I have been learning about tea from a Chinese perspective ever since I first arrived in China back in 2001. The learning that can be gained is very useful especially when trying to fold this back into Western understanding and consumption trends in tea. The first things I noticed when I moved back to Australia in 2013 was this western addiction to a concept in health which was tied to “grams of…” and “calorie counts.” Its important to remind ourselves at this stage that not all great sages were born in China. I have actually come to really respect the views and research done by westerners into tea and its effect on us. For all those looking to read about really anything on the web, I think this should be a gentle reminder to always pull up at least 5 articles on any given subject to cross reference and check.
My point is not to belittle or judge the way we in Australia looking at food nutrition and consumption habits. I think much of what we learn and read has merit, its just that simple facts alone about drink Green Tea to fight cancer and drink Oolong Tea to loose weight can be so misleading. For me I have come to enjoy learning the different perspectives. To understand Eastern philosophy on health from a Traditional Medicine point of view is really to capture one idea – preventative health. Preventative health for many thousands of years was the only treatment for health. Herbs, tonics and treatments are seen by all Eastern health practitioners as a last resort to try to realign and rebalance the state of health or “dis-ease” (not being at ease) for patients.
This article I wanted to focus on an enormously misunderstood theory on teas. This is Caffeine. There are a myriad of tea brands in the West all claiming amounts and dosages of caffeine per gram of tea in the box. I find this such an exciting phenomenon to follow as it’s mostly if not all “cut and paste” from other web sources. One great analogy I like to use when running tea workshops is to pose a simple question: What is healthier a cooked carrot or a raw carrot? The next question: Which holds more positive human nutrition, a cooked carrot or a raw carrot? Now ask yourself if this question is being posed to a person of Eastern or Western descent as this is crucial to the answer you will be given.
I will not go into the ethnographic study that could be taken from this question alone, however, to say let us know pose this question about tea. Which tea has more caffeine gram for gram (whilst directing a classroom full of curious students to a series of teas ranging from Whites all the way through to Blacks or Pu’ers.) Next question: Which of the teas before you (again referring to range of teas postured on the workshop table) has a more caffeine inducing effect on you – personally?
So to try to answer these questions by simple A equals one and B equals two is far too simplistic. To give you the best answer I can again without having to subject you to a perilous essay, we are all made differently, we all consume and digest things differently at different rates and require different food pairings to get the most out of our food and perhaps all according to our varied blood types, not to mention age bracket, male versus female, exposure to various foods and environments etc.
As a result of all these findings and insights over the years I have come to find a series of methods and uses of tea that can support best my personal daily needs. Should you ever need a better explanation as to the actions of these Camelia sinensis botanicals on the body, then please do write to me.
To kick start my day I really enjoy White Peony King – I found that the white tea when brewed a certain way, offers more bang for your buck. White tea has a light aromatic yet still very fragrant quality with subtle, nuanced nutty flavors, which I find to be more apparent in the morning when the palette is fresh. Drinking Green or Black tea (without milk) on an empty stomach will certainly for most people and over time cause upset stomach issues. Remember, by nature tea is slightly acidic so without anything nourishing to the digestive walls this would be a hard tonic for most people to retain.
So if you are like me and really need a way to get the body into action of a morning in the form of a caffeine hit, my suggestion is to choose a higher quality white tea which would either be the referred to as the “teeth” or buds from white tea bushes or White Peony grades which carries a but and 2-3 leaf as part of the picking/harvesting process. Use hotter water than what you would usually brew your white tea at (normal temperature should be just below 90ºC) Instead draw your water to the kettle at 92ºC and only brew for up to 45 seconds with 350ml of water. The heat of the water will help access the vascular bundles of the leaf and withdraw all the essence of the leaf – including caffeine.
My other choice for the morning body kick start is “teh terik” otherwise known as pulled milk tea. This tea is what you will most commonly find in any of the Singapore Hawkers Centres all over the city, Hong Kong or most of Kuala Lumpur. It’s is most similar to your typical English Breakfast tea however, this version is ultimately powerful with no less than 5-10 times the amount of tea, long brew or boiled up in bubbling hot water – which excretes the maximum amount of caffeine from the leaf – and then pulled with evaporated milk to cut the strength and the tannic flavours of the black tea. Actually in many places of Asia this tea is prepared in the same manner but then poured over a full glass of ice and given a little fix of condensed milk also.
