Traditional Unani medicine and tea

The term Unani or more so Yunani means “Greek”, and heralds back to a Perso-Arabic system of medicine that is  based on the teachings of the Greek physicians such as Hippocrates and Galen. Arab and Persian elaborations upon the Greek system of medicine by figures like Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and al-Razi (Rhazes) influenced the early development of Unani.

The Hellenistic origin of Unani medicine is still visible in its being based on the classical four humours: phlegm (balgham), blood (dam), yellow bile (ṣafrā) and black bile (saudā’), but it has also been influenced by Indian and Chinese traditional systems predominantly via the culture of the great Silk Road.

It is easy to dismiss the influence of Unani medicine along the societies and cultures of the Silk Road by focussing upon the similarities and synchronisation of Traditional Chinese Medicine and its practices. On the outside practices such as cupping, herbal medicine and principles of balancing and observing more than just a patient’s symptoms appear akin to Traditional Chinese Medicine systems, however the catergorisation of illness and imbalance or disharmony around the humours makes it somewhat unique as a system practiced today.

It is interesting to suppose that whilst there has been hundreds of years of cultural dialogue with trade and medicine along the Silk Road we would also expect the value of tea as a medicine to also have traveled too. Certainly the practice of tea has.

Namita et al (2012) suggest that green tea has been incorporated into the materia medica of Unani medicine for a significant period of time.

Chaey or tea is listed as one of the important plants in the pharmacopoeia used in Unani medicine in India today (Kumar 2014)

It is understood that tea  increases the body’s “warmness” (Kabir 2002), and anecdotally I have spoken to people of the tribal regions bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, who practice unani, that tea wards off the invasion of “coldness” in the body. It was interesting for me to note that one day, observing children devour ice cream on the streets of Peshawar on a hot dry afternoon, that their seniors warned them not to eat too much as they would get a cold. Within that week two of the children were suffering from sniffles and sneezes, only to swiftly being prescribed steaming hot cups of strong green tea!!


It is possible to understand the tea medicine from a Unani perspective in the diagram above. Coldness causes imbalances of the bile and phlegm which manifests in symptoms of congestion, oedema, poor circulation and lacking in energy or weight gain. There is strong correlation with tea research that tea can combat weight gain (e.g. Snoussi et al 2014) as well as benefits associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors and improved circulation (Woodward et al 2018), the dietary flavonoids, such as those present in tea are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

It is no surprise that other systems of traditional medicine, such as Unani, that would have had hundreds of years of contact with tea as a materia medica have incorporated it into their treatment formulas, especially given the modern mass of tea research accumulating.

I think it is useful to appraise not only recent research but a variety of these traditional systems to gain a deeper understanding of tea medicine and its culture.

Kabir H. Introduction to Ilmul advia. Shamsher Publisher and Distributors; 2002.
Kumar N. Some plants used in Ayurvedic and Unani systems of Medicine, Tehsil Joginder Nagar, district mandi, HP, India. International Journal of Food, Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences. 2014;4(1):73-80.
Namita P, Mukesh R, Vijay KJ. Camellia sinensis (green tea): A review. Global journal of pharmacology. 2012;6(2):52-9.
Snoussi C, Ducroc R, Hamdaoui MH, Dhaouadi K, Abaidi H, Cluzeaud F, Nazaret C, Le Gall M, Bado A. Green tea decoction improves glucose tolerance and reduces weight gain of rats fed normal and high-fat diet. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry. 2014 May 1;25(5):557-64.
Woodward KA, Hopkins ND, Draijer R, de Graaf Y, Low DA, Thijssen DH. Acute black tea consumption improves cutaneous vascular function in healthy middle-aged humans. Clinical Nutrition. 2018 Feb 1;37(1):242-9.


Jiangsu – a taste of terroir

Jiangsu is perhaps one of the more eastern tea growing provinces in China, sitting on the same longitude meridian (120° East) as Fujian.

location of Jiangsu province

Jiangsu lies a transition zone between the more northern temperate climates and the subtropical climates of the south. This makes for an interesting zone that supports the growth of tea varietals that share close genetic identity to tea from Zhejiang and
Anhui (Fang et al 2014) and distinctively having different genetic backgrounds from those from Fujian Province in China (Fang et al 2016).

Jiangsu is the origin of bi luo chun which originally heralds from the Dongting mountain region near Lake Tai in Suzhou, Jiangsu. Bi luo chun literally translates as “green snail spring” which can be appreciated when the leaves glisten in the gaiwan like the soft dewy trails of Spring.

Jiangsu is also known for the development of “black vinegar”. Chinkiang  or Zhenjiang vinegar, which originated in the city of Zhenjiang  in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu, is considered the best of the black rice vinegars and used widely in Chinese cultural cuisine. Production of Zhenjiang vinegar begins when a vinegar pei mixture (wheat bran, rice hull, alcohol obtained from saccharification of glutinous rice and a vinegar mother) is poured into an urn until the urn is half-full. The mixture is kept warm for up to 3 days in summer and 6 days in winter. At that point, rice hull is added and mixed in once per day until the urn is full. Salt is added and the urn is stored for up to 3 months during which it undergoes an aging process. The vinegar is then leached and the soaking liquid from water-soaked, parched rice is added as to enhance the final product.

