Jasmine Tea

Although it is still common in Cantonese restaurants to serve big metal tea-pots of Jasmine tea to folk of European origin it is memories of family or individual trips out to Cantonese restaurants in the 1980’s and 90’s that is invoked when sampling jasmine tea today.

Jasmine tea remains popular in the background still today and often displays a good balance of green tea leaf  and jasmine flower. In traditional Chinese medicine jasmine is seen as having cold and bitter properties, perhaps perfect when combined with green tea for the European constitution that is generally and anecdotally viewed as warm and dry.

Jasmine tea factually has a long history, and was popularised in the Qing dynasty (circa. 1644). During this period large amounts were indeed exported westward and perhaps cemented into occidental perceptions of the orient and Chinese tea.

Today Fuzhou, in Fujian province (the birthplace of oolong) is most noted for jasmine tea production, that aside there are some good productions from Yunnan. Fuzhou is most famous jasmine tea production as its most favorable climate for jasmine cultivation. It‘s in this city that the tea scenting  was first invented more than 1000 years ago. Fuzhou has developed a interesting system of tea gardening and tea terraces that is of great ecological significance. This is because jasmine and tea trees grow in different environments. Together with the diversified micro-climates, they have influenced the shaping of the vertical landscapes around Fuzhou. When one looks from the mountain top to the river, there a visible stratification of tea plants, trees, buildings, jasmines and waterways. (and traditional Hakka buildings sometimes called tulou 土楼 – see below)

 

main-qimg-efc700c189cdff01213135430b3f96e2-cIts arguable what came first tea terracing or jasmine tea? However unlike Yunnan and Hunnan where traditionally tea was forest harvested and still remains somewhat today, terraces in Fujian province are very much an established part of historic agriculture.

Terraced fields decrease both erosion and surface runoff, and are effective in mountainous areas to support growing crops that require different micro-climates and level of rainfall. Hence terracing is an effective way of diversifying and increasing productivity in what is otherwise difficult agricultural conditions. It could be stated that jasmine tea medicine is the outcome of this harmonisation of the landscape, indeed the balance between astringent green tea and lubricating jasmine perfume encapsulates this yin yang agriculture.

When partaking in jasmine tea medicine it is still difficult for me to get beyond images of 90’s steamy cantonese restaurants and the ubiquitous sweetcorn soup. I’m working on this as I think the tea medicine invoked in jasmine tea should be perhaps more evocative of meeting of west and east and the harmonisation of the landscape to support micro-diversity.

That aside, the process of making jasmine tea itself should be noted as both a technological innovation and artistic skilled achievement. Generally, the manufacturing process for jasmine flower scented green tea includes multiple rounds of scenting and drying steps. For scenting, green tea processed in the conventional way is mixed with fully opened fresh jasmine flowers and piled up for several hours. Then, the flowers are removed and the scented tea leaves are heat-dried (at 90 to 100 degrees celcius). Depending on the desired aroma intensity, this scenting (and heating) process can be repeated several times. In this way, the characteristic jasmine scented tea aroma forms. Perhaps the aroma of jasmine tea is the most significant aspect of its tea medicine in that jasmine volatile oils is recognised as having both relaxing and mood enhancing affects. A study by Kuo (2017) demonstrated that breathing jasmine essential oil could inhibit central nerve system activity to make people feel relaxed.

Some interesting studies into the tea medicine of jasmine tea demonstrated that jasmine tea could increase norepinephrine and dopamine levels in the brain leading to positive mood enhancement and may help depression(Liu et al 2014).

Much in the same way Buddhist meditation can alter states of mind and tackle depression, the fact that we are increasingly incorporating this into health in the new wave of “mindfulness” practices, perhaps Jasmine tea could too? Interestingly enough there is an intimate link between Buddhism and Jasmine tea that is often forgotten. Both Buddhism and Jasmine cultivation arrived in China at the same time as an import from the West, both Buddhism and Jasmine cultivation were woven into local culture and local practice with tea medicine as the catalyst in the middle. To this day Jasmine flowers are offered to the Buddha at temples (Yu 2014) and the Buddha is often depicted wearing a garland of these flowers.

Jasmine tea is maybe  the perfect tea medicine to enhance and supplement mindfulness practice of any tradition of meditation, forming a perfect triad of tea,jasmine and mind, stimulated but relaxed, mindful but calm.

Therefore it is perhaps time to get jasmine tea out of Cantonese restaurants and into our bowls as we sit down and take time out or adopt the lotus position in front of  our shrines.  I suspect that the occasional jasmine blossom even found itself in the bowls of tea drank at Shaolin Monastery during the times of Boddhidharma.

Kuo TC. A Study about the Inhibition Effect of Jasmine Essential Oil on the Central Nervous System. Journal of Health Science. 2017;7(4):67-72.
Liu J, Gao SL, Yang JF. Antidepressant effect of jasmine tea. Journal of Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University (Natural Science Edition). 2014;43:139-45.
Shen JX, Rana MM, Liu GF, Ling TJ, Gruber MY, Wei S. Differential Contribution of Jasmine Floral Volatiles to the Aroma of Scented Green Tea. Journal of Food Quality. 2017;2017.
Yu J. The secret between storytelling and retelling: Tea, school, & narrative. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. 2014 May 28;27(5):682-99.
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Liu Bao

Liu Bao (六堡), like Puerh is a fermented tea traditionally from Guangxi. It is fermented and dried in a long delicate process in preparation for further aging. Part of the process involves wet piling for several weeks to allow fermentation to take place. The degree of fermentation depends on the amount of time the tea is wet piled and can differ depending on the intended outcome.

