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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

White Tea: History

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 7, 2009

Unlike most other varieties, white tea is an uncured and unoxidized tea leaf. Historically, white tea is a specialty of the Chinese province Fujian – in fact, white tea dates back as far as the T’ang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) and quickly became the tea of choice for the Chinese Royal Courts.

Until 1885, white tea did not undergo many changes – however, specific varietals of tea bushes were selected afterwards to make Silver Needle and other specialty white teas. Globally, Chinese exportation of these fine teas began in 1891 – however, the leaves now come from a number of varieties of tea cultivars, including those in Sri Lanka.

Like green, oolong and black tea, white tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. However, oolong and black teas are oxidized before curing – again, white tea leaves are completely unoxidized. Some actually regard white tea as a slightly modified version of green tea since they both undergo very little processing – however, the main difference between these two types of tea is that the white tea leaves are harvested at a younger age than the green tea leaves. During the processing stage, white tea is not fermented at all while green tea is partly fermented – on the other hand, black tea is fully fermented.

Because they are so gently treated, white tea and green tea both retain a large proportion of their beneficial antioxidants. Essentially, as we’ll see in the next section, the health benefits of white tea are simply staggering – leaving tea leaves so close to their natural state means that white tea contains more polyphenols, the powerful anti-oxidant that fights and kills cancer-causing cells, than any other type of tea!

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Oolong Tea and Weight Loss

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 7, 2009

Even in traditional tea drinking countries like China and Japan, oolong tea has a well-known and lasting reputation for helping people to keep slim. Overall, oolong tea promotes weight loss through three different mechanisms, as seen below:

–         Increasing basal metabolic rate

–         Burning fat (through a process called lipolysis)

–         Blocking dietary fat absorption

Again, the Chinese have long believed that oolong tea is beneficial in reducing and maintaining weight. In fact, a 1998 Chinese study involving 102 females showed that continuous consumption of oolong tea for six weeks resulted in a reduction of body weight – of course, this study spurred further research.

Subsequently, Dr. William Rumpler, a physiologist at the US Agriculture Research Services’ Diet and Human Laboratory, investigated the ancient Chinese belief that oolong tea is effective in controlling body weight. The 2001 study measured how oolong tea influences energy expenditure (EE) and included 12 male volunteers who were given 4 separate beverage formulas over three consecutive days. The four beverage formulas were:  1) full strength oolong tea, 2) caffeinated water with caffeine equal to full strength oolong tea, 3) half strength oolong tea and 4) non caffeinated water.

After twenty-four hours, the energy expenditure (EE) of the participants was measured and resulted in:

EE levels of about 3% higher when they drank either the full strength oolong tea or the caffeinated water versus the non caffeinated water.
Participants burned an average of 67 more calories per day when drinking the full strength oolong tea.
Participants increased fat oxidation (‘lipolysis’ or fat burning) by a whopping 12% after consuming the full strength oolong tea versus the caffeinated water.
This data confirms that a component other than caffeine is responsible for promoting the preferential use of fat as an energy source.

The increase in fat oxidation in this study is amazing! Drinking oolong tea can actually tell your body to burn fat as an energy source!

Moreover, a 2003 Japanese study went one step further by comparing the benefits of oolong tea and green tea regarding weight reduction. In this well controlled study, eleven healthy young female student participants received three different beverage formulas: 1) oolong tea, 2) powdered green tea leaves and 3) water.

After all of the measurements were taken, the results determined that:

Oolong tea had higher energy expenditure (EE) levels from beginning to end and at intervals of 30, 60, 90 and 120 minutes.
EE levels peaked at 90 minutes for both oolong and green tea and remained at their respective levels until 120 minutes.
These results indicate that for up to two hours after consuming oolong tea, you will expend more energy than if you were to drink green tea or water.

Additionally, the concentrations of caffeine, catechins, and other polyphenols were measured producing these intriguing findings;

The caffeine content was much higher in the green tea versus the oolong tea.
The concentration of polymerized polyphenols was significantly higher in the oolong tea versus the green tea.

These findings show that it’s the polymerized polyphenols that link tea to burning fat, not just the caffeine – again, the concentrations of polymerized polyphenols are highest in oolong tea. Furthermore, the rest of the chemical compounds compared in the oolong and green teas were similar or equal to one another with no marked differences – this reinforces the result that the polymerized polyphenols principally contributed to the lipolytic effect of oolong tea.