Recent research suggests that traditionally produced Zhenjiang vinegar has bioactive properties much like other traditional vinegars (e.g. cider vinegar) that have attracted a health status and value in recent years. Its anti-oxidant potential to scavenge free-radicals has been thoroughly documented (Zonghua 2005). In traditional Chinese medicine vinegar has a bitter, warm and sour property that helps to circulate the blood and regulate Qi.

I was fortunate to be gifted some bi luo chun and black vinegar from Jiangsu is one of my staple kitchen store items.

I was therefore interested to explore ideas, often thrown about in wine circle discussions, that a terroir of a region (i.e. the unique set of environmental factors that effects and reflects in a product) is expressed across a range of produce from a distinct area. Often there is talk of complimenting wine grown in the same region with cheese or other produce as the distinct elements of the terroir are amplified or complimented.

Therefore it may seem a little odd to undertake comparative taste test between tea and vinegar but I was keen to discover if there was some shared experiences that reflects a  Jiangsu terroir.


Initial aromas of the black vinegar are of over-ripe apples and pears, which is carried through to the top note of flavour on initial tasting. There is this slight taste of soft apple and pears when their flesh has oxidised and turned brownish quickly followed by the flavour of rice wine and slight taste of alcohol. Some have described this vineger as having a slightly smokey background but I would rather describe this as a hint of wooden casks, much like you get in old whiskey or sherry.


The bi luo chun also has a fruity profile but its initial aroma was peaches rather than apples. I was tasting a mildly aged tea so this could have softened the fruity punch that you got with the vinegar, however there was somewhat a similar woody profile of wooden casks remaining. Bi luo chun is typically categorized as a green tea and its not without its “back of the teeth” astringent notes and drying mouth-feel. Surprisingly, however this is not typically felt in the taste of the black vinegar.

It is difficult to say whether truly I could detect any terroir  that I could ascribe as “Jiangsu-ness”, by contrasting and comparing these two products. However I feel both the tea and vinegar did compliment each other and would not jar taken together in a meal of steamed dumplings (dipping the dumplings in the vinegar, not the tea of course!!!).

As this wasn’t a blind testing of both tea and vinegar, without any control or contrasting teas, it wasn’t therefore scientific, yet there is something to be said of tasting and exploring teas with matching flavours of other produce as I feel it allows something in the tea to come out that you may not have noticed before.

I will end with reminding us of the story of the “Vinegar tasters” that depicts the three founders of China’s major religious and philosophical traditions: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.  The story involves Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Tzu, respectively. Each man’s expression represents the predominant attitude of his philosophy: Confucius tasted the vinegar and announced it to taste sour, seeing life as sour, in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people. The Buddha tasted the vinegar and announced it as bitter, seeing life as bitter, dominated by pain and suffering. Whilst Lao Tzu tasted the vinegar and announced it as “vinegar”, seeing life as fundamentally perfect in its natural state. By openly experiencing vinegar as vinegar, Lao Tzu acknowledges and participates in the harmony of nature.

On moral of this story is that we should appreciate the flavour and experience of tea, whatever its flavour; bitter, sweet or astringent, whatever its origins and whatever company we drink by.

Fang WP, Meinhardt LW, Tan HW, Zhou L, Mischke S, Zhang D. Varietal identification of tea (Camellia sinensis) using nanofluidic array of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers. Horticulture research. 2014 Jul 30;1:14035.
Fang W, Meinhardt LW, Tan H, Zhou L, Mischke S, Wang X, Zhang D. Identification of the varietal origin of processed loose-leaf tea based on analysis of a single leaf by SNP nanofluidic array. The Crop Journal. 2016 Aug 1;4(4):304-12.
Zonghua XQ. Analysis of the Source of Antioxidant Compounds in Zhenjiang Vinegar [J]. Food and Fermentation Industries. 2005;3.


Tea Drones

Modern advances in tea farming has not been exempt from the parallel developments in other areas of agriculture and production.

The China Daily first reported the use of aerial drones in the harvesting of Longjing tea way back in March 2018, however it is yet to really become a widespread technological advancement.

The remoteness of some tea gardens potentially allow the use of drones to become a breakthrough technology in ensuring quality of tea and timely delivery of leaf material. Drones can access mountain gardens easier than other farming technology and create time savings and economic benefits of workers having to load or transport large harvests down from steep and challenging slopes, freeing up more time for pickers to pick leaves allowing for quicker harvests and potential high profits at market.

Drones also have a potential to allow big growers to monitor their crop better with remote viewing technology. Even small growers can take advantage of remote viewing of tea gardens , potentially spotting risks of pest and disease earlier and making timely decisions about when to start picking.

