Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Local newspaper article about tea (part 2)

If you have a weak stomach and poor digestion, do not drink green tea or jasmine tea, advised Professor Hong Hai, a registered TCM practitioner.

'You could feel slight pain in the stomach after drinking the tea even in moderate quantities,' said the Nanyang Business School professor from the Nanyang Technological University.

He recommended oolong and pu er tea instead for such people. According to the Journal Of Chinese Medicine, these invigorate the spleen, where redundant red blood cells are destroyed, clears stomach heat and counteracts alcohol toxins.

Drinking green tea on an empty stomach is also not recommended by Chinese tea specialists, especially for those with gastric problems. This is because the acid in the tea can harm the stomach, causing stomach aches and, in severe cases, stomach flu.

Tea is also not recommended for pregnant women and toddlers said MsKaren Wright, head dietitian at the Food Clinic. This is because polyphenols in tea bind with iron, making it harder for the body to absorb it.

Cutting down on tea and coffee could help to improve iron levels in the body. This is important particularly for young or pregnant women and toddlers who are most at risk of iron deficiency anaemia, she said.

Drinking too much tea can also be counter-productive.

'Supposedly one has to drink more than five cups of green tea to obtain a good level of the antioxidant...[but] I wouldn't tell people to drink that much. Probably two to three cups should be the max,' holistic nutritionist Yondi Lee of Ascension Healing said, adding that it also depends on what type of tea one is drinking.

This is because teas are diuretic, which increases the rate of urination. This in turn causes the body to lose minerals if a person passes urine too often. The tannin, a polyphenol in tea, can also reduce absorption of minerals, she said.

According to Prof Hong, too much tea can have negative effects on the body.

'You have drunk more than you need when you feel uncomfortable in the stomach, or your sleep is disturbed. You could also have loose stools the day after drinking a lot of tea,' he said.

This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times on Jan 22, 2009.

The 3rd article below is about TCM tea:

Legend has it that more than 4,000 years ago in 2,737BC, tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shennong quite by chance. A dead leaf had fallen into his drinking water while it was boiling under the tree.

He unwittingly drank it and was so taken by the refreshing effect of the tea leaf that he named it "cha" (tea in Mandarin).

Tea drinking soon spread across the country and became a symbol of Chinese high culture, which later travelled to other parts of Asia, Europe, the Americas and Russia. However, beyond its social symbolism, tea was an important form of medicine used by early physicians.

Since ancient times, the Chinese have been using tea to improve their health and to cure illnesses, said Mr Chin Chew Seng, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician and senior trainer at Eu Yan Sang in Singapore.

It is not known when tea was first used for its medicinal value but the earliest records were traced back to the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD).

Today, there are about 1,500 varieties of tea according to the United Kingdom Tea Council. Only the leaves from the camellia sinensis species of plants are considered tea.

Chinese tea is also distinct from TCM tea which is prepared differently and is mixed with herbs and are often drunk for medicinal purposes rather than leisure.

There are six main grades of Chinese tea - white, green, yellow, oolong, red and black.

Indian and Ceylon tea like Darjeeling, Orange Pekoe and Earl Grey are all blends of black tea which are drunk frequently. It's the most popular type in the world.

Based on the level of fermentation, each has different health benefits.

Fermentation is the process of crushing fresh tea leaves and leaving them to ferment. This produces chemical reactions that result in different flavours and colours. The different health benefits of tea have also been attributed to the varying levels of fermentation of the leaves.

Tea contains naturally occurring chemical compounds called catechins. These are antioxidants that may boost the body's immune system, prevent infections and possibly reduce the risk and progression of cancer.

Mr Chin also said that Chinese tea helps stimulate the nervous system, aid digestion, increase metabolism and even improve one's memory.

However, it is not just Chinese physicians who recognise the medicinal value of tea.

Dr Koh Woon Puay, associate professor at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said that laboratory research has shown that the catechins found in green and black tea may prevent the onset and/or the progression of cancer.