Finally, oolong tea’s effect on blocking the absorption of fats and carbohydrates is thought to play a key role in its weight reducing benefits – in fact, oolong tea is a popular accompaniment for greasy food in Asia for that very same reason. Now, scientists have proven that it is an effective fat blocker. A study conducted by the University of Tokushima found that drinking oolong tea can double the amount of fat being excreted. During the study, tweleve young Japanese adults participated in the 17-day program, consisting of 10 days of washout (drinking nothing but water) and 7 days of treatment (drinking oolong tea). The scientists found that fat excretion was twice as high for those who consumed oolong tea compared to the placebo.

Overall, oolong tea promotes weight loss through increasing basal metabolic rate (energy expenditure), increasing lipolysis, and blocking the dietary absorption of fat. Just by drinking this tasty brew, you can help yourself on the way to a healthier, slimmer you!

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Oolong Tea: Origin of the Name and History

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 7, 2009

Oolong Tea is a traditional Chinese tea that’s also known as ‘Wulong’ Tea. The name Oolong (or Wulong) means black dragon in Chinese, where Wu means black, and Long means dragon. Oolong tea is also known as Qing Cha, is a semi fermented tea, and it is named after the person who discovered this tea.  The Chinese province most noted for its oolong tea production is Fujian.

According to Fujian tea folklore, Oolong tea was discovered by a tea farmer who lived in Fujian Province during the Qing Dynasty – his name was “Su Long”. However, because he had a dark complexion, the local farmers all called him “Wu Long” – of course, this is how the name ‘Wulong’ Tea was derived.

All tea comes from the plant Camellia Sinensis – actually, if it doesn’t come from that plant it is not considered proper ‘tea’. Over time, Camellia Sinensis has protected itself from photosynthetic stressors by forming chemical compounds known as polyphenols. Polyphenols, which include flavonoids, have the same beneficial class of compounds – known as antioxidants – that make fruits and vegetables good for you.

Green Tea is treated or boiled following picking to prevent the leaves from oxidizing and retaining their natural colour. Black Tea is left to oxidize following picking, that’s how it gets their distinctive colour. For Oolong Tea, the raw leaves are sun-wilted and then bruised, which exposes their juices to the air, so the leaves oxidise and start to turn brown like a cut fruit. They are allowed to oxidise only partially, giving them a rich, floral flavour. The tea is then dried fully – this locks in the rich flavours that oolong tea is known to offer.

Unbeknownst to many, oolong tea can range from bright green and slightly fermented to dark-leafed and hearty – a rule of thumb is that the greener varieties are less fermented. Oolong tea therefore comes in a wide range of tastes and aromas – these include teas very close in taste to green tea to those very close to black tea.

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Matcha Tea: Cancer Prevention

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 7, 2009

Again, antioxidants are found in many foods including fruits and vegetables – however, not all antioxidants are created equal.

The class of antioxidants known as catechins are only found in green tea, and they are easily among the most potent. Of the catechins themselves, EGCg (epicgallocatechin gallate) is the catechin with broadest and most potent cancer-fighting properties – numerous studies have shown that it’s free radical neutralizing power is able to help prevent various types of cancer, including pancreatic, stomach, kidney, and liver cancers.

Sixty percent of the catechin content of matcha tea is EGCg – overall, one gram of matcha contains 105 mg of total catechin content, roughly 61% of which is EGCg!

Energy, Relaxation, and Focus:

Much like coffee, matcha can give you an energy boost – that is, without any jittery side effects. However, unlike caffeine from coffee, matcha contains a mild stimulant known as theophylline – unlike the caffeine found in coffee, drinking matcha releases smaller dosages of theophylline over a much longer period of time. Actually, this slower release is caused by matcha containing an abundance of nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals – this slows the absorption of theophylline into the blood stream, allowing for a continual release of energy over a period of 3 to 6 hours.

Moreover, the amino acids called theanines found in matcha are found virtually exclusive to green tea. Interestingly, research now suggests that the consumption of theanines may help to produce more alpha waves in the brain – briefly, alpha waves are the same brain waves that are created when you have a massage or relax in a hot bath. Overall, theanines trigger the brain to feel more relaxed and to reduce the feeling of stress.

Finally, many people comment on matcha’s ability to help provide sustained focus and feelings of lucidness – intriguingly, the Buddhist monks were the first to harness the power of matcha for this reason. For example, Buddhist monks often meditate for 3 to 6 hours at a time – after drinking matcha, the mild stimulation from theophylline keeps them awake and alert, while the theanines allowed the monks to focus, relax and concentrate on their training.

