What Is Hibiscus Tea?

What is hibiscus? And why might this flower be important—that is, besides their spectacularly large and showy blooms, as in this dinner-plate-sized specimen!?


First off, hibiscus ranks as one of the top traded herbal products (by volume), both locally and internationally, with an estimated 60,000 metric tons produced annually, and the U.S. and Germany being primary Western importers (Dufrene 2018). That’s a lot of hibiscus!

Hibiscus bud and developing fruit

Hibiscus: The Plant

Although Michiganders can grow hibiscus, like the ones shown here, the variety Hibiscus sabdariffa var. sabdariffa is that highest volume import crop, grown in tropical and subtropical environments.

And of the over 200 varieties grown, those from China, Sudan, and Thailand are preferred.

A member of the mallow family, hibiscus is a pretty ideal crop for developing areas because:

  • it’s fairly easy to grow
  • tolerates dry conditions
  • must be harvested by hand


Hibiscus is a multi-purpose crop: in China the seeds are crushed for their oil and the plant stems and leaves are used for medicinal properties, while in West Africa the leaves and powdered seeds are a local foodstuff. (Dufrene 2018)

Hibiscus: The Tea

Many of us have at least heard of hibiscus tea, even if we aren’t sure what it actually is.
leaves-1_0724-webAfter blooming, the outer part of the hibiscus flower develops into a deep red fruit: a calyx surrounding the seed pod­. The calyx is popular for its tart lemony or cranberry-like flavor, although all parts of the Hibiscus sabdariffa are edible.

These blossoms from Africa (available at TeaHaus) brew into a brilliant jewel-tone color and deliver a deliciously tangy flavor that is incredible either hot or iced.

And that’s what hibiscus herbal tea is: simply, hibiscus!


Hibiscus: The Health Benefits

At one time, physicians were well versed in botany because plants were the source of most medicines.

It wasn’t until scientists were able to extract the active ingredients from plants, ushering in the age of the pharmaceutical industry, that drugs—rather than plants in the form of herbal medicines—were more widely used.

Today, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, nearly a quarter of pharmaceutical drugs still come from botanicals.

calyxHibiscus has been used medicinally though the ages. Even dried, the calyx has antioxidant properties (Yang et al. 2012), and it “has a long history of use in Africa and neighboring tropical countries for many conditions, including . . . fever” (Wolters Kluwer Health). Numerous studies are probing its value in lowering blood pressure; its antibacterial and antioxidant effects; its role in blood sugar, arteriosclerosis, and cholesterol levels; and so on.

But in the end, hibiscus is a generous plant. The beauty of its blossoms feeds our souls while the plant itself provides us with food, medicine, tea . . . sustenance for life and health.hibiscus-bloom-web

–”Alternative Medicine,” University of Maryland Medical Center, http://www.umms.org/ummc, accessed 2/15/16.
–Dufrene, Barbara. “Rediscovering the Benefits of Hibiscus and Honey Bush: Traditional health benefits, exotic origins and attractive cup colours generate continued growth for hibiscus, honey bush and other herbal teas with wellness and functional claims.” Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, Mar. 2018.
–”Hibiscus,” Drugs.com, Wolters Kluwer Health, 2009.
–Yang, L. et al. “Antioxidant capacity of extracts from calyx fruits of roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.),” African Journal of Biotechnology 11(17), 2012.


Tea Claims. Are You Being Misled?

Just read a brief article listing the “four international tea trends” and found this somewhat misleading assertion:

Matcha tea, which is popular in China and Japan, is a green tea packed with potassium, magnesium, fiber and vitamins A and C. It also contains L-theanine, an amino acid said to produce a calming effect while still providing caffeine, Packaged Facts said. [emphasis added] (Food Business News 8/1/18)

Problem 1:

Yes, matcha contains L-theanine—because ALL tea contains L-theanine! 

(That is, any tea made from C. sinensis, thus excluding “teas,” meaning tisanes, such as herbals. And by the way, the amino acid L-theanine is found only in C. sinensis and the Boletus radius mushroom.)

But the way this is worded, it sounds like matcha is unique in containing L-theanine.

Problem 2:

When this same article lists sencha as another of these four trends, it says nothing about sencha containing theanine. . . . which leads to the understandable assumption that of the two teas, only matcha contains theanine.

But sencha and matcha both contain theanine. As do all green teas. And black teas. And oolongs and white.

Problem 3:

And about theanine producing “a calming effect while still providing caffeine”?

