Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Buying Great Tea

This is an "I Tea" rather than "IT" blog entry. Just as I've written about Sake, here's a guide to buying great tea.

6 years ago when I became vegan, I also eliminated coffee and most caffeine from my lifestyle. Other than the 2 weeks of headaches, insomnia, GI upset, and irritability, quitting coffee was no problem at all.

I replaced coffee with green tea. To get a sense of the caffeine in beverages, here's a helpful chart:

Brewed coffee (8 oz) 60-120 mg
Double espresso (2oz) 45-100 mg
Red Bull (8.2 oz) 80 mg
Jolt 71 mg
Instant coffee (8 oz) 70 mg
Pepsi One 55 mg
Mountain Dew 55 mg
Tea - black (8 oz) 45 mg
Pepsi (12 oz can) 38 mg
Coca Cola (12 oz can) 34 mg
Tea - oolong (8oz) 30 mg
Tea - green (8 oz) 20 mg
Tea - white (8 oz) 15 mg
Decaf coffee (8 oz) 1-5 mg

Thus, I went from 4 cups of strong brewed coffee (480mg caffeine) to 2 cups of green tea (40mg caffeine) per day. If I stop drinking green tea, I have no withdrawal symptoms at all.

The major categories of "true" tea are Black tea, Oolong tea, Green tea and White tea, which are made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. Herbal teas are made from numerous ingredients which may or may not include caffeine.

White tea, such as Silver Needle, is made from fresh leaves with minimal oxidation and very little processing.
Green tea, such as Japanese Sencha, has minimal oxidation during processing.
Oolong , such as Chinese Guan Yin Buddha, ranges from 10% to 70% oxidation.
Black tea, such as Russian Caravan, is the most oxidized and typically has the most caffeine.

Green tea has a subtle flavor and comes in various grades.

Gyokuro- The highest grade Japanese green tea which is cultivated in the shade. It has a very, complex, grassy flavor.

Matcha - A ground green tea, grown in a similar manner to Gyokuro. It is used in the formal Japanese tea ceremony and as the flavoring in green tea ice cream. It is not typically consumed as everyday tea.

Sencha - The first and second seasonal growth (flush) of green tea, which is made from leaves that are exposed directly to sunlight. Sencha is served as a special occasion household tea in Japan.

Bancha - The third or fourth flush of green tea, harvested between summer and autumn. Bancha is the everyday tea of Japan.

Genmai cha - Bancha or sometimes Sencha mixed with roasted brown rice. Match is typically added to make the color a more intense green.

Hoji cha - A strong charcoal roasted green tea.

Kukicha - "Stick tea" made from tea stalks by harvesting buds, leaves and twigs.

I drink all of these but Gyokuro is my weekend tea, Sencha is my morning tea, and Kukicha is my every day tea.

Here's how to brew the perfect cup of tea:

Start with cold, clean tasting water. I use reverse osmosis filtered water since our Wellesley water is filled with carbonates, magnesium, and iron.

Pre-heat the tea pot by rinsing it with hot water. Add 1 teaspoon of tea leaves per 8 ounces of water. White and Green tea require lower brewing temperatures, much cooler than boiling water. Steep time is important. The longer a tea steeps, the more bitter it gets. To make stronger tea, add more tea leaves, not hotter water or a longer steep time. Here's a rough guide

White Tea 180 degrees F 4 minutes
Green Tea 160 degrees F 2 minutes
Oolong Tea 190 degrees F 4 minutes
Black Tea Rolling Boil 4 minutes

My favorite green tea is Gyokuro Asahi, a particularly flavorful green tea. I brew it at 160 degrees for 2 minutes in tea pots from Iwachu, a Japanese ironworks known for its great teaware.

Now you know how to make a great cup of tea!


Unknown said...

John, another great post. I'll add Gyokuro Asahi Tea to my search for Jumnai Ginjo Sake. By the way, what is osmotic water?

John Halamka said...

I added a link to "how stuff works" on the blog to explain reverse osmosis filtering

jessica lipnack said...

I'm with Joe, John. I love these posts about life on the outskirts of IT. Meant to post this back when: I use a sake derivative for skin care. Observant people noticed that people who work in sake plants have very smooth hands. Hmmmm...why not for the face? The derivative is called "pitera" and it's the basis for a Japanese skin care line that costs a fortune but ... ah, the results. BTW, where do you purchase Gyokuro Asahi tea in the Boston area. I drink a couple of cups of green tea daily but am also partial to white tea. (Oh, wait. I also love coffee.)

John Halamka said...

Peets has just received a limited shipment of Gyokuro Asahi

Unknown said...

The first date with my girlfriend about a year and a half ago was at a little place here in our city called "The English Tea Room"

Its a little "froo-froo" for me, but the owners are great people, and I love supporting local businesses like that.

I was an avid coffee drinker, but have slowly made the switch to loose leaf brewed tea. This place has a lot of flavored teas, my favorite being the chocolate mint. They have the more traditional breakfast teas and what not too.

Unknown said...

Interesting post. Do you drink green tea because you enjoy it or is it partly related to its alleged health benefits? Do you believe that there are health benefits?

Dr.Gray said...

When I lived in the bay area I used to be a big fan of peets also. But since I have moved away I was forced to look for teas online.

Some honest advice if you are really into teas (or want to be) you have to find a good importer. There are so many online now and the quality is just so much better.

I personally favor this place now - japanese tea. They are a bit pricer but so much fresher than those chain stores. If you are looking for quality just say no to chain stores.