Guangxi province is located south of Yunnan, neighbouring Guangdong so features average  daytime temperatures between 12 -22 degrees and humidity between 70 -85%. Perhaps perfect, with its short, mild winters, and long, very hot and humid summers for fermented tea production.

Liu Bao has been often referred to as “poor man’s Puerh” mainly perhaps because it is traditionally produced and stored in large quantities in bamboo baskets.

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“In the wilderness of Cangwu area

There is the luxuriant Liubao Mountain

With a scenic landscape

A famous tea comes from there

Mists and clouds pass it their charm

Morning dew moisten the tips of its leaves

When I drink this tea

The aroma lingers in my mouth

My mind clears, and my spirit is at ease”  

(Song Dynasty Poem)

Despite this Liu Bao fails to achieve the level of prestige that Puerh has achieved. However Liu Bao is definately my “go to” tea when it comes to tea medicine.

There is a current trend in the western drinkers of drinking young raw Puerh and consequentially reported stomach aches and gastro-intestinal after effects. I ponder whether this is something that is an outcome of the developing “instant gratification” culture that when you’ve spent $30 or $40 dollars on 2017 bing you are not prepared to wait +5 or +10 years down the line to enjoy it. I certainly think there is an element of truth in this as I hear stories of how this years spring flush in Yunnan was descended upon by tourists buying up this years rare and old arbor productions. (see posts http://www.twodogteablog.com/ on 2017 Spring Puerh).

However I am not here to criticize individual choice and there are many things that are right and wrong with the current Puerh market. Yet when it comes to tea medicine it does appear that not only is there a “dis” ease in social health due to “instant gratification” culture but also that this is reflected in more modern techniques in the history of Puerh production. Fellow tea buddies at  https://teadb.org/ touch upon some of this on their blog. Move towards ripening with fermentation to acquire an almost instantly developed tea perhaps exemplifies this.

There is nothing wrong with ripe Puerh and the process that is involved, as opposed to traditionally stored raw Puerh that ripens naturally with time, in fact this process was developed from the traditional way in which Liu Bao is processed involving wet piling. However Liu Bao, unlike ripe Puerh has so much more when we consider tea medicine holistically.

Liu Bao is definitely calmer on the stomach than any of the ripe or raw Puerh I’ve experienced. It is well known to warm the stomach which in Traditional Chinese Medicine is a yang organ and therefore prone to yang deficiency where there isn’t enough heat to process and absorb the qi from the food or yin deficiency where there is insufficient fluid to hold, descend and transform the qi from food. Hence Liu Bao tea that does both in giving heat and fluid is perfect for more delicate stomach constitutions. These virtues are expressed in the Qing dynasty poem attributed to Cheng Yuandao

“The mountains are piled high liu bao,

it regulates digestion wonderfully….. “

 

Some reports claim Liu Bao has good quantities of Nicotinic Acid content (known as Vitamin B3). Perhaps this explains the lingering in the cheeks reported by Cheng Yuandao in his poem in “Drink a cup tonight while entertaining a lord; tomorrow the scent will linger on your teeth and cheeks”, as signifcant quantities of Vitamin B3 can have the effect of “flushing” the cheeks. Vitamin B3 is essential in helping the body convert carbohydrates into glucose. Therefore we can appreciate how traditional notions of the tea medicine of Liu Bao in aiding digestion and helping to descend and transforming qi from food is supported by this analysis of Vitamin content.

A new phenolic compound was isolated from Liu Bao in research undertaken by Kanagae et al (2013) and may yet hold interesting health benefits. Recent research identify many natural phenolic compounds in food could help promote healthy aging by minimizing DNA damage caused by free radicals. Many phenolic compounds found in plants have antioxidant effects, meaning they react with and capture dangerously reactive compounds called free radicals before the radicals can react with other biomolecules and cause serious damage to our DNA. As such a great deal of research is being undertaken around cancer prevention and phenols (Fujiki et al 2015). But as with all science there is equally an opposing argument (Teschke et al 2017), and without incorrectly bestowing the anti-cancer virtues of tea medicine prior to systematically appraising the research what I will say is the role of phenols in taste is already well established.

Phenolic compounds are also very flavorful, as most tea connoisseurs will already know. The unique phenols in Liu Bao perhaps gives it the well appreciated and unique taste profile that many people describe as “sour cereal” or “ash water” taste, classically though it is described as having a “betel nut” aroma/flavour. This unique flavour profile is so well appreciated that Guangxi Inspection and Quarantine Bureau has released standards on this:

“the flavour should be pure mellow and rich with a betel nut flavour and sweet after-taste”

In addition to this the standards expand to cover the condition and grade of the leaf, stating it should be “straight”, “evenly twisted” and “uniform in size”. Also the liquor should be “clean” (no fannings), “lustrous” and “light brown”. I have to report, from experience, this is consistently true and is something that makes Liu Bao so enjoyable to drink and delivers a total beneficial tea medicine experience.  The leaves are so tender and consistent in delicious flavours that it is one of those teas that I will also “eat” the leaves and gain the benefits this way.