Yes, theanine increases alpha brain wave activity, which has a relaxing effect. But it works synergistically with caffeine to improve brain function and attention. It does not provide caffeine; it works with caffeine!

We also experience the effects of caffeine in tea differently than in coffee because the polyphenols found in tea bind with caffeine, slowing its absorption. So this, along with the influence of theanine on caffeine, provides that calm alertness we gain from drinking tea.


Obviously these are minor quibbles with a brief article. There are no earthshaking false claims here, and probably these misleading sentences were just happenstance and not intentional.

However, you may be absorbing information that is not really correct, and that information may influence your judgment and actions, such as believing that only matcha contains theanine, and perhaps even buying matcha for the effects of theanine. Again, a minor thing here. However:

Be careful with what you read. Being true does not make it correct. And some claims are neither fully true nor quite correct. We should all remember that.



Source: “Four international tea trends brewing in the beverage segment,” by R. Schouten, Food Business News, 8/1/18.

Centuries-old tea plants yield first-class tea—but only for those who live nearby

Continuing on our tour of Japan’s tea gardens with Lisa of TeaHaus and Eat More Tea, we pass through beautiful mountains . . .

lake mts_sm

to the Mandokoro tea garden, with tea plants that are 300—and maybe even 400—years old!

Lisa is third from left. (Photo courtesy of https://www.instagram.com/mandocoro.cha/)

This region (in Shiga Prefecture) has many small gardens that supply the garden owners and their families with tea, and runs somewhat like a co-op.

After harvesting their leaves, each landowner will include, with their tea, a wood block with their name on it. As the tea is processed in the blending house, this block stays with the tea so that it returns to the correct owner.

facility mandokoro 1

The processing facility has an older machine that rolls and cuts the leaves to make them more uniform. The motion is circular, unlike more modern equipment that has a back and forth motion.

facility mandokoro 2

You can see the tumbler behind the table in the break area. This does the same thing as that multi-story tumbler at Tsuchiyama (see earlier post).

break room mandokoro

To make white tea, the leaves are spread out (everywhere!) to simply wither.

making white tea

Unfortunately, younger people aren’t much interested in plucking tea, and as of now, nearly all the pickers are in their seventies or older! And perhaps two-thirds of the tea goes unpicked!

Thus, small quantities of tea are produced, making them rare. Added to the general decline of tea consumption in Japan (although 90% of all tea produced in Shiga Prefecture still remains in the country), the future of these teas is uncertain.

Other disadvantages is that, currently, these gardens:

  • accept only cash
  • have no way to accept foreign currancy
  • have no website in English
  • have no distribution channels to make their tea available outside their region

In other words, unless you travel to Mandokoro, you aren’t going to be drinking their tea.

Yet we really want to be drinking their tea!

tasting mandokoro
Enjoying tea that has just been plucked but not processed at all.

This tea is all hand plucked . . . from ancient plants . . . grown high in the mountains (and therefore unlikely to have contaminants). Plus, it’s amazing.

In the meantime, follow Mandokoro on Instagram, and hope that before too long you will have the opportunity to try some for yourself! Because, yes, thankfully, people are working on that.

lisa at mandokoro

Join Lisa on her tour of Japan’s tea industry:
–Eh? Nani? Kore wa nan desu ka? Why does this anime have a stick floating in the tea?
–Pottery and Tea in Shigaraki, Japan
–One Japanese Tea Garden, Many Teas
–Why Are Matcha and Gyokuro So Expensive?
–Touring a Tea Processing Facility in Japan
–A Look at Japan’s Tea Industry in Shiga Prefecture
–Tea in Early Japan: A Poetic Beginning

Photos by Lisa, except where noted

Buy Japanese teas at TeaHaus!

Eh? Nani? Kore wa nan desu ka? Why does this anime have a stick floating in the tea?

Konnichiwa! This is Alissa, otaku extraodinaire, here with a guest blog!

As an avid anime fan, and as tea is big in Japan and commonly appears in anime, I often see something like this:


(Above picture is from the anime Natsume Yuujinchou.)

So of course when this tea blog started, I asked if Lisa or Jill knew anything about it. They didn’t, and so we did some Google research and found a couple sources, such as from japaneseteastory:

A tea stalk floating vertically is called chabashira (lit: tea pillar).  Seeing a chabashira, we feel happy, saying “Engi(luck)ga (is) ii (good).”

So now we knew what it was called, and that it meant good luck, but we weren’t sure what tea it occurred init had certainly never happened at Tea Haus!

