Exploring The Art Of Japanese Loose Leaf Green Tea

by Elena Popec 2. March 2010 12:54

Over the long centuries of isolation from the rest of the world, in Japan appeared amazing things: ikebana, bonsai, origami, sumo, kabuki, mange and much more. It is logical to assume that in respect of Japan, tea is not so simple either.

Green Tea

Green tea is very popular drink in the world today, but the Japanese consume tea in quite a peculiar way, starting with the production of special teas and ending with particular traditions of tea drinking. Japanese tea ceremonies (Sado or also known as Chanoyu) cannot be described in gastronomical terms. This is an art of contemplation and meditation, a way to achieve harmony with the world and cognize knowledge of the laws of the universe. Even leaving aside the complexity of a Japanese tea ceremony, we can tell you a lot about the kinds of traditional Japanese teas and its consumption.

The first thing that catches the eye, when studying the varieties of Japanese teas, is that they are all green and non-fermented. There are not that many types of Japanese traditional teas and they are all very unique. Their individual characteristics are not similar against each other, nor anything else in the world. The names of Japanese teas are fascinating: Matcha, Sencha, Genmaicha, Gyokuro, Hojicha, Bancha, Usucha, Kamairicha, Kabusecha, Tamaryokucha and Kukicha. Most of these products cannot be found on the shelves of tea shops outside of Japan. The most popular exception is Sencha and Bancha - the easiest tea to prepare with traditional green tea taste.

Sencha literally means “roasted tea”, a basic Japanese tea and the basis of which many other varieties of Japanese teas are developed. In fact, Sencha is a plain green tea that does not require special knowledge and skills to prepare. Most Japanese green teas are steamed at first to prevent oxidation, then rolled, shaped, dried and finally fired to preserve and add flavor. All lovers of green tea will admire its lightly grassy note. As any tea, Sencha could be a high quality and poor, we should not draw any conclusions about this tea when tasting Sencha of incomprehensible production. Good quality Sencha consists of a flat and long delicate tea leaves with distinctive fragrant of fresh green grass. Even high-graded Sencha contains a large amount of powder or tea dust. When brewed, Sencha gives a very bright infusion with a lively green color, traditionally served in transparent or white cups. The aroma and taste of Sencha are soft, both fresh and slightly sweet and velvety. Sencha tea infusion includes a large amounts of caffeine, vitamins C and B2. This tea invigorates the mind and body.

Preparing Sencha is a simple process, even thou the first attempt may fail, don’t be discouraged: warm teapot, put tea leaves in, cover with water remembering that water should not be boiling, and steep for a while ... However, it is impossible to give universal recommendations about the amount of dry tea leaves, water temperature and time of infusion, since the quality of tea and water are always different. Made with hard water tea is not as good because of its active substances that cannot dissolve fully. For green teas (all teas in general) there is a tip: the more delicate tea and softer water, the lower the water temperature should be and less time of infusion. Sencha tea leaves must not steep longer than 2-3 minutes. This means that the entire teapot tea should be poured into cups or into a separate container no later than in 3 minutes. If over steeped, the tea will be bitter, if under steeped the taste will be watery.  Sencha is the only Japanese tea that almost does not change the taste and aroma in the second and subsequent brewing. Other Japanese teas are inconceivable to brew a few times without losing the taste. The first of each new brewing is recommended to take one heaping tea spoon per 6oz serving of tea and infuse for 2 to 3 minutes. If the taste and aroma seem to be weak, hold the second brew a little longer, but next time increase the amount of tea. An indicator of properly brewed Sencha is bubbly foam. If not, that means that the water is too hot, cold, hard or the tea leaves are not the best quality.

Tea Gyokuro (also known as "precious dew" or "jade drops") is a higher grade expensive tea, which is cultivated in a special way. Gyokuro is different from Sencha because it grows under the shade for about two weeks prior to the harvesting period that aims to reduce amount of Catechin in leaves, therefore the bitterness in tea infusion. This fine tea is very rich in aromatic oils, vitamins, minerals, caffeine and other useful and pleasant elements. Splendid Gyokuro is also called "King of tea" and "Tea of genius" because it cheers up (raises) the spirit and stimulates the thinking. The taste and aroma of Gyokuro is similar to Sencha but with light almost imperceptible nuances. Color of dry tea leaves vary from bright green to golden-brown depending on the terrain and weather during the growth and harvest. Tea merchants will recommend a unique method of brewing for Gyokuro which differs from any other tea brewing techniques. Gyokuro tea leaves are typically steeped at low temperature 150 to 165 F for 1 to 2 minutes. Since the temperature of water is low, pre-heating the pot and cups in order to maintain the warmth of tea would be recommended as well. If the water used is too hot, it will destroy the magnificence of taste and aroma.