Daly & Paul (2019) point out that drones have far-reaching applications, equipping drones with chemical and biological sensors can assist in monitoring environments. This not only helps protect valuable resources such as tea gardens but could potentially aid further tea research in more remote growing areas.

The most sophisticated sensors can measure the height of plants in real-time and precisely define land masses and elevation changes. They can alert growers to issues around drainage and soil erosion, track pest swarming, and disease spreading and build 3D representations. Drone-based remote sensing has a great potential for spatial diagnostics of crops and soils in the information-based agricultural management (Inoue & Yokoyama 2019)

We have seen some of the impact of climate change already on growing environments and other cash crops. Drone technology could potentially allow for early response to change and open up new data sets to understand the effects of global climate change on tea.

Further, development of patents for plant growth prediction platforms that include aerial drone technology are steadily becoming big business (Fox & Caruana 2018) with the potential to support growers and help establish security in crop prediction and market value economies.

Perhaps we may even see “drone picked tea”  rather than “monkey picked tea” (AKA Ma Liu Mie) in the future!!


Daly K, Paul P. The Use of Drones in Environmental Compliance. Natural Resources & Environment. 2019 Apr 1;33(4):59-63.
Fox AJ, Caruana M, inventors; Hana Resources Inc, assignee. Organism growth prediction system using drone-captured images. United States patent application US 15/963,783. 2018 Dec 6.
Y, Yokoyama M. Drone-Based Optical, Thermal, and 3d Sensing for Diagnostic Information in Smart Farming–Systems and Algorithms–. InIGARSS 2019-2019 IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium 2019 Jul 28 (pp. 7266-7269). IEEE.

How the Fu gets into Fu Brick Tea?

The word Fu (福) is most often heard to mean good luck or good fortune in Chinese and is a symbol most often adorning entrances to households and shrines.


Whereas Fu Brick tea derives it’s name from the word Fuzhuan, where zhuan (砖) literally means “brick” the Fu often remains untranslated.

This may make you think that the “Fu” relates to the historic use of  this tea as a currency, hence leading to notions of it being a “fortune brick” denoting its value as coin. It could also lead to us thinking that the “Fu” denotes the symbolic association of the golden flowers found in this tea with tiny little nuggets of gold or fortune. Other thoughts might occupy us of the “luck” or “Fu” denoting the playful symbolism of yellow and red that the tea permeates when its golden flowers merge into red liquor upon brewing. The yellow microbes symbolically portraying the “luck” associated with this colour in Chinese culture, the red tea liquor like the redness of “happiness” found printed on red packets of Chinese New Year wishes.

However the “Fu” in Fuzhuan tea is actually written as 茯, such that you may see on some tea productions the letters 茯磚茶.

Fu brick tea was once known as Hu Cha because it was produced in Hunan . It was later given the name Fu brick Tea because traditionally the tea makers specially selected the Fu-day (伏天) to process the tea. A Fu-day is the hottest day in summer there being only 3  in every lunar year.  The heat of these days perhaps helping to ferment and dry out the tea post-production. Interestingly it is also the days which the Fu Yang festival is held.

There is some forensic evidence to suggest this maybe true in that more modern methods of Fuzhaun production involves high temperatures of around 37 degrees celsius.

The Fu Yang festival (伏羊节) is traditionally celebrated around mid-July on the hottest days of the calendar and has been in existence for thousands of years, significantly contributing to the local culture. It may have provided opportunity to also employ a local workforce solely for the production of tea that would have otherwise traditionally been engaged with other activities of agriculture.

There are many examples where stages of tea production has traditionally occurred when calendar festivals allowed people to step out their daily tasks and come together for another purpose such as processing tea.

The Bulang similarly celebrate the Shankang festival, only in mid-April, that coincides with the first harvest of tea in Jingmai mountain area of Yunnan. Interestingly this is also the festival in which the Bulang make offering to the “tea ancestor”.

So it would suggest that what puts the Fu in Fu Brick tea is traditional methods of production involved a mid-summer processing method utilizing the benefits of the hottest days of the year. In more recent times Fu brick tea is factory made and is not as dependent on natural patterns of weather and labour. Industrially controlled fermentation means that it can be produced all year around.

Perhaps Fuzhuan tea should indeed be re-branded in modern times to Fu (福) as in “fortune” given that its lost its tradition associated to a natural pattern of processing and instead given over to something far more productive and bountiful.

This then leaves us with an entirely different question of “How the Fu got out of Fu Brick Tea?”


Mystery Sheng and “Blind Tasting”

It’s always wise and prudent to know what you are buying in regard to tea, especially Puerh. Not all Puerh is born equal!

