Myths & Facts About Caffeine

Which have the higher level of caffeine: coffee or tea, Indian tea or Chinese tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea, or black tea?  

There are many opinions, and good facts are harder to find.  Scientific studies can be less than detailed about what products were used so this can add to the confusion.

A well detailed and easy to read study published by the British government in 2004 concluded that:

  • All Teas – mean 40 mg per serving
  • Instant Coffee – mean 54 mg per serving
  • Ground Coffee – mean 105 mg per serving

For those who are sensitive to caffeine, there are ways to reduce the caffeine levels of any tea. The traditional Chinese method of tea-making called Gong Fu Cha (Tea with Great Skill) makes tea in small amounts with many brews to concentrate the taste and minimize the caffeine.  The first step of Gong Fu Cha is to rinse the leaves. Caffeine is water soluble and this first step washes away a significant amount of caffeine but keeps the taste.

Here is a quick guideline:

  • All coffees are higher in caffeine than all teas
  • All Indian teas are higher in caffeine than all Chinese teas
  • Chinese green teas are higher than all other Chinese teas.

The camellia sinensis var. assamica tea plant that is used in India is a heartier and more robust species than the variety used in China. It produces stronger flavours, a higher yield of tea leaves per plant, and the leaves have naturally higher levels of caffeine.

Of all teas, green teas have the highest caffeine levels followed by Oolongs and then Black tea. This comes as a surprise to many people because green tea does not taste as strong as Oolong and Black Tea. Green teas (along with Yellow and White Teas) have a subtle taste but use the least amount of processing to produce the tea, so most of the natural caffeine from the plant is still intact in the leaves. The process used to manufacture Oolong and Black teas removes more of the caffeine.

One of the strongest tasting Chinese teas is the Pu-erh tea which has some of the lowest caffeine levels due the processing methods used and the fact that they are aged and the caffeine breaks down over time.

To learn more about us,  come on in to The Chinese Tea Shop today. To find out which of the various teas will suit your tastes, try The Chinese Tea Shop’s Tea Wizard now!

Tea + Health Benefits: What to believe?

People come to my tea shop every day asking for a tea (whether it’s oolong tea, pu-erh tea (puerh), or white tea, for example) that will help them with their medical problems. This is not surprising as many tea shops make fantastical medical claims about what their tea will do for their customers.

Most people I speak to are quite healthy and are interested in improving things like their energy levels, skin, sleep or digestion. Sometimes they are even sent by their medical doctor. But some have more serious conditions and are hoping for a magical cure. This makes me very sad.

I have noticed that people often quote a scientific study that supports a particular medical benefit of drinking tea (ie: in the western scientific tradition of publication and peer review using methodologies that can be duplicated by others). But a single scientific study on one particular benefit is not a scientific fact. Many people saying that they have experienced a certain benefit doesn’t make it a fact either.

Unless drunk to excess, it doesn’t appear that anyone ever suffered from drinking tea so it’s probably not a big risk and the effects are probably more positive than negative. Whether a tea should be used as a medical treatment  to cure a specific ailment is another matter and if what works for one person will work for another is something else altogether.

I drink lots of tea and am quite healthy. Is it because of the tea or am I just a healthy person? Some will say yes and others will say no.

All one can say for sure at this point in time is there are many promising studies but little consensus within the scientific community about the health benefits of drinking tea. There is however many centuries of study in the field of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and there is substantial literature available on every type of Chinese tea and their health benefits (some are listed here) as well as research on many things that western science does not even acknowledge exists.  It really comes down to what one wants to believe.

For now, I enjoy tea for its wonderful taste and the enjoyment of sharing the experience with friends. Who knows, this might be the best medicine of all.

To learn more about all types of tea, and to find the tea best to suit your tastes, check out The Chinese Tea Shop’s Tea Wizard here. Or come by the shop and enjoy a cup of fine tea with us!

My next post further explores some of the opinions, myths, and facts about tea and caffeine. Click here to learn more.

So Many Teas! Which Ones Will You Like?

People coming to my tea shop are always amazed by all the Chinese teas they have never heard of before. As they walk around the shop checking out our oolong teas, puerh teas (or pu-erh teas), and white teas (to name a few!) they ask “What does this one taste like?” or “What does that one taste like?”.

