Blast From the Past: The winter life of tea


As you sip a cup of tea watching the leaves slowly unfurl, steam warming your cheeks, consider the connection to grey skies, cold mountain winds, and frozen ground that you share with tea plants, dormant, conserving their energy, waiting for Spring. In the northern latitudes of tea-growing countries, what is happening in the tea gardens in December?

The short answer: not much. Almost all the workers have gone, except for the few who do some pruning of the tea bushes, remove old, unproductive plants, and work on making landscaping changes or road repairs. Equipment is fixed and readied for the next growing season. The few remaining packages of 2012 harvest teas sit untouched on dusty shelves; tea buyers and tourists have disappeared.

Throughout the coldest months of the year, tea houses, restaurants, and hotels in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, home of Long Jing (Dragon Well) green tea, continue to serve customers pots or glasses of jade-green tea leaves whose sword shape rises and then falls, signaling the infusion is ready to be enjoyed. In the dead of winter, these carefully harvested and skillfully manipulated leaves come alive in the cup. An herbaceous Spring aroma rises up, and fresh, vegetal notes swirl around the senses of taste and smell.

The tea plants on the foothills and terraced mountainsides of Shi Feng and Meijawu near West Lake are “sleeping” now. Like tea drinkers who live in regions with cold winters, the plants are preparing to endure the next few months of ice, snow, and bitterly cold winds. Fortunately for us, we have been left small amounts of the leaves from these special tea plants, leaves that echo the days of the warm sunlight and morning dew of late March/early April. As generations have done for thousands of years before us, we hold the cup in both hands, warm ourselves, close our eyes, and for a short time steal back lost moments of another season. This is the magic of tea, of the seasons, and of our connection to a plant half way around the world. Even in winter.

Originally posted in December 2012 by Guy Munsch

Photo “Tea Fields” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0 to the photographer Joe Coyle and is being posted unaltered (source)



Top Beverage Picks for 2019


I’m always fascinated to learn what the beverage industry thinks is going to be a hit each year. 2019 is predicted to be even more exciting then previous years. The top two predictions for superstars are beverages that incorporate CBD and butterfly pea flower tea. The rise of functional beverages that pack superfood ingredients such as matcha, turmeric, or melatonin will evolve into creative and innovative drinks. To optimize health and wellness through medicinal plants, herbs and foods are the foundation of functional medicine. Tea will continue to play a big role in this wave. (source)

Butterfly pea flower tea is made, as you would expect, from the flower of the butterfly pea plant, clitoria ternatea. It’s rich in antioxidants which fuel its presence in this emerging industry of functional beverages. The icing on the cake is the unique property that allows it to change color, from blue to purple, with the addition of an acid such as lemon. That WOW factor brings a little magic to the visual presentation of this unique tea.

CBD is an oil obtained through the marijuana plant that has been gaining in popularity and legality throughout the U.S.  I live in Oregon where even recreational marijuana has been legalized. As it contains no THC – the active ingredient that causes an altered state of consciousness – CBD is legal throughout the U.S. If you google CBD, you’ll immediately see countless conditions that are believed to be helped with CBD. Some research, however, is suggesting that the small addition of THC is a necessary component of the mix to obtain optimal results. This is true for anti-seizure properties as well as treatments for IBS. The research seems to be growing by the week so keep checking for your particular needs.

I just completed a nine-part series on the gut microbiome. It is believed to be the next major advancement in medicine. Fermented foods are king when it comes to gut health and kombucha is among the list of healing foods to feed your gut microbiome. We have more bacteria, viruses, and fungi in our GI system than we have cells in our body. There are more than hundreds of times more DNA from these microbiome colonies than our own DNA. These “bugs” if you will communicate more with the brain than the brain communicates with the entire rest of our body. More than 70% of our serotonin is made in the gut. Serotonin is given to those suffering from depression to improve their mood. Ultimately once we balance our out-of-wack microbiome, we have harmony in the belly and health and wellness in a disease-free body. It is an exciting time to be alive!

Photo “Cups” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0 to the photographer Dominic Melton and is being posted unaltered (source)



Tea and the Immune System


Winter brings with it festivities and holidays, but also can be a dreaded time of year for some because of colds, flu, or other associated sicknesses.

However, did you know that tea can be used to reduce the chances of getting sick? And at the very least, will reduce the intensity and duration of any sickness. 

The supplement industry makes billions off various pills. Do they in fact work? Some supplements contain immune boosting ingredients, but there is not much in the way of studies that confirm lower incidents of flu or colds by taking them versus what you get in everyday foods. Vitamin C may help with colds, but does not seem to help avoid them. Plus, there are side effects from overdosing. Your best bet is to get as much vitamin C from foods such as greens and citrus. 

