15 May 2016

Coffee vs. Tea // part V

(Part I)
(Part II)
(Part III)
(Part IV)

Hello. My daily grind recently outran me writing this blog, my apologies for that.

So here's the finale of my coffee vs. tea series. First, a summary of what I wrote about so far.

does anybody understand that Camellia mantis Kung Fu master?

I've given a small introduction to coffee as tea's opponent, the evolution of its popularity, and my personal connection to the coffee world, which ironically came off as a late byproduct of my growing tea interest.

Both of the drinks have massive potential in terms of taste and mouthfeel, including fruity and nutty, sweet and bitter, light and heavy, fresh and creamy. Depending on growing region and conditions, processing of the raw material and your method of preparing it, both beverages move widely across these and other categories and cannot be broken down to one typical taste description each. In my experience, tea is more strongly defined by the different associable aromas it contains, while in coffee, the specific taste profile is not as evident next to the coffee flavour itself. I'm not sure if this is just a question of experience though. In any case, you (or the respective person or people responsible) can somehow not-master really every step from growing, harvesting and processing to, of course, preparing, so there's the option of getting nothing special of a coffee or tea too.

Speaking of preparation, I went over to discussing different preparation techniques and the question of convenience. There's uncountably many methods of which I picked the ones most popular in my judgement. It seems that coffee better cooperates with technology, as there are many different electric or even electronic devices to help you with it. Of course, you can also brew coffee completely manual, if you either don't care so much to pay for a machine or care too much to not fully remain at the wheel.

There are different possible levels of control over your tea brewing process too. You don't get to choose between that many devices though. In contrast, the process of (manually) preparing tea can even be the centre of your experience, different elaborate styles of tea ceremonies come with a meditative aspect and can make for a complete social event.

Filter coffee brings you nearly nothing except caffeine and hot water. This you can definitely count to your fluid balance, by the way. Caffeine lets the brain un-notice that you're tired and makes things hum in your body. Espresso additionally has some amounts of minerals and vitamins in stock. Coffee may help prevent type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer, on the other hand side you are very much in danger of developing an unpleasant caffeine dependency when hitting that cup frequently, and your stomach may not like the acids contained in dark roasted coffee.

Tea, varying between the different kinds, generally delivers caffeine as well, but not as much as coffee. Amongst others, the contained L-Theanine further smoothes out the caffeine kick and makes it both easier to handle short-term and less addicting long-term. Polyphenols, a type of antioxidants, come in much larger amounts that in coffee here, especially in green tea. They are said to have multiple cancer-inhibiting effects, but there's still much left to understand about them. Also, reduction of blood pressure and bad LDL cholesterol are probable effects of drinking tea. An ingredient to keep an eye on is fluoride though, as tea plants absorb this more than other plants and especially tea made of older (=bigger) leaves, such as Pu Erh and other Yunnan teas, can contain considerable amounts, so I'd not recommend these daily.

I think I'm gonna make up a short personal pro and contra list as a conclusion now. I haven't followed any argumentative structure throughout the texts, I've even actively avoided it. Since I am obviously a member of team tea writing this blog, and, as I mentioned, also found a connection to coffee via work, making a fair and un-pointful comparison makes the most sense from my perspective.

Pro Tea:

  • Wide range of flavours
  • Meditative experience (if wanted)
  • Wares and extras work perfectly with collecting urge
  • Health advantages

are these pineapple-apples?

Contra Tea:

  • Can get really expensive
  • Steals all your shelf room
  • Fine types require maximum attention

Pro Coffee:

  • Works well with food or without attention
  • Many interesting solutions for brewing
  • Kicks you aware more efficiently

are these Mexican wrestler masks?

Contra Coffee:

  • Can get really expensive as well
  • Provides a rather short experience
  • Can't do as a health promoter

Enjoy your drinks! Thanks for reading.

19 Apr 2016

Tea Tasting: 2006 Nian Da Lan Ying Sheng Pu Erh

I had no time for any blog writing recently, so this tasting comes a week belated. I had a terrible headache that day due to a weather high I'd usually state not being vulnerable to. Nevertheless, it left me seeing about what kind of tea would work as the best refresher, preferably with some caffeine kick too. I chose my 2006 raw Nian Da Lan Ying I hadn't tasted for a while.