"Both green and black tea extracts have also demonstrated cancer preventive properties in experimental animal studies," she said, adding, however, that no human population study has been able to show that tea can cure cancer in patients.

Green and black tea may each prevent different types of diseases too said Dr Koh, who does research on the link between dietary habits and lifestyle and common diseases among adults in Singapore. This includes tea drinking.
A study of 63,000 middle-aged and elderly Chinese Singaporeans in the Singapore Chinese Health Study conducted by NUS between 1993 and 2007 showed that women who drink green tea daily had mammograms that could possibly relate to a lower risk of breast cancer. Also, men and women who drink black tea daily had a lower incidence of Parkinson's disease and possibly diabetes.

This, she said, is because of the different levels of fermentation in green and black tea, which lead to different changes to the catechins in the tea, thus altering their biological effects.

Holistic nutritionist Yondi Lee of Ascension Healing, a centre that advises on nutritional therapy, also defends the scientific basis of tea and its health benefits.

"There is definitely scientific evidence showing the benefits of tea. There is countless research on EGCG, the antioxidant touted for its anti-cancer effect," she said, adding that recent research has shown that flavonoids, chemical compounds found in black tea, help lower bad cholesterol and reduce dental decay.

Another kind of tea that is often confused with Chinese tea is TCM tea. It is a combination of medicinal herbs and tea. TCM practitioners believe that combining the two makes the medicinal quotient act better, strengthening the effect of the medicine.

"Certain tea when mixed with certain medicine would help enhance the total medicinal effect," MrChin said.

TCM tea also differs from Chinese tea in its preparation techniques. Unlike the latter which is prepared by pouring boiling water over it, TCM tea has to be brewed for 30 to 45minutes under low heat.

Unlike Western medicine, the science behind TCM is based on a compilation of traditional Chinese medicine over several thousand years and is therefore hard to pin down.
Prescriptions of TCM tea are made based on prescriptions that have been tried and tested by Chinese physicians over thousands of years.

According to Mr Chin, TCM tea helps remove "heatiness", which is due to the lack of water in the body, leading to symptoms like sore throat, red eyes and constipation.

It is also believed to purge the body of toxins and reduce inflammation and pain.

Nevertheless, Dr Koh cautioned that there is still insufficient evidence to prove the health benefits of tea and it is too early to prescribe tea drinking for its disease prevention qualities.

Not everything we consume must be for a health benefit.

"If one enjoys tea and drinks it as part of a daily diet... it adds to the simple pleasures in life," she said.

This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times, on January 22, 2009.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Local newspaper article about tea (part 1)

Green Tea

One of the purest grades of tea because it does not go through the process of fermentation. It is very high in antioxidants that boost the immune system, improve metabolism and may help to reduce the risk of lung, colon and skin cancer.A joint United States-China study on the health effects of green tea done in China published in the International Journal Of Cancer, 2001, found that people who drank one to three cups of green tea daily had a 30 per cent lower rate of stomach cancer, whilst those who drank more than three cups had a 61 per cent lower rate of the disease.Drinking green tea can also help prevent arthritis.

According to the Journal Of Chinese Medicine, researchers at the University of Sheffield in Britain found that naturally occurring compounds in green tea can help prevent osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis caused by the breakdown of cartilage. It blocks the enzyme that destroys the cartilage.
In addition, green tea is said to help regulate blood sugar levels and prevents cavities and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums).

White Tea
The least fermented grade of tea which is why it is very high in antioxidants.
It is said to have 10 times the antioxidant power of vitamin E and contain high concentrations of polyphenols and catechins.
This helps fight the ravages of ageing caused by free radicals in the body, reduces the risk of lung, colon and skin cancer, and strengthens the immune system.
The Journal Of Chinese Medicine also said that research carried out at the Linus Pauling Institute in Oregon in the United States showed that white tea is able to prevent mutations of DNA two to five times more efficiently than green or black tea, thus giving it greater potential in preventing cancer.

