Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winter is Coming

Here is my first post which turned out to be not so-first-post-y

Winter is coming.

It is now mid-November in Montreal and it's starting to get cold. I'm not talking 'put on your hoodie' cold (like the West Coast, Ha!), I'm talking cold cold. Although we still have a few weeks before the  'stay in bed all day with two pairs of socks and a cup of tea' section of the thermometer, it's definitely getting there. While this means my daily commute is about to be extended by %200, I am looking forward to the months ahead as the weather gives me an excuse to brew and taste all sorts of comforting  and worldly teas.

Alright, winter doesn't really provide an excuse per-se to drink tea because, let's face it, I drink tea all year round, but it does make tea buying and drinking more acceptable to the none-tea-drinking horde out there (let's call them teagles).

You see, Teagles think tea is only acceptable on colder days and do not understand the many advantages (in terms of flavour, happiness, and health) to having tea all year round. When I make my tea runs in summer, Teagles will give me sideways glances as I exit a near-empty tear stores. They don't say anything, but they're thinking it.


But I digress. Despite the cold, the snow, the wetness, and general constant shiver, winter is a season that opens up many doors in the world of tea. While many enthusiast, and experts alike, look forward to the arrival of spring for the early pickings and young leaves, I tend to cast a longing eye towards the colder months of the year as it puts me in the mood for the richness and many layers of the darker teas which might have been a bit too full bodied a few weeks prior.

It was winter in mind that I decided to try a very particular Chinese black tea the other day at Chai Lounge in Montreal. The tea in question was called "Lapsang Souchong Butterfly" (shown below) and I must admit that I have never had one like it.
Lapsang Souchong Butterfly
 Image courtesy of TheInternationalTeaExchange

The tea is (very) often described as "A superior leaf, lapsang souchong offers a crisp character with the remarkable and heady aroma of an oak fire." It was unbelievably smokey; almost like someone left the leaves to dry by a campfire for many days. I had prepared myself for a tea rich in smokey undertones and layers, but what I got was a punch to the taste buds. In my opinion, it was overpowering and the smoky flavour was all you could taste and smell. The smell, taste, and after-taste was all the same and while it was interesting for the first few sips, it quickly became a bit much and disappointingly 'constant' in terms of flavour and aroma. That's not to say that I won't try it again, but next time I will know what to expect and can prepare accordingly. It also occurs to me that reducing steeping time would help to soften the teas character and my first impression might not be all attributable to the tea; the pot filled with leaves and water was sitting behind the counter for a good length of time.

Next time, I will be better prepared (and will ask for the leaves on the side). I will know what to expect flavour-wise, and I will have my own camera for pictures!

Is there a particular tea you enjoy during winter?

Mar-Tea Expands To Twitter


The tittle pretty much says it all

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Going to be original content! There is always something to say about tea!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tea and your health

Over the past couple of years, my health has been a big area of focus and one of the many things I turned to was (is) tea for its many benefits big and small.

Tea along with its healing properties has been a big area of research and debate, becoming increasingly popular, over the past many years with advocates for both sides. Some people think tea is little more than a pleasant, relaxing, drink while others feel that tea plays a fundamental role to maintaining good health and helping to fight disease and illness.

Different types of tea have differ properties but all tea share the following basic components (warning: complicated words coming up to be explained below): Polyphenols & alkaloids.

I didn't do so well in my organic chemistry class (hence why I went into engineering instead of becoming a veterinarian) but let us take a look into the two main components of tea and how they play a role in our well-being and health.

Polyphenols is a fancy word for organic molecules found throughout numerous plant species. If the word polyphenol does not ring a bell, then how about Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)? No? Don't worry, I only knew this component by its common name: "tannins". It's thanks to tannins that we have the boldness, astringency, and the slight bitterness (or heavy bitterness depending on steeping time) in tea. Tannins are not unique to tea but can also be found in red wines. They are known to be antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-parasitic and help to maintain overall good health

Though the word polyphenol might not have been familiar, I can guarantee you that you've heard of alkaloids, or more commonly known as caffeine. Alright, that is not entirely true since alkaloids are not restricted to caffeine, but caffeine is the main alkaloid found in tea (and is the same as the one found in coffee). Although tea contains caffeine, chances are you will not get the same affect as if you had a cup of coffee. It won't keep you up all night, you won't get the jitters, and you won't have the crash.

