Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sweet Elixer Of Life!

i realised a while ago that my blog is titled "science tea and cats" and that i have talked often about science, occasionally about cats, and very rarely, if at all, about tea. so, i feel it is due time that i devote a post to that most divine beverage: tea. as im sure most of my readers are aware, i drink an unusual amount of tea. i also collect teas, my end goal being to be able to say "you have the sickness, i have the cure, please follow me to the tea room" and then provide the illness with a befitting tea. so what is the deal with tea? i am going to outline this post in a somewhat organized fashion, because i have a lot to say. so be warned: long post ahead.
most people are aware that tea has been around for thousands of years. legend has it that tea was first created when some ancient chinese people (probably monks, the ancient chinese in stories are always monks) were boiling water in a big pot one day near a bush and apparently some leaves fell into the pot. the monks noticed this and decided to try drinking the beverage anyway (this seems like an unwise and rather un-monklike decision, since the leaves could have been poison, but maybe they were just THAT enlightened) and they decided they liked it. thus tea was born. the chinese have a long history of growing and making tea, and tea is a huge part of chinese culture. much of the health benefits associated with drinking tea come from the evidence shown in the obvious longevity of chinese tea drinkers
but the chinese are not the only people who have been drinking tea for a long time. tea has been prevalent in indian culture for centuries or even millenia as well. also, there is huge cultural significance surrounding tea in japan. also, we dont hear much about it, but certain kinds of tea are just as relevant to south americans as coffee.
now lets fast forward to more recent history. tea managed to find its way over to europe during the time of the explorers, and everyone fell in love with it (and why not?), particularly the british. so, during the height of the british empire, tea was a huge import to britain and the british colonies. also, due to the heavy influence the british empire had on the countries it had occupied, many british customs leaked into those countries and stayed there for good. this includes india (which, as i mentioned, already had tea going for it), canada, the united states, and parts of africa. to this day, even after the long over fall of the british empire, tea is the number one most consumed beverage in the whole world, and that is in part due to the huge influence of the british. also, as im sure most of you may know, the british and the australians still have a prevalent and unique culture surrounding tea, with "afternoon tea" or "high tea" enjoyed by everyone at 4pm (what we in canada lovingly refer to as after school snack).
types of tea are differentiated by their processing and by what part of the tea leaf is used. in some cases, the plant is not the usual tea leaf.
1) Black Tea: black tea is made from tea leaves that have been fully oxidized during processing. it has a higher caffeine level than other teas, and is the tea of choice of most north americans.
2) Green Tea: green tea is not oxidized. it is withered after harvesting to prevent oxidation. it is the traditional tea of many asian countries including china and japan. many people consider green tea to be the "healthiest" tea. (i think that every tea has health benefits, it just depends on what benefits you are looking for). green tea generally has lower caffeine and higher levels of antioxidants than black tea, and is an excellent detoxification tea. it is also associated with longevity and lower rates of colon cancer in women.
3) white tea: white tea is made from only the top (young) leaves and buds of the plant, which have a delicate white layer on them, hence the name white tea. because of this, white tea is the most rare, and is often the most expensive. it has the highest antioxidants and detoxifying agents of all the teas, and is therefore helpful for good liver function. (an excellent hangover tea). the caffeine level in white tea is also minimal, comparable to that of green tea.
4) oolong tea: the word oolong means "black dragon" so you know its a sexy tea. the leaves are partly oxidized after withering, steaming and rolling so it is kind of a combination of black and green tea. a great tea for someone who wants the best of both worlds.
5) flavoured tea: flavoured tea is any of the above tea that have been combined with something to have a flavour in them. there might just be spices or petals of certain flowers mixed in with the tea, or the tea might have been cooked briefly with essential oils from a certain fruit. in other cases, the combination of two different flavours fools you into tasting something completely different. (example: aloe vera and white tea leaves an aroma of white grapefruit)
6) herbal teas: these can be anything. herbal teas are just dried plant leaves that you prepare like tea. usually caffeine free, and in some cases, you can take drugs this way.
7) yerba meté: this tea is made from a different plant. it has great cultural significance in south america, and grows in the rainforest. it is associated with longevity and high caffeine levels leading to increased memory and mental awareness. interestingly, for such a potent upper, it has a very mild taste
8) matcha: this is the special powdered green tea from japan, used in particular during the famous japanese tea ceremony (which takes like, five hours!). this tea is considered to be more beneficial to your health than regular green tea because you are actually eating the ground up leaves while you drink it
9) rooibos: rooibos means "red bush" and this tea has only recently been introduced in north america. rooibos is native to south africa. of all the teas, it is the most acquired taste. it is caffeine free, high in antioxidants, aids in digestion, and may help prevent heart disease. there are many flavoured rooibos teas out there, but plain rooibos has an almost berry-like taste.
since i have such a keen interest in tea, i am always looking out for new ones to try. so, from here on out, i am going to start publishing tea reviews of all the new teas i try here on my blog. that said, i will just briefly mention my favourites here. its a hard decision to make, because different teas have different purposes and i drink each one at different times for different reasons. because of this, i like all teas for one reason for another. that said, here are my top three overall.
3) "heaven's key" custom mix by teaopia. heaven's key is a white tea mixed with aloe vera bits (mentioned above) to leave a white grapefruit aroma. my mum gave me a bag of this tea for christmas, and it was phenomenal. i couldnt get enough of it, it was so good, especially after a night of drinking. i have less that one cup's worth left now, and ive been saving that last little bit for when i really really want it.
2) earl grey. any earl grey will do, but i think my favourite so far is the organic one i picked up at the health store. earl grey in general is a straight up classic black tea with a slightly citrus aroma. i take mine with milk, by far my stand by and usual first cup of the day.
1) golden heaven yunnan: this tea is available at zencha tea bar in collingwood. it is a very rare african black tea and it is SOOOOO expensive. its 35 dollars for 100g of the stuff, but man oh man, that stuff is like CRACK. the aroma is beautiful, the taste is wonderful, it doesnt need milk (but you could put milk in if you want) and after a cup of it, you get this amazing body buzz. its actually pretty unreal, ive never had anything like it.

runners up: white monkey paw, peppermint black gunpowder, throat comfort tea, and bija double ginger

1 comment:

corax said...

> golden heaven yunnan: this tea is
> available at zencha tea bar in
> collingwood. it is a very rare african
> black tea

actually it's not from africa, but from yunnan province in china -- the region that's reputedly the birthplace of tea. while tea bushes have been growing in yunnan for literally thousands of years, this particular tea was not made [in this way] till the late 1930s.

i agree with you that it is addictively delicious! and yes it can be expensive. but you can do much better than $35/100g. have a look at some reviews of various yunnan blacks [or 'reds' as they call it in china] at CHA DAO. there are links to four vendor sites at the bottom of that post. other relevant posts here and here [among others] on the same blog. hope this helps!