But why would anyone care about a detail like this when animating a show?

Well in Japanese anime, every little detail is important to understanding the story. It gives us a clue as to how the story may go. In K: Return of Kings (also known as Project K: Return of Kings) three groups meet to discuss plans, and the tea stalk makes an appearance:

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 2.07.33 PM.png

Noticing which character gets the “good luck stalk” can tell us whose situation will turn out for the better, or if no one gets it, it’ll be a teasing foreshadowor lack of foreshadow. After all, the authors know about the superstition, and can lay all their cards out or maintain an excellent poker face.

Consider how this tradition started, was it because it was unusual? wabisabi-tea encourages us to consider another point of view:

It’s a marketing strategy!!

For a long time ago, there was a tea trader who only had a very good sale for bud of the first-grade tea (the first-picking tea). So the second-grade tea had a big trouble. Not many people bought it. With the fact that, the stem of the growing second-grade had a mix of many characteristic. And then the tea trader bore in mind utilizing that weakness point to make a hit with “upright-floating tea stalk” as a lucky omen .

However, people choosing the simple tea such as a tea pack or the plastic bottle have increased recently and do not have many opportunities to see a tea stem.

It is said that good luck flies when you do not swallow it in secret.

So depending on what the authors may believe, they may use it as a clue, or just to laugh at those of us reading into it. But knowing about this superstition adds to our experience of the storyhowever the author decides to use it.

In most of the anime I have seen, the tea stalk goes unmentioned, though it is clearly not hidden either. However, sometimes a character may comment on it and even bring in some controversy such as in Noragami:

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 4.50.57 PM.png

And this brings us into another reason to care: it lets us in on the joke.

For instance, in Daganropa there is a character named Tenko Chabashira with an interesting character design:


Now you might think, “ah, well this is Japan and they do lots of odd character designs and names.” However, usually there’s a reason behind it, a not-so-secret-joke. Now that we know the floating tea stalk is name Chabashira, we understand why this character’s bow resembles leaves. (And maybe understand the character’s personality better. . . ? Who knows.)

So why post about this now?

Well, though I used my newfound knowledge in my hobby, I stopped wondering why it occurredthough I did notice that it was only ever shown in green tea. And then Lisa went to Japan and we found out more about the different processes for the types of tea, including whether the stems were removed or not. So now we knew what tea a vertical tea stalk might appear in.

Interestingly, when I was discussing with my friends which anime they had seen the Chabashira appear in, a couple of them noted that it was more common in older anime.

In Jill’s last post, she uses a source from hojotea, who gives us a possible reason for this:

In fact, the stem was not removed before in Japan. Our parent used to tell us that we have good luck if the stem of tea stands up in our cup of tea. For now, we will never find any stem in our cup.

This explains why it hasn’t occurred in TeaHaus!

The reason that Japan started taking the stalks out was for the uniformity you see in Jill’s previous posts. You see how beautiful the color and texture of the leaves is in the pictures.

Despite this trend, some places decided that the stem adds to the flavor, and that is part of why Asamiya sencha from Shigaraki, Koga city in Shiga prefecture is so unique.

The takeaway?

Tea is everywhere. And stories, in any medium, are important and can expand our knowledge of other cultures and processes. Always remember, there is more to learnabout tea, about stories, and in life.

References used:
1. http://japaneseteastory.blogspot.com/2014/01/a-sign-of-good-luck-chabashira.html
2. https://wabisabi-tea.com/chabashira-lucky-omen-japanese-tea-culture/
3. http://hojotea.com.my/post/

Join Lisa on her tour of Japan’s tea industry:
Pottery and Tea in Shigaraki, Japan
One Japanese Tea Garden, Many Teas
Why Are Matcha and Gyokuro So Expensive?
Touring a Tea Processing Facility in Japan
A Look at Japan’s Tea Industry in Shiga Prefecture
Tea in Early Japan: A Poetic Beginning

Read more by Alissa at her blog, Lettered Madness

Pottery and Tea in Shigaraki, Japan

Wide-eyed animal pottery (whether cute or sorta creepy is up to you) and ancient kilns and lush tea gardens? You are now in Japan’s Shigaraki region!

We continue to follow along with Lisa, owner of TeaHaus and Eat More Tea, on her recent tour of Japan’s tea industry.

asamiya garden_sm

Having looked at the Tsuchiyama tea garden and their tea-processing facility, we now take a look at Asamiya, located on the Shigaraki Plateau in Shiga Prefecture’s southern region.