But did you know that simply drinking tea on a daily basis will help boost your immune system? It turns out there are studies that show certain components found in tea – specifically EGCG and L-theanine – that help strengthen the immune system by priming T cell activity. Tea, in general, is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, which is why tea drinkers also get less cavities.

No matter how much you wash your hands, or how many precautions you take, there will be a time where a breach of your defenses takes place. Normally we can sense something wrong – a headache, post-nasal drip, or some imbalance that says something is not right. Here is where you need to add some weapons to the arsenal.

But before we move forward, if you caught the flu you will know it. The flu is highly contagious during this initial phase. If you feel extremely sickly and weak – STAY HOME. 

Certain herbs like ginger, lemon balm, sage, or lemon verbena serve as antiviral sore-throat soothers. 

There has been some evidence that zinc lozenges will reduce the length and severity of a cold. But should you decide to go this route, there are side effects from overdosing and usage is not recommended except when you are actually sick.

Echinacea is another common supplement. You could in theory take tablets, but drinking a tea with echinacea in it is probably a better bet, because it will contain more than just the one ingredient and more side benefits, plus takes care of ingesting the recommended hot fluids.  It also lowers the chances of overdosing. Echinacea has been shown in clinical trials to be as effective as tamiflu – with fewer side effects and much lower cost.

Using this rapid response method has shown to work in our own tests. Whenever an imbalance is sensed, immediately switch to a mostly herbal tea regimen, including blends formulated with Echinacea. That, coupled with going to bed early will get you back up to speed very quickly.

Unlike medicines, you can drink most tea all the time – not just when you are not feeling well. Most herbal teas can be consumed on a regular basis without overdosing or negative side effects. Just be aware if you are on any medications to look up the ingredients that are not familiar to you. WebMD is a great resource for this. Common ingredients like sage or ginger can be consumed moderately on an everyday basis. Plus there are other benefits, such as anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Conclusion

If you are drinking tea now, you are already boosting your immune system naturally. Keeping some herbal varieties with some of the ingredients mentioned, eating right and keeping active will greatly increase your chances of avoiding sickness.

Image provided by author



The Black Belt Chazutsu Masters


Maturity, proficiency, dedication, accuracy, determination, sweat, skill, reward: this is what a black belt in martial arts signifies. I’ve seen these same characteristics in a tea caddy maker in Kyoto.

Kaikado in Kyoto is a remarkable company. They specialize in crafting chazutsu or what we call in the west, a tea caddy. And they’ve been hand-making them in the same family for over 130 years spanning six generations. Each one is made by hand either in copper, brass, or tin. Kaikado rules the world of chazutsu with their double-walled airtight seal. The lid glides so smoothly that you will find yourself trying it numerous times when first encountering this masterpiece of tea utility. These canisters are known to last more than a century – longer I’m sure! The hallmark of a Kaikado chazutsu is the patina that unfolds. Like a great Pu’erh tea from China, these canisters age over time with copper showing the first signs of wabi-sabiness to tin which gracefully ages the slowest.

But like martial arts, there’s not just one black belt chazutsu star: Samurai kick some chazutsu booty too!

Samurai out in Kakunodate in Akita Prefecture first started crafting glorious sakura wood canisters when they were bored between battles. The art has been passed down through the generations even though samurai ceased to exist. When I say one of these little beauties can be rather special, that’s an understatement. Some are on the market for ¥100,000. That’s around $1,000 for one tea caddy! The mere standard ones for ¥10,000 won’t be crafted by the grand master of Japanese tea caddies but are still exceptional. As with the metal Kaikado chazutsu, Sakura canisters gain wabi-sabiness with daily use. So don’t let the price tag stop you from using it.

Sakura bark chazutsu are something spectacular but beware the origin. You can find sakura bark chazutsu from China that have a ferocious smell from artificial glue and should be used for display purposes only. Don’t store your tea in them or fear getting woozy when you least expect it.

Luckily for us normal folks, there is an in-between that won’t cost your arm or leg. Priced around $50, these generally incorporate sakura bark “paper” wrapped around a tin. Some have flourishes on them in the shape of leaves or decorations, but most are plain to display the recognizable sakura pattern in the wood.

It’s funny but having one of these chazutsu seems to make the tea taste better… but that could be due to the mind wandering back to the day when samurai were meditatively chipping away at their artwork sipping some of the best tea in Japan.