I take it out of the pumidor, curious about its recent development. There is plenty of loose leaf material on the "open" edge of the cake and lying in the wrapper. I collect all of it except for the super broken pieces. So, the stuff I got there looks quite fine. Let's try it.

I arrange a dark toned Chaxi to fit both the dark tea and the new teapot I baptise with it. It's a stoneware overhead-handle pot handmade by Warsaw potter Andrzej Bero. It somehow resembles a Dobin, but has a taller shape and the copper handle is a really unique design plus. The position of the spout forbids me to fill it to the top and let the water overflow as you would with a Yixing pot, especially to get rid of Pu Erh broken pieces. I pair it with light celadon cups from Stéphane Erler's shop. They're so light toned you can barely see it on the picture I'm afraid. I also added my very first living Chaxi decoration of all time: A small maple scion I accidentally picked up with a handful of soil I planned to plant an onion in. Now it's got an old milk pitcher as a new home.

I preheat the pot and do a quick rinse with the leaves. It turns out that this windfall is surprisingly un-dusty! I don't get out any relevant fannings, and the rinse liquor is already really clear. I smell apple and vegetal notes with much energy waiting to be tasted.

Next infusion. Of course I do a short one, no Pu Erh ever needs long infusions. The liquor is sort of copper / forest honey orange. Very colourful as you'd expect from 10 years of experience in being a tea cake. It's not bitter at all. Right amount of astringency. I get some walnut impressions and apple again. All the infusions give me very much energy indeed. The aftertaste stays long and reminds me of peppermint. I keep the leaves for the next day and do another handful of infusions which still work perfectly. I honestly never managed to get to the last possible infusion of a Pu Erh, they're just too persistent.

Thanks for reading!

25 Mar 2016

Tea Tasting: Spring 2015 Ali Shan Jinxuan Oolong

金萱, jin xuan, literally means "golden daylily". The tea is however more famous under the name milk(y) Oolong. It is said to have a natural creamy, milky taste, which is sometimes enhanced by really steaming it in milk during production. This one is untreated though.

It is grown at an altitude of 1200 metres on Ali Shan in Taiwan, thus categorised as a high mountain tea. As usual for these, it has not been oxidised very much to lay the focus on the fresh, high notes which are speficially developed in high altitute cultivation. You can see that the ball rolled leaves are very green.

Let's see what it can do.

My Chaxi symbolises the slowly approaching spring. Today is not really a spring day as you would imagine. It's raining. But it's this kind of rain which to me always seems to intentionally occur for the sake of the vegetation. Not heavy and aggressive, but rather a dense, soft kind of spray rain. In combination with the indirect, cloudy daylight, this makes lawn, bushes and hedgerows look all shining, intense and - obviously - green. I guess the green Oolong leaves also match that quite well. The bamboo resembles the wood of the still rather bald trees waiting for the rest of spring to arrive.

Now to the tea. Gaiwan lid: Very vegetable smell. The first two infusions seem rather thin, but could also be me, my mouth and I. The liquor is very light and has an intense green glow (that I couldn't really catch in a picture unfortunately). After a while, the flavour appears. I taste discreet sweetness, soft vegetables with slight bitterness, like zucchini or aubergine, well pan-fried with oil.

Did my pitcher draw an Enso?
Later I think of avocado as well. It lives up to the eponymous creaminess, I don't exactly think of milk or butter though, there's other Oolongs delivering more of that. The high mountain energy makes it too fresh to count as milky for me.

Speaking of energy: Later infusions increasingly add a minty, mouth cooling spin to it, staying in the mouth for quite a while.

Some of the spent leaves are broken, but mostly intact with one or two partners on a twig. I'm surprised how big they actually are. I imagine them to make for a good cold brew, so I prepare a litre and let it steep for the rest of the day.