When I first seriously started drinking Puerh back in the late 1980’s people were less concerned about origin, brand or manufacturer. Those were the times before the Puerh bubble burst and farmers and manufacturers were still somewhat recovering from the agricultural policies of the 1950’s and 60’s that did not favour the market. Only in the mid to late 80’s did individual factories start to break away from the generic CNNP banner and forge new economic and trade developments in the market. However, still when I was drinking into the beginning of the 90’s the tea material remained generic and it’s exact origins often concealed behind poor quality packaging and brand. This led me to an adventure of Puerh, exploring different teas almost blindly.

Today we are far more discerning, and for good reason, the value of both brand, origin and factory confidence in the tea market makes us consumers want something of an equally valuable experience.

Occasionally, however I have opportunity to experience those early days of Puerh and go back to the enjoyment of both blind tasting and experiencing a tea without all the layers that inform our experience (i.e. marketing). Therefore it was a welcomed opportunity to be gifted a complete mystery sheng Puerh to try from Tedor Tea.

The only information I had was that it was from 2015.


The packet contained a nice chunk of a bing which is always a good thing for a blind test as sometimes its difficult to know, if its been broken up, the type of compression the tea has undergone before storage. Tighter compressions tend to make the tea age slower leading to more retention of that young sheng bitter astringency.

The compression was somewhere in the middle to light range, so for this 4 year old sheng I was confident I would not be hit with a powerful bitter note on brewing that I might have got from an equivalent iron cake pressing.

First dry aromas were good, sweet grassy and fragrant. This reproduced itself further in the brew with some lovely honey sweet notes.

The brew and huigan were gentle and fragrant with a slight underlying oak wood temperament, but not smokey or tobacco like.


I pushed it to its limits on the 4th brew and, as expected for a relatively young sheng, it delivered bitterness to the back of my teeth but still remained palatable and fragrant.

Overall the mystery tea had a soft and gentle experience that I would place in a mid morning tea session as the Cha Qi was also gentle and not overwhelming but enough to bring a level of focus and attention. I would hazard a guess at it being of Mengku due to its aromatic profile without the harshness of other similar regions. Perhaps I will never know but that’s somewhat the fun of blind tasting.

Blind tasting is something I would recommend even though as tea consumers it is something we often choose not to undertake. Blind tasting is something that is incorporated into other practices, such as in the world of wine , but also in coffee as well as in tea competitions. Blind tasting is also a good way to hone our palate on different teas in an impartial way, without the influence of other factors such as brand or origin.

There are a few Western facing vendors that now offer a “blind tasting” or “mystery” tea experience. I was fortunate to get a blind sample but you could always check out the blind taster sets at Yunnan Sourcing. 

I would encourage a blind tasting session once in a while as a both a fun session and an interesting way to sharpen your senses so that you connect more deeply with tea.



Kintsugi and Tea Culture

The repair of ceramics using urushi lacquer and gold or silver, has an innate historical relationship to the Japanese tea ceremony, One story is that kintsugi originated when Japanese shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repairs in the late 15th century only to be unsatisfied with the outcome of the fix, prompting for more aesthetic methods of repair that later developed into what we recognise as kintsugi today. It is interesting to note that famous tea-ware such as Hagi-ware which is characterised by its cracks and imperfections in its glaze and structure also became popular at the similar time, indicating a cultural shift towards the more natural form of tea-ware both in origination and through its natural story of breakage and repair.


As a philosophy, kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of the innate history of an object that reflects it use and its own individual story. Similiar to the principles of wabi-sabi, kintsugi embraces the imperfect. It is also intimately entwined with tea culture, Buddhism and Japanese lifestyles in that it resonates with concepts of non-attachment and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of moment through focused attention and observation.

Some scholars have pointed out that kintsugi represents a transformative repair process (Keulemans 2016) whereby repaired tea-ware would not only tell its story of use but trigger additional information in some form of gestalt process to the user. I think this would be difficult to argue and conclude as any tea-ware repaired or not invokes individual and subjective aesthetic sentiments.

Rather, I suggest that kintsugi occupies a unique niche in Japanese tea culture where the user, or rather tea drinker, is presented with the fragility of material objects and at the same time requested to pause and contemplate the vessel’s history. In this way tea-ware becomes more visible to the tea drinker and therefore the teas session or ceremony becomes more immersive and somewhat timeless.

Buetow & Wallis (2019) state that modern technologies sanction a new plasticity of physical form, in this sense therefore kintsugi is the antithesis of this. Rather kintsugi instead sanctions the finality of a physical form that retains it’s beauty not through plasticity but through repair, not necessary through transformation but through the highlighting of its fragility. In essence kintsugi requires the tea drinker to accept the innate fragility of existence itself where only the present matters and how we arrived there. In this way kintsugi adds a unique form of meditative medicine and contemplation to the tea session that brings us back to the moment of existence in the very present.

When we are brought into the present moment in such a way all our worries, fears and doubts dissolve, the mind becomes still.

Buetow S, Wallis K. The beauty in perfect imperfection. Journal of Medical Humanities. 2019 Sep 15;40(3):389-94.
Keulemans G. The geo-cultural conditions of kintsugi. The Journal of Modern Craft. 2016 Jan 2;9(1):15-34.