Shigarakiyaki_smShigaraki is known for Shigarakiyaki, a sort of raccoon-like animal found in folklore and purported to bring good fortune.

The area is also one of Japan’s oldest pottery production centers. Surrounded by wooded mountains, the environment is ideal for building and operating anagama (cave) kilns. These ancient single-chamber kilns were built into the mountainside and fueled with wood.

Suitable clay was also close at hand. Having once been a lake bed, the area’s clay lent itself to pottery. In fact:

Along with Bizen ware, Shigaraki ware was the earliest native pottery to be used in the Tea Ceremony. (Shigaraki Ware exhibit)

And that alkaline-rich clay also imparts flavor to crops—including tea. Asamiya tea is renown for its rich and full-bodied flavor.

The Asamiya tea garden, a fourth-generation farm, comprises gently rolling hills planted with neatly tended, very uniform, rows.

(Although these rolling slopes may conform to how we might envision tea gardens, this is less traditional in Japan. The flat fields of the Tsuchiyama garden are the norm.)

Because the Asamiya garden has some areas that are naturally shaded, a small amount of matcha is produced. By virtue of its being limited and naturally shaded—on top of the extensive labor required to produce matcha—it is very expensive.

asamiya garden 2_sm

If the weather in early spring gets too cold, the fans shown here will keep warmer air down. This allows the harvest to be held off for a couple more weeks, which means a better harvest. Although electric lines are currently in use, they are slowly moving to solar power.

The leaves are harvested mostly by machine, although people walk the small tractor up the higher slopes (see earlier post for photo of the type of tractor used). Again, the pleasing uniformity that results from this mechanization is highly valued.

Taka, owner of the Asamiya garden, hosted a tasting in his lovely home:asamiya tasting montage

The various teas show the diversity possible—all from one tea garden! It seems the Shigarakiyaki have indeed brought good fortune to this region.

See previous posts on this tour of Japan’s tea industry:
A Look at Japan’s Tea Industry in Shiga Prefecture
Touring a Tea Processing Facility in Japan
Why Are Matcha and Gyokuro So Expensive?
One Japanese Tea Garden, Many Teas

Photos by Lisa.

Sources: (1) “Shigaraki Ware,” Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women’s University, Google Arts and Culture, https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/信楽焼/7gIy6r1pabGzLQ; and  (2) “Asamiya Sencha, the rare Japanese green tea that gives full body,” by A. Hojo, Dec. 23, 2014, Hojo Tea.

One Japanese Tea Garden, Many Teas

matcha truffles and gelato
Matcha gelato and chocolate truffles dusted with matcha; made by TeaHaus, Ann Arbor

Matcha and Japan.

Although these seem synonymous, around three-quarters of the tea produced in Japan is actually sencha.

And while matcha and gyokuro are highly prized by the Japanese (see earlier post to see why these teas are so valued—and pricy!), the country’s everyday tea is sencha.

However, this doesn’t mean that sencha is a low-end tea or that all sencha is the same. Sencha produced from the first flush is higher quality than that from the second flush, but even within those parameters there are multiple grades and some are indeed incredible teas.

This super premium tea from Shiga Prefecture is a first flush that was harvested and processed on May 24; it boasts beautiful deep green lustrous leaves, many of which are rolled into long needles.

prem sencha_sm

For sencha, the tea leaves are prevented from oxidizing any further by being subjected to steam, and then they are dried. After that, the leaves are machine rolled, which makes for a uniform appearance and breaks down some of the cell walls, increasing flavor.

Here you can see two senchas that differ in appearance, even though they are both high-quality, first-flush teas. The one on the left is available at TeaHaus and the one on the right is the premium sencha shown above.

both senchas_sm

Brewed, the premium sencha opens to large leaf pieces, as shown here.


Besides sencha—and in addition to those teas made from shaded plants—leaves from the same tea garden can be made into yet other teas.

Houjicha refers to any roasted tea, which means there are various types and grades of houjicha, depending on what tea was chosen to toast. Bancha, kukicha, or sencha (often, lower-quality sencha) might be used, for example.

But houjicha can also be a premium tea, like this one from Shiga.

To make houjicha, green tea is roasted at around 200°C and then cooled, a process that reduces the caffeine level, which means little bitterness. This mild tea, then, is ideal for enjoyment by practically anyone, at any time of day or evening.

And the roasting process results in a spectrum of warm gold, tan, and brown tones.

houjicha leaves_sm


A Japanese black tea is very special, being produced only every 2–5 years, and basically only in Shiga Prefecture. The tea shown here was processed this spring, in the Asamiya tea garden.

