ARE HEALTH BENEFITS OF OUR DAILY CUP OF TEA REAL?

SHORT ABSTRACT: 

  • Chemistry of tea: what exactly is in our teacup? Fresh tea leaf is extraordinarily rich in the flavanol group of polyphenols (catechins), which may constitute up to 30% of the dry leaf weight. 
  • Tea and antioxidants. Tea is a major source of flavonoids, which are now well known antioxidants. 
  • Tea and cholesterol. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition has showed that black tea consumption notably lowered serum concentration of LDL (bad) cholesterol, specifically in subjects with higher cardiovascular risk. 
  • Tea and diabetes. Some epidemiological studies also present interesting and optimistic data, which indicate that drinking at least 4 cups of tea per day, regardless of its type, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20%. 
  • Tea and liver disease. A study has shown that tea protects us against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by limiting hepatic lipid accumulation.
  • Tea and cancer. There are more than ten catechin compounds in tea. Catechins are a group of natural antioxidants, and they suppress DNA damage by enhancing antioxidant enzymes and promoting the repair of damaged DNA. 
  • Tea and weight loss. The topic of the effect of tea on weight loss is not new. A study indicated that taking green tea, capsaicin and ginger co-supplements for 8 weeks among overweight women had beneficial effects on weight, BMI, markers of insulin metabolism and plasma glutathione levels. 
  • Tea and depression. A study conducted in Japan showed that higher tea consumption was associated with a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms.
  • When is tea bad? Some experts claim that having considered the concentration of caffeine, its diuretic properties and the negative effect on iron absorption, the maximum consumption of black tea should not exceed 8 cups per day. 

 

Fresh tea leaf is extraordinarily rich in the flavanol group of polyphenols (catechins), which may constitute up to 30% of the dry leaf weight. Flavanols and their glycosides; depsides, such as chlorogenic acid, coumarylquinic acid; and theogallin (3-galloylquinic acid) –  one that is unique to tea, are other polyphenols present in the tea leaf. 

3,4,5-Tri-O-galloylquinic_acid

3-galloylquinic acid

By Edgar181 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

On average level, caffeine is present in 3%, along with very small amounts of the other common methylxanthinestheobromine and theophylline.

Caffeine_structure.svg

Caffeine

By Vaccinationist, via Wikimedia Commons

The amino acid theanine (5-Nethylglutamine) is also unique to tea.

Theanine

Theanine

By Benrr101, via Wikimedia Commons

Tea accumulates aluminum and manganese. In addition to plant cell enzymes, tea leaf also contains an active polyphenol oxidase (an enzyme), which catalyzes the aerobic oxidation of the catechins during black tea manufacture. The enzymatic oxidation generates a lot of compounds, including bisflavanols, theaflavins, epitheaflavic acids, and thearubigens, which give the characteristic taste and color properties of black tea.

 

tee-1719399_1920

 

There is no tannic acid in tea. Thearubigens compose the largest mass of the extractable matter in black tea, but their composition is not well known.

The catechin quinones also trigger the formation of many volatile compounds found in the black tea aroma fraction.

Green tea composition is very similar to that of the fresh leaf except for a few enzymatically catalyzed changes which occur extremely rapidly following plucking. New volatile substances are produced during the drying stage. Oolong tea is intermediate in composition between green and black teas. (35)

So, now that we know the tea chemistry, we can move on to the part of how tea affects our health. The health benefits of tea are known since the early centuries AD. Tea was such an important part of Chinese Pharmacopoeia, that demand for tea increased greatly by the end of the fifth century. (3) Many people have long believed in the medical efficacies of tea and other herbs, although effectiveness is not rigorously verified in scientific ways yet. (36)

Tea is a natural, low-processed and calorie free beverage. Many studies have been made to determine its effects on peoples’ health. Some studies claim that tea has antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticarcinogenic, antihypertensive, neuroprotective, cholesterol-lowering, and thermogenic properties(37)

However, to every good news, there are also countering bad news. Figures. There are many studies as well, that have tested the level of contamination of teas, especially with heavy metals and pesticides.

We will have a quickie with both sides – the good one and the bad one. No, it’s not what you think! Dirty mind!

Ok, first – the benefits of tea. We’re talking about the tea from dried leaves of the plant Camellia Sinensis (green, oolong, white, yellow and black tea). Many scientific studies are trying to answer these important questions:

  • Are all teas the same?
  • What exactly are the health benefits of drinking tea?
  • How do the different ways of tea preparation affect the availability of its components?
  • How much and how long should one person consume tea to obtain the health benefits?

 

TEA AND ANTIOXIDANTS

Tea is a major source of flavonoids, which are now well known antioxidants. Tea catechins and theaflavins are, respectively, the bioactive phytochemicals accountable for the antioxidant activity of green tea and black tea. (38) Green tea and green tea extracts, now more than ever, are used in various industrial products, such as cosmetics, foods and beverages. (39) 

Due to fermentation, black tea and green tea have different phenolic compound profile. The main polyphenols in green tea are: (-) – epicatechine (EC), (-) – epicatechine gallate (ECG), (-) – epigallocatechine (EGC) and (-) – epigallocatechine gallate (EGCG). Conversly, theaflavins and thearubigins are the main additional families of polyphenols present in black teas. (40) EGCG, which is viewed as green tea’s most significant active component, is used as its quality marker. (41) 

Epigallocatechin_gallate_structure.svg

EGCG

By Su-no-G, via Wikimedia Commons

The level of polyphenols in the tea plant varies depending on climate, cultivar and processing. This means that the concentration of EGCG varies. Moderate concentrations of EGCG could help people to cope with conditions where the oxidative stress is increased (alcoholic fatty liver, obesity-induced inflammation). (42) Of course, more studies are to be made, to confirm this claim. 

