Why Great Loose Leaf Tea Comes via Germany

From One Perspective, as Tourist

There is something special between kids and their grandparents. A bond, a pact, between them that tacitly circumvents the parents.

So as a teenager back in the early 1970s, I was lucky enough to travel several times with my grandmother, visiting her brother in Kassel, Germany, and seeing the country through her eyes.

We did a lot of walking around the city and through parks.

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Including a bit of touristy stuff.

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And we ate and drank around my great-uncle’s coffee table, a new experience for me. There was wine of course, along with orange juice with seltzer. Coffee too, plus a whole lot of tea, which we sipped from delicate glass teacups.

But what I learned only this morning is that Kassel has its own little claim to fame in the tea world!

To Another, Rooted in History

Which takes us back to World War I. Which was truly awful.

Humanity, however, perseveres. Compassionate innovators in the medical field, for example, sought to mitigate horrific injuries. And on another plane, people worked to ensure that tea would remain available.

Now this isn’t totally trivial. Although economic factors undoubtedly were involved, tea and coffee are embedded into our social fabric, and numerous studies have shown how the actual beverages and the ceremony around them can positively impact our mental and emotional well-being.

So when the British navy interrupted the tea trade during the war, the Germans—anticipating life after the war—established the German Tea Association in the centrally located city of Kassel on April 21, 1917.

The tea companies, however, were mainly in Germany’s north end, so the Association soon relocated to the port city of Hamburg, located along the Elbe River in northern Germany.

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Elbe River, Hamburg (undated photo; probably early 1970s)

To Today, and Looking Forward

Over the past century, global tea production has increased tenfold, and with tea being as popular as ever, it seems likely that this trend will continue. Last year, 200,000 tons of tea came into Hamburg! (From what I calculate from 2016 statistics, this is about 11–12% of the world’s total that is exported from the countries of origin.)

Germany has emerged as a leader in tea processing, upholding strict standards in tea quality—both for flavor and to ensure no pesticides or heavy metals are present. To meet these requirements, the tea is rigorously tested for contaminants, and tea tasters do the rest.

And lest you think tasting tea all day would be a dream job, consider this:

a tea taster samples 400 types of tea every day and has mere seconds to decide whether to purchase,

according to Maximilian Wittig, the Association’s current managing director.

Tea that passes all testing is either packaged for distribution throughout the world, or is first blended (mixtures of different teas, such as breakfast teas) or flavored (e.g., with herbs, spices, dried fruit, flower blossoms, or oils like bergamot).

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And here I am, looking at Kassel and my early experiences there with yet another perspective. And Happy 100th to the German Tea Association!

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East Frisian tea with rock sugar and heavy cream. In this region of Germany, 300 liters of tea per person are consumed (in England, it’s only 200 liters/person).

Source: “German tea association celebrating 100th anniversary in Hamburg,” Hamburg News. September 4, 2017.

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What Is Yerba Mate Tea?

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Want a nice evening herbal tea that helps you sleep? Yerba mate is not it!

Yes, it is an herbal, being the dried leaves and twigs from a variety of holly that grows in South American rainforests. And yes, legend says it is a gift from the gods.

But, it promises to keep you alert to any rainforest predators with its three naturally occurring stimulants—the same as found in tea, coffee, and chocolate!

Mate: Its Brew

A cup of mate contains caffeine, theophylline and theobromine—all of which readily cross our body’s blood-brain barrier, giving us that energy boost.

mate-leaves-webHowever, it’s complicated. Scientists try to tease out what causes what, but each of these elements work differently. And sometimes they work together.

For example, caffeine keeps us awake and theobromine seems to help us sleep. But together, they may work as a stimulant! Go figure!

There are other pluses to this brew. Mate is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Because it is low in tannins, a strong brew will not be bitter—which means you can let the leaves remain in the liquid.

But then, how do you drink it with all those bits of leaves floating around?

Mate: Its Gear

Well, if you want to be really traditional about mate, you need a chia and bombilla. That is, a hollow gourd to hold the mate, and a strainer straw to filter out the bits of leaf.

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Mate: Its Heritage

gaucho_no-border-webPeople have taken advantage of mate’s effects for centuries, although there was a blip in 1616 when a disgusted governor of the Spanish province in Argentina attempted to stem its growing popularity by banning it.

Economics often win out, however, and the Jesuits were soon cultivating—and profiting from—the plant (touting the fact that it wasn’t alcoholic, whatever else its perceived vices).

By the mid-1700s, the larger-than-life gauchos came onto the scene, becoming folk heroes in Argentina and Uruguay lore.