After about 10 hours, I give it a try. Not as intense as another Oolong I recently cold brewed after regular brewing, but still very energetic. Despite not bearing any visible colour whatsoever, the cold tea liquor is quite brisk and fresh. There's none of the creaminess left, it's rather comparable to water with a splash of lemon juice. Looking forward to drinking the rest of it tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

10 Mar 2016

Coffee vs. Tea // part IV

(Part I)
(Part II)
(Part III)

Welcome back. Now that we've chosen our favourite taste and also know how to make it available in a drink, the next questions might come up: What is even happening when you drink it? What do you get from it? What do you not get? Or does it take something from you? I'll start with some subjects concerning both drinks equally.

As it's even named after it, caffeine seems to be a rather important content in coffee. But tea also contains caffeine, sometimes matchingly called theine then.

First of all, let's get a quick overview of what it even is. Caffeine is infact considered a psychoactive drug, since it works as a stimulant for the central nervous system. It has several quick effects on the body, most known is its ability to block adenosine receptors. Adenosine basically is used by the brain to remind itself of not overexert and can be experienced as tiredness and fatigue. So caffeine invalidates this, and makes you less likely to notice your level of exhaustion. Many drugs or pharmaceuticals work in similar ways, and when regularly used, lead the brain to increase the amount of affected receptors in order to reconstitute the neurotransmitters' function. You experience this as an dependency or addiction. The same amount of caff won't do the job anymore, as your brain is "keeping that in mind" already, and you have to drink more to get the desired effect again. And without any intake, your brain will unintentionally make you feel more tired than appropriate due to all the extra adenosine receptors.

Yes, you do pour the caffeine right into your synapse.

Other effects are increase of heart rate and overall physiological activity, better concentration, activation of the alimentary system and reduction of existing headache (also prone to addiction!) Subsequently, you can also sort of overdose caffeine, resulting in over the top versions of the desired effects. A lethal dose can not realisticly be achieved via consumption of drinks though, this is possible only with the pure chemical.

Coffee has more caffeine per serving than tea. I've heard that double the amount of tea is usually needed for the same amount of caffeine, but both plants really vary in the amount depending on the cultivar. What also matters a lot is how you prepare the drink. Filter coffee for example contains more caffeine than espresso, although you might expect it to be the other way round. For tea, the different types already give very different levels and bioavailability of the stuff. Red/black tea for example seems to have more caffeine than green, but actually it's just less bound to other contents due to the oxidation process and thus kicks in faster than the same amount in green tea. And then you also get different amounts extracted depending on dose and time of course. In any case, in coffee it's even more bioavailable.

Water balance.
You often hear that both coffee and tea dehydrate your body, so you have to drink additional water to counter that loss. As said above, caffeine gets your digestive system going. This may well result in your body releasing more water for the moment, but it doesn't mean you lose more in the long run. I daresay that having a well-tasting hot beverage, probably even a whole pot of it, could actually bring people to drink more than if that would be just water. So they can infact both be counted to your fluid balance. They better do, because in Germany, people on average drink more coffee than water, and many other peoples should also be long parched because of their tea consumption if this wouldn't work.

Neither of the two drinks contain any relevant amounts of carbohydrates, fat or protein. This may also be a reason for their popularity, since you get effect and enjoyment without these dreaded calories.

The following statements mostly cannot be relied on fully. Many studies are performed about all the subjects, few findings can really be seen as safe and the general opinion often changes.

Polyphenols are antioxidants contained in many plants, and can usually be seen or tasted, for example as bittern or tannine. They are said to reduce cell aging, cancer risk and arteriosclerosis. I also heard that they can prevent hair loss. But polyphenols also tend to inhibit certain minerals and nutrients absorption in the gut, so it's recommended to wait around half an hour between drinking those and having a meal. There's much more of them in tea, especially in green (unoxidized) tea. When combining your drink with milk, you foil the polyphenols' effects, so consider drinking it pure!

Now to some differing contents.

Brewed (filter) coffee doesn't contain much of anything else useful seemingly. Just caffeine, aromatic substances, water and really small traces of minerals etc.
Espresso however has much more TDS, total dissolved solids, and thus has something more to offer. Given that one shot weighs about 40g, you get around 7% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin B2, and around 14% of B3. Also, there's about 9% of the daily needed magnesium in a shot.

