Tea Time

Fingers crossed, fall has arrived in Shanghai. It never fails that just about October first we get a hint of cooler temps to come. I for one, welcome the change!

The thought of cooler weather brings up all kinds of ideas for warming teas and drinks. China is the center of the world for tea, if you haven’t figured that out already, and from the tea markets to the elegant ( and hokey) tea ceremonies there is no better place to enjoy this ancient health elixir.

If you are from the “western” world then your tea experience may be limited to black tea, which is the most common variety of tea drunk in the Americas, Europe and Australia. Fortunately for us in China we have the broader choice of Oolong, Green tea, and Pu’Er just to name the most popular.

The basic difference between these teas are the production, including when the leaf is harvested ( young leaves for green tea) and the fermentation time ( longest for Pu’er). Each of these teas have their own health claim to fame , generally thought to be due to the polyphenols, flavanols and other anti-oxidants found in the tea leaves. Oolong can even be used topically for itchy skin due to atopic dermatitis. Pu’er , of course aides digestion but it is green tea that science has studied the most and attributed the greater health benefits.

Green tea is most often studied for it’s seemingly anti-cancer properties, prostrate and breast cancer showing the most promise. Certainly there isn’t a downside to drinking lots of green tea.

Matcha powder,  a dried form  of green tea has become quite trendy lately, although it is has been used in China since ancient times ( here that could be a thousand years). Personally I have only had it once and found it to have an earthy but not unpleasant taste. Matcha green tea powder is a concentrated form of green tea , so reports put one cup of matcha equal to 10 cups of brewed tea for concentration of catechins and polyphenols, both are anti-oxidants.  You would expect that if the bolus of matcha tea has a higher concentration of anti-oxidants then it would also have 10x the amount of caffeine, yes? Matcha promoters will acknowledge that but apparently the caffeine attaches itself to the high levels of the catechins ( amino acids) which break down at a slow rate therefore providing the drinker with “longlasting” energy versus the caffeine burst and bust that coffee often supplies. I will have to do some more in vitro studies to see if that is the case!

There is one caution with matcha, unlike green tea where the brewed tea leaves are strained out of the brew, with matcha the leaves are ground and powdered so you are getting the whole product in your drink. Turns out because of soil contamination , and that is no secret here in China, there can be high levels of lead in tea leaves.  You see where this is going. Studies of brewed tea show almost no lead because you are foregoing the leaves. Generally speaking one shot of matcha a day will not cause any issues but experts do recommend that pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding avoid the magical green powder.

Not to worry, in China there are plenty of teas to experiment with and that doesn’t even include the herbal variety!

Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun!

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