Spring flowers have come early to our neck of the woods, always a welcome thing.
But that also means that for those of us who live in this Great Lakes state, we face weeks of vacillation—dare we put away snow shovels and winter clothes and flannel sheets? How long can we put off cleaning up the yard?
And while weather in Michigan is always (always!) in transition, these early spring months are especially fickle. Shorts and tee shirt and grilling outdoors one minute—and then tugging on a heavy coat and mulling over gloves and scarf!
Winter months here definitely require hot teas that are substantial and comforting. But the wild weather fluctuations of early spring call for flexibility: a solid breakfast tea on today’s 38° morning but a light and fruity blend for the 60° afternoon.
That is the magic of tea! There are endless options—black or oolong; green or white; rooibos, herbal, or fruit. Hot, iced, carbonated.
Tea and food pairings might be all the rage, but tea and weather pairings are decisions that we make on an hourly basis!
Last fall, my husband rescued a couple of purple shamrocks from our outdoor flower pots before the frost hit. Well the plants weren’t particularly grateful and didn’t care for the change in environment, rebelling with paltry growth—or perhaps telling us that they needed to go into dormancy, but we didn’t get the message.
Anyway, one of them finally gave up on our ever figuring out their care requirements and decided to produce some lovely leaves and delicate flowers. Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!
According to Bridget Haggerty:*
It wasn’t until the 17th century that it became the custom to wear the shamrock on the feast of Ireland’s patron saint; until then, the Irish wore a special St. Patrick’s cross, made just for the occasion. Then, in the late 18th century, the shamrock was adopted as an emblem by the Volunteers of 1777. But it didn’t really become widely popular until the 19th century, when the emerging Nationalist movements took the shamrock, along with the harp, as one of their emblems.
So as I gaze on the shamrock, I sip tea, of course, because the Irish are among the world’s top per-capita tea consumers. I am trying two versions of the same type of tea—a black tea mixed with cocoa pieces.
Now I am only recently a fan of aroma teas, having for years preferred “just tea.” When my daughter first brought home a tea & chocolate blend, I didn’t even want to try it. However, I have found that I was unnecessarily limiting my options as well as missing out on some terrific tea experiences!
In these blends, the cocoa melts into the robust black tea base—creating deliciously warm notes of whiskey and cream.
So have a cupan tae on this St. Patrick’s Day!
The first tea is Emerald Isle tea from Cupan Tae in Galway, which was brought back from Ireland for me. This full-bodied brew, with its hint of whiskey creaminess, is satisfyingly bold.
The second is O’Connor’s Cream from TeaHaus, which also yields a dark and full-bodied cup. I find the chocolate and creamy notes more pronounced in this blend, giving it greater warmth.
While I think that both these teas are wonderful as far as flavor, I was unable to find any tea sourcing information for Cupan Tae. All TeaHaus tea, whether grown organically or conventionally, is tested for heavy metal and pesticide residue in Germany, which has strict quality control standards.
*”Emblems of Ireland: The Shamrock,” by Bridget Haggerty, Irish Cultures and Customs, http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/AEmblem/Shamrock.html
These words seem to sanitize what is, in reality, a profound loss. A loss of a person.
Not only mental functioning—but memory, personality, relationships, ways of dealing with the world. The intangibles that make us who we are.
A loss—with effects that are devastating, far-reaching, and unremitting.
After looking into a few studies on how tea—both green and black—seems to protect our cognition and our functional ability as we age, I might lightly say “pass the teapot,” but the reality? This is serious stuff.
Ongoing research seeks to quantify and maximize tea’s effects on health and cognition. What exactly in the tea protects brain function? How exactly does it work? Can this factor be isolated, concentrated, and then used medicinally for specific purposes?
The Magic of Polyphenols
This brings us to polyphenols—antioxidants that are naturally found in plants. And tea leaves, or Camellia sinensis, have a lot of polyphenols.
In Green Tea
When tea leaves are plucked, plant cells are damaged and the leaves immediately begin to oxidize. To stop this process and to produce green tea, theleaves are steamed or pan-fried. This keeps the polyphenols largely as flavanols or catechins. And it is these catechins that give green tea its color and vegetal flavor.
In Black Tea
To produce black tea, the Camellia sinensis leaves are more fully oxidized, which converts the simple polyphenols into more complex forms: theaflavin and thearubigin. Controlling the oxidation controls the appearance and flavor of black tea, with theaflavin providing bright taste and thearubigin complexity.
But the conversion of catechins into theaflavins does not reduce their antioxidant properties. In fact, one study has shown that green tea catechins and black tea theaflavins have the same antioxidant potency (Leung et al. 2001)!
What They Do for Us
Current research suggests that the antioxidant properties of polyphenols protect the brain in a slew of ways:
–protect the neurons from damage by free radicals
–help maintain neuron viability
–lower the risk of stroke
–lower the risk of depression
–protect against Alzheimer’s disease
–protect against toxins
–enhance cognitive function
Although research studies often are neither fully consistent nor conclusive, no matter what its oxidation level, tea seems to have health benefits that are real!
Does It Have to be Tea?
This begs the question that non-tea drinkers may well ask: are the benefits of tea such that everyone should drink tea? After all, most plants are beneficial for us. Is there anything about tea that makes it special? I’ll look into that a bit in the future.
Meanwhile, I Take No Chances: Another Cup of Tea Please!
Sources: –Leung, L. K., et al. “Theaflavins in Black Tea and Catechins in Green Tea Are Equally Effective Antioxidants,” Journal of Nutrition 131(9):2248–51. 2001.
–Massachusetts General Hospital. “Green Tea May Help Conserve Cognition, Cup by Cup,” Mind, Mood and Memory 8(6):4. 2012.
–Mukhtar, H., and N. Ahmad. “Tea Polyphenols,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71(6):1698s–702s. 2000.
–Shen, W., et al. “Tea Consumption and Cognitive Impairment,” PLoS ONE 10(9):e0137781. 2015.
–Tomata, Y. et al. “Green Tea Consumption and the Risk of Incident Functional Disability in Elderly Japanese,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 95:732–39. 2012.
–Wang, Y., and C.-T. Ho. “Polyphenolic Chemistry of Tea and Coffee,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 57:8109–14. 2009.