A popular belief is that coffee consumption is related to heart attack risk and similar problems. This is outdated. Instead, it could possibly even increase vascular function. Other possible benefits include a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer, whereas the somewhat popular ability of Alzheimer's prevention has not been confirmed surely.
On the negative side, there's mainly the much likely caffeine dependency, showing as headaches, sleep disturbances and mood unstableness or even depressiveness. Further, the acidity of the drink, especially present when roasted (too) hot and short (-> very dark), can cause pyrosis.

Per 100g of beverage, you get around 10% of the daily needed amount of manganese and, as stated above, way more polyphenols than with coffee. When you consume the whole leaf material, as when drinking Matcha, you also get around 1% of the recommended iron dose, this could be not so useful due to the polyphenols though. There are some implications of cancer reducing effects all currently in question. Tea can slightly reduce blood pressure as well as levels of bad cholesterol, thus working to prevent heart attacks. Weight loss is not a confirmed effect though.

Camellia tends to absorb more fluoride from the soil than other plants. Especially in mature leaves, there are quite high concentrations subsequently. Fluoride locally promotes dental health, but can cause bone and tooth fluorosis and thus lower stability when consumed too much. Especially Pu Erh tea and mature leaf red/black tea can already bring about the maximum recommended daily intake of 4mg within one litre.
Another possibly negative content is oxalate, which binds calcium in the body and makes it unavailable, and can also cause kidney stones. However, the bioavailable amount of oxalate consumed with tea is low and the negative effects are probably not relevant at all.

I think these are the most important health aspects and contents. In the next part, I'll give you a summary and maybe draw some conclusions.

Thanks for reading!

8 Mar 2016

Tea Tasting: Organic Yunnan White Moonlight

Yunnan, the epicentre of darkness, at least on a tea level! Even the white tea is dark somehow. As tonight will be new moon, I chose the white tea counterpart of my Yunnan Black Moonlight I drank last full moon. Would've made more sense the other way round maybe, but sometimes contrasts match even better than similarities. For example in this tea. 

The dry leaves are so diverse and interesting, I could spend at least 15 minutes just trying to figure out what different elements there are. There's the obligatory white fuzzy buds of course. This tea has rather large and straight ones mostly. But then you also find oddly dark leaves, some of them brown and some even completely black. There has definitely some oxidation (or even a lot?) been going on. Dry smelled, they promise much fruitiness mixed with a walnut aroma and somehow remind me of this mixed indefinable scent prominent when you enter any given tea shop.

I arrange the Chaxi on a white cloth with white porcelain, combined with black and brown details to resemble the different leaves. Jin Chan was invited again, despite probably being off duty at new moon. The brewing vessel is a new white Gaiwan I got from Teamasters after I'd broken the lid of my other one. It is unusually thick walled and is probably ideal for hot infusions. For the white tea however, I use my Yuzamashi to bring the water under 90°C. 

I start with a slightly longer infusion, let's say 20 seconds. The lid smells intense. Sweet and floral. No surprise that the creamy yellow liquor is more colourful than other whites, you could even mistake it for a light Oolong. 

First sip. It's buttery and sweet, especially the aftertaste. I taste orange juice and orange blossom. It has a lot of energy and a discreet yet interesting pungency to it. I do only quick infusions for the rest of the session, this tea needs no extra time to think it over. It's very confident. The sweetness becomes a bit dry after a while, and aromas of vanilla and washed out wood appear.

I'm not the biggest fan of white tea per se, often it's just a bit too light and subliminal for my taste. On the other hand, "pure" white tea, i.e. Silver Needle, is intense but I couldn't find enjoyment in its pure woody bud taste yet. Now, White Moonlight really hits the target for me, bringing a lot of flavour, balanced and complex, with the right amount of woodyness.

Thanks for reading!

5 Mar 2016

Coffee vs. Tea // part III

(Part I)
(Part II)

In the last part, I talked about taste, a very important and extensive subject. While one may decide for or against a certain beverage because of its taste, this is not the only aspect. Especially when preparing the thing at home, convenience and price, for both the material and equipment, are just as relevant. In this part, I will discuss the pros and cons of both coffee and tea preparation methods and how achievable the different quality levels are. Note that I will only include the preparation of the pure beverage, and not how you serve or combine it, since this is a whole nother subject.