For black tea, the leaves are allowed to wither, or oxidize, for several hours (as opposed to green tea, where steam is used to stop oxidization shortly after harvest). The leaves are then rolled, which slightly bruises them, increasing oxidation. After that, they are dried, although not with steam. However, the same ovens that steam the green teas are used, just with reconfigured settings (see earlier posts for photos of the production equipment).

black tea_sm

Because this tea is made with Japanese tea cultivars, it does not taste like black teas produced in other countries. Similar to other black teas, however, it is made with the older, larger leaves, which can withstand the production process.


In fact, you find these beautiful full leaves after brewing!

indiv leaves_sm

Another unusual tea—an “in” tea right now!—is GABA tea.

The leaves are picked later in the year, and then are cured for three days in a nitrogen chamber. Developed in Japan in the 1980s, this process results in higher levels of antioxidants and polyphenols as well as GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is a neurotransmitter.

gaba leaves_sm

GABA tea gives a mellow caffeine boost, and its earthy, pungent brew pairs well with food.


You can see the large pieces of leaves after brewing.

Thus, from one plant, an incredible range of teas!

all with names_sm

But these aren’t, of course, the only teas produced by Japan.

Bancha is a second-flush tea that has a pleasant toasted note, shown here on the right, with first-flush sencha on the left (both available from TeaHaus).

sencha and bancha

matcha genmaichaGenmaicha is a blend of sencha and toasted rice that was originally used as a way to stretch out tea but now is made for its own sake.

When matcha is added to the blend—for Matcha Genmaicha—you get a bright cup, shown here iced!

And finally, all those leftover bits of tea and tea dust that collect under the machinery and are swept up?

They go into teabags. . . .

Coming Posts: Other Japanese tea gardens and reasons why we don’t see their tea in the U.S.

See my previous posts about this tour through Japan’s tea gardens:
A Look at Japan’s Tea Industry in Shiga Prefecture
Touring a Tea Processing Facility in Japan
Why Are Matcha and Gyokuro So Expensive?

Enjoying Tea at the Ann Arbor Art Fairs

If you live in Ann Arbor, you probably fall into one of two camps: the fully-embrace-love-love-love the Art Fairs or the avoid-it-at-all-costs.

The latter is rather more difficult to do because this isn’t just an art fair: it’s a four-day marathon of four art fairs that spread amoeba-like across our city, consuming everything in their path. Streets close, traffic surges, hordes descend.

Art Fair week, however, also ushers in fantastic art and superb artists. And of course, there is always some gorgeous teaware in the mix, like these that I discovered this year!

brenna dee_sm

Brenna Dee Ceramics
See Brenna’s beautiful and elegant work at the Fair, email her at BrennaMcBroom@gmail.com, or visit her website.

julie goodin_sm

Julie Goodin Mixed Media
This lovely piece says it all! Visit Julie’s booth, see her Facebook page, or email her at Calligraphy3@yahoo.com.

Dave hergesheimer_sm

Dave and Keiko Hergesheimer, Catalpa Lane Pottery
Dave says that this is his favorite teapot of the stunning ones that he brought to this year’s fair. Check out Dave and Keiko’s booth, visit their website, or email them at davidhclay@gmail.com.

miles stearn_sm

Glazed Impressions, Pottery by Miles Stearns
These beautiful vibrant colors will catch your eye at Miles’ booth! Also visit his website or email him at milostearn@hotmail.com.

dwo wen chen_sm

Dwo Wen Chen, Three Wheel Studio
Delicate birds and lotuses grace these lovely teapots. Check out Dwo’s art at the Fair, visit the studio website, or send an email to info@threewheelstudio.com.

david bigelow_sm

David Bigelow, Printmaker
This engaging print by David is entitled “Friends,” which is what tea and coffee are all about! See his work at his booth, visit his Facebook page, or email him at dbigserv@suddenlink.net.

ed brownlee_sm

edsware, by Ed Brownlee
Certainly the most imaginative of what I’ve seen so far! Stop by Ed’s booth or email him at edswareclay@yahoo.com.

jennifer meeker_sm

Jennifer Meeker Art
This fascinating tea set is in Jennifer’s Plumbing Pipe Series! Stop by her booth and check out her other series; visit her website, Facebook page, or Etsy; or email her at jennifermeekerart@gmail.com.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this artwork as much as I have! Do look up these superb artists and support their work. 

All photos used by permission of the artists.