Going herbal (for a while)

Two weeks ago, the doctor put me on a tea ban because for the first time in my life, I had an excruciating gastric episode that lasted for days. It was probably due to a combination of consecutive food reviews (sometimes part of my work) + stress + worry and my digestive system just went haywire. Sigh. But yes, the doctor was very firm about going caffeine-free and so I complied.

Fortunately, during this tea-free period, I received some organic herbal tea samples from Mekhala, a lifestyle brand from Chiang Mai that has actually started selling some of their skincare and wellness products in Singapore (e.g. they are sold at Four Seasons organic markets). In particular, their Fragrance Herbal Tea (S$19.90 for 40 tea bags) blend got me through this iffy time.

This herbal tea is a soothing, aromatic combination of ginger, galangal, lemongrass and pandan – it really just brings me back to those happy moments lazing at a beach spa. There’s such a natural taste to it and has a beautiful liquor colour. Hit just the right spot.

I’d say this is a great after-meal, wind-down drink to sip every night. You and your tummy will feel immensely comforted.

Sobering Tea with Milk Health News

A wise tea bloke highlighted this article to me a few weeks back, and I thought it was something worth sharing:

TEA IS GOOD FOR THE HEART – BUT ADDING MILK TO IT WIPES OUT THE BENEFITS, SAY RESEARCHERS

Tea drinkers enjoy some protection against heart disease. But the benefits are completely wiped out if, like most of the British population, they add milk, researchers reveal today.

Tea has long been thought to have health benefits for the heart and in the prevention of cancer. But researchers from Germany, writing in the European Heart Journal, suggest that their findings about milk ought to lead to an urgent reassessment of the effect of tea on cancer prevention.

“Since milk appears to modify the biological activities of tea ingredients, it is likely that the anti-tumour effects of tea could be affected as well,” said one of the authors, Verena Stangl, professor of cardiology at the Charité hospital, Berlin.

“It is essential that we re-examine the association between tea consumption and cancer protection to see if that is the case.”

The team suggests that tea drinkers who usually add milk should drink it black for some of the time. Flavonoids in tea, called catechins, are thought to be responsible for its beneficial effects on the heart. The study found that a group of proteins in milk, called caseins, interacted with the tea to reduce the concentration of catechins.

The researchers measured the effects of drinking black tea, tea with milk and plain hot water on 16 women volunteers. Regular tests on the brachial artery of the forearm for two hours after drinking showed that black tea promoted dilation of the blood vessels. “We found that … the addition of milk completely prevents the biological effect,” said the lead author, Mario Lorenz, a molecular biologist.

Further tests in rats produced the same results. It could explain why Britain, a nation of tea drinkers, does not appear to enjoy protection from high rates of heart disease, say the authors.

“The well-established benefits of tea have been described in many studies,” said Prof Stangl.

“Our results thus provide a possible explanation for the lack of beneficial effects of tea on the risk of heart disease in the UK, a country where milk is usually added.”

June Davison, cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said the study highlighted the importance of looking at interactions between foods, but added that having a cup of tea could be helpful if it allowed people to relax.

“Leaving milk out of your tea is far less likely to help protect your heart health than other measures, such as taking regular exercise, avoiding smoking and eating a healthy balanced diet,” she said.

Taken from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/jan/09/medicalresearch.medicineandhealth

First tea article out on Yahoo Singapore

For some strange reason, tea has spilled slightly  into my “real-life work” as a freelance writer and I’ve been assigned a couple of articles related to this beverage. It is slightly disconcerting but I guess it’s a good way to learn more about tea!

The full article can be found here.

Time…to Get Serious About Tea

For a long time, I’ve been on a lookout for a place where I can learn how to serve Chinese tea properly. Sure, I’ve had that primary school “cultural appreciation” outing to some Chinese tea house where we stuff ourselves with tea eggs, and I’ve read a lot of tea books showing you the step-by-step approach with photographs. But I guess I was looking for more meat – I don’t just want to memorise the steps, but understand the philosophy, scientific principles and history behind such tea ceremony rituals at the same time. A few tea lovers told me about the meticulous lessons at The Time of Tea, a tea shop cum tea school along Mosque Street in Chinatown.

The Time of Tea is run by Ms Beljean Ong, a former tour guide who decided to go into the tea business ten years ago. She is such a passionate tea ambassador, that speaks both for her infectious personality and love for this drink. The minute I step in, she starts preparing tea for me to drink. “People say there is no tea culture in Singapore, that tea culture is the totally opposite of the busy culture here. But I really want to make a difference with The Time of Tea, to show that tea is important in our daily lives,” she said.

As such, it’s all about going back to the roots with her lessons – understanding Chinese tea culture and history, understanding the alchemy of what makes a good brew of tea, and finding that peace and sanctuary when doing the tea ceremony. She prefers to teach her students one-on-one because everyone has “a personal journey”. Ms Ong adds, “I can even tell the mood of a student just by drinking his or her tea.” Perhaps it’s this dedication that has made her classes popular with Japanese and Australian expats – in fact, the Japanese lady who was doing her lessons while I was in the store has been learning under her for 10 years!