A study published in the Natural Product Sciences Journal, by the Korean Society of Pharmacology estimates, that green tea extract and EGCG together have a bigger antioxidant ability than EGCG taken alone. (43) This is why green tea has been reported to exert beneficial effect against various diseases. It has excellent antioxidant properties and is a great choice of beverage.

Green tea has definitely higher total phenolic and flavonoid content than black tea, which means that green tea has better antioxidant properties than black tea(44)

Oolong tea, yellow tea and white are in the middle, they have more antioxidants than black tea, but less than green tea.

TEA AND CHOLESTEROL

While green tea is the obvious winner in the antioxidant race, black tea and white tea are said to be doing great in the lowering-of-cholesterol-race. It is true, that more studies have to be made in order to confirm this claim, but the number of research papers that show good results increases.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition has showed that black tea consumption notably lowered serum concentration of LDL (bad) cholesterol, specifically in subjects with higher cardiovascular risk. (45) Same can be said about white tea, according to a study published in the Journal of Food Chemistry. (46) This does not mean that green tea doesn’t have these properties. Green tea has been suggested to improve cardiovascular disease risk factors, including circulating lipid variables. However, more evidence is needed to confirm this claim. (47)

TEA AND DIABETES

Some epidemiological studies also present interesting and optimistic data, which indicate that drinking at least 4 cups of tea per day, regardless of its type, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20%. (48) Similar results were obtained for coffee, but that’s another story to be told. Of course, diet, lifestyle and genetic predispositions are also in the game here (as well as everywhere else), but we have to do everything that we can, to live a better and healthier life – change diet, do exercise, lower stress… you know the drill. Drinking tea without doing much of anything else will not help. Tea is just a helping tool to get to the wanted results. 

TEA AND LIVER DISEASE

Diet plays a large role in the development of metabolic disorders, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, etc… Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is an accumulation of fat in the liver despite a low level of alcohol intake, with signs of hepatomegaly (having an enlarged liver). (49) Metabolic syndrome is defined as a constellation of interconnected physiological, biochemical, clinical, and metabolic factors, which directly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all cause mortality(50) 

Liver_01_animation1

By Database Center for Life Science(DBCLS)[2], via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, a study published in the Journal of Clinics and Research in Hepatology and Gastroenterology, indicated that green tea extract did not affect hepatic antioxidant status and lipid metabolism, but protected against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by limiting hepatic lipid accumulation. (49) Roughly speaking, this means that the green tea extract would limit accumulation of fat in the liver, but would not influence the chemical processes that transform the fat.

Many more studies are giving similar results, however, more long term randomized clinical trials are needed to evaluate the health benefits of tea.

TEA AND CANCER

Many different studies point out at the protective effect tea has on the body, that drinking green tea lowers the risk for lung, breast and stomach cancer, but according to the Food and Drug Administration, study results are so vague, that based on the current state of knowledge it is not possible to acknowledge, that tea may decrease the risk of the mentioned cancers. (48) 

In the Journal Nutrients, scientists published a study about the effects of catechins from the tea on breast cancer. They introduced (somewhat disputing) in vitro and in vivo test results showing the association between green tea consumption and the decreased risk of breast cancer. The results between in vitro and in vivo studies were inconsistent probably because of the low oral bioavailability and the biotransformation of catechins in vivo(51) 

There are more than ten catechin compounds in tea. Catechins are a group of natural antioxidants, and they suppress carcinogen-induced ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) and DNA damage by enhancing antioxidant enzymes, scavenging ROS, and promoting the repair of damaged DNA. Among them EGCG is the most abundant, and shows the most promising suppressing effects on breast cancer. (51) The role of tea in breast cancer (or any cancer) is uncertain and yet to be proven, but a cup of tea, or two, or three wouldn’t hurt anyone. 

TEA AND WEIGHT LOSS

There are many factors that influence a person’s weight: genetics, lifestyle, stress, gut microbiota, etc, etc… The topic of the effect of tea on weight loss is not new. Some say that tea boosts metabolism, others say its diuretic properties help the body get rid of toxins, and then others theorize that the antioxidants play a role in the process of weight loss. But, we’ve seen that it’s not really that simple. As mentioned above – oral bioavailability and biotransformation of tea components are pretty low, and higher above I mentioned that green tea extract does not influence lipid metabolism, only accumulation of fat in the liver. I’m not trying to be a kill-joy here – there are tons and tons of studies out there about the beneficial effects of tea on weight loss. In fact, a study indicated that taking green tea, capsaicin and ginger co-supplements for 8 weeks among overweight women had beneficial effects on weight, BMI, markers of insulin metabolism and plasma glutathione levels. (52) 

 

teacup-2324842_1920

 

BUT, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it million times – only drinking tea will not get anyone achieve long term results. Tea is a tool, that combined with other lifestyle and diet choices will help anyone achieve their weight goals. 

TEA AND DEPRESSION

Whether tea consumption decreases the risk of depression remains controversial. A study conducted in Japan showed that higher tea consumption was associated with a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms. (53) 

A meta-analysis of eleven studies (22,817 participants with 4,743 cases of depression) showed that drinking 3 cups of tea per day decreased the risk of depression by 37%.

WHEN IS TEA BAD?

We’ve looked at many reasons (not all, there are so many other reasons, but if I write about all of them, these post series will never end) why tea is good for us, and it is time to review some bad aspects of tea drinking.

Tea (especially black tea) contains caffeine. Too much caffeine results in insomnia, increased heart rate and increased stress. Furthermore, the polyphenols from the tea bind the non-heme iron and in that way they reduce its absorption. Black tea tannins inhibit absorption of iron to a larger extent compared to catechins in the green tea. This means that people with anemia should refrain from drinking black tea during meals. (48)

Contamination of food, food products and natural health products is a growing concern. The Journal of Toxicology published a study with results of toxic element testing of off-the-shelf teas sold in tea bags (black, green, oolong and white). They found that most tea samples were contaminated with heavy metals. Unfortunately, there are no guidelines for routine testing and reporting of toxicant levels in teas and other “naturally” occurring products. (54) Hopefully, public health warning will be issued to protect consumer safety.