Liu Bao tea’s betel nut aroma is apparently first recorded in 1801, when due to its unique betel nut flavor Liu Bao was announced as part of a list of China’s  most famous teas. It’s clear that  Liu Bao’s wider appeal has largely been due to its distinct fragrance. However equally in Malaysia its appeal due to its tea medicine and health benefits is perhaps more recently acknowledged.

During the tin-mining boom of the 19th Century, enormous quantities of Liu Bao along were imported into Malaysia as a customary beverage for hard working Chinese migrants. It was often served to tin miners during their breaks deep underground and its tea medicine virtues soon became recognised in being able to eliminate internal dampness and warm the stomach, protecting the miners from the dampness and internal health risks from working in such conditions where yang deficiency is a concern.

I could continue with the tea medicine of Liu Bao, and may well do in later posts but without appearing biased its now time to enjoy another fresh brewed cup of it as Autumn is coming fast and its raining outside and I am not one to suffer yang deficiency well.

Incidentally from experience to get the best out of Liu Bao I have found brewing in ceramic gaiwans will maintain all the qualities that are listed by the Guangxi Inspection and Quarantine Bureau. This itself is interesting enough as Liu Bao, is often associated with Cantonese consumers as much as the gaiwan brewing technique. Alternatively, try it directly from a bowl, just leaves and water AKA “grandpa” style , I suspect this is how the tin miners would have taken it or boiled in big kettles.

Fujiki H, Sueoka E, Watanabe T, Suganuma M. Primary cancer prevention by green tea, and tertiary cancer prevention by the combination of green tea catechins and anticancer compounds. Journal of cancer prevention. 2015 Mar;20(1):1.
Teschke R, Schulze J. Green tea and the question of reduced liver cancer risk: the dawn of potential clinical relevance?. Hepatobiliary surgery and nutrition. 2017 Apr;6(2):122.

Ecology and tea medicine

Flipping through the pages of the various catalogues of materia medica I own it isn’t difficult to realise that plants are individual pharmaceutical factories powered by sun, rain and good soil.

Even though we have identified some of the array of compounds in different plant and tree species we still have yet to fully understand the medicine they hold for human and non-human health.

Ecology is essential therefore to protect this medicine and for future health of the planet.

This has been spelt out many times before however I feel so strongly about this in regard to health and tea medicine I feel the need to continue expressing this message.

Whilst there appears to be a trend of climate change denial linked with capitalist economics we must recognise that without respecting the sun and rain by preventing climate change and without respecting the soil by looking after our environment we will quickly lose the array of naturally produced pharmaceutica.

I challenge any pharmaceutical company to effectively produce the array of flavonoids, polyphenols and alkaloids, amongst other pharma, as efficiently as our ancient arbor of tea trees.

However economics and demand seems to impact on the ability to maintain a balance between climate control, environment, and health. Over the past 30 to 50 years the amount of ancient tea trees has decreased both through the moves towards plantation tea and the impact of environmental change on old tree habitat. Bio-diversity is ultimately affected and the whole ecology is unbalanced.

Partaking in tea medicine it is our responsibility to ensure that the materiel we buy or consume is respectfully produced to ensure it upholds the principles of ecological and environmental care.

If you were to buy over the counter medication you would want to be sure that the quality is the highest, so that you do not get horrible side effects, and the medication will actually work. The same is true of tea medicine. When I obtain tea I ensure that it has organic status, comes from a known and reputable source and I can follow the journey from plant to cup. When I gather herbal material I do so from places where I know about the local environment and my gathering is not likely to impact on the source or the biodiversity. For many herbs I grow my own material mainly because many years ago I was trying to obtain a good source for Cornelian Cherry Shan Zhu Yu 山茱萸 but found it difficult without getting inferior product or material that was suspect in regard to pesticide,herbicide contamination. Unfortunately I am unable to grow my own arbor of ancient tea trees, (but I can still dream) however I am able to make discerning choices about where and who I obtain my tea from.

From entirely Taoist perspective it is obvious that if we upset the ecology by taking too much or demanding too much from anything, you drain its fundamental qi and leave it vulnerable to incursions or invasion. Nature abhors a vacuum and the Tao will fill empty spaces. Hence if we demand too much from our environment and tea resources we have to add more and more to either the soil or to the plant to protect it or nourish and replace what has been taken. That is, we get into a cycle of un -health where we have to treat both soil, environment and trees with more and more chemicals or supplements. The perfection of health in traditional Chinese medicine is to maintain health, harmony and balance not develop a situation where we have to continually treat.

However the negative impact on the environment by economics and political views is not just a recent trend. In the 1950s the Chinese state asked the local villagers to cut down ancient tea forests to establish tea plantation terraces, the purpose was to increase tea production for the benefit of the Communist State. The transformation was mostly unsuccessful, however many of the ancient forest suffered greatly. Changes in land reforms and ownership that continued through the 60s and 70s additionally led to reduced motivation and attitudes around environmental care and protection of the ancient forest ecology (Hung 2015)

The clear point is that in embracing tea medicine we need to embrace more than just the tea we drink and the herbs we partake in to maintain health not just for ourselves but for the environment and other beings. This means more than simply buying fairtrade and organic, but occasionally we have to tread into political arenas and scientific opinion as well as checking in occasionally with ancient wisdom. We need to have responsibility in each sip we take and check our own practice to ensure it embraces the full meaning of health.