Putting the “Hunan” into tea

Often when I taste through the variety of Hunanese tea productions, which is to be honest a vast range of different productions and tea material, I always detect something that tells me it is a Hunan tea.


I have wondered what it is that is in Hunan tea that gives it this aspect of flavour, despite the range of productions and tea material.

Recent studies comparing Yunnan green tea and green tea produced from Hunan were able to identify distinct profiles based on area of production and chemical components to the tea (Xin et al 2018). This affirms the suggestion of a terroir or “Hunan” nature to teas produced in that province.

It is interesting when we talk about terroir in teas, the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s uniqueness, I find in Hunan teas this is something that stands out more than any other area, aside to Wuyi.

So what makes Hunan tea so Hunan?

This is the million dollar question and possibly an impossible question to answer.

Hunan province is located on the south bank of the great Yangtze river. It is a highly mountainous region with 80% of its geography being uplands and only 20% being lowlands. Hunan literally means “south of the lake”. The lake that is referred to is Dongting Lake which occupies a flood basin to the mighty Yangtze.

Hunan has a humid, subtropical climate. The monsoon rain falls mostly in April, May, and June. July and August are uncomfortably hot and humid. This makes it ideal for some varietals of Camellia Sinensis and its high altitude forests have perhaps led to the development of specific and unique varietals of tea.

Hunan has always be an important place of production for tea and still remains today one of the largest producers. If I had to list all the types of tea that herald from Hunan it would take me some time.


Much of the tea grown in Hunan is in terraced gardens, not that dissimilar to Fujian. This method providing opportunity to maximise yield and space with some of Hunan’s steep and southern facing slopes.

None or all of this might lead to the suggestion of a terroir or distinct flavour to Hunan teas.

However, one suggestion I propose is to do with the soil. The soil being a chief component in supporting the fauna and flora of Hunan, including it’s tea gardens.

Hunan soil has been known for its mix of red clay and limestone with granite outcrops. There are many research studies that demonstrate the unique ability of tea plants absorbing flourine as well as other chemicals out of the substrata. Tea plants are typical flourine accumulators (Li et al 2017), concentration in mature tea leaves is several hundred times higher than that in normal field crops.

A study by Wang et al (2002) compared the levels of flourine in different soil samples across distinct provinces of China with the following results (soluble flourine = mg/l):

Guizhou Yellow earth 0.27
Hunan Red yellow earth 0.56
Red earth 0.37
Hubei Yellow earth 0.30
Yellow earth 0.17
Yellow earth 0.26
Henan Yellow brown earth
Beijing Drab soil 7.85
Drab soil 5.60
Xinjiang Salinized meadow soil 10.25
Gray brown desert soil 37.15
Neimonggu Dark meadow soil 6.25
Hebei Drab soil 1.85
Saline soil 11.90

It could be argued therefore that the soil has important contributions to the terroir and tea materiel used for Hunanese teas. Tea plants enrich a large amount of fluoride in mature leaves and yet we know it is not an essential element to plants with high-levels being phytotoxic to most plants. Why tea trees are so good at this requires a seperate explanation and recent studies have looked into the genetic need for this process. It is interesting to note that these figures will only be multiplied in the dry leaf as the tea plant accumulates through uptake, however varying levels of flourine may provide a base for detectable differences in origins of a brewed leaf. Certainly flourine does not exist as is based element in the soil but rather as minerals or salts, transport and formation of which is influenced by pH and the formation of predominantly aluminium and calcium complexes (i.e. soil composition).

This maybe just one idea of how Hunan teas possess a distinct “Hunaness”to them and something to reflect upon more as we gain more knowledge.

Another theory I would like to float is going back to ideas around micro-flora.

Aspergillus egyptiacus  was first isolated from dark tea in the Hunan Provincial Key Lab of Dark Tea and Jin-hua, Yiyang, China. We know this genus of fungus is important on other Hei Cha and teas such as Puerh and Liu Bao. Aspergillus niger is claimed to be the dominant microorganism in puerh but we know that even in puerh tea there are different strains and species that are intimately involved in the post-production fermentation and storage development of terroir and flavour of such teas (Haas et al 2013). It is therefore possible that localised micro-flora predominantly populating the tea growing area of Hunan, due to its distinct environmental conditions could also contribute to the uniqueness of the tea from this region creating its terroir.

Whatever contributes to the “Hunaness” of Hunan teas, be them black, Hei Cha or green productions, it is something I feel I have developed not only a liking for but also a distinct ability to detect. I will endeavour to postulate on the reasons for this as I enjoy yet another cup of Hunan’s finest.