Ms Ong believes that tea is a miraculous health drink – but only if drunk in the right way. This means no flavoured tea (which contains flavoured oil that doesn’t digest well along with the “medicinal water of tea”), no cold or iced tea, no gulping, no drinking tea with meals (at least two hours apart) and drinking the first tea brew (instead of the usual pouring it out) because that is where all the nutrients are. As such, she painstakingly sources for the Chinese tea that she sells in the store, making sure that it meets a certain standard of hygiene and taste. In a way, this can be seen as purist, but I also see it as a way of going back to the roots of tea appreciation – enjoying the tea leaves in their original state. Ms Ong says that she gets more local students now, and in fact, is encouraged by the male students who pursue this interest even though it’s not perceived socially as “macho” and the parents who send their children to learn the tea ceremony so they become more disciplined and focused.

“You don’t just get healthier while drinking good tea, you also learn a lot more about yourself when doing the tea ceremony.”
It costs $350 for 15 Elementary lessons (each lesson lasts about two hours).

The Time of Tea
38 Mosque Street
Singapore 059516
Tel: 62205620

Latest update: The Time of Tea has moved and its address is No. 53 Chin Swee Road #03-11, Singapore 160053

Green tea lowers cholesterol risk, but only a little: Study

Taken from TODAY, 7 July 2011

NEW YORK – Drinking green tea appears to cut “bad” cholesterol while leaving levels of good cholesterol unchanged, and encouraging people to drink more of the beverage could have significant health effects, according to a study.

The finding may explain why green tea has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, write Xin-Xin Zheng and colleagues from Peking Union Medical College in Beijing.

While levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol dipped, there was no change in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol.

“The analysis … showed that the administration of green tea beverages or extracts resulted in significant reductions in serum total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol concentrations, but no effect on HDL cholesterol was observed,” they wrote in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The research team pooled the results of 14 randomised trials in which participants drank green tea or took an extract for periods ranging from three weeks to three months, or were assigned to a placebo group.

On average, green tea reduced total cholesterol by 7.2 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) compared to levels seen in those taking the placebo. Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol fell by a mean of 2.2 mg/dL, or slightly less than 2 per cent.

The cholesterol-lowering effects of green tea may be due to catechins, which decrease the absorption of cholesterol in the gut, the researchers said.

But this reduction is fairly small, warned Prof Nathan Wong, who runs the heart disease prevention program at the University of California, Irvine. 

Green tea “should not be recommended in place of well-proven cholesterol-lowering medicines for people with high cholesterol,” he told Reuters Health. 

Some researchers have raised concern over possible side effects from heavy consumption of green tea or green tea extracts. There have been a few dozen reports or liver damage, and green tea may also reduce the effectiveness of some medications.

But Prof Wong said that smaller amounts “could be a useful component of a heart-healthy diet”, with benefits that go beyond its effect on cholesterol. 

Green tea has been linked to a lower risk of developing certain forms of cancer as well as reducing the risk of dying from pneumonia. REUTERS

Side note: I have met doctors and nurses who recommend green tea to help with high cholesterol/blood pressure issues, but always as an accompaniment to medication. I love green tea, but get disturbed when all these green tea health products (e.g. pills,  creams, powders) come out in the market proclaiming to do all kinds of miracles and wonders to your health. 

How Cool Is Your Tea?

My friend Audra suggested I do a post on the “cooling effects” of tea. It also is a very common question I get about tea in real life.

As I am not a medical professional, I will make a disclaimer at this point and say that my opinions are purely personal and if you need to double-check on anything, please refer to your family doctor/sinseh yah? 

Because I am Chinese, it really is a given to me that tea is “cooling” i.e. has yin properties. This has somehow made a lot of women around me avoid drinking tea for fear that it will cause ill health.  However, it’s not actually a bad thing, especially in ‘foodie’ Singapore where many of us love to indulge in “heaty” fried, rich foods.

My take is that the cooling effects of tea is highly subjective and depends on the individual. The same tea which makes one person feel dizzy might invigorate another (this is according to one tea maker who told me the same batch of tea gets a full spectrum of customer feedback on its effects). As such, rather than avoid all tea, my suggestion is to gauge what effects various tea brews have on you, especially if they are your favourite yummy ones!

Some telling “overcooling” symptoms(these are based on empirical observations from my tea-drinking friends and I):

- Feeling faint/light-headedness
– Numbness
– Joint discomfort: Interestingly enough there have been some Western medical studies which indicate that overconsumption of tea (meaning 4 -10 cups a day) may  increase the risk of arthritis and/or rheumatism.
– Diarrhoea
– For ladies only: Worsened period cramps
– For guys only: Drop in libido (to be fair, it was a friend of a friend’s account so I cannot fully verify this)

This is also why quite a lot of old office uncles I used to work with absolutely refused to drink tea lukewarm or iced. The premise is that because tea is cooling, you should drink it hot so you get ‘balanced effects’. There’s also a general theory that the lighter the tea is, the more “cooling” it would be e.g. white and green teas are considered more ‘cooling’ than the dark teas like pu-erh. I’m not sure how true that is, but if you want to be on the safer side of things, you can try out black or dark oolong teas first and see how your body responds.

Conversely, here are some possible symptoms that your body is heaty and some cooling tea might be in order: 

- Pimple breakouts
– Constipation
– Sore/itchy throat
– Flushed face/warm body
– Headaches
– Sinus

Conclusion: Yes, tea is cooling. But that’s not a bad thing with the heaty climate and diet. Do a little taste test first to see if a certain type of tea is too cool for you (a cup or two).  And of course, as with everything else in life, moderation. Do share any  “cooling tea” experiences – whether good or bad. 

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