Yellow tea
Similar to green tea but it is left to ferment till it is a yellowish colour.
Little research has been done on the health benefits of yellow tea, but according to Tea Chapter's tea trainers (specialists who conduct courses on tea appreciation), it helps reduce heat in the body, which is why it is recommended as a summer tea. It is also said to contain bacteria-killing fluoride, which prevents tooth decay.
Websites on the health benefits of tea like the Yellow Tea Guide also claim that the antioxidants in yellow tea prevent and ease cardiovascular diseases, promote longevity and improve mental agility.

Oolong tea
Renowned as the 'diet tea', oolong is semi-fermented and famous for its weight loss properties.
Health reports by Chinese pharmacologists on the website,, said that polyphenols in tea activate the enzyme that is responsible for dissolving fats in the body, which results in weight loss.
Tea Chapter's tea trainers also said that the tea lowers the intake of fat from high-cholesterol meals and increases metabolism rates, while the tannic acid in oolong helps to lower cholesterol levels.

Red and black tea
These two types of tea are fully fermented tea leaves which contributes to their darker shade and stronger flavour.
According to the Journal Of Chinese Medicine, a study of 3,430 adults in Saudi Arabia published in 2002 found that those who drank more than six cups of black tea (also known as pu er tea) a day had a more than 50per cent lower risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who do not drink tea, even after considering other factors such as smoking, diet and obesity.
Red and black tea are also said to lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease and strokes, which is why tea specialists recommend them to people above the age of 40.
'However, too much will lead to stomach aches,' said Mr Kelvin Wo, spokesman for Tea Chapter.

Floral and fruit tea
They are considered modern fusions of Chinese tea and are not part of the six main grades of Chinese tea. These are a combination of tea and dried flowers or preserved fruits.
Floral tea is said to be good for the eyes and skin and helps you feel relaxed.
'Chrysanthemum tea clears your mind and gives better eyesight,' said Mr Chin Chew Seng, a traditional Chinese medicine physician.
Fruit tea, rich in vitamin C, is good for digestion and the complexion, sharpens eyesight and clears the tastebuds, said Mr Wo.

This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times on Jan 22, 2009.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Taiwan high mountain tea (part2) video

Harvesting of the oolong tea leaves by hand is hard work.  One characteristic of a good spring harvest is a beatiful sunny morning like the one in video, as opposed to a dreary or rainy morning.  
Oolong tea harvesting is done 4 times a year during the 4 seasons.  In terms of price and quality, the best in order are winter, spring, autumn and summer harvest.  It is normal for the prices of winter harvest to be a few times more than the summer harvest.  Moreover, the demand for the winter oolong is very high among the oolong tea drinkers both local and abroad.  
As most oolong drinkers are inexperienced in differentiating the different seasons oolong, they may be taken for a ride by unscrupulous retailers who may claim to sell premium high mountain winter tea when the tea sold may be of a different season or may be not 100% pure (a mixture of 2 season tea).  I myself an amateur tea drinker have to rely on a good source for my tea....fortunately picking up the tea from the tea owner myself.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Was reading the local newspaper article today and there was this article about pu erh tea:

MENGHAI, China — Saudi Arabia has its oil. South Africa has its diamonds. And here in China’s temperate southwest, prosperity has come from the scrubby green tea trees that blanket the mountains of fabled Menghai County.
Over the past decade, as the nation went wild for the region’s brand of tea, known as Pu’er, farmers bought minivans, manufacturers became millionaires and Chinese citizens plowed their savings into black bricks of compacted Pu’er.
But that was before the collapse of the tea market turned thousands of farmers and dealers into paupers and provided the nation with a very pungent lesson about gullibility, greed and the perils of the speculative bubble. “Most of us are ruined,” said Fu Wei, 43, one of the few tea traders to survive the implosion of the Pu’er market. “A lot of people behaved like idiots.”
A pleasantly aromatic beverage that promoters claim reduces cholesterol and cures hangovers, Pu’er became the darling of the sipping classes in recent years as this nation’s nouveaux riches embraced a distinctly Chinese way to display their wealth, and invest their savings. From 1999 to 2007, the price of Pu’er, a fermented brew invented by Tang Dynasty traders, increased tenfold, to a high of $150 a pound for the finest aged Pu’er, before tumbling far below its preboom levels.
For tens of thousands of wholesalers, farmers and other Chinese citizens who poured their money into compressed disks of tea leaves, the crash of the Pu’er market has been nothing short of disastrous. Many investors were led to believe that Pu’er prices could only go up.
“The saying around here was ‘It’s better to save Pu’er than to save money,’ ” said Wang Ruoyu, a longtime dealer in Xishuangbanna, the lush, tea-growing region of Yunnan Province that abuts the Burmese border. “Everyone thought they were going to get rich.”
Fermented tea was hardly the only caffeinated investment frenzy that swept China during its boom years. The urban middle class speculated mainly in stock and real estate, pushing prices to stratospheric levels before exports slumped, growth slowed and hundreds of billions of dollars in paper profits disappeared over the past year.
In the mountainous Pu’er belt of Yunnan, a cabal of manipulative buyers cornered the tea market and drove prices to record levels, giving some farmers and county traders a taste of the country’s bubble — and its bitter aftermath.
At least a third of the 3,000 tea manufacturers and merchants have called it quits in recent months. Farmers have begun replacing newly planted tea trees with more nourishing — and now, more lucrative — staples like corn and rice. Here in Menghai, the newly opened six-story emporium built to house hundreds of buyers and bundlers is a very lonely place.
“Very few of us survived,” said Mr. Fu, 43, among the few tea traders brave enough to open a business in the complex, which is nearly empty. He sat in the concrete hull of his shop, which he cannot afford to complete, and cobwebs covered his shelf of treasured Pu’er cakes.
All around him, sitting on unsold sacks of tea, were idled farmers and merchants who bided their time playing cards, chain smoking and, of course, drinking endless cups of tea.
The rise and fall of Pu’er partly reflects the lack of investment opportunities and government oversight in rural Yunnan, as well as the abundance of cash among connoisseurs in the big cities.
Wu Xiduan, secretary general of the China Tea Marketing Association, said many na├»ve investors had been taken in by the frenzied atmosphere, largely whipped up by out-of-town wholesalers who promoted Pu’er as drinkable gold and then bought up as much as they could, sometimes paying up to 30 percent more than in the previous year.
He said that as farmers planted more tea, production doubled from 2006 to 2007, to 100,000 tons. In the final free-for-all months, some producers shipped their tea to Yunnan from other provinces, labeled it Pu’er, and then enjoyed huge markups.
When values hit absurd levels last spring, the buyers unloaded their stocks and disappeared.
“The market was sensationalized on purpose,” Mr. Wu said, speaking in a telephone interview from Beijing.

With its near-mythic aura, Pu’er is well suited for hucksterism. A favorite of emperors and imbued with vague medicinal powers, Pu’er was supposedly invented by eighth-century horseback traders who compressed the tea leaves into cakes for easier transport. Unlike other types of tea, which are consumed not long after harvest, Pu’er tastes better with age. Prized vintages from the 19th century have sold for thousands of dollars a wedge.