Image provided by author



Seven Ways Herbal Teas Can Benefit Your Complexion


Herbal teas have many benefits – some of them help us sleep, some have antibacterial properties, while others improve our digestion or reduce bad cholesterol. However, many herbal teas also have a positive impact on our skin. In case you didn’t know this, here’s how herbal teas can improve your complexion and help you look fresh and younger.

What’s so special about herbal teas?

Let’s start with the obvious – any kind of tea is made with water, and we all know how much water is important for our skin. So it’s clear that teas hydrate our skin. However, herbal teas are also rich in polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties. In other words, they can reverse the effects of UV damage but they also reduce skin inflammations – this characteristic alone is enough for you to start drinking herbal teas.

So let’s focus on specific herbal teas and see just how they can help you get a youthful, fresh complexion.

Green tea

Green tea is an incredible fighter against wrinkles. Free radical-fighting catechins in it are what prevent wrinkles from appearing but they also reduce the existing skin damage from the sun. Not just that – catechins also breathe life into dying skin cells and help the production of new ones.

Rooibos

Rooibos is well-known for containing high levels of zinc, alpha-hydroxy acids and antioxidants, each of them bringing their own magic. Zinc is very helpful in dealing with hormonal imbalances in the body that usually lead to the occurrence of acne. Antioxidants, which include aspalathin and nothofagin, are an excellent protection from free radicals that cause complexion issues. Finally, all of these components in rooibos prevent fat loss under the skin from happening, which helps the skin keep its elasticity.

Chamomile tea

Stress is also one of the causes of bad complexion. Stress acne can be prevented if you drink chamomile tea because it has anxiolytic and antioxidant effects. Not just that – chamomile also has antibacterial and anti-mutagenic effects, which all help prevent or reduce acne lesions that got inflamed. Chamomile is also the most common tea people drink when they want to calm themselves, which also helps the skin heal.

Dandelion tea

You shouldn’t think of dandelions as simple weeds that annoy you in the garden. They can be used in salads and for making tea. You wouldn’t believe just how many benefits dandelion tea has for your internal organs and your skin. First of all, dandelion tea is full of antioxidants. It also improves your immune system, which helps your skin stay healthy and look healthy. If you suffer from indigestion, it can lead to skin problems – stomach issues will show on your face in most cases. Dandelion tea will improve your digestion, making the skin issues go away.

White tea

In short, white tea is the purest tea there is. It is one of the rarest teas on the market because it’s necessary to take the youngest leaves off the plant in order to make white tea. As it is in such a pure form–meaning it is the least processed type of tea–white tea is also the richest one in antioxidants.

Its skin-rejuvenating powers are incredible, as it prevents elastin and collagen from decreasing. Any cosmetic surgeon will tell you that lower production of elastin and collagen leads to wrinkles and dull skin, so thanks to white tea, you’ll be able to slow down the aging process of your skin. Due to the light process it has gone through, white tea is also highly rich in catechin. As it also has strong antibacterial properties, there are many skin conditions it can fight off. Lastly, matrix metalloproteinases (MMP), an enzyme that increases in our skin over time, is also slowed down thanks to white tea, which is important as MMP decreases the collagen and elastin levels.

Yerba Maté

This exotic tea is a great way to achieve a youthful look. It is full of antioxidants that successfully fight free radicals that cause skin damage. This tea originates from Central and South America and is made from dried leaves of the yerba maté plant. It also contains high levels of caffeine so it can be a better alternative to coffee in the morning. You can use this tea for almost any problem you have – it improves your immune system, controls your appetite, and helps you fight fatigue. The secret is in its rich list of nutrients, including various vitamins and minerals like vitamins B and C, potassium and manganese, as well as antioxidants.

Spearmint tea

Spearmint is a great aid in fighting hormonal changes which lead to the occurrence of hormonal acne. It has an anti-androgenic effect, meaning it can help you balance your hormonal status which causes acne and it also removes the excess sebum on the skin. It also protects your skin from oxidative damage (in other words, from free radicals) because it’s rich with flavonoids and phenolic acids.

Herbal teas are a powerful source of nutrients which are highly important for a healthy complexion. You almost never have too much of herbal teas, so if your aim is to keep a fresh look, make yourself a cup of tea right now.



Blast From the Past: Just tea


Just give me tea,
Clear beautiful tea,
In all of its amber simplicity.

Please pour me some tea.
Just plain, you see.
Add nothing, not even philosophy.

I have come for a cup,
To cheer me up,
Nothing more do I require.

Let me just sip.
I prefer no lip.
Allow me to drink and expire.

Oh the intoxication
Of this relaxation!
This sinful little pleasure.

What’s that you say?
It’s just tea, by the way.
Not so, by my own measure.