Please check out the following blog post http://www.wildchina.com/blog/2010/07/the-ancient-tea-trees-of-southern-yunnan/  by Andrew Stein as it really does illustrate the problem with economic growth, environmental deterioration and ancient forest.

Hung PY. Production of Tea, Reproduction of Dilemma, and Remaking of Place. InTea Production, Land Use Politics, and Ethnic Minorities 2015 (pp. 165-177). Palgrave Macmillan US.

Water, the Mother of Tea and Poisoned Medicine

Water, our most precious resource is the giver of life and the giver of Tea Medicine, I have decided not come up with an alternative to the well known and used “Water, the Mother of Tea”.  I suspect that it is so well known a saying that on social media it has probably been ascribed to the Dalai Lama, Gandhi and even possibly Malcolm X. I jest, but nothing could be truer and nothing could give power and life to tea as it does to all living cells and beings.

Quality of water is very important and is part of the triad of components in all tea drinking and thus tea medicine. The others being fire and teaware.

Not only is the potency of water in tea medicine a given, by its elemental quality, but depending on source and quality it will ultimately effect taste and enjoyment. Water is not simply Hydrogen and Oxygen, but as a solvent it becomes a solution with the variety of minerals and chemicals it comes into contact with.

Lu Yu, renowned tea sage extensively wrote about the need to attend to water quality in tea medicine and as a rule of thumb not to use a water source that’s either too fast flowing or stagnant. Lu Yu proposed mountain stream water, flowing over granite was the best water for tea, but even proposed details on what part of the stream to collect water from.

mountain-stream-1952432_960_720

We are not all fortunate to dwell amongst mountain streams but it is true that water drawn from different sources will have different effects on the tea medicine and if we ignore the limits of consistency by using the same water source for each tea that we enjoy we ignore a whole subtle world of possibilities of tea medicine that comes from matching teas with waters.

An example I can put forward myself is an experiment I undertook with  a ripe 2012 Wuliang Puerh produced by Qi Cai Feng Huang Tea factory, Nan Jian. Like similiar Nan Jian factory productions, including the famous Nan Jian Tu Lin factory Phoenix cakes, it has a level of sweetness that is severely hampered on tasting when the wrong water is used. Being mindful of Lu Yu’s prescription I tried this tea with spring water from a borehole sunk 231 metres into triassic red sandstone, the reported analysis as follows:

  • Calcium (Ca) 37
  • Magnesium (Mg) 11
  • Potassium (K) 2
  • Sodium (Na) 7
  • Chloride (Cl) 11
  • Sulphate (SO4) 11
  • Nitrate (NO3) 4.7
  • Bicarbonate 155
  • pH 7.7
  • Dry residue at 180°C 179
 The outcome of which, to taste and tea medicine, was one of flatness and lacking the sweet singing hui gan (tea memory) that was given when using simply fresh very soft tap water which analysis in comparison is as follows:
  • Calcium 12
  • Magnesium 2.02
  • Potassium Not recorded
  • Sodium 9.9
  • Chloride 0.59
  • Sulphate not recorded
  • Nitrate 1.88
  • Bicarbonate not recorded
  • pH 7.4
  • Dry residue at 180°C not recorded

Speculatively, the lower metal ions in the very soft tap water may allow the sweetness of the hui gan to sing, but I am certainly no biochemist. However also the hardness/softness of water is well known to affect brewing outcomes. As we can see above, the spring water is actually harder due to the higher calcium and magnesium ions.

It has been suggested that soft water is much more efficient at dissolving the flavour compounds of tea. It extracts more flavour more quickly therefore it maybe that your gongfu technique needs to be modified with different waters and flash brewing is more applicable for softer waters, whilst traditional boiling techniques more suitable for hard waters.

I suggest that if you have enough tea, play around with both technique and water sources to see how these change the tea medicine. After all, like Shen Nong (The divine farmer) we only get to to know the quality of the tea material through experience. Equally proposed, is that the harder the water the more likely that the presence of calcium substantially reduces the consumed oxalate content of tea material by combining with it (Anderson et al 1971). Typically green tea has less oxalates , with Hei Cha being lower than Hong cha, such that flavour will undoubtedly be altered the harder the water, and a rule of thumb might be applied that the softer waters may actually be better for capturing  the full profile of Hong Cha.

Opinions differ however, as much is also to do with the health and medicinal effects of consuming large quantities of oxalates. Hong Cha contains about 4.6 and 5.1 milligrams per gram whilst green tea contains only a fraction of that amount  of between 0.23 to 1.15 milligrams per gram. Oxalates can become problematic in health and if they over accumulate in the body, particularly in vascular and kidney health, being the main cause of kidney disease and gout. Choosing the right water for the tea medicine may arbitrate these negative affects but may also remove the effects of taste and enjoyment of the tea medicine. Kidney stones in Traditional Chinese Medical opinion is seen as a result of a classic heat damp condition and more often results from a long term deficiency of kidney yin. The herb Jin Qian Cao 金钱草  (Desmodium) is often used in remedial formulas as it sweet, salty and cooling allowing it to gently drive out damp heat however there is equally tea such as Liu Bao that has the same tea medicine. I would need a whole separate post to extol the virtues of Liu Bao, however it does confirm this notion that the right water for the right tea is the right way.

