Monday, July 24, 2017

How Does Tea Affect the Brain?


As many of you know I'm pretty strict about not covering health benefits here on the blog. They aren't why I drink tea and in most cases, I think they are overemphasized for marketing purposes. That being said it is undeniable that tea does affect our bodies in many ways. I thought it might be interesting to dive a little deeper into what substances in tea have an effect on the human brain.


Caffeine


Caffeine is one of the most widely used psychoactive substances in the world. It naturally occurs in tea and is partially responsible for the bitter taste that we experience. Caffeine is structurally similar to adenosine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating sleep cycles. Adenosine is built up over the course of the day which eventually triggers our body to rest. Caffeine binds to adenosine receptor sites in the brain so that rather than slowing down we feel energized.

Luckily for us, this effect is not a permanent one. If the adenosine receptors are blocked the body will create new ones. Just as with many other drugs, this is why people can become addicted to caffeine. The body demands more and more of the substance in order to achieve the desired effect. It is also why we might experience withdrawal symptoms if our brains are deprived of caffeine. This seems to be less of a problem in tea circles than it is with the coffee crowd but it's still important to make sure that we don't overdo it. According to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy adult can safely consume up to 400mg of caffeine per day.


L-Theanine


L-Theanine is an amino acid found in tea which relaxes the central nervous system and promotes alpha brain wave activity. This can lower anxiety and help us to feel more relaxed. It also increases the levels of dopamine and GABA in the brain. Given what we now know, it isn't so surprising that tea has been so intimately associated with zen and meditation throughout its history.

Some studies have found that L-Theanine is even more effective when it is combined with caffeine (aka tea!) than when it is taken on its own. Shade grown teas such as matcha and gyokuro contain higher levels. L-Theanine is a substance that is almost exclusively found in the Camellia Sinensis. Scientists have only found it in two other sources, guayusa and a species of mushroom.

EGCG


EGCG, or epigallocatechin gallate, is a polyphenol that receives a lot of the attention when it comes to studies on the health benefits of tea. Although conclusive studies are still needed, some studies have found that EGCG has the potential to prevent oxidative damage to brain cells, increase neurogenesis, and improve working memory. It's important to note that the FDA does not allow health claims to made about tea. Retailers can reference studies but the wording must be very careful in order to avoid legal hot water.

ECGC

GABA


GABA, or gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in reducing excitability in the central nervous system. It is naturally found in tea in low levels but the amount can be increased by essentially making the tea in a vacuum. The leaves are exposed to a nitrogen rich environment during the oxidation step. This process was originally developed in Japan as a natural method for preserving food. Teas that are labeled as GABA should contain at least 150mg per 100g of leaves. Although I can't say that I've noticed any benefits from drinking GABA tea, they have a unique fruity taste that is worth exploring.

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EGCG chemical structure image: Public Domain, Link

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Roundup: July 16th - July 22nd

THE TEA EXPLORER, Interviews with Jeff Fuchs & Andrew Gregg

Rita at Adventures in Tea Land recently had the opportunity to interview Jeff Fuchs (of Jalam Tea fame) and Andrew Gregg. I am so looking forward to watching their feature length documentary. Canadian tea friends can catch it on the CBC Documentary Channel, Sunday July 23, 2017 at 9 PM. EST.

Western Tea Culture & Tea Hermits

James at TeaDB raises some excellent points about the habits of western tea drinkers and the effects of isolation. It can be hard to find others who are passionate about tea as we are but things are changing. Living near NYC, I have the advantage of being close to a quickly developing gongfu culture.

Mao Feng vs Mao Feng: A Lesson in Pick Dates

Tea friend Dylan has been sharing his tea adventures in China on his blog and I've been reading avidly. This week he shares how a tasting in a tea house led to an important realization about the importance of when a tea is harvested.

Gongfu is not always better
MarshalN focused on the not often discussed downsides of gongfu brewing this week. Some teas really do better when brewed in other ways so it's worth experimenting. In this post, he advocates drinking aged oolongs and even puerh teas grandpa style.

A Flight Through China with Teavivre

Mel Had Tea has really been stepping up her tea review (and photography) game lately and I'm loving it! This week she takes us on a tea tour of China through three awesome selections from Teavivre. I've got a few of these in my "to be reviewed" pile and I can't wait to try them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pre-A-Matcha Kickstarter Launch Party


It's not often that a Kickstarter impresses me but as soon as I saw Pret-A-Matcha, I knew that I needed this bottle in my life. Matcha is a constant in my routine and I rely on it a lot to get me through a hectic work schedule. Not long after I discovered Pret-A-Matcha on Instagram, tea friend Alexis of Teaspoons and Petals reached out with an invite to their Kickstarter launch party.


The party was hosted at Luv Tea, an adorable bubble tea shop located in the West Village. I had been meaning to stop in there for ages but just never got around to it before. They have a small selection of loose leaf tea but the focus of the event was definitely on matcha. It was an incredibly hot and humid day and their staff quickly made sure that we all had iced glasses of matcha in hand.

One of my favorite things about events like this one is getting to catch up with my fellow tea bloggers. Some of the folks in attendance included:

Sara from Tea Happiness

Jo from A Gift of Tea

Jee from Oh, How Civilized

Darlene from The Tea Lover's Archives


I was so glad that I was able to attend this event because it gave me the chance to meet Lisa Henderson, founder of Pret-A-Matcha. Her passion for matcha really shone through as she explained what inspired her to develop this innovative bottle. As attendees filtered in, she needed to explain the product and her process over and over again but her enthusiasm never waned.