©2011 Joanna DeRungs

Originally posted in December 2011 by Joanna DeRungs

Image Source



Seven Ways Herbal Teas Can Benefit Your Complexion


Herbal teas have many benefits – some of them help us sleep, some have antibacterial properties, while others improve our digestion or reduce bad cholesterol. However, many herbal teas also have a positive impact on our skin. In case you didn’t know this, here’s how herbal teas can improve your complexion and help you look fresh and younger.

What’s so special about herbal teas?

Let’s start with the obvious – any kind of tea is made with water, and we all know how much water is important for our skin. So it’s clear that teas hydrate our skin. However, herbal teas are also rich in polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties. In other words, they can reverse the effects of UV damage but they also reduce skin inflammations – this characteristic alone is enough for you to start drinking herbal teas.

So let’s focus on specific herbal teas and see just how they can help you get a youthful, fresh complexion.

Green tea

Green tea is an incredible fighter against wrinkles. Free radical-fighting catechins in it are what prevent wrinkles from appearing but they also reduce the existing skin damage from the sun. Not just that – catechins also breathe life into dying skin cells and help the production of new ones.

Rooibos

Rooibos is well-known for containing high levels of zinc, alpha-hydroxy acids and antioxidants, each of them bringing their own magic. Zinc is very helpful in dealing with hormonal imbalances in the body that usually lead to the occurrence of acne. Antioxidants, which include aspalathin and nothofagin, are an excellent protection from free radicals that cause complexion issues. Finally, all of these components in rooibos prevent fat loss under the skin from happening, which helps the skin keep its elasticity.

Chamomile tea

Stress is also one of the causes of bad complexion. Stress acne can be prevented if you drink chamomile tea because it has anxiolytic and antioxidant effects. Not just that – chamomile also has antibacterial and anti-mutagenic effects, which all help prevent or reduce acne lesions that got inflamed. Chamomile is also the most common tea people drink when they want to calm themselves, which also helps the skin heal.

Dandelion tea

You shouldn’t think of dandelions as simple weeds that annoy you in the garden. They can be used in salads and for making tea. You wouldn’t believe just how many benefits dandelion tea has for your internal organs and your skin. First of all, dandelion tea is full of antioxidants. It also improves your immune system, which helps your skin stay healthy and look healthy. If you suffer from indigestion, it can lead to skin problems – stomach issues will show on your face in most cases. Dandelion tea will improve your digestion, making the skin issues go away.

White tea

In short, white tea is the purest tea there is. It is one of the rarest teas on the market because it’s necessary to take the youngest leaves off the plant in order to make white tea. As it is in such a pure form–meaning it is the least processed type of tea–white tea is also the richest one in antioxidants.

Its skin-rejuvenating powers are incredible, as it prevents elastin and collagen from decreasing. Any cosmetic surgeon will tell you that lower production of elastin and collagen leads to wrinkles and dull skin, so thanks to white tea, you’ll be able to slow down the aging process of your skin. Due to the light process it has gone through, white tea is also highly rich in catechin. As it also has strong antibacterial properties, there are many skin conditions it can fight off. Lastly, matrix metalloproteinases (MMP), an enzyme that increases in our skin over time, is also slowed down thanks to white tea, which is important as MMP decreases the collagen and elastin levels.

Yerba Maté

This exotic tea is a great way to achieve a youthful look. It is full of antioxidants that successfully fight free radicals that cause skin damage. This tea originates from Central and South America and is made from dried leaves of the yerba maté plant. It also contains high levels of caffeine so it can be a better alternative to coffee in the morning. You can use this tea for almost any problem you have – it improves your immune system, controls your appetite, and helps you fight fatigue. The secret is in its rich list of nutrients, including various vitamins and minerals like vitamins B and C, potassium and manganese, as well as antioxidants.

Spearmint tea

Spearmint is a great aid in fighting hormonal changes which lead to the occurrence of hormonal acne. It has an anti-androgenic effect, meaning it can help you balance your hormonal status which causes acne and it also removes the excess sebum on the skin. It also protects your skin from oxidative damage (in other words, from free radicals) because it’s rich with flavonoids and phenolic acids.

Herbal teas are a powerful source of nutrients which are highly important for a healthy complexion. You almost never have too much of herbal teas, so if your aim is to keep a fresh look, make yourself a cup of tea right now.



