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Tea Digest – an overview of tea in the news

If the amount of press coverage is anything to go by, then tea is experiencing an enormous resurgence at the moment. From scientific publications on its health benefits to the new fashion of visiting teahouses to confessionals of rock and pop stars being tea drinkers: tea is popping up everywhere!

To help you keep up with all the news, we’ve decided to write a regular “news digest” on what’s happening in the tea world. We want this digest to serve as a brief summary, as a gateway to the full articles and as a starting point to do your own research.

This first digest covers stories we’ve come across in the last few months, covering subjects from tea & health to the concept of “tea – the new wine”!

Tea & Health

Although used for millenia in Chinese medicine, the leaf of the tea plant (camellia sinensis) has been largely ignored by the western medical world following its paradigm of allopathic medicine until very recently. Now, a host of medical research results are being published, proving tea to be a powerful drink with benefits ranging from reducing the risk of heart attack and improving dental health to boosting exercise endurance.

A long-term study conducted on a large group of japanese adults indicates that daily consumption of green tea lowers the risk of heart disease by 20 – 30%. Although this study revealed no evidence that drinking tea prevents cancer, other studies indicate that tea decreases the risk of cancer but results of the different studies are often conflicting. The motivation for most of this research is the fact that tea contains a large amount of polyphenols called catechins, a powerful antioxidant, that can neutralize free radicals. The catechins in tea are believed to shrink cancerous tumors.
A recently published study from Slovenia indicates that these catechins also have antibacterial properties that could potentially serve as an alternative to current clinical drugs with their side effects.
In another study, researchers at the Biological Sciences Laboratories of Kao Corp., Tochigi, Japan showed that green tea extract boosted exercise endurance by 8 to 24% by increasing the body’s ability to burn lipids.

One of the biggest stories in the news during the past 2 weeks is based on the findings of a study conducted in Germany. Cardiologists and scientists from the Charité Hospital in Berlin published research results indicating that adding milk to your tea blocks the positive effects of tea catechins. Responsible for this effect is a group of proteins called caseins, that decrease the level of catechins in tea. (Click here to read the full publication.)
Personally, I’m a little surprised that this study gained so much attention. It was a VERY small study with only 16 patients that were tested 3 times; compare that with the japanese study on heart disease above where 40.000 patients were observed for 11 years! But then, black tea (the only tea that is commonly drunk with milk) is by far the most popular tea in western countries and interest in research concerning black tea is generally higher than for green tea.

Another story that was in the news a while ago corrects an old urban myth: the one that tea dehydrates. A team around Dr Carrie Ruxton at Kings College London studied the health effects of tea. Dr Ruxton states that “drinking tea is actually better for you than drinking water. Water is essentially replacing fluid. Tea replaces fluids and contains antioxidants so it’s got two things going for it.” The effect of dehydration is attributed to high doses of caffeine. But with the caffeine levels found in tea, even a very strong cup of tea will result in a net fluid gain.

Are tea & teahouses the next big thing?

In the U.S., tea shops and teahouses (often in the watered-down form of trendier tea-bars) are popping up everywhere. There seems to be a renaissance of tea, largely attributed to health consciousness.
Tea sales are predicted to almost double in just five years and it sounds as if cafes have to come up with good strategies not to lose a big part of their market to this new trend.
A large portion of this tea market has to do with flavoured teas and tea-based health beverages. The market is so hot, that even Coca-Cola is jumping on the bandwagon!
But the interest is not only focussed on lower grade teas. Some other news items indicate an increased demand for high quality and rare teas. One article even compared the new interest in rare teas to the enthusiasm for fine wines in the 1990s. This development is more interesting to us since our focus is on offering a select range of the best quality teas.

We don’t know whether teahouses will be the “next big thing” (or even care, really), but we are happy that this amazing drink is finally getting the recognition it deserves!

Pop stars & tea – a few oddities to finish with

With rock & pop stars being the idols of this generation, their influence on trends and fashion is enormous. We recently stumbled across some articles where tea (no, not beer or drugs!) was quoted as the main source of inspiration. British indie rockers Kaiser Chiefs confessed that drinking tea played a huge part in making their new album and the singer of last year’s biggest newcomers Arctic Monkeys claims that he spent his birthday party sipping tea and eating cake.
Even in Christchurch, rock stars seem to indulge in this new drug. At the concert of “Tenacious D” (actor/musician Jack Black’s rock comedy duo) a week back or so, Jack Black excused himself at the start of the show, stating he needed to “drink a lot more tea and do some yoga” while the fabulous opening band – Christchurch’s own “Black Tear” – was warming up the masses.

Reading about tea in the world news so frequently is a great thing! It reassures us that there is a growing interest in our favourite beverage. It’s great to read about all the healthy properties of tea, to know that what we offer promotes health and well-being, and to read about the uprising of tea culture. But there’s one thing most of the articles haven’t mentioned, in my opinion the most important reason that tea has had such a long-lasting tradition: the flavour. Health benefits are a very welcome bonus, but the main reason we are devoted to tea is its complex nature, delicacy and diversity of flavour!

So, the next time you sip on a cup of your favourite tea, remember that you’re not only doing your body a favour – you’re also on the cutting edge of a new trend!