Prizing their independence as they roamed the South American pampas, gauchos subsisted on game and wild cattle.

Unparalleled horsemen, they traveled lightly—with bola and knife as weapon and tool, and woolen poncho as coat, blanket, and protection.

And they drank yerba mate.

Mate: Its Own Day

On Argentina’s calendar, November 30 is National Yerba Mate Day!

But why wait until then to see what South Americans have been enjoying for centuries?

Brew it in any cup for 5–10 minutes, strain out the leaves, and decide for yourself if it is indeed a gift from the gods.


Sources:
–”Health benefits of methylxanthines in cacao and chocolate,” by R. Franco et al., Nutrients 5(10):4159–4173. October 2013.
–Garsd, J. “Tea Tuesdays: Gift of the moon, bane of the Spanish—The story of yerba mate,” NPR, The Salt, March 17, 2015.
–Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Gaucho South American History,” Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d.
Note: Gourds, metal straws, and mate available at TeaHaus.com.

Can Drinking Tea Help Prevent the Flu?

computer mouse in teacup

tea leavesAs we hurtle toward the end of summer, back-to-school sales are ramping up, college dorms are filling up . . . and flu season is next up.

So the big question—does tea help prevent colds and flu???

We know that drinking liquids in general helps. As does gargling.

But it doesn’t look like gargling tea specifically makes much of a difference. Although early studies (e.g., Yamada 2006) were encouraging, in February researcher Ide and colleagues (2017) said that “green tea gargling may slightly reduce influenza compared with water gargling” but additional studies are needed. . . .

Of Mice and Tea

But this month, a more promising study—involving mice and, indirectly, tea—was published in Science.

Okay, the subjects were mice, and they weren’t exactly tea drinkers, so results are preliminary. Yet the results are exciting!

computer mouse in teacup
Mouse in teacup, oh, wrong mouse

Instead of looking to prevent flu, this study probed the body’s response to flu. Therefore, all the study mice were given the flu.

The scientists found that some mice suffered lung damage from the flu whereas other mice had no damage. The difference between the mice?

The ones who were shielded from lung damage had been given a specific metabolite, or DAT (desaminotyrosine).

And Flavonoids, Microbes, and Metabolites, the Short Version

microbe-webThe story is:

  • We all have microbes in our guts.
  • Some of these microbes break down or metabolize flavonoids, which are compounds found in plants (including tea leaves).
  • Flavonoids are good because they have “anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, vasodilatory, anticancerigenic, and antibacterial properties” (Schoefer 2003).
  • One of these microbes, Clostridium orbiscindens, breaks down certain flavonoids and makes a metabolite that helps with interferon signals.
  • An interferon is a protein that is released when a virus (like the flu virus) is present; it helps the immune system, inhibiting the virus from multiplying.
  • That metabolite is, you guessed it, DAT.

The Upshot:

virus-webSo all the mice had the flu virus. But those that had been treated with DAT experienced less flu-inflicted lung damage (such as pneumonia).

In other words, if the mice already had certain flavonoids—and the right microbes—in their guts, the byproducts from those microbes breaking down those flavonoids served to protect the mice from damage from the flu.

Presumably, then, the same would hold for people.

Next up:

Because we have lots of microbes in our guts, there are undoubtedly others that use flavonoids and, in the process, assist our immune systems. These need to be identified and studied. Also, how can we boost those beneficial microbes in people who have inadequate levels?

The Practical Take-away

So no, this study did not promise that drinking tea would prevent flu. It did, however, suggest that plant flavonoids just might mitigate the effects of flu!

And according to EurekAlert (2017),

the researchers said it might not be a bad idea to drink black tea and eat foods rich in flavonoids before the next flu season begins.

So, put on the kettle!cup of tea


Sources:
–Ide, K. Y. Kawasaki, M. Akutagawa, and H. Yamada. “Effects of green tea gargling on the prevention of influenza infection: an analysis using Bayesian approaches,” J Altern Complement Med 2:116–20. February 23, 2017.
–Schoefer, L., R. Mohan, A. Schwiertz, A. Braune, and M. Blaut. “Anaerobic degradation of flavonoids by Clostridium orbiscindens,” Appl Environ Microbiol 69(10):5849–54. October 2003.
–Washington University School of Medicine, “Natural compound coupled with specific gut microbes may prevent severe flu,” EurekAlert AAAS, public release August 3, 2017.
–Yamada, H., N. Takuma, T. Daimon, and Y. Hara. “Gargling with tea catechin extracts for the prevention of influenza infection in elderly nursing home residents: a prospective clinical study,” J Altern Complement Med 7:669–72. September 12, 2006.
NOTE: Tea pictured is Lapsang Souchong from TeaHaus

The 2017 Eclipse, with Tea

THE ECLIPSE OF 2017

This is going to be incredible!

