeping


A Time for Tea: Women, Labor, and Post/Colonial Politics on an Indian Plantation  By Piya Chatterje, Duke University Press Books, 2001

Book Review: Put the Kettle On – The Irish Love Affair with Tea

Put the Kettle On - Book“Put the Kettle On” is a book around tea rather than a book about tea. It is a gathering of memories and associations, an acknowledgement of rituals and an insight into a particular method of communication. Throughout the book, the author (Juanita Browne) steps back to allow these themes to emerge naturally without commentary, influence or analysis. The result is open, unspoilt recollections and thoughts from 65 people who are diverse in age and backgrounds but united in their love of tea.


“I can still recall the refreshing taste of tea during those times of heavy work” Peter Brady

“The tea on the bog was the best of the lot” Declan Egan

Nostalgia features heavily in the book and tea is an interesting vehicle for evoking memories. The sound of kettles, the smell of the brew, the sight of a cups or teapots and taste all contribute to a powerful force of nostalgia where memories come flooding back and loved ones are remembered. Tea breaks in hayfields and bogs are featured throughout the book and so too are glass bottles of tea in the classroom and tea rations during the war. Through the memories that are associated with tea in those situations, we get interesting insights into people’s lives.


 “we don’t have many rituals any more…now the only welcoming ritual we have is to make a cup of tea for someone” Mary McEvoy

Ritual is a word that is mentioned by many in the book but is alluded to even more often. I believe that people need rituals to help us cope with fear, anxiousness, loneliness and frustration. They offer relaxation and respite from busy lifestyles and allow our minds a little freedom while we carry out a small task. In the past we spent a large portion of our time engaging in daily rituals like writing letters, feeding chickens, mending clothes and of course harvesting and preparing food. We have mostly retained the rituals that mark life events (birthdays, funerals, Christmas) but many of our daily, soul-nurturing rituals have been replaced with more convenient and efficient habits. In a fast-paced world of pre-cooked meals, taking time to prepare a hot cup of tea can be a brief connection with something that nurtures. The ritual of making tea can be needed more than the caffeine or the heat and this was evident in many of the narratives.


“It is so packed with meaning: a sense of comfort and care and a salve to a body unable to help itself” Maria Dowling

The theme of communication is another one that runs through the book. It seems that the offering of tea is a medium through which we can express our love and empathy without having to directly address the emotions at play. The act of serving someone tea  symbolises an offer of help and is universally understood.

The other side of communication is a humorous one. For all that Irish people are an easy-going, laid-back lot, there is extraordinary sensitivity around the timing of the first offer of tea, the pace of the second proposal, the manner of acceptance and the timing of refills. Most of these “rules” are mentioned in the book but the author has the good sense to resist any search for logic!


Put the Kettle On is available from The Collins Press


“Put the Kettle On” is light, enjoyable read that explores our deep attachment to a beverage that is relatively new to the country (~250 years). I enjoyed reading about the social aspects of tea that go beyond the leaf and was surprised how many memories it brought back of my own tea-drinking childhood.

Put the Kettle On – The Irish Love Affair with Tea (Juanita Browne) is available now from The Collins Press


Afternoon tea in the Four Seasons, Dublin

“Although tea for one is certainly a fine thing, the addition of a circle of dear friends to share it with ensures the whole is larger than its parts”


champagneWith this quote in mind, I was delighted to arrange afternoon tea with two of my favourite people a few weeks ago. The pretext was one person moving abroad, the setting was the Lobby Lounge in the Four Seasons, Dublin and the occasion was champagne tea on a Saturday afternoon.

The Four Seasons pride themselves on attention to detail so I wasn’t surprised when they asked if there were any dietary requirements at the time of booking. I was, however, impressed that they remembered the vegetarian request when we arrived. There was a mix-up after that, which involved some very non-vegetarian chicken and salmon but the error was quickly corrected.


tea strainer abstract The highlight for me was infinite tea. It is possible to order as many pots of each type of tea on the menu and fresh tea is offered on a regular basis. This avoids the dilemma of choosing a tea that will go with both sweet and savoury. It also avoids drinking cold tea. Every afternoon tea service should offer this as standard but my experience in other venues is that one tea is included and there is a charge for each additional selection. Unrestricted tea – I was as happy as a clam at high tide but I was also in company so refrained from working my way through the entire menu. In fact, I only ordered two teas: the organic hoji-cha and the rooibos/hibiscus blend.  Most teas on the menu are floral or fruit blends but other teas that caught my eye were a silver needle white tea (Baihao Yinzhen) and an infusion called Ginger Twist that had a long list of ingredients (ginger, orange, lemongrass, mint, apple, ginseng, papaya and liquorice).


strawberries & pastriesThe Lobby Lounge is a bright, spacious rooms with large windows looking out over the courtyard garden and was bustling on that Saturday afternoon. The food is served in two courses. The savoury sandwiches are served first and then followed by the scones, preserves and pastries on the tiered platters. The scones were hot and fresh but the addition of clotted cream instead of regular would have been ideal. The profiteroles and hazelnut/chocolate pastry were also delicious but the chocolate dipped strawberries and raspberries on shortbread stole the show as a perfect, light way to finish the meal.

The champagne afternoon tea is comparatively expensive (€45) but with excellent service, good food, unconstrained tea and good company it makes for a very pleasurable afternoon. Silver teapot