Bamboo Charcoal has traditionally be used for centuries to improve the quality of water for tea however it will not remove or reduce major inorganic ions (such as sodium, calcium, chloride, nitrate, and fluoride). It will purify water to some extent by eliminating organic impurities and smells and will absorb heavy metals such as cadmium, thereby making water safer to drink. However it is arguable that if you need to use it to improve the water for your tea medicine then perhaps you have not paid enough attention to the quality of your water and its source in the first place. My own personal thoughts are that bamboo charcoal became popular in tea ceremonies both through necessity and opinion.

Imagine yourself in medieval Japan where tea was consumed and more accessible to the higher social classes. The Kamakura (1185–1333) and Muromachi period (1336 to 1573) are highlighted with the emergence of the Shogunate and feudal system and punctuated with power shifts and civil wars. The use of poisons in Japan in this period were well known. Yoritsune, father of  Yoritsugu, the new shogun, died suddenly within a few weeks of his son in 1256, under circumstances that have suggested both were poisoned (Perkins 1998). The Fukiya or japanese blowgun, which has now become an official sport in Japan, perhaps harbors back to an ancient practice of hunting that involved poison darts and was one of the many array of weapons available to assassins at the time. Certainly the 1825 production of Yotsuya Kaidan, a Japanese story of revenge and poisoning provides a popular cultural record of the use of poisons in the medieval Japanese courts, whilst the frequent employment of buddhist monks as healers by the aristocracy (Kleine 2012) was perhaps enfranchised in the power of the Lotus Sutra  to hold the “power to protect the reciter from poison”.  I hereby suggest that not only was tea a perfect way to deliver poison, hiding the taste of bitter or metallic concoctions amongst the astringency of the leaf but unusual flavours harboring deadly consequences might be explained away or concealed with the practice of tea competitions (鬥茶 tōcha) where participants  tried to distinguish between tea grown in different regions. That unusual tea that was specially selected and unique for one participant to try, might end up being their last cup such that perhaps the use of charcoal in tea practice may have been an important safeguard against poisoning through its purifier qualities and ability to eliminate organic toxic compounds.

In other old tea cultures, poison delivered in tea medicine is also documented. Aside from the range of poisonous plants incorporated into Chinese and Tibetan medicine poisoning has, up until recently, been suspected in a number of Tibetan religio-political power struggles. Many years ago, whilst in conversation with a highly respected Rinpoche of the Kagyu tradition we got onto talking about why Tibetan tea bowls are lined in metal, ideally an extremely magical and precious alloy that includes silver and copper and made under strict ritual protocols. The discussion elucidated that the metal would taint if poison was in the brew. Perhaps this is why I have never come across the use of charcoal in Tibet to purify water for tea.

In conclusion, in tea medicine practice we should pay significant attention to the quality of water we use with specific teas. We should have an awareness that using certain teas with certain waters may be both deleterious to enjoyment and medicine of the cup we consume. Only through experience do we establish a harmony of water with each tea, and like Shen Nong, such knowledge only occurs in practice.

Anderson W, Hollins JG, Bond PS. The composition of tea infusions examined in relation to the association between mortality and water hardness. Epidemiology & Infection. 1971 Mar;69(1):1-5.
Kleine C. Buddhist Monks as Healers in Early and Medieval Japan. Japanese Religions. 2012;37(1/2):13-38.
Perkins,G, The clear mirror: a chronicle of the Japanese court during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Stanford University Press, 1998.

Tea medicine, teaware and taste

Amongst many of the variables that affect the potency of tea medicine is the choice of teaware.

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If we account for tea medicine being more than just the phytochemicals, Cha qi and qualities of the tea material then the experiential becomes a significant component of the delivering the medicine. This is perhaps experienced at its most profound in the japanese tea ceremony Chanoyu (茶の湯), or way of tea and also why the sarei, (monastic protocols of tea preparation and drinking) became enfranchised.

Have we not all experienced tea drunk from the wrong cup, be it Hei Cha or Hong Cha and felt it has taken away from the experience and enjoyment? How many times have I come across people upset because their favourite tea cup has gone missing and their regular tea out of another cup just isn’t the same? In fact only last week , in a tea session with a 2012 ripe Nan jian Puerh did I detect some flavours of autumn cherries and crisp apples simply because I chose to brew this tea in my favourite clay teapot rather than as previously in a gaiwan. The potency of the contribution of teaware to tea medicine were undeniable as fond memories of past September days came flooding into my mind.

But even if we are reductionist about this, there is some science behind the fact that a tea vessel (cup, gaiwan or brewpot) that is made from the wrong material or poorly constructed will immensely affect the quality of the tea. Different materials will hold heat in different ways or distribute the diffusion on pouring dependent on design.

Yixing pottery is so prized based on such principals, in fact it is said that when Yixing pottery and tea come together the vessel “sings”.

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The properties of Yixing pottery that make it so valuable in tea medicine is in the structure, absorbency and heat retention properties of the clay. Its ability to retain heat is especially praised for drawing out compressed teas like Puerh that need hotter temperatures to release their medicine. The double pore structure produced in the clay during firing retains both heat and flavor, the lid keeps the steam in and yet does not smother the aroma, and the low shrinkage rate of Yixing clay allows the skillful potter to make a closely-fitting lid preventing over oxidation during brewing, preserving the tea medicine and delicate chemical components and oils. Of equal value is the fact that the clay is free from heavy metals commonly found in other clay that are not only likely to taint any liquor it holds but are also toxic.