Detoxifying Agent

Over many years, numerous scientific studies have shown that chlorophyll, the pigment which gives leaves their green color, helps to remove poisonous heavy metals and various chemical toxins from the body.

Again, unlike tea leaves which are infused then discarded, and matcha powdered tea is fully ingested when consumed – since matcha is shade grown, a process which greatly increases the chlorophyll content in the leaves, matcha is an extremely chlorophyll-rich food.

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Health Benefits of Matcha

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Put bluntly, the health benefits of Matcha are extensive – by and large, Matcha is disproportionately healthier than all teas, including regular green teas. Intriguingly, the amazing health benefits of matcha are derived by the virtue of how it is consumed; unlike steeped teas, where the nutrients are dissolved into the water and then the leaves are removed, drinking matcha tea requires that one consumes the ground leaves whole. Overall, when it comes to steeped teas, only between 5% and 15% of its original dry weight in nutrients is consumed – however, when drinking matcha tea, one consumes 100% of it.

tea cupsOne cup of matcha tea is the equivalent of 10 to 15 cups of green tea in terms of both its nutritional value and antioxidant content (depending on quality). I’m sure that you’re familiar with the antioxidant properties of many different foods, including orange juice – however, by comparison, matcha contains approximately 70 times the antioxidants found in orange juice!

In addition to being loaded with antioxidants, matcha tea is also extremely nutritious – it contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and a host of other minerals. As for vitamins, the matcha contains Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Vitamin U (S-Methylmethionine), Vitamin P (Bioflavonoids) as well as others like thiamine (Vitamin B1) and folate (Vitamin B9).

I’m sure you’ve at least heard about the amazing health benefits of green tea – this includes its apparent ability to mitigate some symptoms of cancer, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and the role of its antioxidants in preventative medicine. However, the vast majority of these studies are predicated on subjects consuming between 5 to 10 cups of fresh green tea a day! For most North Americans, this amount is unfeasible to achieve at best – on the other hand, given that one cup of matcha equals roughly between 10 to 15 cups of regular green tea, this condition is satisfied in one cup!

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Matcha Preparation

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

japan tea gardenIn general, there are two ways to prepare matcha:

  1. Usucha (‘thin tea’): is prepared with half a teaspoon of matcha and about 2.5 oz of fresh hot water which can be whisked for frothiness. Usucha is lighter and slightly more bitter.
  2. Koicha (‘thick tea’): requires as many as 6 teaspoons of matcha powder and 3/4 cup water. Koicha requires a slower stirring motion which does not produce the foam. Koicha is a sweeter tea.

To prepare a standard serving of matcha, put two tea scoops (approx. 1.25g to 2g) or ½ a level teaspoon of matcha tea into a bowl – afterwards, take between 1 to 6 oz of hot water (depending on preference) that was once boiled and now cooled to 80 oC, and pour it into the bowl. Now, take a bamboo whisk and gently whisk the tea until a fine froth develops on the surface.

For those that do not have access to a bamboo whisk, the process is a bit more involved; you must add a droplet of water into the bowl with the tea to make a thick paste first, and then slowly add water while stirring to eventually dilute the tea to one’s preference.

Overall, determine the sweetness and general flavour of the matcha will depend on when the leaves are harvested – generally, matcha that was harvested later in the year will have less flavour and sweetness as opposed to matcha harvested earlier in the year (which is considered the highest grade).

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Production of Matcha

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Traditionally, matcha tea is made with only the highest quality Japanese green tea leaves available in the market – however, there are different grades of green tea, and the highest is known as ‘gyokuro’.

About 4 weeks before the harvest, the entire tea plantation is covered with bamboo to allow for shading – essentially, this causes the tea plants’ physiology to recognize that there is not enough light to continue the process of photosynthesis. As a result, the tea plant takes natural countermeasures – namely, the base of the plant begins to synthesize much greater concentrations of chlorophyll and deposits them in the leaves. Indeed, this physiological response is to help absorb and convert into energy the little light that comes through the shading. Of course, this is all part of the tea farmer’s strategy – by taking advantage of this natural mechanism, the tea farmers immediately harvest these now highly chlorophyll-rich tea leaves and steam, dry and sift them.

From there, the dried tea leaves are ground using granite grinding wheels – this produces a very fine powder, known as matcha powder. Subsequently, the matcha powder is inspected by laboratories for quality, packed in air tight containers, and flown across the globe to consumers world-wide. Actually, upon opening the tin of matcha, one can immediately assess the freshness and fineness of the tea – if the tea is fresh and was packaged and prepared properly, the green powder will “puff” into the air upon opening.