Green tea is so often never really appreciated by so much the world’s tea drinkers. Why, they use a grade of green tea which when brewed highlights all the wrong flavours. Namely a stoic, over riding bitter mouth finish. To me green tea is of great use as I just love my mid morning ritual of a fine green tea, brewed at much lower temperatures, for most of our greens average range would be around 78ºC. Now here is the ultimate secret, a great quality green tea and dark chocolate is heaven rolled up into a short mind morning break. The other great perk with all this is to boost metabolism prior to lunch and for me often to skip lunch but running on what I call the Green Tea Chocolate Pike. Try it you’ll be amazed.
Just remember you need to balance the brewing parameters between longer brew time, with less leaves, but also lower temperature.
When I am consulting for modern restaurants in Sydney I am often asked to help design a food and tea pairing menu. Wine is so often used as a liquid lubricant to combine and marry savoury flavours. But to be honest, I find that tea too often gets in the way especially with meals. I think tea does work with small savoury snacks. Where I think tea has its biggest inroads into pairing menus is with deserts. At this point it is also very interesting to note that the Chinese do not pair banquets with tea accept for Dim Sum which again is more like small savoury tapas which is a lot more carbohydrate that a lot of other Chinese menu items. When it comes to desserts I feel that the sky is the limit. I have enjoyed the privilege of creating some incredible pairing with chocolate mousse and high mountain Oolongs or Cheese cake and naturally aged Pu’er teas.
So when it comes to a lunchtime meal, I am more often agreeable to either an iced herbal “tea” or hot herbal tisanes. Ie your peppermints, rooibos and lemongrass & ginger notes. I almost never drink teas with a meal. Teas by nature being acidic will often bring about curtain calls to fine savoury meals.
Pu’er tea is my choice post meal. Pu’er is different from most other teas in that it is the only fully fermented tea when most other teas that are heavily processed are in fact oxidised and not fermented. This unique fermenting processing was an age-old secret in China up until the passing of The infamous Helmsman – Mao Zedong. So it was synonymous moment in time that in 1976 with the departure of the great helmsman that many of the old state owned enterprises (SOE) factories closed down. The sudden outpouring of expertise in fermented tea expertise, all those factory workers went either into commercial businesses whereby their skills set could be afforded by other enterprising helmsman or as they were now called “entrepreneurs” and this was how the ancient state tea secret was held for so long.
The most wonderful thing about Pu’er is that it really does help you break down and process heavier foods. Hence, ideally consuming tea no sooner than 90 minutes after a meal is preferable. I find that Pu’er tea is soothing to soul and stomach. Like all good teas there is caffeine and like all good caffeine there are benefits apart from the obvious. For my suffering from an auto-immune disease from a young age, I am very sensitive to foods I eat and beverages I drink. Caffeine has an amazing effect on how I feel, not just because of the sustained level of focus that caffeine in tea gives me but equally for the benefits of circulation that it brings for me. The caffeine in tea allows me to feel the blood and fluidity in joint movement for me.
The finally few throws at getting my day finished before kids duties or exercise regimes I find myself to really enjoy an Oolong. Either a “qing xiang” (light fragrance) or “nong xiang” (heavier fragrance) Oolongs, are lighter in body and finish in general. If there was one time of tea in the day that I might do without it’s the five o’clock tea time, not because I don’t enjoy tea at five o’clock more to do with that the fact that I invariably run out of time, with deadlines and things all coming to a crunch around this time of day. There has been some amazing research done in recent times about the effects simply finding time in your day to be present and mindful. For me the ceremony of tea has always highlighted the significance of this moment or moments in my day.
I don’t drink tea before a meal, But after a meal I invariably find a soft soft spot for roasted rooibos. This herbal tisane is neutral in caffeine and offers a full flavoured body tea that I find even after dinner altogether alluring. On the occasions I am with friends and having a few glasses of alcohol I drink raw Pu’er tea. As it is evening I seek the “huang pian” the discarded leaves that take place within natural pu’er tea processing. Its the very best most incredible age-old Pu’er tea trees but the undesirable teas that a re processed that are deemed “too ugly” to the most common Chinese domestic buyer. The great thing with the Huang pian is that they are older leaves, so when left to actually “brew” or cook up in hot water the flavour is altogether intoxicating. It does not mean soundless sleep but certainly worth the few extra risks in a potentially caffeine induced sleep although as said almost altogether mild.
There is is, tea schedule designed for champions!