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5 Responses to Tea Digest – an overview of tea in the news »»


Comments

  1. Comment by Rachel Baker | 2007/01/26 at 13:44:50

    Hi! Another aspect to tea which was perhaps missed is how tea can be social in a totally refreshing and new way. This is off course in contrast to the supossedly ultimate social companion; coffee. The main difference is perhaps in the way one drinks tea.

    The essential nature of coffee is one of speed, it is a quick fix and althoughmany people meet for coffee the main conversation is done after the coffee is finished. The caffine has hit it’s mark and then this is when the revolutionists made their plans. Coffee is supposedly the drink of revolutionist interestingly that is why coffee shops were closed in frugal England which made way for what the english love; a cup of tea.

    However drinking tea is quite a different event. I think of it as a slow ritual. The times I have visited your tea house I have spent a good afternoon there something that I rarely do over coffee. I love coffe yet am intrigued by the effect of tea on myself and the people I am with .The converstaions have always been relaxed as the tea is shareded over time till the tea can be strained no more. I could never make myself gulp tea it lends itself to sipping. I supose this sums up tea for me it is not a quick hit on my way to a lecture it is something that creates time ,opens conversations and can structure a whole afternoon.

    I some how believe that is why me and my friends as a joke started our tea society not just because we liked tea but because it was an excuse to simply interact and go talk. We are all students and discovered tea to be the ultimate procrasternator for afternoons of leasure. We have not just visited Ya ya but have spent afternoons lying in the sun drinking tea in a park or crammed into a small room for a cosy tea party. Over summer with my new best friend” Tea thermos” I was able to share tea with all my cousins on the side of a river while on a break from canoeing down stream or at the beach with little grits of sand at the bottom.

    So I suppose that is all I have to say about tea for the moment apart from asking if I could possibly ask a favour. I fell in love with your silver needle white tea and was wondering if you do orders of tea as I now live in Hawkesbay rather than Christchurch SOB!!
    If I was to send a cheque for postage and the tea would you be able to mail me some???. I have been looking for that tea but cannot find it.

    Kind regards
    Rachel Baker
    rachbaker@hotmail.com

  2. Jo
    Comment by Jo | 2007/01/26 at 17:27:12

    Dear Rachel,
    thank you very much for pointing out this very important aspect of tea.
    As you know, this is one of the most important objectives of our teahouse. We are providing a place for exactly the kind of social interaction that you describe. A place where you’re not rushed or stressed, where you can just sit and talk (or dream) your time away. It is great to see that people like you take it up, realize that tea is a “slow” drink and deserves to be celebrated!
    As to ordering our tea by mail, that’s not a problem. We’re planning to add an online-order facility to our website soon, but in the meantime, I’ll send you some of the Silver Needle!

    Hope to see you down here in ChCh some time again,
    Jo

  3. Comment by Mike | 2007/01/28 at 14:18:29

    I agree with all the points above. However, although tea may have been receiving a bit of attention in the media as of late, as it is a practice in ‘slowness’ of sorts, isn’t the practice and culture of tea likely to always be considered as ‘fringe’ in a society that celebrates pace and convenience? If so, isn’t tea likely to always take a back-seat to more hastily consumed beverages? The reason I ask this is because sometimes I worry that today’s ‘fast-food’ approach to life is too firmly embedded for alternative approaches to living and consuming to really take hold.

    Regards,
    Mike

  4. Jo
    Comment by Jo | 2007/01/29 at 07:12:16

    Mike,
    I see what you mean and must admit that I had those exact worries myself a while back. I feared that the world of mega-marts would completely dominate our consumption behaviour and push those little specialised, dedicated and well informed businesses into bankruptcy.
    Today, I believe that this won’t happen and that the demand in those businesses (or the goods that they sell) is growing.
    The power of mega-marts is clearly convenience (having everything in one store, hence fast shopping) and cheap prices. Their inherent problem: run-of-the-mill quality and virtually no product advice.
    I think the pendulum is swinging back and we’re gonna see an increasing number of people requesting more than the average or below average quality of mass-produced items. People are are becoming particular about the quality of the products they’re spending their money on. They want guidance and often, they want a dialogue. This is what small specialised stores can offer. They usually know their products very well and can cater to the personal preferences of their clients.

    You clearly understood the true nature of tea when you speak of it as a slow drink. In our fast world, that IS ‘fringe’ and an almost alien experience. But it is also a welcome change for many people and they savour it. We see it everyday at the teahouse when people come in with an unspoken expectation of a “quick cup of tea”. Well, let me tell you that not few of them end up staying for 2 hours or more!
    I think we all cherish slowness and the peace that comes with it but most of us have forgotten how it feels. I personally think that tea (together with its rituals) has the power to bring back that slowness into our lives – be it just for half an hour a day. But once you have experienced it, you won’t want to miss it.

    I’m not saying that tea (as we see it at our teahouse) will ever become a real mainstream product. Some teas sold in supermarkets probably will, but they’ll most likely be a compromise between the ‘real thing’ and something more suited for our current habits. But I’m optimistic that tea in its true form will attract more and more people, partly because it’s something different than coffee (and the old teabags) and partly because of its culture and rituals.

    I’ll better go now and celebrate my own ritual (a pot of first flush Darjeeling, first thing every morning).
    Jo


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