The culture of imprinting seals on the Yixing teapot that is both unique and aesthetic really does embellish the regard that “pearls and jade can be found everywhere but there is only one soil like that at Yixing” and the cultural value it has in tea drinking practice.

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Yixing pottery wasn’t always a mainstream practice for tea brewing. It all started when a  a monk from “Golden Sand Temple” started selling his mesmerising  “Five Colors Clay” about 500 years ago. This event changed the history of teapot making such that Yixing became a prized and valuable teaware such that well designed and crafted pieces can fetch hundreds if not thousands of pounds. I can’t say my favourite Yixing brew pot is a priceless piece however the true value comes through its use, respect and pairing with wonderful teas.

If you do want to know more about Yixing and see some splendid pieces then take yourself to www.marshaln.com and use the search term “yixing” .

The pursuit of the right teaware to aid and enhance tea medicine has continued from the the beginning of tea culture. A number of accounts are documented detailing tea utensils intentionally broken, Furuta Oribe (1544 – July 6, 1615),  well renowned Japanese tea master, is said to have cracked a tea bowl and made a smaller bowl out of the fragments that was “more in tune with the tea”.

Previously in the ninth century the Chinese Imperial Court offered teaware to relics of the Buddha at shrines in the hope of karmic gain (Benn 2015). Without, removing this from the cultural context of such practices, it goes without saying the important part teaware has in tea culture and ultimately as part of tea medicine

Benn JA. Tea in China: A Religious and Cultural History. Hong Kong University Press; 2015 Apr 23.

 

Black tea, Red tea & models of health

You maybe forgiven that much of the focus around tea medicine worldwide is on post-fermented tea which has had, as explained in earlier posts, changes and ripening with the aid of microbes and exposure to humidity, temperature and different storage.

Discerning the quality and medicine of tea has further been complicated by the misnomer of categories of tea. Its easy to loose your head with whether a tea is green, black, roasted, fermented or something else. For clarity I think its important to re-state some of the categories, however even a so called “green tea” can have changes in quality and tea medicine as it is stored and it is almost impossible and somewhat incorrect to store a tea hermetically so that it hasn’t had exposure to microbes and different energies that may change its nature. A green tea therefore can subtly slip into another category of tea almost unexpectedly if stored in a way and long enough so that changes take place in the material.

The main categories I will go as far as defining are as follows:

  • Black Tea – or Hei Cha – post-fermented tea such as Puerh or Fu Zhuan
  • Red Tea – or Hong Cha – fully oxidised often roasted teas such as Oolong, Lapsang, Dianhong

It is further complicated by the fact that when you try and fit certain teas into a category the processes involved in their production may have a mixture of both traditional categories. Also, in each processing stage the terms used to describe very different techniques are often very similar. In this way it is arguable that in discerning tea medicine it is only possible to achieve this through tasting and testing alone. The key message is to taste, identify and remain open to all possibilities. A discriminating mind after all, as the Buddha taught is subject to illusion.

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On this basis, so called Hong Cha is overlooked in regards to tea medicine and health benefits are often seen as non-beneficial. Perhaps this is because Hong Cha is generally the type of tea that is drunk on day to day basis and too much of something can’t be a good thing, can it? Certainly Jain et al (2013) point out that the flavanoids in tea material have certain detrimental effects on human health when their consumption exceeds certain levels. Or perhaps that so much literature has promoted the benefits of green tea or Puerh that Hong Cha is denigrated to something inferior and without any health benefits. Some of the criticisms of Hong Cha’s contribution to health has focused purely on extrapolating pharmacological/toxicological data on some of the compounds found in its tea liquor. Along with flavanoids, Hong Cha is high in tannins which are thought to contribute to the malabsorption and inhibition of iron uptake in the gut. However most of the evidence on the Hong Cha’s negative effects on health generally show its due to mass production methods such as pesticide contamination (Jain et al 2013) or fluoridation, a natural process in the Camelia Sinensis absorbing minerals from the soil.

What we realise is that the benefits of Hong Cha’s tea medicine has somewhat been lost in the reductionist scientific approach adopted by Western Medicine that purely focuses on the biomedical model and ignores the whole person and the environment. Lets just address the issue of pesticide and fluoridation contamination alone, as both are easily mitigated by:

  1. ensuring traditional organic methods of production that look after the environment and adopt tea medicine practices, and,
  2. choosing good water such as clean spring water for brewing (something that Lu Yu insisted upon!!).

If we just reflect purely on the pleasure of drinking Hong Cha, surely the benefits of well-being cannot be denied, after all what brings us joy brings us health and lets not separate physical and mental health. Lao Tzu stated “The greatest of woes comes from not knowing contentment” and in this we can appreciate that tea medicine is should not be restricted to the boundaries of a biomedical model.

In my tea room , written in chinese calligraphy, I have the phrase, “Small abundance, great treasure”. This is almost a mantra for the medicine of tea in that it provides an approach to addressing and correcting the disharmony and ills through tea. In this instance I feel it provides an approach to addressing the questions around whether Hong Cha holds any particular health benefit or tea medicine.