This one goes for any hot food or beverage, but drinking hot tea, according to a study published in The British Medical Journal (The BMJ), was found to be strongly associated with a higher risk of esophageal cancer. (55)

Black tea will lead to staining of your teeth. It’s as bad as coffee and as bad as red wine. And I still am not giving up any of those things!

So, how many cups of tea should we drink?

Some experts claim that having considered the concentration of caffeine, its diuretic properties and the negative effect on iron absorption, the maximum consumption of black tea should not exceed 8 cups per day. (48)

I think, tea as part of a lifestyle and as part of a meaningful ritual along with its many benefits outclass its few reported negative effects. Tea is a good companion in any time and at any place.

See you again soon!  

REFERENCES FOR THE TEA SERIES (YOU CAN FIND PART ONE HEREPART TWO HERE AND PART THREE HERE):

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  46. Tenore GC, Campiglia P, Giannetti D, Novellino E: Simulated Gastrointestinal Digestion, Intestinal Permeation and Plasma Protein Interaction of White, Green, and Black Tea Polyphenols. In Food Chemistry. 2015. 169: 320-326. Online Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814614012151
  47. Samavat H, Newman AR, Wang R, Yuan JM, Wu AH, Kurzer MS: Effects of Green Tea Catechin Extract on Serum Lipids in Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. American Society for Nutrition. 2016. Article ID: 137075. 12 Pages. Online Source: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2016/11/01/ajcn.116.137075.abstract?papetoc&from=groupmessage&cited-by=yes&legid=ajcn;ajcn.116.137075v1&related-urls=yes&legid=ajcn;ajcn.116.137075v1
  48. Wierzejska R: Tea and Health – A Review of the Current State of Knowledge. Epidemiological Review (pl. Przegląd Epidemiologiczny). 2014. 68: 501-506. Online Source: http://www.przeglepidemiol.pzh.gov.pl/files/peissues/Przeg_Epidem_3-2014.pdf#page=108
  49. Shin JH, Jung JH: Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Flavonoids: Current Perspectives. In Clinics and Research in Hepatology and Gastroenterology. 2017. 41(1): 17-24.
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THE ABSOLUTELY THRILLING TEA CULTURE AROUND THE WORLD

This is PART THREE, of the POST SERIES!

SHORT ABSTRACT:

  • Historically, tea played a central role in social and political life. Today, tea culture refers to the way people prepare tea, how they interact with tea and how they drink it.
  • Bellow are presented the cultural tea traditions from around the world.

 

The word “tea” has many connotations. It can refer to a plant, a beverage, a meal service, an agricultural product, an export, an industry, an art, or a dedicated pastime. (23) 

Tea plays an important role in many cultures. But why tea? Historically, tea played a central role in social and political life. Today, tea culture refers to the way people prepare tea, how they interact with tea and how they drink it. Aesthetics surrounding the tea drinking is also very important. Tea ceremonies are beautiful, and each culture has an intricate ritual which honors values, heritage, spirituality and tradition.

Tea ceremonies are not mystic, rather natural and elevated. Some people say, that tea ceremonies in China are like the character of Chinese people – natural and casual, and not restricted by certain patterns. (24) 

The tea ceremony in China consists of many elements, such as: choice of tea, type of water, utensils, time, presentation and manner of drinking the tea. With the popularization of tea, people from different regions and nationalities developed their own unique customs of drinking tea. (25)

Ceremony tea sets in various historical times are different, depending on what was in fashion in those particular times. The tea apparatus must fully exhibit the fragrance of the tea and display its visual aesthetic beauty.  It is also important when and where drinking of tea occurs. (26)

 

 

お茶

Japanese tea ceremony is choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea Matcha. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart.

At first tea was prepared and drank only by Buddhist priests and noblemen. In the 13th century the samurai noble warrior class became fascinated with tea preparation, and so tea parties of various sorts became very popular. Eventually, the art of tea ceremony came to be enjoyed by people of all classes. (27)

 

 

The Korean tea ceremony is not as formal as the Japanese and with more natural ease of movement than the Chinese. This means – fewer formal rituals, fewer restrictions, greater freedom for relaxation, and more creativity in enjoying a broad variety of teas, services, and conversation. (28)

 

 

चाय

India’s national drink is called Chai. It is a black tea infused with different flavors (ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon and cloves). It is very popular, and is always offered to visitors in Indian homes, offices and places of business. 

 

 

བོད་ཇ

Drinking butter tea is part of every day life in Tibet. It is called Po Cha in Tibetan and it is made out of tea, water, butter and salt. Tibetan medicine supports the combination of butter and tea as a means of sharpening one’s mind and body. (29)

 

 

Чай

Tea was introduced to Russia in the mid 1600s. It is appealing to the Russian lifestyle because it’s warm and hearty. Typical Russian tea is a combination of two or three types and flavors. The Russian process of tea making is a bit different: first, they produce zavarka – this is a dark, concentrated brew; then, they separately boil water. When they make tea, first they fill the cup with zavarka and then they dilute it with hot water. Zavarka is made in a special pot called samovar. Tea is served to guests as a welcome gesture. (30)

 

 

Çay

Tea was introduced to Turkey in the 1500s, but Turkish people ware not convinced by its specialness. It was given another chance much later – in the 1870s. Today, tea is an important part of Turkish culture. Not only that, but Turkey has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of tea, averaging about 1,000 cups per year. Yes, tea is the king! (And coffee is the queen, together they rule not only Turkey, but the whole world).