So pick a spot where you can witness this spectacular sight. Sadly, if you, like me, are here in Michigan—where the forecast just around the time of the eclipse is for clouds and rain—find a pub instead. . . .

But for all you lucky non-Michiganders, enjoy a cup of the green tea classic Himalaya VIEW while you are staking out your site.

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Next you want to look up (with your NASA-approved glasses only!), sipping TEMPLE OF HEAVEN, the finest of the green gunpowder teas, for a premier celestial event.

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As you see the moon move into position, savor some Oriental MOON, a black aroma tea that is as exotic as the event you are experiencing.

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Eventually the moon will appear centered in front of the sun, like a DARK PEARL. The exquisiteness of this oolong mirrors that of the sight before you.

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The sun, a fiery star, hidden behind our humble moon. It is changed, its power seemingly blunted. Perhaps a subtle white tea, Strawberry STARfruit, reminding us that this is only an illusion.

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Day and night interchange for a moment, confusing birds, frogs, us. Reality suspends, enchantment enfolds. Honor this moment, drink in this magic. With the only possible choice: Arabian DAYS and Arabian NIGHTS.

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A profound phenomenon, ENLIGHTENMENT.

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Note: All teas shown here are available at TeaHaus!

Elephant-friendly Tea? Yes, It Is a Thing!

You’ve planted the smallest of gardens. But now, to keep it alive. Too much rain, too little, insects, trampling by rambunctious kids or dogs—and of course the bunnies that are ever-so-adorable in someone else’s yard!

So imagine how much damage an elephant could do!

Tea plantations, no matter where they are located, of course displace wildlife. And this isn’t to pick on tea growers: no matter what you plant or where you plant it, you are displacing whatever normally lives in that space.

Sometimes the animals just move on to less-disturbed areas. Other times, they try to remain, generally with bad outcomes.

In India, elephants are endangered, and as they lose their habitat, clashes between them and humans grow more common.

Around tea plantations, elephants:

  • fall into irrigation ditches (especially the babies)
  • may be electrocuted by fences
  • are poisoned by chemicals
  • cannot access their normal corridors
  • trample the tea gardens

Last year in India’s Udalguri district of Assam alone, nearly two dozen people and five elephants died .

Seeking to improve elephant-human relations and establish elephant-friendly standards, the

University of Montana’s Broader Impacts Group has partnered with the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network [WFEN] to launch the world’s first tea certification program designed to protect the endangered Asian elephant. (Erickson 2017)

And a grower in Udalguri—Tenzing Bodosa—became the first in the world to have Elephant Friendly Certified Tea (Mitral 2017)!

According to the WFEN executive director Julie Stein (Mitral 2017):

There is interest in the certification program in Sri Lanka and Kenya, and in fact wherever tea and wild elephants overlap there is potential for tea and coffee plantations to work towards certification as Elephant Friendly.”

Hopefully all tea from these areas will be elephant friendly in the near future!

iced tea


Sources:
–Erickson, D. “University of Montana partners with local businesses to launch elephant-friendly tea certification program,” Missoulian, July 19, 2017.
–Mitral, N. “Udalguri tea plantation gets jumbo-friendly certification,” The Times of India, July 21, 2017.

Loose Leaf Tea in an Art Museum Exhibit

Loose leaf tea in an art museum? Unexpected perhaps, but tea—along with its ware and ceremony—has been integral to Western culture for hundreds of years and to Asian culture for thousands!

Currently, TeaHaus loose leaf tea is part of an ongoing exhibit, Elegance from the East: New Insights into Old Porcelain, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, providing visitors the opportunity to  see and smell teas that are similar to what 17th-century Europeans would have been drinking.

Here, curator and scholar Shirley M. Mueller pulls together seemingly disparate strands—the porcelain trade, the neuroscience of collecting beautiful items, miscommunications between cultures, art, and tea—into a compelling narrative!

Enjoy!

(Video provided by Shirley M. Mueller)


Teas shown in video are available at teahaus.com.

For more on Shirley’s exhibit, see my previous blogs:
Tea, Porcelain, and Our Brains—yes, there IS a connection here!
Women and Tea: Making It Their Own
Miscommunication and Mistakes, Fired into 18th-century Teapots and Plates
How Old Is That Teapot? Using Art to Date and Interpret Art  
A 1644 Shipwreck and Its Teapots
“Modern” Teapots in a 1700s’ Shipwreck    
The Valuable Tea Protected the Porcelain after This Ship Sank in 1752

Will There Be Darjeeling Tea in the Future?