The regular cups of  Hong Cha we often drink throughout the day may not be particularly memorable or sophisticated but these moments of station, rest or revive helps us to pace ourselves successfully through our journey. The act of brewing up for yourself or others is a moment in time that opens itself up to pause, reflection and mindfulness that without it we may become merely machines. Equally, the sharing of “tea time” or “brew time” with others is an important social event and allows for social cohesion.

Studies show people who drink tea four times a day for six weeks were found to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, whether this is to do with the tea they were drinking or the fact they took time out is difficult to ascertain as the simple process of getting up from a desk to take a break and have a cup of tea may lead to a longer improvement in mood and well-being (Bryan et al 2012).

 

Therefore the “small abundance” of drinking tea that punctuates daily activity becomes a great treasure in terms of holistic well-being and covers all of models of health, not just the biomedical. If we are also discerning in choosing good organic well cared for tea and good water and methods of brewing then we ensure the full benefits are received.

This aside there are a number of studies that do actually support the tea medicine of Hong Cha.  The phytochemistry of oolong tea has been comprehensively investigated. and more than 100 chemical compositions have been isolated and identified. Ng et al (2017) reviewed the evidence of these investigations and concluded that oolong performs outstandingly in reducing obesity and controlling diabetes. The presence of-Epigallocatechin-3-gallate in oolong tea has been shown to play a protective role in preventing cancerous cells developing.

These are quite significant claims and whilst it is arguable that such claims cannot be guaranteed, even with the strongest evidence you cannot be 100% sure, basically because there are so many variables in life, therefore we come back to the notion of tea medicine and health as having a significant portion of making time for tea and sitting and enjoying it. It is undeniable there are potent tea medicines out there and some formulas will effect strong changes in health, but this will undoubtedly be temporary if we don’t address all our health needs which includes looking after our whole self not just the physical.

In this way part of tea medicine might be to include practice of  qigong so that you can learn to harmonise your own qi with the Cha qi of the tea and make that deeper connection, or it may involve meditation so your mind is clear before partaking in tea medicine so that you are open and receptive to its beneficial effects. Perhaps this principal is no better embraced than in the form of the Japanese tea room, the Cha Shitsu 茶室. The Cha Shitsu seeks to emulate the “ideal mountain hermitage” where “the true taste of tea” can be appreciated (Takeshi 1988).

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Situated in a garden and accessed by a winding path the Japanese Tea house has undergone many transformations in style and function, however at the heart of it is this assumption that to enjoy tea and gain its benefits not only do you have to make space for it but you have to engage in it with your whole being. Perhaps we can attribute Sen No Rikyu’s “Wabi-Cha” to elevating this approach to tea which really does empower any tea medicine as it does not stop at the purely medicinal qualities of tea but looks at how tea, environment and humans come together in the best possible way. Sen No Rikyu (1522 – April 21, 1591) felt that the appropriate design of space and the proper protocols in preparing and delivering tea was the most practical way of focusing tea practice on the communion of host and guests and sought to mold tea drinking into a spiritual path, a medicine not just for the body but for the soul and mind.

Bryan J, Tuckey M, Einöther SJ, Garczarek U, Garrick A, De Bruin EA. Relationships between tea and other beverage consumption to work performance and mood. Appetite. 2012 Feb 29;58(1):339-46.
Jain A, Manghani C, Kohli S, Nigam D, Rani V. Tea and human health: The dark shadows. Toxicology letters. 2013 Jun 20;220(1):82-7
Ng, Kwan-Wai, et al. “Oolong Tea: A Critical Review of Processing Methods, Chemical Composition, Health Effects and Risk.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition just-accepted (2017): 00-00.
Takeshi,M “The Mountain Dwelling Within the City,” in Chanoyu Quarterly no. 56 (1988).
Trivedi, M.H., Verma, R.J., Sangai, N.P., Chinoy, N.J., 2011. Black tea extract mitigation of NaF-induced lipid peroxidation in different regions of mice brain. Research Report 44, 243–254.

 

Fungus, moulds and other creatures

Chinese traditional medicine has perhaps gained a notoriety in its prescription of a wide range of materia medica that isn’t herbal with such things as human pubic hair which is claimed to alleviate snakebite, difficult birth, abnormal urination, and “yin and yang disorder”.

This is perhaps partly due to the abjectivity of such material and that it was one of the first cultures to document such items in medical literature. But equally herbal medicine includes a wide range of materia which would not scientifically be described as plant material , such as fungi.

The ganodema mushroom or Ling zhi (灵芝) sometimes known as the mushroom of immortality has had recorded medicinal use in chinese texts for over 2000 years and prized for its ability to tonify the blood and nourish heart and spleen Qi. Modern scientific studies have summarised that it may benefit as an alternative adjunct to otherwise conventional treatments in consideration of its potential of enhancing tumour response and stimulating host immunity.

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Perhaps the importance and potency of mycological based medicine isn’t fully appreciated until we compare such symbols in Chinese culture such as the Ruyi with the Ling zhi mushroom.

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The Ruyi scepter during the late  Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) and Jin Dynasty (265–420 AD), was an object of the literati and nobles who often held Ruyi during conversations and other social occasions. During the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912 AD), Ruyi scepters became luxuriant symbols of political power and have continued to prized icons of political power and wealth and blessings. Do we then suppose that the potency of mycological medicine to be such that it was culturally transferred to a symbol of power and wealth?

What is more interesting in regard to Ling zhi and tea medicine, not that it is traditionally taken as a boiled tea with sweet and neutral qualities, but the intimate link between tea and mycelia.