Matcha is a fine-powder with the consistency resembling talc green tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies and cooking. Matcha is the most difficult Japanese tea to prepare according to traditional techniques and requires specific skills. It was invented in China in the tenth century and was introduced to Japan only in the twelfth century. Being forgotten at home, powdered tea has become a cultural asset of Japan. Matcha is made from Tencha that has very similar cultivation process to Gyokuro. The process of covering tea bushes from direct sun light before harvesting enriches the tea leaves of amino acids and makes it sweeter. Gathered and processed tea lives with removed stems and veins undergo grinding procedure by millstones.  Matcha  is a premium quality and has a sweet taste with a deep flavor.

Matcha

During a Japanese tea ceremony, Matcha powder frothes up into a foam with bamboo whisk and a small amount of water. The advantage of this type of tea is the fact that all substances contained in tea leaves are delivered into the human body completely - in the form of an opaque beverage. Matcha is a concentrate of tea leafs. The taste of this tea is very fresh, but slightly bitter. Matcha can be combined with other types of tea adding freshness to taste and aroma. Lower quality grades of Matcha can be added to various dishes of rice, noodles and tempura to chocolate, ice-cream and traditional Japanese sweets.

Tamaryokucha is a high-quality Japanese green tea. To make it, tea leaves are steamed or fried. Tamaryokucha is rich in vitamins and contains little caffeine. This tea has a berry-like flavor with an almond aftertaste and citrus-grassy distinctive aroma.

Genmaicha is a combination of Sencha with roasted brown rice. This mixture gives a turbid light brown color of infusion and well pronounced rice flavor with hints of sunflower seeds and fish. Taste-wise, Genmaicha resembles soup, after the tea is drunk, you can eat the rice. This drink-dish is a great alternative to dinner or lunch for those who are on a diet. Japanese drink Genmaicha to subside the feeling of hunger without burdening the stomach. This tea contains a large amount of vitamin B1 and a small amount of caffeine.

Hojicha is a roasted tea that is set apart from other Japanese teas. This tea is made from Sencha which is roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal at high temperature. Tea leaves of Hojicha tea ate brown and shiny with a dominating roasted flavor. Hojicha steeps by conventional infusion for less than a minute. Color of the infusions resembles weakly brewed black tea. Hojicha does not have subtle nuances of aroma and taste. This is a simple tea to quench the thirst or drink during the meal. Because of the process of roasting Hojicha, the amount of caffeine decreases, this tea can be served after the evening meal and/or before going to sleep.

Other Japanese green teas that are characterized as low quality Sencha are Bancha and Kukicha. These uncomplicated teas are made from big crude leaves, stems, stalks and twigs. These types of Japanese teas are collected at the end of the season and are considered as lower grade. Bancha and Kukicha are the simplest and cheapest of Japanese teas and are used for daily consumption of liquid for Macrobiotic Diet, the dietary regimen that is based primarily on grains and plants.  This macrobiotic way of eating is very popular in Japan. There are twenty two grades of Bancha. Kukicha can be added to juice for children’s consumption.

 

9 Tea Busting Myths, the truth is revealed

by Elena Popec 18. February 2010 21:29

Every morning begins about the same for millions of families in the world, with a refreshing cup of tea: black, green, white, herbal, fruit, flavored. We partake our favorite drink mostly out of habit rather than consciously.

Scientists have calculated that a person drinks at least 51oz of fluid in one day, one third of this is tea. In each country people drink it in their own way: one is with butter and salt, some like it with milk, others prefer it by making extraordinary "bouquet", adding in tea herbs, fruits or flowers. We have collected the most common myths about tea, so we can confirm or refute the controversial debate.


Myth #1. Tea has a tonic effect on the body, so it is better to drink in the morning.

True. Tea contains caffeine which has an activating effect on the cardiovascular system, so it should be drunk in the morning or afternoon. By the way, caffeine content in green tea is less than in black tea or coffee. Therefore, if you want to cheer up, do not drink gallons of coffee,  better brew a cup of aromatic and healthy green tea.