Haas D, Pfeifer B, Reiterich C, Partenheimer R, Reck B, Buzina W. Identification and quantification of fungi and mycotoxins from Pu-erh tea. International journal of food microbiology. 2013 Sep 2;166(2):316-22.
Li QS, Lin XM, Qiao RY, Zheng XQ, Lu JL, Ye JH, Liang YR. Effect of fluoride treatment on gene expression in tea plant (Camellia sinensis). Scientific reports. 2017 Aug 29;7(1):9847.
Wang W, Li R, Tan JA, Luo K, Yang L, Li H, Li Y. Adsorption and leaching of fluoride in soils of China. Fluoride. 2002 May 1;35(2):122-9.
Xin Z, Ma S, Ren D, Liu W, Han B, Zhang Y, Xiao J, Yi L, Deng B. UPLC–Orbitrap–MS/MS combined with chemometrics establishes variations in chemical components in green tea from Yunnan and Hunan origins. Food chemistry. 2018 Nov 15;266:534-44.


Why leaves not flowers?


A recent research article demonstrated that extracts of tea flowers could induce anti-proliferative effect and cell cycle arrest in human cancer cells (Chen 2019) suggesting the benefits of tea extends way beyond its leaves.

People have been using leaves from tea plants to make tea for a long time. However, less attention has been paid to the flowers. Even in Traditional Chinese Medicine material medica texts mostly its the leaves that get all the praise. Yet flowers from a related species Camellia Japonica (Shan Cha Hua 山茶花) are considered virtuous in reducing blood stasis and reducing swelling, acting on the Liver, Lung and Large Intestine meridians.

In fact some of the same phytochemical and pharma that are found in the leaves of tea are also present in the flowers, albeit in different quantities.

It would therefore make us question why drinking tea flowers is not as popular as drinking leaves?

There are very few teas that combine flowers and leaves together in their production and it still feels very niche to come across them.

A few examples exist, such as the Ron-Zhen production of camellia flower and raw puerh tea that hails from Dadugang, Xishuangbanna.


Another example is the Yi Shan white tea production pressed with camellia flowers:


Both of the above highlighted teas are available from Yunnan Sourcing

My thoughts around why its been custom to put leaves before flowers is that it could purely be a phenomena of economics and supply and demand . Depending on climate and regional variation tea plants flower between March to May. The limitation and amount of material available for consumption is therefore limited compared to leaf. Leaf harvests mostly take place in Spring and Autumn providing for a vast amount of material for consumption.

Additionally, I feel that there is also an arboricultural factor involved as traditional tea gardens were often grown from seed. Harvesting of flowers may have been deselected somewhat by traditional tea culture to avoid any unnecessary pressure on future production or variance in the species. However since the application of asexual propagation to tea plants, tea flowers have become a “waste resource”, competing with tea leaves for water and nutrients and therefore I would expect that there would be some change in this culture leading to more teas with flowers or more availability of flowers for tea.

Another consideration why leaves are chosen over flowers for tea production is due to the stability of the chemicals and pharma in the leaf compared to flowers. The main chemical components in tea flowers i.e. catechins, are accumulated at each stage of tea flowering. Apart from the chemical epigallocatechin, contents of catechins differ significantly at different flowering stages (Sun et al 2019) suggesting inconsistency in outcomes in consumption of tea flower tea. This may have been discovered centuries ago simply by trial and error and comparative brewing with leaves.

A further consideration is the view by farmers that tea flowering in late autumn competes for a large amount of nitrogen and carbohydrates in the plant and therefore potentially negatively impacts upon the subsequent spring tea leaf yield and quality. This may have leant towards a practice of de-budding tea bushes which further reduces the value and availability of tea flowers as material for tea. A study by Fan et al 2019 demonstrated that the practice of de-budding increased levels of asparagine synthetase in the leaves of tea plants. Asparagine synthetase is vital to maintaining asparagine reserves in the plant required for plant growth and development, thereby suggesting de-budding promotes stronger and more successful plants in the following season.

Chen, Y.C., 2019. Chakasaponin I from tea (Camellia sinensis) flower induce anti-proliferative effect and apoptosis of cisplatin-resistant ovarian cancer cells.
Fan K, Zhang Q, Liu M, Ma L, Shi Y, Ruan J. Metabolomic and transcriptional analyses reveal the mechanism of C, N allocation from source leaf to flower in tea plant (Camellia sinensis. L). Journal of plant physiology. 2019 Jan 1;232:200-8.
Sun L, Wang Y, Ding Z, Liu F. The dynamic changes of catechins and related genes in tea (Camellia sinensis) flowers. Acta physiologiae plantarum. 2019 Feb 1;41(2):30.

Liu Bao versus Tian Jian

It would seem a highly subjective contest to compare Liu Bao to Tian Jian especially as these teas not only involve different processing techniques but also because regionally they have different variables that contribute towards their final outcomes in the cup.

They both do however fit into a very broad category of tea called Hei Cha 黑茶, the category of tea which also includes Puerh and is generally suggestive of a process that involves post-production fermentation.