Caffeine in tea miraculously bonds and reacts with the natural tannins found in the same cup. This helps to stabilize the caffeine and ensures a slow, constant release into your system as opposed to the one-shot-jolt of coffee. It's interesting to note that because of this effect, the caffeine in tea works with, and stimulates, the central nervous system as opposed to the caffeine in coffee which reacts with your blood circulation. It is not uncommon to have an elevated pulse and higher blood pressure after drinking coffee, however tea will not give you this effect. Because it is released in a timely manner and reacts with your central nervous system, tea will help stimulate your body and mind (as oppose to excite it). This helps you be alert, think better, and concentrate as opposed to having a rumbling stomach and the jitters.

It is important to note that not all tea has the same benefits and this is due to the methods of preparation and age of the leaf when picked. Different teas are known to help in different ways.

Before I get into the different benefits of tea types, it would help if I quickly introduced my five friends. Tea is most popularly divided into the following five groups; green, white, black, pu-er, and oolong (wulong). I won't go into detail about them now, but will reserve that topic for a future post.

Back to the health benefits.

Generally oolong (wulong) are known to be very calming, rich, teas. Some believe that oolongs (as well as green teas) are good for loosing weight as they help to stimulate your metabolism and which boosts energy consumption slightly.

Green teas have been increasingly popular over the years and this is attributed to its high contents of catechins (a type of poluphenal, one of which is EGCG mentioned above). Along its slimming effects, green tea is very high in anti-oxidants (another big source of controversy and studies) and is said to have anti-cancer effects, increase mental performance, and be overall good for the body. It is recommended to have one cup of green tea a day, but you can always have more if you can't get enough. Green tea has a bit of a twist to watch out for however. It is a bad idea to drink green tea on an empty stomach as it is the harshest among it's brothers. Green tea is made from the freshest leaves (and sometimes youngest) and contains many extra components and nutrients due to it's freshness and preparation style. When consumed on an empty stomach, expect a bit of discomfort (or if it is a particularly strong green tea, quite a bit of discomfort...I learned the hard way).

Pu-Er teas (among being my favorite kind of tea) are much more gentle than his green tea counter part. After being allowed to age and think about life, pu-er tea gives up many of the harsher qualities of tea, favouring instead, to keep the calming effects and to aid with digestion. Pu-er teas are great to eat with dinner as they help to digest and dissolve fats and are quite forgiving caffeine wise, before bed.

Black teas decided to lean towards the dark side (ha!) and idolize its coffee counterparts. Rather than releasing caffeine slowly, black teas have an increased rate of release acting closer to coffee than green teas. Though lower than green teas, they still contain anti-oxidants.

White teas have the short end of the stick and are not commonly known to stand out one way or another. They are relaxing and delicious, 'nough said.

Is there a particular tea you drink for health reasons?

For more information about tea and health benefits, check out wikipedia's page about tea and health.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A budding enthusiast

Take two at a first post.

It turns out the first thing I wrote was more suited to a second post than a first post; it's a shame that my inner writer enthusiast pales in comparison to my inner tea enthusiast. Thankfully at the end of the day, this is a blog about tea, not writing.

My 'love' for tea started a few years ago but tea never moved past the casual beverage on a cold rainy day (though love is a very strong word and to be honest I can't say I loved tea as such...). I can actually remember my very first cup of loose-leaf tea (though I am slightly ashamed to call it 'tea' in retrospect). A friend of mine gave me a tin of aromatic loose leaf earl-grey tea from a little shop that opened near my house, and with it, a passport to a whole new world. I must admit that I was slightly less than thrilled when they handed me the tin as I had no prior contact with loose-leaf tea. Before then, I only knew of tea in two varieties; first being mint tea when I had a stomach ache, and second being my moms daily generic breakfast tea. This being my first loose-leaf experience, I did what any sensible person would do: I created a concoction composing of 4 parts sugar, 2 parts milk, and 1 part tea (hence why I am ashamed to call it tea). I wish I could say that I realized the error in my ways after a few cups, but sadly this habit continued for a number of years and many good tins of earl-grey were wasted and somewhere out there, a tea leaf was crying. Thankfully this all changed around three years ago.

November 16th 2009 (just past three years to the day!), when I was twenty-two, my life decided to flip-upside and mix things up a bit. All of a sudden, health became a very important issue for me and the sugar/milk concoction that I called tea just didn't cut it anymore (don't get me wrong, I still enjoy a cup of sugar with a few drops of tea every so often but my views and taste of tea has moved to a more purist perspective). I was looking for something, anything to give me an edge health wise and get better and lo-and-behold, I stumbled across tea. Real tea.