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Tea and you: brewing it, enjoying it & getting the health benefits

13/09/2014
tea oolong cup

A delicious oolong tea known as Big Red Robe from the MayKing Tea range.

I really love tea so it’s no surprise that I snapped up an opportunity to do a tea appreciation course through Bright Learning with tea educator and enthusiast, May King Tsang (founder of MayKing Tea). With British Chinese heritage, May King brought the traditional English white and two sugar lovers and the green tea purists together giving us a lesson in making good tea (from picking the tea leaves, brewing them well and then appreciating them) as well as teaching us about some of the styles of tea, their flavour characteristics, health benefits, some tea-tech-talk, all while we enjoyed several cups of very tasty, good quality, loose leaf tea.

Here’s 10 things you may or may not know to ponder while you sip your cup of tea:

  1. Tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant with Chinese and Indian varietals. Herbals (eg. chamomile and peppermint) and rooibos are technically not tea as they come from different plants and are more correctly known as infusions, although we all call them teas anyway due to the preparation method.
  2. There are six types of tea: white, green, yellow, oolong, black and pu-erh. They are all made with the same tea plant but the leaves that are used, oxidisation and processing methods vary for each one. White and green teas are less oxidised than black teas are. White teas are made with just the bud and two first leaves from the branch. As tea leaves are oxidised they become sweeter (although this is only to a point and then they are more bittersweet like dark chocolate).

    MayKing Tea's delicate, white tea called 'white peony'.

    MayKing Tea’s delicate, white tea called ‘white peony’.

  3. Antioxidants are not only found in white and green teas. All tea leaves contain antioxidants and the content is much of a muchness between the six types of tea, so drink the type of tea you like best.
  4. Tea leaves do contain more caffeine than coffee beans per gram of raw material. However less tea leaves are used in making a cup of tea so there is actually less caffeine in a cup of tea than a cup of coffeeBlack tea does contain the most caffeine of the tea types, there is less in green tea and less again in most white tea. A type of white tea known as ‘silver needle’ contains a high level of caffeine as it is made with only the bud at the tip of the tea plant branch, and caffeine is more highly concentrated in these leaves. A Japanese style of tea known as matcha also has a high level of caffeine. Caffeine gives tea a ‘Yang’ property and l-theanine gives tea it’s ‘Yin’ relaxing, mood-enhancing property. This is why Asian and British cultures consider most problems can be fixed with a “nice sit down and a good cup of tea.” Choose the type of tea that you need according to your taste, mood, energy and the time of day.
  5. Tea can be flavoured by having herbs added to it (think Moroccan Mint green tea – which is actually a traditional Chinese blend that traveled with the spice trade). Tea leaves can also be flavoured by having herbs placed with the fresh pickings and infused under the sun for several days, the herbs are then removed so your brew is only made with the flavoured tea leaves. Some highly valued jasmine green teas are made this way. Some teas are ‘enhanced’ with artificial flavours so make sure to read the labels.

    MayKing Tea's osmanthus oolong tea. I loved this one, it reminded of my boat trip down the Li River in Guangxi.

    MayKing Tea’s osmanthus oolong tea. I loved this one, it reminded of my boat trip down the Li River in Guangxi.

  6. The water temperature required varies depending on the type of tea you are making. And you don’t need a fancy kettle or thermometer to measure this. Use fresh water (pH 7 is ideal) in the kettle each time and study the bubbles in the water level gauge to get the right temperature for the leaves you are using. Generally white and green teas need cooler water (70-80°C) and oolong, black and herbals need hotter water (around 90°C+). Here’s a guide to the temperature and bubble size to expect for each type of tea.
  7. Tea bags don’t contain the ‘sweepings from the factory floor’ but they aren’t usually made with excellent quality tea leaves either. Tea quality is best judged by examining the tea leaf itself so this is a reason to buy loose leaf tea. Also the more times a tea leaf has been cut, the darker your brew will be. The new triangular shape tea bags doing the rounds now often do contain better quality leaves than regular tea bags however they are usually made from a ‘plastic silken gauze’ which doesn’t biodegrade well, so not an environmentally friendly choice.
  8. You can leave your tea leaves to infuse in a white or green tea for about 3 minutes. Black and oolong teas can stay in contact with the leaves for as long as you like. The infuser size is considered to best if smaller for black teas and larger for green teas.
  9. Medicinally, in Chinese medicine, we consider that tea is slightly bitter-sweet, cooling to the body and benefits the Heart, Liver, Stomach, Bladder and Large Intestine channels. White and green teas are the most cooling and black teas are warmer. Tea is considered to be useful taken at the start of a ‘hot’ common cold, to assist in the digestion of heavy, rich and fatty foods, for scanty urination or taken as a strong brew for diarrhoea.
  10. It is considered that in brewing your cup of tea a process termed the ‘agony of the leaf‘ occurs: there will be a ‘tumble between the leaf and the water’ to produce that wonderful ‘liquor’ we know as tea.

    A delicious cup of osmanthus oolong tea.

    A delicious cup of osmanthus oolong tea.

Here’s more on tea and happiness, how to make corn silk ‘tea’ infusion and how to make chai.

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.

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