Over the past decade, the industry has been shaped in ways that mirror the Western fetishization of wine. Sellers charge a premium for batches picked from older plants or, even better, from “wild tea” trees that have survived the deforestation that scars much of the region. Enthusiasts talk about oxidation levels, loose-leaf versus compacted and whether the tea was harvested in the spring or the summer. (Spring tea, many believe, is more flavorful.)
But with no empirical way to establish a tea’s provenance, many buyers are easily duped.
“If you study Pu’er your whole life, you still can’t recognize the differences in the teas,” said Mr. Wang, the tea buyer. “I tell people to just buy what tastes good and don’t worry about anything else.”
Among those most bruised by the crash are the farmers of Menghai County. Many had never experienced the kind of prosperity common in China’s cities. Villagers built two-story brick homes, equipped them with televisions and refrigerators and sent their children to schools in the district capital. Flush with cash, scores of elderly residents made their first trips to Beijing.
“Everyone was wearing designer labels,” said Zhelu, 22, a farmer who is a member of the region’s Hani minority and uses only one name. “A lot of people bought cars, but now we can’t afford gas so we just park them.”
Last week, dozens of vibrantly dressed women from Xinlu sat on the side of the highway hawking their excess tea. There were few takers. The going rate, about $3 a pound for medium-grade Pu’er, was less than a tenth of the peak price. The women said that during the boom years, tea traders from Guangdong Province would come to their village and buy up everyone’s harvest. But last year, they simply stopped showing up.
Back at Menghai’s forlorn “tea city,” Chen Li was surrounded by what he said was $580,000 worth of product he bought before the crash. As he served an amber-hued seven-year-old variety, he described the manic days before Pu’er went bust. Out-of-towners packed hotels and restaurants. Local banks, besieged by customers, were forced to halve the maximum withdrawal limit.
“People had to stand in line for four or five hours to get the money from the bank, and you could often see people quarreling,” he said. “Even pedicab drivers were carrying tea samples and looking for clients on the street.”
A trader who jumped into the business three years ago, Mr. Chen survives by offsetting his losses with profits from a restaurant his family owns in Alabama. He also happens to be one of the few optimists in town. Now that so many farmers have stopped picking tea, he is confident that prices will eventually rebound. As for the mounds of unsold tea that nearly enveloped him?
“The best thing about Pu’er,” he said with a showman’s smile, “is that the longer you keep it, the more valuable it gets.” (NYT)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Oolong tea ware

I received this tea making set by the host over dinner.  This tea set is made up of 4 pieces of pure white porcelain; a bowl, spoon and a cup with lid.  the cup has no handles and has a small hole at the lid.  This set is used in oolong tea competitions in Taiwan and is primarily used by the teamaster while manufacturing oolong tea (more of this in later blogs).  

A spoonful of oolong tea leaves are placed in the bowl.  Fresh boiling hot water is then poured into the bowl and  you wait about a minute before the tea is tested.  Testing of the tea is done with a spoon.  You immerse and dip the spoon in the bowl.  Take the spoon out (no tea in the spoon) and while holding the spoon  upright in your hand, sniff the tip of the spoon for a couple of seconds....done.  Take the spoon away, and then repeat the procedure.  The scent (from sniffing the tip of the spoon) is one the most important quality of the oolong tea.  The aroma, or fragrance of the tea is the highlight of the high mountain oolong tea.  The fragrant scent will seen to be enhanced when you sniff the spoon a few more times.  Try to remember the scent as the various oolong tea from other parts of the world have their unique signature scents.  I am not promoting that you scent the tea with a spoon everytime you make tea, but doing it on a couple of occasions do make the tea making experience a unique art of tea appreciation.

Well you drink the tea by pouring the tea into the cup, and make more infusions by pouring boiling hot water in the bowl.   Before making another infusion, you can also examine the tea leaves.  Good quality high mountain tea is characterized not only by the scent but the examination of the leaves.  The tea leaf should be whole, not broken and be of a optimum size.  The color of the tea leaves  should be of a freshly green colour if it was just harvested yesterday.   You can also sniff the the leaves while holding the bowl, and give a further tap to the bowl with one hand so as to enhance the scent.  

The taste of the oolong tea is the highlight of the entire experience.  The taste of the tea as well as the aftertaste after drinking the tea should be a pleasant one for the tea drinker.  There are many write ups on the taste and is impossible to quantify in words.  The tea drinking experience is complete when you finish the last drop of tea and scenting the empty teacup for one more time before putting down the cup.   For me, its a happy and "at peace" sensation   when I taste a good cup of tea.