Tian Jian heralds from Anhua County in Hunan province, its production process generally follows kill green, rolling, pilling, re-rolling, drying and then storage. Pilling tends to be short for about 12 -24 hours and drying tends to be done traditionally over stoves, sometimes imparting a slight smokey pine flavour. The tea is traditionally stored up to a year and more than often involves large bamboo baskets not that dissimilar to Liu Bao. It is partly the short pilling and long storage that contributes to Tian Jian’s post-production fermentation character.

Liu Bao is from Guangxi Province much further south than Hunan, but like Tian Jian fermented and dried in a long delicate process in preparation for further aging in large bamboo baskets.


Apart from similarities around storage there are similarities around benefits and energetics in regard to traditional Chinese medical (TCM) practice. Teas that are stored in bamboo do energetically develop qualities related to the bamboo material itself, something that is not entirely exclusive to Liu bao and Tian Jian alone. Bamboo is known in traditional Chinese herbal medicine as being effective in clearing heat.

Both Liu Bao and Tian Jian are teas I would primarily utilise in tea medicine to balance and remove the effects of Summer Heat. But this is not just due to the qualities gained from bamboo storage, but it fairs well if you can brew some for the basket with the teas!!

Summer Heat in TCM is an external Yang pathogen that is due to excess exposure to heat or sun. It tends to lead to heat in the blood and symptoms that include diarrhea, shortness of breath and rapid pulse. The treatment for which involves cooling the body for which Liu Bao is well known in achieving.

Both Liu Bao and Tian Jian have a tonic effect on the stomach calming any imbalances from heat. Stomach is considered as a Yang organ which easily generates Heat, and pathogenic Heat easily accumulates here. Also as a Yang organ excess heat in the Stomach can easily result in a Yin deficiency from Summer Heat, leading to overheating the blood, Lungs and Heart. This leads in part to the symptoms mentioned above (rapid pulse, shortness of breath) along with red cracked tongue (a symptom of Heart fire).

The fermentation and piling of both teas adds additional qualities that do not over-cool the stomach but gently bring it back into harmony. Pungent, sweet and cold substances which can disperse the intensive Heat and direct it downwards are often chosen from the TCM cabinet of herbs, but specifically in Liu Bao and Tian Jian the pungent quality from fermentation and storage adds to their benefits, but equally their retained sweetness.

It has long been a practice among the Chinese Malay community that when children suffered from diarrhea from Summer Heat, they would place Liu Bao in cold water and an earthenware pot, slowly bringing it to boil over heat After cooling an
moderate amount of winter honey is added. This is interesting in regard to TCM as this folk cure reflects the need in tea medicine to consume sweet, pungent and cooling substances. Additionally the earthenware pot adds to the qualities around supporting the stomach as an Earth organ.

Both teas herald a different but similar process in their production, both teas are useful in tea medicine to address excess heat in regard TCM concepts around pathogenic causes. Tea medicine embraces these principles but if you really want to compare these teas as a consumer and drinker of Hei Cha then I suggest trying them both side by side. Tian Jian’s short piling perhaps makes it slightly more towards the bitter quality more able to direct heat downwards than Liu Bao, making it preferential for heat syndromes where the signs of ascending heat is more stated in the tongue and skin, whereas Liu Bao is slightly more preferential where the symptoms suggest Stomach yin deficiency.

Aside from their tea medicine qualities, the regional variables in production and leaf material, soil and location provide for a subjective and yet delightful difference in taste and experience.

Personally, I tend not to favour either tea, Tian Jian having more of a “Hunan” quality in taste and aroma that is similar to Fu Brick, whilst Liu Bao tending to lean towards an aged ripe Puerh.

Both are good to drink in the Summer, where often lighter and greener teas are chosen especially in those humid hot evenings.


Tea Bots. Will automation be the death of us?

Many of the traditional tea processes are now fully or at least partially automated.

Both consumer demand and productivity efficiencies drive the move towards more automated production methods.

Whilst many tea factories operate automatic production methods in part or in full, such as kill green, withering and rolling, our brewing methods remain somewhat resistant to automation.

Tea processing is one of the major energy intensive food processing industries, from growing to plucking, all the way up to the cup. It makes sense therefore to make it less energy intensive and less reliant on inefficient processing.

Despite some resistance to automation, within the tea production industry many of the well known factories have been undertaking it for years without loss of quality or value of the final product.

It therefore makes me question why as tea drinkers should we resist automation within the tea consumption experience?

There are many reasons why tea consumers/drinkers may resist any form of automation, including the way it may remove the social ritual of tea or even reduce the tangible physical contact with the tea medicine and it processes.

Tea brewing stations or vending machines have been around for a number of years and have been designed to brew tea for commercial establishments such as restaurants and fast food outlets. Often the tea is pre-packaged or capsuled into single servings and designed to give a standard brew based on pre-programmed parameters.

In Japan and South Korea vending machines dispensing teas are very popular but often don’t involve any brewing process, rather reheating pre-brewed and pre-bottled tea. I shudder to think of the health implications of these in regard to concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine!!