Turks use a double tea pot to prepare tea. Water is boiled in the lower pot and loose-leaf tea is steeped in the top pot. This allows each person to drink tea as they desire – strong or light. In some parts of Turkey, people use samovar to prepare tea in.

Turkey is the sixth largest producer of tea in the world. Travel to any town of Turkey, and you are sure to find a tea house or a tea garden. (31) 

 

 

أتاي

The Maghrebi mint tea (in Moroccan Arabic: atay) is a green tea with spearmint leaves and sugar.

It is the traditional drink of Morocco. Similar tea is prepared in Spain and it is called Moorish tea. Tea is a very important part of Moroccan culture. Drinking it in company symbolizes hospitality and friendship.

 

 

Tee

The Frisian tea time was developed in the west part of North Germany. The so-called “Ostfriesentee” is a strong black blend, and it is served in a large porcelain tea pot. The tea pot is warmed up with hot water, which is then discarded. Next, the tea is poured into the pot and offered in small cups made out of thin porcelain. Before serving the tea, a candied sugar is put in each cup, and after the tea is poured in the cup, cream is carefully added to each drink. This makes a beautiful pattern in the dark liquid, called “wulkje” (little cloud). (32)

 

 

Thé

Tea first came to Paris in the 17th Century, a few years before it arrived in London. At first it was used as a medicinal drink. It was given to King Louis XIV for his gout.

France drinks mostly black tea, and although the French tea market is rather small, it is growing steadily. 

 

 

Tea

 

 

Last, but not least – Britain and tea. A love story. 

Tea is synonymous with British culture. Since the 18th century, Britain has been one of the greatest tea consumers. 

British aristocracy was introduced to tea by a foreign (Portuguese) princess named Catherine of Braganza, the queen of Charles II. This was in the 17th century. 

In the early 1800s Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford launched the idea of having tea in the late afternoon to bridge the gap between luncheon and dinner, which in fashionable circles was not served until 8 o’clock at night. 

Later in the 19th century, tea became a very popular home beverage for women. Tea was then drank by all social classes. Rich people’s tea was accompanied by bread or toast, cold meats and pies, eggs and fish. Poor people took their morning tea with bread and butter, or maybe porridge or gruel.

Sometime in the 1860s the afternoon tea became very “fashionable”. Such teas were elegant affairs, with tea drank from the finest china. This became such a big deal, that even today, contemporary manuals on etiquette are full of advice on how to conduct a correct afternoon tea. (33) 

Yes. An instruction book on how to drink and enjoy a cup of tea. Moving on.

In the 20th century, tea played an important part in the lives of British people. During the two World Wars, the government took drastic measures and actions to safeguard the essential morale-booster. (33) They had detailed plans what to do with the tea supplies in case of bombing, ship sinking and so on. Yes – tea is that important to the Brits.

And what about milk in tea? Which one goes first in the cup? Well, there are… theories.

If we pour milk in first and then tea, this will cool the water too quickly, affecting the brewing. This provides you with a pretty lame cup of tea. That is one theory.

Another one is: if you pour milk in last (in the hot tea), it will cause denaturation of the lactalbumin and lactoglobulin (proteins in the milk) (34), which allegedly gives the tea stale taste. Again – lame. 

Some logical reasons as to why these theories are born:

in the old days, they put milk in first, so that the tea cup doesn’t crack when they poured the hot tea in.

And the theory of pouring milk in last? Orwell stated a suitable explanation – the drinker that way regulates the final tea color.

Such a violent debate. Tsk, tsk, tsk…

I don’t put milk in my tea, unless I drink it after 18.00h. Then I pour milk in last. According to the theory stated above, I’m drinking a lame cup of tea with denatured milk proteins. It actually tastes pretty damn good. So, screw the theories and take it from me – drink the tea in such a way that gives you most pleasure. 

TO BE CONTINUED…

References will be written at the end of the post series. 

 

PART TWO: THE BITTER TRUTH ABOUT THE TEA INDUSTRY (POST SERIES!)

SHORT ABSTRACT:

  • In 2013 world tea production was 5.07 million tones and world tea consumption – 4.84 million tones, which means, approximately half of the world drinks tea.
  • In India, most workers on the fields, employed as tea pluckers, are women. In the past 15 years more than 2000 workers have died of malnutrition on the tea fields. 
  • In Africa, male migrant and seasonal labor are the majority of workers, while in Asia women comprise over half the workforce.
  • Children often come to the fields with their parents and pluck leaves as well as help carry crops. They are, among other things, often not considered as employed laborers on the plantation. In India there are children who are born, live and die on the tea plantations. In 2002 IPEC (International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor) reported that in Tanzania children were working without clothing, which would protect them from cold weather, rain or snake bites.

  • After the plucking and weighing, tea leaves go to factories for processing. In its most general form, tea processing involves different methods and degree of oxidation of the leaves, ceasing the oxidation, forming the tea and drying it. 
  • After processing, tea can be blended with other teas or mixed with flavorants. This changes the flavor of the tea. There are positive and negative sides to adding flavorants to the tea.
  • What are the differences between black, green, yellow, pu’er, oolong and white tea? 

In 2013 world tea production was 5.07 million tones and world tea consumption – 4.84 million tones, which means, approximately half of the world drinks tea – and the numbers just keep on growing. (9) 

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The tea industry consists of a layering of producers, dealers or brokers, distributors and retailers. Tea is now grown mainly in China, India, Sri Lanka (used to be called Ceylon, or British Ceylon), Malaysia, Japan, Africa, South America and some of the former Russian states. Tea may be grown in small tea gardens or in large tea plantations. (10) The most important factors for tea cultivations are: climate (the finest tea comes from a subtropical climate), soil acidity (must be acidic, pH ~5.4 or less) and labor (an acre requires on average 1.5 – 2 workers). Production can be in small units or in large factories. (11)

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TOO MANY TEARS ARE BEHIND THE TEA WE ENJOY EVERY DAY

 

Today, tea is grown as a one-meter bush, for the ease of plucking. The bushes are planted in rows, approximately 1.5 m apart from each other. Each row is approximately one meter from the other. (12) If left undisturbed a tea plant would grow into a 16-meter tree. (13) Tea leaves are plucked mostly by hand, every 7-14 days. This reminds me of the tobacco gatherers in my country:

On cold scales with bronze they weigh it-

but can they gauge its weight-

our tobacco, our troubles,

our salty sweat!