To help, I developed four simple questions which may help you find a new treasure on your next tea expedition:

  • Do you like tea that is strong and full-bodied or light, subtle, and elegant?
  • Do you like tea that is calming or tea that gives you energy?
  • Do you prefer a taste that is fresh and new or aged and mellow (as in wine or cheese)?
  • Which tones and notes do you like? (Sweet, Nutty, Grassy, Fruity, Woody, Spicy, Honey, Earthy, Floral, Buttery, Smokey, Roasted, Herb, or Chocolate)

Describing taste is a difficult skill to learn but this quick approach has helped many people find new teas that they really like. Many people return again and again to buy “their” tea and try new ones.

So we built an online version for everyone called The Tea Wizard that tells you all the teas that suit your taste with a few clicks.

There is also a great book called “The Tea Drinkers Handbook” by Delmas, Minet, and Barbaste (Abbeville Press) which will amaze you with the hundreds of terms that professional tasters use to describe aromas, flavours, and textures.

Contact The Chinese Tea Shop team today to learn more about all the exciting teas and tea accessories available at the shop, or try The Tea Wizard now!

Chinese Tea Quality Versus Taste

Is it possible to tell the quality and taste of a tea without actually tasting it?

In the previous The Chinese Tea Shop’s Blog post (“Welcome to the World of Engineered Teas“) I commented that there is a way to tell the quality and taste of a tea (like Oolong Tea, Puerh Tea (Pu-erh), or White Tea) without tasting it.

If you’ve ever watched professional tea tasters at work or have seen the Chinese method of tea-making called Gong Fu Cha (Tea With Great Skill), you may have noticed tall and slender cups being used.

These are smelling cups and they can tell you a lot about the quality of a tea and how it will taste – without even tasting it.

The aromatic compounds in tea dissolve in water at different rates. This is the basis for Gong Fu Cha where a small amount of leaves is brewed many times to concentrate the flavour. Each brew reveals a different taste as the different compounds dissolve. A similar thing happens when tea oils are exposed to air. As tea oils oxidize, the aroma changes. This is the same thing that happens with perfumes. This oxidization of oils approximates what will happen when the leaves are brewed in water.

A tea that may start with a spicy aroma and ends up with a flowery aroma will taste spicy in the early brews and flowery in the later brews. Using a smelling cup allows the tea maker to know what to expect from a new tea they have not made before and how to brew the leaves to get the best taste.

When you rinse your tea leaves (see Gong Fu Cha), pour out the tea into a smelling cup and then empty the cup and smell. You will smell the “top notes” of the tea which are the most delicate compounds that oxidize quickly. These notes are what you will taste on the first brews. After a minute, smell again and you will notice the aroma has changed. And a few minutes after that, still more changing.

A low quality tea will cease to have an aroma after a few minutes because the oils are of poor quality. They oxidize quickly and will dissolve quickly in water and you will get fewer brews from that tea. The aroma from a high quality tea will last many minutes showing that you will get many good tasting brews from it.

If you’re looking to explore the best Chinese teas the city has to offer, visit The Chinese Tea Shop online now. 

Welcome to the World of Engineered Teas!

The other day I visited some tea shops with one of my students. We really noticed how western marketing techniques have impacted how tea is sold.  But more importantly, we noticed how this is affecting what consumers are really getting for their money.

In the 16th century, it was the Portuguese, then the Dutch and the French, and finally the British who brought Chinese tea to the West. The British especially have been able to make tea an inexpensive commodity worldwide and it is Indian Black teas which are consumed in the West more than any other. A fascinating history of Black Tea and its impact on history is here, in The Chinese Tea Shop’s website resources section.

Today, consumers want more and more variety. Tea manufacturers have responded with an incredible selection of scented and flavoured teas with fruit, berries, spices and all sorts of other natural and synthetic enhancements. It is now possible for a tea shop to offer a new tea flavour every day of the year and still not exhaust the selection that is available.

Many of these teas are made from low grade Indian black teas which are designed to have a good aroma from the package. Western consumers are now being conditioned to purchase tea based on aroma rather than on the taste. This has been a bonanza for tea shops, making things more efficient and profitable as they no longer have to make tea before customers buy, as has been done at better tea shops for centuries.

This is a shame for consumers because, as tea experts know, many of the finest teas have little or no aroma. Of those that do, the aroma may not indicate the complexity of what a tea has to offer. The only way to assess the taste and quality of a tea is to taste it!  (There is another advanced technique but more about that on another day.)

Scented and flavoured teas are an old tradition and there are some well known tea houses that make very high quality blends.  The new designer teas do give consumers lots of choices but for the most part, they are really just a way for the tea industry to disguise low grade tea leaves at designer prices and consumers are not likely to experience the best of what tea drinking has to offer.

Click here to learn more about all types of Chinese tea, including Black Tea, Oolong Tea, Puerh Tea (or Pu-erh Tea), and White Tea.