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Black Tea vs. Green Tea

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Antioxidant Showdown

Until recently, medicinal research regarding tea has focused on green tea – actually, this is understandable, given that green tea is loaded with the compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), a powerful and easily detected anti-oxidant.

Generally speaking, since the fermentation process used to make black tea converts EGCg into other compounds, researchers in the past assumed black tea had less health benefits than green tea.

However, recent studies indicate the compounds contained in black tea – theaflavins and thearubigens – do more than contribute to its dark color and rich flavour – that is, theaflavins and thearubigens also provide health benefits which were originally attributed solely to green tea!

A recent article by Dr. Leung at the Chinese University of Hong Kong reported that drinking black tea has benefits equal to those of drinking green tea in terms of their antioxidant capacities – briefly, this is because theaflavins present in black tea possess at least the same antioxidant potency as catechins present in green tea.

As reported in related studies, it is clear that a group of theaflavins (TF) in black tea, specifically theaflavin-3,3′-digallate (TF3), has strong antioxidant activity similar to (-)-epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a major antioxidant in green tea.

However, the concentration of diverse antioxidants in the different teas should be first considered before drawing any conclusions about overall health benefits of teas.

In several studies, the total concentration of antioxidants in green tea and black tea were tested – for example, in a study from Cornell University, black and green teas contained total phenols equal to 124 and 165 mg gallic acid (an antioxidant measurement standard), respectively. Moreover, those same researchers found that the antioxidant capacity per serving of green tea (436 mg vitamin C equivalents) was much higher than that of black tea (239 mg).

Therefore, we must conclude that green tea has more health benefits than an equal volume of black tea in terms of antioxidant capacity.

Ok ok, but what about the TASTE?!

Let’s be honest – the recent surge of health food products may help lengthen our lifespan, but they don’t do much in terms of stimulating our taste buds. Put plainly, the taste of green tea for some folks is a major turn off – on the other hand, some don’t mind the taste of green tea initially, but then find the ‘grassy’ aftertaste to be unpleasant.

On the contrary, black tea tasting ‘sweeter’ and it being more pleasantly smelling is commonly accepted, at least in Western culture – conversely, in China and many Eastern countries, the taste of green tea is preferred to black tea. However, black tea is the most consumed type of tea world-wide – therefore, if it is a consumption numbers match-up, black tea wins it.

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Black Tea and Cancer Prevention

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently conducted a study which adds to the growing body of evidence that compounds found in both green and black tea have strong anticancer properties on tumours. In fact, the results, which are published in the Journal of the Agricultural and Food Chemistry, suggest that consumers may benefit more by drinking both green and black tea together!

During the study, nine green tea catechins, three black tea theaflavins, and theanine – extracted using either water or a water/ethanol mix – were used on human cancer cells and normal cells.

The majority of the compounds, and all general tea extracts, reduced human breast, colon, liver and prostate cancer cells.

The water/ethanol extracts were found to contain higher levels of flavonoids and kill more cancer cells – because all of the compounds were most effective when used together (a phenomenon known as ‘synergism’), the researchers recommended that consumers drink both green and black teas mixed together!

Moreover, studies done at Rutgers University reveal that black tea may help prevent stomach, prostate, and breast cancer – again, the scientists confirmed that it is the compounds known as thearubigins and theaflavins which may slow down cancer growth. Dr. Kuang Yu Chen and his team at Rutgers argued that some of the cancer cells were undergoing programmed cell death (apoptosis), which seemed to be induced by the thearubigins and theaflavins found in black tea.

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Black Tea and Tooth Decay

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Drinking black tea may prevent tooth decay – several studies have indicated that the polyphenols found in the refreshing brew can impede or completely suppress tooth decay!

Scientists at the University of Illinois found that the bacteria present in dental plaque simply stopped growing when people rinsed their mouths with black tea!

Briefly, the research found that the polyphenol components of black tea fight dental plaque, a complex material composed of 300 different species of acid-secreting bacteria. Unfortunately, these bacterial plaques can stick to teeth, and can eat away at the protective enamel.

Similarly, a separate study by Swedish scientists also found that people who rinsed their mouths with black tea accumulated significantly less bacterial plaque than a comparable group who rinsed their mouths with only water.

So, if you’re an avid black tea drinker, you can rest easy knowing that your healthy habit is fighting the plaque causing bacteria that can ruin your teeth!

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