From the dark dim dawns of summer mornings

up to the godless time of winter evenings

greedily it drinks of our sorrow,

our sweat, our blood and our strength.

The yellow-gold makes faces pale

and brings a yellow guest into our chest.




On dew-laden mornings in the first dawn

bowed low in the fields of the place where we were born

listlessly we gather it in.

Pick leaf by leaf

string leaf by leaf

turn leaf by leaf over and press down,

line leaf by leaf gently, sadly

on the long string of beads of sweat

hope with an oath and green fury

with hard stares from cloudy eyes

at the soft leaves all yellow gold

a bitter tale of a life accursed

string on so, soundlessly but clear.

Don't you know this?




The day is come for the weighing-up.

There is no gauge meet, it burrows in the chest

without ceasing, without finding its level

not grief but an oath, and in the clouded eyes

un-summoned rises the tempest.




The scales bear golden leaves

while in the chest rage furious waves

of golden grief, of golden tobacco

of the golden sweat of our hands.
“The Tobacco Gatherers”, 1939 – Kosta Solev Racin (14)

 

The fact that someone out there, plucks leaves of tea by hand, under sometimes impossible heat, so that we would have a cozy Sunday morning, with an amazing beverage, is a reminder of how thankful we should be for everything in our lives, especially that particular cup of tea. 

In India, most workers on the fields, employed as tea pluckers, are women. Many of them are direct descendants of the bonded laborers brought into the gardens more than 100 years ago, but their living conditions are no better than those of their predecessors. They own no property, the houses where they stay belong to the companies, and if the company shuts down (which sometimes happens overnight), they are left with nothing – no food, no water, no money – NOTHING! In the past 15 years more than 2000 workers have died of malnutrition on the tea fields. Too many tears are behind the tea we drink every day – says one leader of an association assisting tea workers in West Bengal. The associations also share, that out of 276 tea estates across the regions of Terai, Dooars and Darjeeling, only 61 have clean drinking water, 107 lack health services and 44 have no latrines – facilities that companies are obligated by law to provide for the workers. (15) This is but one of the countries, whose workers are malnourished, undereducated and near – enslaved.

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Image Source: Pixabay

Plucking tea leaves is most intense during the rainy seasons. During harvesting, many seasonal workers are hired, but often times not legally registered. In India over 1.5 million workers work on tea plantations. In Africa, male migrant and seasonal labor are the majority of workers, while in Asia women comprise over half the workforce. Children often come to the fields with their parents and pluck leaves, as well as help carry crops. They are, among other things, often not considered as employed laborers on the plantation.

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Image Source: Pixabay

The US Department of Labor reported in 1995, that on some plantations in Brazil, workers were not formally registered, and the cost of supplied meals and pesticides were deducted from their pay. Children were exposed to pesticides. They were not equipped with protective clothing or gear to protect them from the sun or snakes in the fields; and no schools were situated near the plantations. (16)

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Photo Credit: Linda DV Tea picking model. via photopin (license)

 

In India there are children who are born, live and die on the tea plantations.

In 2002, IPEC (International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor) conducted an assessment of tea estates in Lushoto and Rungwe districts of Tanzania. Children there were working without clothing, that would protect them from cold weather, rain or snake bites. They worked on average 8 hours, where 13 year olds carried up to 20 kg of green tea leaves, and 14 year olds up to 30 kg from fields to the weighing stations. It was also listed that children were exposed to toxic herbicides (pesticides). On top of all of that, there were reports that many girls were sexually harassed. (16)

Many complaints were filed by non-governmental organizations and subsequent investigations were made, only to confirm what has been known so far – that the lives of tea workers are severely below standard. Promises have been made to help change their lives, but as we can all see – times and times – those promises are broken.

 

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Image Source: Pixabay

 

What can we do?

We can and should drink tea, because the tea industry is the sole source of livelihood to the workers and we can use our voice to demand change!

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Image Source: Quotefancy.com

PROCESSING …

After the plucking and weighing, tea leaves go to factories for processing. In its most general form, tea processing involves different methods and degree of oxidation of the leaves, ceasing the oxidation, forming the tea and drying it. Each type of tea has different taste, smell, and visual appearance, but tea processing for all tea types consists of a very similar set of methods with some minor variations.

So first comes:

  • plucking,
  • then withering/wilting (enzymatic oxidation starts, water from the leaves is lost and proteins break down into free amino acids. Freed caffeine availability increases. The taste of the tea also changes).
  • Disruption – promoting and quickening of oxidation. The leaves are bruised, tossed and crushed. This releases some of the leaf juices and again – the taste of the tea changes.
  • For teas that require oxidation, the next step is oxidation/fermentation. Leaves are left in a climate-controlled room, where they progressively turn darker. This time the chlorophyll is the one, that enzymatically breaks down. Tannins transform. Oxidation can be stopped at certain percentage or it can be complete (100%).
  • Fixation/Kill-green. This is done when we want to stop the oxidation. Leaves are moderately heated, which deactivates the oxidizing enzymes. 