Second-flush Rarity
Darjeeling first-flush Steanthal
Darjeeling first-flush Steinthal

Darjeeling tea may go extinct!

Apocalyptic hype? Total overreaction to a regional strike? Sensationalism?

Or, could we actually lose this beloved tea?

With its economic importance and the worldwide love for Darjeeling tea, it seems unlikely that it would no longer be grown.

However, the reality is pretty dire at the moment, with all 87 tea gardens in the region currently shut down.

The chairman of Chamong Group, which has tea gardens in Darjeeling, said that:

The present problem is political in nature and nothing relating to the industry. However, the industry will have to bear the long standing consequences which even poses serious questions regarding the future of the cuppa which could even face extinction (Shandilya 2017).

The Tea

Darjeeling, in the lower Himalayas, is renown for its tea. In fact, Darjeeling tea is so prized that—like Champagne—its very name is protected!

Darjeeling tea is grown at 1,968 to 6,562 feet above sea level, in a region that gets around 120 inches of rain annually. (For perspective, the rainiest spot in the continental U.S. is Portland, with a relatively paltry 43 inches of rain per year.)

Steinthal tea leaves
Darjeeling FTGFOP1 Steinthal tea leaves (first flush)

The tea bushes are pruned in December—which encourages new growth and is timed so that the new leaves begin to open in March. This first flush of leaves comprises the highly valued first harvest, which is done by hand in early spring. The bud and first two leaves are carefully plucked.

Rarity tea leaves
Darjeeling TGFOP Rarity tea leaves (second flush)

The second flush is harvested in June and July, after the plants have vigorously grown. This tea is also highly regarded, and many people prefer it over the more delicate first-flush tea.

There is also a lower-quality summer monsoon flush, followed by an autumn flush (which is more similar to the second flush).

Last year, 8.45 million kilograms of tea were produced. With Darjeeling being among the most expensive teas, the profits from the first- and second-flush teas alone generally support the gardens for the entire year (Shandilya 2017).

What’s Been Brewing in Darjeeling

Steinthal leaves after brewing
Steinthal leaves after brewing.

The Darjeeling tea industry employs over 100,000, most of whom are Gorkhalis, who are native to Nepal. Darjeeling—a district within West Bengal, India—borders Nepal.

Evidently, tensions erupted when the government instructed schools to use Bengali rather than the Gorkhalis’ native Nepali language (The New Paper 2017). Consequently, the Gorkhalis are demanding their own homeland, using strikes and demonstrations as leverage.

Today is the 56th day of the strike, which has brought the tea industry to a standstill.

Consequences So Far

It doesn’t look good for Darjeeling tea. As with Champagne, Darjeeling can be produced only in Darjeeling. But:

  • With only 30% of the annual harvest completed before the strikes began, the rest of this year’s harvest—including the premium second flush—is a total loss,
  • which means there is not much Darjeeling tea available,
  • which means that prices are escalating
  • and that Darjeeling stands to lose its market as cheaper teas fill the gap.

Further problems:

  • With huge financial losses looming, will the tea producers be able to recover?
  • Without care, the tea bushes have already grown into trees and the gardens are becoming weed ridden.
  • Former tea industry employees are finding other jobs elsewhere.
  • How long will it take to bring the tea gardens back into prime condition?
  • Will the stressed tea plants recover?

And these are only compounding already existing problems including:

  • High production costs
  • Environmental degradation
  • Aging of the tea bushes (it takes 7 years before a new plant can be harvested)
  • And, of course, the very real tension between the West Bengal government and the Gorkhalis.

So Will This Be Only a Memory?

first flush and second flush Darjeeling teas
Darjeeling second-flush Rarity (left) and first-flush Steinthal (right)

At least at the moment, Darjeeling teas are available at teahaus.com, including first-flush Steinthal, premium first-flush Lingia, second-flush Rarity, and premium second-flush Risheehat.


Sources:
–Bedi, R. “‘Champagne of teas’ under threat as protests hit Darjeeling,” The Telegraph, August 7, 2017.
–The New Paper. “Darjeeling unrest threatens shortages prized tea,” August 5, 2017.
–Shandilya, B. “Darjeeling tea sector reels under existential crisis as Gorkhaland protests make cuppa dearer, rarer,” Firstpost, August 5, 2017.