Myth #2. Tea with milk is harmful.


False. However, when milk is added, the chemical composition of tea is changing since the casein in milk binds the antioxidants. Tea becomes less tonic, and has less effect on blood vessels (the fact that the composition of tea includes vitamin P as well as other substances that strengthen the vascular wall). On another hand, tea with milk takes toxins out and works as a diuretic.

By the way, according to some narrations, the tradition of drinking tea with milk originated from the British. Due to the fact that the finest porcelain cups sometimes did not withstand boiling water and cracked. Therefore, the British began to dilute the tea with milk.


Myth #3. Loose leaf tea is better than tea bags.

True. Usually, contents of tea bags are known as fanning’s or dust, everything that is broken and crumbled. Tea bags are not necessarily cheaper than loose leaf tea, you pay for the packaging material and the process. Loose teas have more variants which can be brewed differently and it can be blended at your desired taste level. Tea bags, on the other hand, are pre-blended for a specific flavor. Loose teas can give you the purest of flavors for each variety, blended for your own preferences.  Tea brewed from tea bags is not harmful - just useless. There is simply no better alternative than loose tea,  it just tastes better. So, if you truly want to experience a heavenly cup of your favorite tea, then loose leaves are the way to go. Check out this great independent article titled, “For the love of tea!”. 


Myth #4. You cannot drink green or black tea in large quantities because it affects functions of the body.


Everything is good in moderation. Generally, there are no substances in tea that could harm the body. Three to four cups of tea per day will give you a total of 320 mg of polyphenols. People with kidney disorders, stomach ulcers, anxiety should not drink caffeinated tea. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid caffeinated drinks. There are a lot of healthy alternatives: Rooibos, Mate, Herbal blends, Fruit blends.


Myth #5. Herbal tea can be an assistant in the treatment of certain diseases.

True. Herbal tea cannot be used as medication but as an aid to help the drugs treatment is acceptable. However, herbs contain active substances that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, people should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine. For therapeutic purposes or maintain immunity, herbal infusion should be brewed separately and should not be abused.


Myth #6. Coffee and tea have the same amount of caffeine.


No. Dry tea leaves contain more caffeine than coffee beans. However, in a single serving cup of prepared coffee contains significantly more caffeine than a cup of tea due to difference in amount used to prepare a cup of tea. Don’t forget that certain types of tea can undergo a second infusion that will have even less caffeine. According to eHow.com, you can see for yourself that black tea, which is considered to have the highest levels of caffeine, is 50% less than coffee.
 

Myth #7. Hibiscus or Karkade decreases blood pressure.


True. Drinking Hibiscus tea effectively lowers blood pressure and reduces high cholesterol levels. Hibiscus is a main component of many Fruit and Herbal tea blends. Teas that contains Hibiscus, is caffeine free and rich in Vitamin C, which has a pleasant fragrance and vibrant red color.


Myth #8. Tea should be strong.


Partly true. Of course, the stronger the tea, the stronger its components and the higher the tannin content. Excessive amount of tannin over time may prevent the body from absorbing calcium if your diet is low in this nutrient, but the health benefits of tea are much greater than probable issues.  How strong the tea should depend on one’s preferences and suggestions from the tea company.


Myth #9. Tea has an antiseptic effect.

True. Tea actually contains antiseptic substance, but the concentration of these substances is very low, and with serious illnesses, they may be useless. It is better to seek assistance from a doctor and use the tea as an aid.

The Wonderful health benefits of White Tea

by Elena Popec 16. February 2010 20:42

White tea is truly a pearl among the different varieties of tea. These teas are a specialty of the Chinese province Fujian. White tea is the most expensive, and this fact is not surprising because white tea is widely considered the most effective (health-giving). It contains a maximum amount of useful substances and vitamins, which are found in the other varieties of teas in smaller amounts due to fermentation process.

White tea is one of the rarest teas in the world: the buds are picked before they unfurl, which means the tea can only be plucked for a few weeks each spring only in the morning from 5 to 9 AM. White teas have a very strict procedure for the plucking and processing. The tea pickers are prohibited from eating spices, garlic, onions, and consuming alcohol, as well as other strong-fragrant foods in order not to contaminate the aroma of tea leaves. The unopened buds and two young leaves are plucked by handWhite Tea then withered to allow natural drying. White tea is minimally processed, therefore contains the higher level of antioxidants. The main difference of white tea is that it leaves are not broken or twisted, which is why tea looks a little sloppy. The fermentation of white tea is a natural way without the use of any special technological innovations. In fact, the process of drying of white tea is the only process where manufacturers can somehow affect the final product. That is why the drying process is approached with special care.