After processing, tea can be blended with other teas or mixed with flavorants. This changes the flavor of the tea. There are positive and negative sides to adding flavorants to the tea. They can give a whole new dimension to the flavor of the tea, but they can also cover the quality of sub-standard teas. Flavourants usually are: flowers (jasmine, rose), herbs (mint), spices, citrus peel, rum and so on.

So, in light of everything written, what are the differences between black, green, yellow, pu’er, oolong and white tea?

  • Black tea is fully fermented (oxidized). What does that mean? It means that there is bigger quantity of tannins in the leaves, and as a result – the tea is darker. Not all black teas are 100% oxidized, though. Some are partially oxidized (e.g. Darjeeling first flush teas from the Himalayan region) and have lighter color. The steps in the processing of black tea are: withering – rolling – roll breaking – fermentation – firing. (10) (17) 

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  • Oolong tea is partially fermented. The level of oxidation can vary, and the color can range from vibrant green to darker color (just like some black teas). Level of roast is also important. It too affects the color of the oolong tea. The steps in the processing of oolong tea are: a slight withering – fermentation – firing – rolling – brief fermentation again – rolling again – re-firing. (10) (17)

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Iateasquirrel at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Green tea is not oxidized, however due to long storage, some green teas can darken as a result of oxidation. Green tea is steamed, rolled and fired in the manufacturing process. (17) (18)

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By A Girl With Tea from USA (Four GreenTeas in White Bowls #1) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Pu’er tea is divided into two types: raw (un-oxidized) and ripened (fully oxidized). Raw Pu’er tea is compressed into a cake. The steps of processing are: indoor withering – Sha Qing (“Kill The Green”) – rolling – sun drying – compressing. Ripened Pu’er cake: indoor withering – Sha Qing (“Kill The Green”) – rolling – sun drying – wet piling – compressing. Carefully aged pu’ers are some of the most expensive teas on earth. (17) (19) The flavor of pu’er is very unique. It has an earthy, woodsy aroma, like a damp forest after the rain, with flavors reminiscent of mushrooms, earthy herbs, leather, hay. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but highly valued in the high society circles in China.

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  • Yellow tea is very rare and expensive. It is un-wilted and un-oxidized (or very lightly oxidized), but allowed to yellow. As a result, it has a different taste than green tea. The steps of processing are: withering – drying – cooling – rolling – storing (in constant humidity, 26°C for 2 hours, during which time the tea changes its color to yellow) – firing (150°C – 160°C) – second firing (200°C) – cooling. Pictures of production process have never been made, as it is highly secret! (17) (20)

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By Iateasquirrel [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • White tea – Currently there is no general accepted definition of white tea and very little international agreement. (21) White tea is the most delicate of all teas. They are usually un-oxidized. White tea production process goes like this: Fresh tea leaf – withering – drying (air drying, solar drying or mechanical drying). Although white tea originated in China, it is now mainly produced in Sri Lanka. White tea has a color of champagne, and the caffeine content is insignificant. (22)

 

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Iateasquirrel at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

TO BE CONTINUED…

References will be written at the end of post series. 

A CUP OF TEA? MARVELOUS IDEA, DARLING! (POST SERIES!)

SHORT ABSTRACT:

  • History of tea is long and complex. The story of tea likely begins in China, but it quickly spreads all around the world. 
  • Scientists have divided the tea species into two distinct varieties: Camellia Sinensis, var. Sinensis, which is indigenous to and has been cultivated in Western China for more than 2000 years; and Camellia Sinensis, var. Assam, which was discovered in the Assam region in India in the 19th Century. 
  • Smuggling of tea started sometime in the 17th century. In those times tea was very expensive. Tax in Britain was finally abolished in 1964.
  • The British “Honorable East India Company” maintained a monopoly of the tea trade with China.  It controlled the supply, defined the quantity imported into England and thus fixed the price. It established the world’s greatest tea monopoly. After 1834, East India Company’s monopoly on trade with China ended and tea trade became free for all.

 

“Wouldn’t it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn’t have tea?”

~ Noël Coward

 

I know, right?

It’s not just the tea itself that’s important to me, it’s the whole process of making tea, preparing the “scenery” in which I would drink my tea, and finally – the act of drinking tea. Currently, I am obsessed with British pink rose black tea. The aroma is intoxicating and the taste is very specific (in a good way). I also like green tea – Dragon Pearl is one of my favorites. Before bedtime, I would sometimes drink white tea (love Japanese cherry) or rooibos tea (Lavender & Vanilla). Good stuff.

 

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Image Source: GIPHY

But how did tea become part of our lives? Or the better question – when did tea become a part of our lives? I know tea is associated with Britain, and most people are glad they are born after tea was discovered, but it has different roots. (Pun intended).

 

HISTORY OF TEA

 

The history of tea is long and complex. Over the span of thousands of years, it spreads across multiple cultures.  The story of tea likely begins in China, but the claim is widely disputed by historians. This is because, it is difficult to substantiate the early stories about tea. (1)

Anthropologists believe, that tea was discovered by prehistoric humans (Homo erectus) in the forests of Yunnan (a province in modern day China). These early inhabitants discovered, that chewing the tea tree leaves gave them energy throughout the day. When they discovered fire, they cooked the leaves and that is how tea was born. (2)

There are also many stories and legends that depict the origins of tea. One of the most popular legends is the legend of the Chinese emperor and renowned herbalist Shen Nung (~ 2737 BC). He was sitting under a tree, while his servant was boiling water. The wind blew leaves in the water and the emperor decided to try the infusion. Best things are created accidently, I guess.

True tea (which includes black, green, white, yellow and oolong tea) comes from a single species of plant called Camellia Sinensis. Other drinks that are popularly called “tea”, and do not come from the mentioned plant, such as mint, rooibos, chamomile, fruit… etc., are more accurately called tisanes.