Preparation and Convenience.

Coffee first again. These are the most popular techniques of making it I think.

When you think filter coffee, you'll probably think of a classic filter coffee machine. These are quite convenient, as you basically just put water and ground coffee inside and press the button. The machine itself costs around €50 - 150, and you can put all sorts of coffee inside, as long as it's ground coarse enough. You can produce big amounts at once and need neither extra equipment nor any monitoring. On the other hand, you have no control over temperature and brewing time.

If you'd rather like to control these and give up some convenience in exchange, you can roughly do the same process manually. Just get a drip cone you pour the water over yourself. When trying to get the infusion time and water distribution right, you'll discover that method not really to be suitable for that big amounts (and that infact also applies for the machine version, you just don't see it in there).

Greater amounts of filter coffee should better be prepared via full immersion brew. The prototype device is a french press, available from under €5 up to high end versions. Just put ground coffee inside, boiled water on top, wait a few minutes and press the sieve down to seperate the two. You can serve directly from it. The need of an external hot water source could be seen as a con, but also allows this to be used when there's no electricity, e.g. with a camping stove and a simple pot.

Next is the moka pot. Sometimes untruly called espresso maker, this is the classic Italian home device for rather small quantities of more intense coffee. The price range is similar to the french press. You need finer coffee grounds, so the price range of this will probably start a bit higher than for filter coffee. Put water in the lower part, coffee powder in the middle sieve and screw the pot on top of it. Then it's heated on a cooktop or similar until the water presses itself up.

Now to real espresso. You will have to spend at least some hundreds for a reasonable portafilter machine. The principle is to bring water through very fine ground coffee with a lot of pressure. You usually grind your coffee direclty into the portafilter and then lock that to the machine. These come with a spray lance for frothing the milk for e.g. cappuccino. You'll probably be very interested in espresso to own one of these, since this is definitely the most inconvenient device.

There's of course also the fully automatic machines which mix several coffee drinks for you at the push of a button. These are usually a hygienic mess and completely eliminate the human part from the process, which is just awful in my opinion. Especially when working with these ridiculously overpriced, environment-killing aluminium capsules, they should really be illegalized I say.

As you can see, coffee beans often need some, or even a lot of technologic assistance to transform into a drink. Using a machine can improve the convenience for the moment, but comes with rather high entrance costs, and machines will need replacement after some time. Less technological brewing techniques are not as expensive, and give you a better connection with the drink. They require more attention and time though, as well as more manual dishwashing probably. In exchange, these utensils such as a drip cone are virtually usable forever.

Now tea.

The variety of gadgets assotiated with making tea is a bit more manageable. There are actual tea machines (water boiler, infusion can, serving can), or the Russian samovar, as well as different portable devices around, but first, I don't think any of these are really common, and second, they really just try to combine the steps of making tea into one connected object and don't reinvent the wheel concerning the extraction process etc. However, there are different aproaches to make it.

In these parts, the most popular way is brewing your tea "Western style". You'll probably use black tea for that, but it works with every kind. You put the leaves into some sort of a strainer inside a big pot or cup, pour boiling or hot water over it and let it infuse for a couple of minutes. Then the strainer is removed and you have all the tea you want at once. Very convenient. High quantities are well possible, and all you need is a vessel, a strainer and a hot water source. Some attention is required of course in order to get the time right.

The direct competitor would be regular Eastern style, used in the Chinese tea ceremony or how you'd like to call it. Brewing this way, you let the leaves steep very shortly and multiple times, instead of extracting all the aromas into one brew. This reasonably requires a way smaller pot which has to be emptied completely after each infusion. Either you use a second pot/pitcher for doing so, or you distribute it directly to the attendees' cups. You'll need something to keep your water hot, and a higher quality whole leaf tea for this to work. Intact leaves can hold their aroma for the longest and won't slip out of your brewing vessel. The process of making tea intentionally takes centre stage here, hence you can't really say it's inconvenient, but it sure requires all your attention.

