Do you ever find that your appreciation for something or someone increases after learning more about their past, their history, their unique characteristics, their strengths, their weaknesses? That’s our goal for this new series, the Power of Plants, to grow our appreciation, understanding and comfort using various plants from day to day.
The obvious place to start is with the tea plant. The plant that started our founder on over a decade of studying tea, travelling for tea, adventuring in tea lands, blending tea and nerding out in tea conversation. Thank you, camellia sinensis, for starting us on this amazing plant-powered journey.
So what do we mean when we say the “power of” plants? Our definition of power is the following:
a. The natural ability or capacity to do something effectively, achieve something or make something happen.
b. A specific capacity or faculty (inherent mental or physical capability)
We sit staunchly on the side that “tea” is a drink made from infusing (or whisking!) pretty much any herbs, fruits, flowers and tea leaves into water. We know… this puts us in opposition to many tea merchants and enthusiasts who stay true to tea in its purist form. Those who define tea only as the infusion of the tea plant’s leaves in water. The tea world wouldn’t be the same without them. I mean, technically they’re right. Does that make us tea rebels? We do mix all kinds of plant powders with matcha and drink teas called Berry Maple Waffles. But, why complicate things? As long as you understand that rooibos and yerba mate are not from the same plant as black tea and green tea, then we’re good.. in our opinion!
So, technically speaking “tea” comes from the tea plant, camellia sinensis. That’s where our focus lies for this post.
Tea has the power to uplift your mood, wake you up, help you unwind, put you to sleep, give you the mental alertness of a monk… all the while tasting sublime. No hyperbole used.
The tea plant is a resilient evergreen, withstanding very cold temperatures and producing for 40 -100 years. It grows best in high elevation due to the climate higher up - 1,000 - 7,000 feet about sea level. The higher the elevation, the slower the growth of the plant, the higher the quality of the tea and the finer the flavour. (like Darjeeling). Many high quality teas are picked by hand during harvest. Imagine the skill that goes into plucking very specific leaves from the top of each branch in one smooth pluck! And then imagine doing that all day long.
The chemistry of the tea leaf is what makes the tea plant our #1 power plant. The leaves of the tea plant contain a complex variety of chemical compounds (in the thousands). These compounds are responsible for not only the appearance, flavour and aroma of the tea, but the health benefits too.
The key components in your cup of tea: polyphenols, amino acids, caffeine, minerals, carbohydrates, pigments, and enzymes. Let’s talk about a few.
Amino acids in your tea leaves give it sweetness and umami. Umami is something we finally understood after visiting Japan. Umami is a kind of indescribably tastiness. It’s a rich, savoury, brothy taste. Sunlight in the tea fields turns amino acids into polyphenols. So, for shade-grown teas like Japanese tencha (destined to become matcha) and gyokuro, there’s more amino acids. Our favourite amino acid is L-theanine (yes, we have a favourite amino acid!) and it’s found more in teas grown in the shade. More on L-theanine below and also here.
The volatile (easily evaporated) components in tea give tea its aroma. Most don’t exist in the fresh tea leaves, but are formed during the processing of the leaf into green, oolong or black tea. There’s been more than 600 volatile compounds identified in the tea manufacturing process. So yes, a compound known as β-damascenone gives tea a floral flowery or cooked apple aroma. This is not a bad thing.
Can you appreciate the aroma of your cup of tea that much more?
Like we said, most amino acids are turned into polyphenols from the sun. One type of polyphenol is a group called flavonoids. These are responsible for the health benefits of tea.
Science is cool, but let’s move on.
There’s four health-boosting areas we tend to focus on when it comes to tea consumption: antioxidant properties, anti-inflammatory properties and it’s power to achieve mental focus and relaxation. We’re not medical professionals, so it’s easier for us to take it all in when broken down in this way.
The flavonoids in tea contain antioxidants, which slow down or can prevent the damaging effects of free radicals. The damage caused by free radical oxidants can lead to cancers, heart disease, premature aging and circulatory problems. A lot of this help is from the powerful antioxidant EGCG found in green tea (including matcha). Harvard-led studies have shown that tea drinkers are at lower risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Green tea's antioxidant benefits are becoming more well known and we're seeing it in more and more natural skin care products. Our lotion has it.
With all the hype on turmeric these days (guilty), we’re becoming more aware that inflammation is connected to what seems like every ailment; the obvious one being arthritis, but also heart disease, depression, alzheimer's and more. The polyphenols in tea have anti-inflammatory properties.
We put these two together because they come from the interaction of caffeine and l-theanine in tea. The caffeine in tea is important. It acts a mild stimulant, but isn’t absorbed into the body in the same jolting way as coffee. Caffeine in tea is released slowly into the body. The effects of the caffeine are therefore felt more evenly and sustainably. We already mentioned what L-theanine can do - helping you concentrate while maintaining a calm alertness. It can also reduce stress levels and boost memory. Tea is one of three known plants naturally containing L-theanine, the alpha brain-wave enhancing amino acid that gives us zen-like focus and concentration.
Tea tastes good! Good things in life = happiness in life, therefore tea=happiness. That sounds like science too.
Not sure about all these claims? Don’t worry about it, just know that tea is the perfect beverage for a healthy lifestyle. There doesn’t appear to be any harmful effects to drinking tea. Everything in moderation though, right? That caffeine will add up if you’re drinking too much!
Why do you drink tea? Tell us in the comments below!
Let’s finish with one of our “tea rebel” recipes. This one is actually from one of our customers, Kristina.
The Eros Tea Latte.
What you need:
An Evening with Eros (or other flavourful dessert tea)
Milk of choice (we always lean towards almond milk)
Maple syrup (or other sweetenery)
How to make it:
Steep a heaping teaspoon of your tea for 5 minutes.
Heat your milk on the stove up to the same temperature as the hot water you’re steeping your tea in. This will be several degrees below boiling after you’re done steeping your tea. The temperature of the milk is important if there is an ingredient in the tea that might curdle the milk, like hibiscus, which is quite acidic in nature. Take Kristina’s advice here and avoid "unfortunately tea curdling episodes"!
Pour your milk into a mug.
Once the tea is done steeping, very very slowly pour the tea into the milk while stirring. If your tea doesn’t have hibiscus in it, you don’t have to be so gentle with the combining of the milk and the tea. Sweeten with maple syrup.
The Tea Companion, Jane Pettigrew.
Tea: A User’s Guide, Tony Gobely.
“Effects of green tea and EGCG on cardiovascular and metabolic health.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition
Tea and Infusion, Jane Pettigrew
"Health benefits linked to drinking tea”, Harvard Medical School, online health publications, http://www.health.harvard.edu/
Anti-inflammatory Food Pyramid, Dr. Andrew Weil