Smoked Exotica – Part 2


Continued from yesterday’s post: Smoked Exotica – Part 1

I found the directions a bit ambiguous, and they could be foreboding for a novice tea drinker. After I chiseled off a chunk of the solid disc, it said to soak in water for 30 minutes, then take that infusion and boil it for five minutes. Yes, a bit unusual to say the least. However, upon further inquiry, I learned that this is an ancient practice, so I did some research. I found this on the Tea Leaf Theory website:

“The Singphos, a tribal community residing in parts of Northeast India, Myanmar, and China, are believed to be among India’s first tea drinkers. To this day, they continue to process tea by first heating the leaves in a metal pan until they brown, and then sun-drying them for a few days. To make the more flavourful, smoked tea, the sun-dried leaves are tightly packed in bamboo tubes and smoked over a fire. After a week of storing these bamboos, the processed tea hardens to take the shape of the tube. It can then be preserved for up to 10 years, with small portions sliced off with a knife to brew a fresh cup of tea. Like wine, the smoked flavour of the tea matures more with time and we choose to pick up the ones which were aged for 4 years. When processed and brewed correctly, a cup of Singpho tea, which is had without milk or sugar, is a lovely golden-orange colour. The leaves can be reused to brew two to three cups, the flavour getting better with each infusion. According to locals, the tea’s organic production and traditional processing retain its medicinal value. The Singphos say a cup after every meal aids digestion and believe it has kept the community relatively free from cancer and diabetes.”

This is the magnificent color of the cup after simmering the cold infusion for five minutes.

You will also find this tea as Bamboo Falap Tea: a traditional and natural tea of the Singpho Community (Hilly Tribe of Assam).

Because the leaves are so tightly packed, there can be numerous infusions from a small piece of the dried leaves. After steeping several times, in cold water, and in boiling water, I found the small chunk of leaves had still not opened fully. For the serious tea enthusiasts, you can “play” with this tea many times and have a new experience each time; and that is why we love tea!

For a new and intriguing tea experience, Bamboo Falap Tea is worth a try. The Smoky Exotica will soon be available in America but you can order sample packages from avetea.com.

As is often said, “What is old is new,” and this certainly applies to this ancient method of tea preparation. Just because it is not “my cup of tea” does not mean others will not enjoy it. I found the infusion of the cold steeped leaves was good as it was: cold.

For those of you that wish to learn a bit more about our sense of smell and our memories triggered by those scents or tastes, this is an informative article that may help you understand your customers better.

Season’s Greetings one and all! Happy Sniffing and Happy Sipping!

Image provided and copyright held by author



Smoked Exotica – Part 1


I am still sipping tea on Tea Ave – oh my mistake, I mean sipping Ave Tea.

Ave Tea has sent me some delightful and appealing samples from India that I’m choosing to share with you all.

Their Smoked Exotica really piqued my curiosity, but my daughter made me promise not to sample it without her. She enjoys smoky teas. I’m sorry to say, they are just not my thing. I was thrilled to have someone with whom to share this experience.

Our sense of smell is linked to our memory — much more so than any of our other senses. I’m quite confident that many of you have encountered numerous people in your tea journey that absolutely detested some of your teas. You can’t take that personally. Those are often memories for many that brought back unpleasant things — while to our favor — other tastes and aromas trigger pleasurable memories.

A smoky or deliberately smoked tea takes me back to my childhood memory of the smell of diesel train engines running day and night. It was cold in the prairies of Saskatchewan, and the Canadian Pacific Railroad went through the section of Saskatoon where I grew up. It was the common practice to allow those engines in the train yard to idle endlessly during the cold weather snaps. The smell of diesel fuel at minus forty degrees leaves a stinging sensation in your nostrils that one never forgets. It’s definitely not a good memory for me.

Such is life. Can one overcome these memories? In many cases, yes; in other cases, those memories can stay with us for the duration of our lifetime. Do I care about overcoming my dislike of smoky smelling and tasting things? No, not really, there are so many other teas I absolutely love. Will a company or teashop fall out of favor with me for carrying, featuring, or specializing in these teas? For Heaven’s sake, no!

A saw blade had evidently sliced the ‘disc’ of tea that was sent to me in the Smoky Exotica package. A band of bamboo still held the tea sample intact. The amount of tea leaves that had been packed (smashed) into the original tube of bamboo must have been enormous. Here is how AveTea.com describes their Smoky Exotica:

“An unforgettable blend of smoky, earthy flavours, this tea is tightly packed into bamboo and smoked for 4 years. The result is a brew that invigorates the senses with just the right touch of smoothness blending with the distinct bass tones that are a throwback to ancient times; finishing off with a light earthy flavour of its native soil. The perfect cup to rejuvenate a zest for life and deep conversations.”

Do have a close look at the photo collage I put together for you:

Image provided and copyright held by author

To be concluded tomorrow