The Japanese tea ceremony involves drinking powdered green tea, Matcha, but also several other things and actions, so you can't really speak of performing one just because you're traditionally preparing Matcha. Still, it's a very unique kind of tea and tea making. You'll at least need the special bamboo whisk, the Chasen, and a suitable drinking bowl. One to two teaspoons of powder are placed in the bowl. You add less than a cup of warm water to it and whisk it. To get a fine foam top, some practice is required, but it's easy to learn I think. It's a rather laborious technique since you have to prepare every serving individually. However, Matcha can also be ulilized quite simply by shaking the powder in your water bottle or the like.

At last, there's the vexed teabags. Possibly even more popular than the Western style I described above, they basically imitate the same process. Very small broken tea leaves are delivered inside closed textile (?) or plastic filter bags which can directly be put into any sort of vessel. After brewing, you just pull it out on the yarn and throw it away. Maximum convenience I guess, but also maximum tea trash inside (for the most kinds). You'll regularly not find any good quality, and the bag materials always bring in some unwanted chemicals or residues.

I tried to cover the different ways of preparing both of the hot drinks, well knowing that there are dozens of other approaches that I just don't know enough to write about, e.g. middle eastern traditions for both coffee and tea preparation. Neither drink is exclusively simple or complicated, rather is tea more of a manual thing, while coffee requires or allows the use of tech. The next part will be about contents and possible health aspects.

Thanks for reading!

25 Feb 2016

Tea Tasting: Organic Yunnan Black Moonlight

Yunnan, the epicentre of darkness! (At least on a tea level). While with Pu Erh, it includes the main (but not only!) production region for the fermented Chinese black tea, 黑茶 (hēichá), called dark tea in the west, Yunnan produces other teas as well, most of them being are still quite dark. I'm now speaking of the western black tea, which in China is called red tea, 紅茶 (hóngchá).

Confusion goes on as this organic Yunnan Black Moonlight is infact a Pu Erh tea, but not a black tea, rather a red tea. And it's not only from this region, but also made of the typical old trees' big leaves.

Concerning the name, I heard somewhere that it's actually harvested under the moonlight, but that sounds sort of made up to me, especially considering that it's not even bushes but high trees to pluck from. So I'll give you the more reasonable story: The Bai Hao Oolong-like white tips, of which many can be found in this tea, make it seem like bright moonlight shines onto the leaves laying in the night's darkness. They also leave back quite a lot of golden fuzz in the tin, lovely!

The Gaiwan I chose to use is a bit headstrong with its red-orange ornaments. Obviously it has a good symbolic fit with red tea, but the tint of the painting doesn't really match any of my other wares. Having the rest of the setting comply with it, I managed to house it though.

Hence, my Chaxi consists of black and earth tones with a lovely bamboo scroll, coasters in different shades and shapes of black and my animalistic Zisha tea pet, Jin Chan, who keeps tabs on my brewing. Jin Chan, also known as the Money Toad, is said to bring luck and prosperity when arriving on full moon. The moon was indeed full in the night before I drank this tea, and its name even supports it. So when if not then should Jin Chan appear! As for the teaware itself, I chose a plain white pitcher I recently got quite cheap, and a nice clay cup which is glazed white on the inside.

I put a good amount of the handsome leaves in the hot Gaiwan and do a very short first brew. Intense colour right away, as you would expect. The lid smells after flowers, and a bit malty. Neat.

The dark caramel red liquor perfectly joins the colour palette. The floral aroma can be tasted as a chary sweetness. There's also this very small malt portion again. Malty taste is an interesting subject I think. If it's too present, I normally dislike it, but it can really add something if it's "well dosed", as it is in this tea.

Well done, Yunnan.

Going on, this drink starts quenching a thirst I didn't even know I had. Addicting! Somewhere in the middle, I even believe to sense some creaminess.

Overall, Black Moonlight is a very gentle and smooth red tea. It has no bitterness at all and is very pleasing, similar to a good shu/ripe or well aged sheng/raw Pu Erh (Pu Erh now understood as the common generalised term for black/dark tea).

The furry surface is still visible after brewing.

Thanks for reading!