It is mycelia that make significant contributions to both the quality, taste and ageing of tea that will ultimately affect its Cha Qi. It is arguable that the effects of different mycelia on tea material govern its health benefits but hard scientific evidence remains scant. What we do know is that most health benefits from any fermented product, be it kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut or tea comes from the action of micro-organisms on the raw material that enrich it with nutrients or convert the otherwise indigestable/non-absorbable,  into something that has take the world by storm in the development of probiotics. Kombucha a variety of fermented brewed tea requires a section all of its own.

One of the most important micro-organisms to tea medicine is Eurotium cristatum which in Hei Cha is valued in giving the tea its “Golden flowers”. Hei Cha tea production is very old, going back into history as one of the original “post-fermented” teas. Hei Cha is prepared by briefly withering fresh leaves, then panning in hot woks to stop oxidation (“kill green” or shāqīng (殺青)) . The tea is wet piled in heaps and covered in cloths to keep in heat and  moisture to promote fermentation. They then undergo further drying before being steamed and wrapped or pressed into bricks and stored in controlled conditions to let the microbial fermentation take place. The result is that the characteristic “Golden flowers” grow inside the tea material and creates a rather unique therapeutic brew of sour-sweet tea. Interestingly also is that some researchers have suggested an intimate link between Eurotium cristatum and the Ling zhi mushroom in finding co-habitation in wild collected species being surface innoculated by the former. However, not that unlikely as Eurotium species are vastly found in a range of soils and habitats.

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Studies found that Eurotium cristatum in tea reduces its contents of theobromine and theocin and increase its contents of phaeophorbide ester a and b,carotenol and β-carotene (Cong 2010).

Hei Cha’s medical benefits are thought to be originally documented in folklore in that it is told that once a caravan of tea, perhaps along the infamous Tea Horse Road, encountered terrible weather and had to jettison their loads. This tea became damp and ultimately fermented post-production. A year or so later the local inhabitants suffered severe epidemic of dysentery that killed many people such that their crops remained unattended and unharvested in the field. The consequential famine that prevailed led to the villagers in their poor health scavenging for whatever food they could obtain. On discovering the dumped and now fermented tea they soon discovered that its consumption led to the complete renovation of their health and cured the dysentery. Health benefits aside, this established Hei Cha as a unique tea medicine. In fact the story is so old and prolifically disseminated that finding any unique source of this story would undoubtedly be a lifelong task.

What is documented is the numerous studies on Eurotium cristatum and its potential for developing new pharma. Eurotium species are the sexual states of Aspergillus and likely to be present along with related Aspergillus if growth has been allowed to be long term and  nutrients support the conversion to sexual phase.

Aspergillus fungi are the thought to be the most important micro-organisms in fermentation of teas such as Puerh and Hei Cha, although  a range of 8 genera of fungi were detected in fu zhuan brick tea by a study in 2011 (Xu et al) including beauvaria,  a genus of asexually-reproducing fungi typically infecting insects parasitically. In fact beauvaria are not unknown to Traditional Chinese Medicine as its this fungus genera that is responsible for the “cordyceps caterpiller”fungus that local inhabitants in Sikkim and Tibet have used, amongst other medical reasons, with jaggery to increase milk production, and improve reproductive capacity and vitality of their cattle.At present, local folk practitioners use the product alone or in combination with other medicinal herbs to treat various diseases, administering different doses for different ailments according to their experience, based on an empirical trial-and-error method. People often take it with cup of milk to enhance their sexual potency and desire. Scientific proof of the effects of the Cordyceps mushroom seem to be quite promising and coincide with folk practices (Panda & Swain 2011).

cordyceps

What we start to build a picture of is that the medicinal value of tea is not just from the fusion of different tea varieties and careful choice of teas based on Cha Qi to harmonise with other herbal material, but the intrinsic medicinal value of tea that develops from its processing and ageing with a variety of micro-organisms.

In fact studies show the potential for this unique tea medicine, emerging from processing involving cultivating microbe and mycelium through controlled fermentation, in benefiting development of future antibiotics (Mo et al 2008) as well as protecting liver and kidney function in sepsis and bacterial disease (Wang et al 2015). Such that science has proved folklore right!

Cong CA. Influences of Different Raw Materials and Growth Factors on Solid Culture Characteristics of Eurotium cristatum [J]. Journal of Anhui Agricultural Sciences. 2010;17:131.
Jin, Xingzhong; Ruiz, Beguerie Julieta; Sze, Daniel Man-yuen; Chan, Godfrey C.F. (2015). “Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom) for cancer treatment”. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Mo H, Zhu Y, Chen Z. 2008. Microbial fermented tea—a potential source
of natural food preservatives. Trends Food Sci Technol 19:124–130
Panda AK, Swain KC. Traditional uses and medicinal potential of Cordyceps sinensis of Sikkim. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine. 2011 Jan;2(1):9.
Wang Y, Xu A, Liu P, Li Z. Effects of Fuzhuan brick-tea water extract on mice infected with E. coli O157: H7. Nutrients. 2015 Jul 1;7(7):5309-26.
Xu A, Wang Y, Wen J, Liu P, Liu Z, Li Z. Fungal community associated with fermentation and storage of Fuzhuan brick-tea. International Journal of Food Microbiology. 2011 Mar 15;146(1):14-22.