I already loved the design from the pictures that I had seen but it was truly much more beautiful in person. The kintsugi inspired white with gold veins particularly caught my eye. Previously the green and white "matcha latte" version had won me over. Regular readers will know I have a penchant for tiny tea things. The itty bitty tea scoop and strainer (to sift your matcha) are just too cute. It's also super convenient to easily take those tools with me everywhere I go.

In between sips, I also enjoyed a spread of delicious matcha goodies that were laid out for us. They had everything from matcha flavored Pocky, to Royce Nama Chocolate, and matcha cream puffs from Bibble & Sip. I had only had a light breakfast so this led to a bit of matcha overload but all of that deliciousness was well worth it.

Pre-A-Matcha's tea partner Matchaeologist was also there to partake in the festivities. I have not yet tried their matcha myself but it's popped up frequently in my Instagram feed for some time. Their beautiful glass chawan is also something I have had my eye on.


Pre-order your Pret-A-Matcha through their Kickstarter!



Matcha Latte w/ Almond Milk
Matchaeologist's offerings


Monday, July 17, 2017

What Do the Bubbles in Tea Mean?


Every once in a while I see the same question pop up on message boards like TeaChat and Reddit, what do the bubbles in tea mean? We're not talking about bubble tea (aka bobba) here! There are a number of substances that can cause bubbles, foam, or even the mythical "tea pearl" to form when the leaves come into contact with hot water.

Tannins


Tannins are polyphenols found in plant matter. They have a bitter taste and are responsible for brown coloring, like what we see in black tea. Tannins are also a natural foaming agent. I have kept betta fish as pets on and off for most of my life. It is a common practice to place Indian Almond Leaf in aquariums in order to add tannins. This makes it easier for the betta fish to make their infamous bubble nest. Contrary to popular belief, there is no tannic acid in tea.

Saponin


Saponin is a glycosides which protects plants from disease. Some studies have shown that it has an antimicrobial effect. They also are responsible for the formation of foam in tea, particularly matcha. It has a bitter taste, making plants less palatable to livestock. I've often heard of people allowing goats to graze in tea fields in order to cut down on weeds. Saponin may be why the goats leave the tea plants alone. Though, this does not apply to deer according to a tea farm in British Columbia.

Saponin - a foaming agent naturally found in tea

Pectin


Pectin is a stabilizing agent that is used in jams, jellies, and dessert fillings. It is naturally found in most plants as well as fruits and vegetables. Pectin can cause a fruity flavor in oolongs and also plays a roll in the mouthfeel of good quality tea. When it comes to brewed tea, pectin is also a common foaming agent. When I first go into tea everyone on TeaChat was talking the mythical tea pearl (a mysterious bubble that remains on the surface rather than popping). Pectin is part of what makes that phenomenon happen.

Proteins and Amino Acids


Tea leaves contain proteins and amino acids. These can create bubbles or foam when they come into contact with hot water. Teas that were harvested in early spring, as well as tea where the cell walls have been broken (heavily rolled or CTC), seem to produce this effect more than others.

Microwaving


In the case of tea that has been microwaved, water that has been heated in this way will often boil without forming bubbles. When an object (like a tea bag) is added, it creates nucleation points which allow pockets of gas to form. Personally, I find the foam on microwaved tea to be very unpalatable.


Whether or not bubbles are a bad thing to have in your tea is something that is often debated. Many tea drinkers will skim the bubbles or foam from the rinse or first infusion in the hopes of removing dust or impurities. Personally, I don't follow this method. If the tea is contaminated you're going to be drinking some nasty stuff no matter what you do. Different ways of preparing tea give different results as well. In Morocco, tea is traditionally poured from a height in order to purposely create foam.

Where do you stand on bubbles in your tea? Do you have a favorite tea or preparation method that causes a lot of foam? Let me know about it in the comments!

Chemical structure of Saponin by Cacycle - Own work, Public Domain, Link

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Roundup: July 9th - July 15th

Sencha Lemonade
Bonnie at Thirst for Tea really has a knack for combining tea with amazing flavors. As always, her photography is so beautiful that I can almost taste this refreshing twist on an Arnold Palmer.

The Cocomatchasaurus (AKA Raw Coconut and Matcha Brownie)
I discovered a new blog called Biodiversitea (you've got to love those puns!) just in time to find this delicious recipe for no-bake matcha brownies.

Tea and murals. Anniversary Edition.
I must send congratulations to Anna at The Tea Squirrel for reaching her 1 years blog-iversary! I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate than with some Tung Ting Mi Xian oolong.

At the Tea Table with James Allen of Far West Tea Traders
Lu Ann from The Cup of Life continued her fantastic interview series this week with a feature on James from Far West Tea Traders. It was great to get to know a bit more about him and his company.

Matcha - An Initial Encounter
Tyas Sōsen of The Tea Crane contributed the first of a six-part series on the origin of matcha. This post was full of tidbits I don't see much elsewhere. I can't wait to see what else is in store.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bitterleaf Teas Old Stalk 2002 Lincang Bamboo Stuffed Raw Puer


Country of Origin: Yunnan, China
Leaf Appearance: compressed, varied greens with some downy buds
Steep time: 5 seconds (increased by 5 seconds each brew)
Water Temperature: 200 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep gold

Out of all of the samples that I received from Bitterleaf Teas, this tea was probably the one that I looked forward to the most. Dry aged sheng? ✔ Tea that's been stuffed into something? ✔ Intriguing and catchy name? ✔ While drinking this tea I couldn't help but think about the fact that it was harvested just after I graduated from high school. I'm still a pseudo-millennial so I won't complain about being old. I just wish I had been totally into tea back then!