High-quality white tea leaves remain whole after the drying process despite the fact that they become distorted, the leaves maintain maximum integrity. Another characteristic feature of good white tea is the presence of small silver fibers on the leaves.

White tea requires very careful handling. If you already shelled out for expensive and good product, try to brew it so as to preserve the maximum benefit and enjoy this drink. For brewing white tea, use water at a temperature ranging from 176 to 194 degrees F, and steep it not longer than 2-3 minutes. If water used is too hot it will not allow the unique aroma of white tea to unfold. White tea should be stored in a tin box, so there is no access to different odors, since it instantly absorbs all extraneous scents. The brewed liquid has lightly amber color with a slight greenish tint. It is very transparent with thin unique floral, slightly herbal flavor.

There are few traditions and rules imposed to the consumption of white teas. The fact that subtle and delicate taste of white tea is fairly weak, tea drinkers should not enjoy white tea after spicy, salty or astringent foods, because of strong food aftertaste. Therefore, white tea should be drunk by itself.  For those who prefer to add a fruity accent to white tea, ESP Emporium offers an innovated White Grape Premium Tea blend. It is your turn to decide whether our choice was the correct one. Fresh juice from sun-ripened grapes,  red berries and the blue/violet color of blossoms, set on a bed of rich green (China Pai Mu Tan, China Cui Min), invite you to simply enjoy this excellent blend.

White teas, regardless of grade offer great benefits to our body. They are rich in antioxidants and slow down skin aging process, prevent the emergence of malignant tumors. White tea also has an antiviral effect, strengthens the cardiovascular system, and reduces the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

 

Rooibos, the perfect health alterative tea

by Steven Popec 15. February 2010 12:01

If you like experimenting with food and drinks and are very fond of tea, or if because of health conditions you are limited in the consumption of black tea and coffee, we recommend you to try Rooibos tea. There is still a lot of   controversy regarding its name. Yet it is wise to call this Rooibos or Rooibos tea, because is the closest in sound to Afrikaans - one of the languages, mainly spoken in Southern Africa. In translation, this word means "red bush". This product was popular in Southern Africa for generations and is now consumed all over the world.

Thanks to its healing properties Rooibos is also called the elixir of the Bushmen. This tea is made from young shoots that are cut, finely shredded, and then spread on a flat surface for about eight hours. During this time, Rooibos undergoes a process of natural fermentation that produces reddish -brown color and enhances the flavor. Then, the tea leaves subjected to final drying in a special machine, pasteurized and packaged. Un-oxidized green Rooibos is also produced by method similar to production of green tea, but due to more demanding production process is more expensive than red Rooibos. Good quality Rooibos can be determined by the uniformity and brightness of color. Tea should be light and crumbly, needles are long and even.

Rooibos tea can be excellently improved with most household decorations. For instance, mallow or sunflower blossoms are beautifully set off against the thin, rust-brown needle-like leaf.

Rooibos is becoming very popular in Western countries especially among health-conscious consumers due to its lack of caffeine and tannic acid. Rooibos is safe for people that suffer from high blood pressure. This tea is a healthy beverage choice for the kids. Rooibos contains a high level of antioxidants. Many experts believe that due to these properties Rooibos is quite possible to use even in baby food.

Generally, with regard to the process of brewing, Rooibos tea is completely unpretentious. Unlike many other exotic types of tea, Rooibos steeps with boiling water and drink is ready in 8-10 minutes after brewing. This tea does not become bitter when steeped longer, moreover, tea leaves can be steeped multiply times.

Rooibos Tea - it's just a real storehouse of vitamins (E, R, A, C) and other nutrients (copper, iron, calcium, zinc). Moreover, copper and vitamin C are responsible for the most effective absorption of iron in the human body. Rooibos tea is highly recommended to vegetarians. But of course you should not totally rely on Rooibos, if you want to fully satisfy the needs of your body's iron.

Some doctors advise to use Rooibos as an antidepressant. It assists well with nervous tension, fatigue and headaches, allergies and digestive disorders. Since it contained glucose, tea is not only a great thirst quencher, but also wonderful soother.

 

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