Scientists have divided the tea species into two distinct varieties: Camellia Sinensis, var. Sinensis, which is indigenous to and has been cultivated in Western China for more than 2000 years; and Camellia Sinensis, var. Assam, which was discovered in the Assam region in India in the 19th Century.  (3)

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In the time of the Tang and Song dynasties in China (794 – 1185 AD), arts and intellectual pursuits flourished in Japan. During these times Japanese monks were traveling to China to study in Buddhist temples and monasteries. In 1191, a Zen priest named Myoan Eisai brought tea seeds and bushes back to Japan from China, and planted them in the Southernmost island of Kyushu. He shared seeds with friends, who planted them in the Uji hills outside of modern day Kyoto, a region still admired for its high-quality and expensive tea. (4)

Europeans can say thanks to the Dutch for bringing tea in Europe in 1610. Out of the three main beverages that cause (in many cases, such as mine) serious physiological and psychological dependence – coffee, tea and cocoa – first to be introduced to Europe was cocoa, in 1528, by the Spanish. Hardcore addictive. Venetian traders brought coffee in Europe in 1615. The Brits started drinking tea somewhere around 1657. Jolly good! (5)

Tea reached North America in the middle of the seventeenth century. (6) Yes, the Dutch took it across the pond.

 

TEA SMUGGLING AND TAXATION

 

Tea quickly became a popular beverage all around the world. Everybody drank it. Everybody who could afford it, that is. Tea was expensive. Tea tax (first introduced in Britain in 1689) was so high, that it almost stopped sales. Tax was finally abolished in 1964. Yes, the 20th century, I know.

 

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Image Source: GIPHY

 

Because tax was so high, people of course tried to avoid it. Go figure. What began as a minor illegal trade, where people would sell a few kilograms of tea to personal contacts, by the late 18th century developed into an extraordinary organized crime network, where people would import as much as 3500 tones annually, compared to a legal import of 2500 tones. The bad news for the tea drinkers was, that they didn’t always get a fine quality. Sometimes the color was off, because some of the leaves were brewed and dried and some weren’t. The purity of the tea was also not controlled and many people ended up with mixture of leaves from different plants. Some of those non tea leaves were even from poisonous plants!

In 1784 the British government finally decided, that high tax on tea wasn’t a good idea and their Prime Minister (William Pitt the Younger) cut the taxes from 119% to 12.5%, making tea affordable for everyone. Smuggling ceased overnight. (7)

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Image Source: GIPHY

THE WORLD’S GREATEST TEA MONOPOLY

 

The British “Honorable East India Company” maintained a monopoly of the tea trade with China.  It controlled the supply, defined the quantity imported into England and thus fixed the price. It established not only the world’s greatest tea monopoly, but also the source of inspiration for the first English propaganda in behalf of a beverage. It was so powerful, that it triggered a dietetic revolution in England, changing the British people from a nation of potential coffee drinkers to a nation of tea drinkers in a very short period of time.

 

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Image Source: GIPHY

There were sixteen rival companies of Dutch, French, Danish, Swedish, Austrian, Prussian and Spanish origin operating in various times from the continent of Europe, but none of them reached the commanding importance occupied by the British East India Company. (8)

Before 1834, China was the country of origin of the vast majority of the imported tea to Britain. The end of its monopoly stimulated the British East India Company to consider growing tea in India. This led to increased cultivation of tea in India, in the region of Assam. Cultivation of tea quickly spread to regions beyond Assam. By 1888, British tea imports from India were greater than those from China. (7)

After 1834, East India Company’s monopoly on trade with China ended and tea trade became free for all. Individual merchants and sea captains raced to bring home the tea and make the most money. They used fast new ships – clippers, which had sleek lines, tall masts and huge sails.

 

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In the 1860s there were competitions between British and American merchants – the famous Clipper races. A race would begin in China, where the clippers would leave the Canton River, race down the China Sea, across the Indian Ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope, up the Atlantic, past the Azores and into the English Channel. 

 

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Image Source: Dirk-Heine Hofstede (Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0))

The clippers would then be towed up the River Thames by tugs, and the race would be won by the first clipper to hurl ashore its cargo at the docks. After the Suez Canal was built, these races ended forever. (7)

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

References will be written at the end of the post series. 

ARE YOU FREE FROM HOSTILE CYNICISM AND PESSIMISM?

Abstract:

  • Who is a cynic? The word cynic originated sometime in the 1580s-1590s. For a cynical person, most if not all human actions are doubtful and unworthy of trust, since no one (according to the cynic), ever seeks or pursues anything, except the secret purpose of benefiting himself.
  • A dose of cynicism is sometimes funny and even charming, also, it is a huge part of today’s culture. Hostile cynicism on the other hand, isn’t doing any favors to anyone. It annoys people, distracts them and creates conflict.
  • How does hostile cynicism affect our health? Some studies state, that high cynical distrust is associated with higher mortality; they also express the possibility, that cynical people have a higher risk in developing dementia.
  • The difference between cynicism and pessimism: Cynics doubt the nature of the motives of others, while pessimists assume the worst possible outcome of a given situation.
  • What is pessimism? Pessimism is a mental attitude, where individuals tend to focus on the negatives of life in general or a given situation.
  • How does pessimism affect us? Pessimism can lead people into self – defeating patterns. Pessimistic people, therefore, can be less persistent, display avoidance coping and manifest various kinds of health – damaging behaviors.

 

So many people, so many opinions, so many personalities. Can we talk about people who are cynical, negative and worst of all, de-motivating towards other people?

“What’s the point in trying, we’re all gonna die anyway”.

“Pfffft, let them have it! (They roll their eyes at people who buy something cool and expensive from a salary, that they worked their minds out for).

“How the hell do I know what I’ll do in the next 5 years, for all I know a truck would hit me today or tomorrow and I’ll die” (the eye roll again).

“Why do you bother to even try to do that, have you seen (insert name), he/she didn’t make it and lost everything. Don’t be a fool!”