Attempts to bring something similar into our home experience has been successful with coffee but remains less so with Tea. MarshalN’s blog post upon K-cups remains an interesting reflection, especially so in regard to cost and outcomes.

Less sophisticated attempts to automate our tea sessions include machines that brew raw leaf material based on pre-programmed parameters.

There are many of these type of machines around, often built more around aesthetics that process and technically they are not that more complex than the Teasmade my Dad had in the 1970s.

The Teasmade is essentially a machine for making tea automatically and generally includes an analogue alarm clock and designed to be used at the bedside enabling tea to be ready first thing in the morning or at a set time.

It includes a receptacle for boiling water that is pre-filled (AKA a kettle!!) and a receptacle pre-filled with tea for brewing (AKA a teapot!!)

Not dissimilar are contemporary automated tea stations for the home;

teaforia machine - eat love savor luxury lifestyle magazine

The above picture illustrating the Teaforia, which includes a water tank and heating element (AKA kettle), a brewing container (AKA teapot) and a serving receptacle (AKA cha hai).

There is something to be said in having all your significant artifacts for tea brewing contained in one place (i.e. kettle, teapot and cha hai) but does it really enhance or automate the process?

There is something unique in pressing a button, and seeing lights flashing with very other little involvement other than enjoying the end product. It is somewhat clean and clinical and itself imposes a design ethic that removes “fuss”/”mess”/”unevenesss” that perhaps our contemporary busy and  stressful lives demands.

Indeed the design of the automatic tea machines often incorporate smooth and neat lines, minimal and reductionist geometrical symmetry whilst boasting modern technological advances.

Aesthetic appeal resemble something out of a futuristic clean, clinical and zen like science fiction future devoid of wabi-sabi.

This makes me think that the aesthetics have to replace something lost in the automation.

Automatic brewing systems also tend to add additional value in their design that I feel somewhat is to disguise their simplicity and replace the value lost from old school brewing methods. these include wifi integration to your smart phone or special scan codes/labels that adjust your device according to the tea you are brewing.

Interestingly such automatic tea brewing devices still use  terms such as “ritual” to brand market themselves, suggesting that the key point in any tea consumption is not the process but the ritual. To have to add this in through brand marketing , suggests it ws never really there in the device in the first place.

Experiment: Machine vs Man

I though I would test my opinion by conducting a not so scientific but comment-able experiment.

I here compare my own gaiwan techniques to a machine.

As there is to some degree of bias inherent in using myself as experimenter and commentator I will not disclose the make or name of the machine used.

I however do disclose the following parameters to compare:

Tea type: Shu Puerh

Manufacturer: Chung Pu Nong Jia

Age/Production: 2014 Tributary Cake

Tea weight: 4.5g

Water:  90mls


I used rinse or refresh function on the machine to get the initial wash, discarding the water to keep it as close to the gaiwan as possible. In the gaiwan I did two washes.

The automatic brew is shown above and on the left of the picture.

The automatic brew was darker and more cloudier, with the gaiwan clearer and brighter.

This was also reflected in the taste in that the gaiwan brew was brighter and bolder in flavour and had more life to it than the automatic brew.

The automatic brew probably got to temperature but didn’t retain it as well or in the same way as a ceramic gaiwan, which may explain for it lacking clarity and life. The gaiwan technique was judged by feeling and connection to the brew rather than mechanical timed parameters giving it something extra that cannot be so easily defined or programmed into a machines parameters.

I also feel that perhaps in gaiwan technique there was more mixing of air and oxygen into the pour which gives it more life in the cup and agitates chemicals such as saponins. This does not occur as much in the automatic brew, leaving the brew flatter.

Its also arguable that there is more disruption of water structure in the automated machine that doesn’t occur in manual brewing.

Without pulling the machine a part, I understand that most work by passing water through or over a heated element, water tends to heat as it is pushed through. This is different than water heated and circulated by convection currents in a kettle then poured into a brewing vessel. Again this may subtly change the water structure.

Reassuringly, I don’t think automation will ever be the death of us. I don’t believe any machine will be able to modify or modulate brewing technique, time and other parameters to supersede the human senses, eyes and hands. We could talk about AI and #machinelearning but all enjoyment of the interaction between human, ceramic, water and leaf is removed.

Practically speaking I can take my gaiwan anywhere I go, even on long journeys. I can take it into the city or into the woods, somewhere machines can’t go. With this comes the experience of tea which is wider than drinking a cup of fluid. With this comes a bigger medicine.

I challenge any machine to replace this, to deliver something the human soul requires through the ritual of tea. I also challenge any machine to be able to match even the poorest of tea brewing skills of a human and still deliver that rich experience when manual techniques are enrobed with human spirit.

Maybe this is me throwing a gauntlet down to tea machine manufacturers, maybe its a comment or even a warning about our future pathways in tea culture. But I’d rather like it to be a call out to encourage the physical and social contact with tea that you can only be rewarded through manual brewing techniques.