“You can’t make a fortune. Wake up and stop living in the clouds. Get a regular job from 9 to 5 like everyone else and stop trying to make a fool of yourself”

“Your own company?? Pffft, You’d kill yourself working, spend extra hours on the job, you’ll have no life and you’ll have to worry about everything. Believe me, no one likes to work. There is no dream job…”

Ever been around those people? No matter what you say, or how you say it – it’s either not good enough, not smart enough or it’s contradicted just for the sake of negating the matter. I call them toxic.

Life throws people on the ground, and if they don’t get up, they are doomed to stay at the bottom for a very long time. They live from today to tomorrow. No plan, no courage, maybe even no dreams. What’s worse, if they see someone having ideas or a vision, they would do anything in their power to crush the (self) belief system. I’ve been around people like those (not anymore), and I can tell you – the moment a toxic person sees someone chasing a goal, they get an almost instinctive need to pull the individual down to the bottom.

 

Let’s not equate pessimistic people with cynical ones. Who is a cynic? 

Diogen

Image Source: Jean-Léon Gérôme, via Wikimedia Commons

Cynicism is not something new. The word cynic originated sometime in the 1580s-1590s. In modern times the word “cynic” has various unpleasant and negative connotations. A cynical person, for example, would reject ethical values and ideas, and question or even dismiss modes of honesty and truthfulness. He/she would also react sarcastically and skeptically to even the most innocent and enthusiastic human actions. For such a person, most if not all human actions are doubtful and unworthy of trust, since no one, according to the cynic, ever seeks or pursues anything, except the secret purpose of benefiting himself. For the cynic, therefore, hypocrisy and deceitfulness, selfishness, egoism, gross materialism and disguised ruthlessness are all hidden characteristics of human behavior. Hence, the cynic believes that ideals and high aspirations are diversion, so that people would be manipulated and duped. (1)

And how does hostile cynicism affect our health?

There are some studies published in the Journal of Neurology, which state that high cynical distrust is associated with higher mortality, but the said association is explained by socioeconomic position, lifestyle, and health status. They also concluded, that cynical people have a higher risk in developing dementia. (2) It is clear, that larger replication studies are necessary to confirm these conclusions, but it is a fair warning.

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via GIPHY

Another study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, tells us that chronically hostile individuals may be at greater risk of cardiovascular illness, possibly because their physiologic response to interpersonal stressor is more pronounced. The scientists emphasize the importance of social contexts in the association between hostility and psycho-physiologic processes. The results suggest, that the motive to exert social control may be important for hostile individuals. (3)

Small dose of cynicism is sometimes funny and even charming, also, it is a huge part of today’s culture. Hostile cynicism on the other hand, isn’t doing any favors to anyone. It annoys people, distracts them and creates conflict.

We all view life differently – some of us see opportunities, open roads and challenges, while others only see day in and day out, because…we’re all gonna die anyway.

That sounds so pessimistic… – You think.

 

Let me ask you a question:

 

Glass-of-water

Image Source: By Derek Jensen (Tysto) (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

 

Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

 

Optimists usually answer half-full, while pessimists’ answer usually is: half-empty.

Pessimism is a mental attitude, where individuals tend to focus on the negatives of life in general or a given situation. Cynics doubt the nature of the motives of others, while pessimists assume the worst possible outcome of a given situation. Both are negative, but cynicism is more of a specific claim, that there is a reason for a certain low expectation, while pessimism is a habitual attitude of low expectations.

 

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Pessimism has many forms: philosophical, epistemological, political and cultural, technological and environmental… But all in all, the core of pessimism is the feeling (or the philosophy), that there is nothing on earth worth the trouble of building, learning from, or even living for.

“…So within my mind the darkness dawned, and round me everywhere

Hope departed with the twilight, leaving only dumb despair.”

~ George William Russell

 

An article published in Trends of Cognitive Sciences states, that greater optimism predicts better health. New evidence also indicates, that optimists have better social connections, partly because they work harder at them. (4) Optimism influences people to engage with their goals, which leads to better long-term outcomes. These experiences apparently teach optimists, that their own efforts play an important part in the positive future they expect. This is why, when they need to achieve something, they quickly activate those efforts to the maximum. Contrary, pessimism can lead people into self – defeating patterns. Pessimistic people, therefore, can be less persistent, display avoidance coping and manifest various kinds of health – damaging behaviors. (5)  Avoidance coping creates stress and anxiety, and ravages self-confidence. Without confidence in life and about the future, it is hard to remain engaged in life.

 

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It is hard to live among people who do not hope, do not offer encouragement and are never excited about anything. You can help those people only if they allow you to. Trying to change someone is a waste of precious time.

But, if someone voices, that you can’t do, what you want to do; and deliberately tries to bring you down; be that a family member, a spouse, an in-law, a friend, a stranger… feel free to turn and walk away from them saying: “Actually, I can!”

 

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References:

  1. Luis E. Navia: Classical Cynicism: A Critical Study. Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. United States of America, 1996: 1.
  2. Neuvonen E, Rusanen M, Solomon A, Ngandu T, Laatikainen T, Soininen H, Kivipelto M, Tolppanen AM: Late-Life Cynical Distrust, Risk of Incident Dementia, and Mortality in a Population-Based Cohort. Neurology. 17 June 2014. 82 (24): 2205-12. 
  3. Smith TW, Brown PC: Cynical hostility, attempts to exert social control, and cardiovascular reactivity in married couples. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. December 1991. 14 (6): 581–592.
  4. Carver CS, Scheier MF: Dispositional optimism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. June 2014. 18 (6); 293-299. 
  5. MD Robinson, M Eid: The Happy Mind: Cognitive Contributions to Well Being. Springer International Publishing, Switzerland, 2017: 204. 

 

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