Friday, July 18, 2008

Iced tea at the Beijing Olympics?

It's hot in Beijing these days and likely to stay that way through next month's olympics. Olympic officials plan to serve a tea drink to volunteers to keep them cool, the English language site Window of China reports: Millions of volunteers will battle high temperatures during the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics. Fortunately for them, the volunteers will be able to use traditional Chinese tea to cool themselves, thanks to the Chinese Traditional Medicine Association.
The website shows a pitcher of tea described as containing honeysuckle, ebony, green tea. The "ebony" could be a translation issue from black tea, which is sometimes called red tea, although aged teas such as pu-er and liubao seem to be called black tea. The ebony tree is not native to China and is probably not part of the traditional medicine. Good for piano keys though.
I wonder whether they'll serve them over ice, or just chilled? Iced tea is a Western concept. I've never seen it served in China. Bottles of sweetened green tea are the rage, however. I'll try to track down a taste of the Olympic honeysuckle tea on my trip there in September.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chinese tea in mental health study

A study in the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that older ethnic Chinese residents of Singapore who drank tea regularly suffered less mental impairment and decline than non-tea drinkers. This article on the study doesn't narrow down the teas too much, but says they were drinking black and oolong teas, including some non-Chinese teas. Interestingly, the tea drinkers were more socially and physically active, less often depressed, and here's the kicker: also drank more alcohol. Since alcohol is a depressant and at least a temporary source of mental impairment, it makes me wonder how sharp these senior tea drinkers would be if they laid off the sauce. Or maybe they drink the tea to fight the hangover.
Seriously, it's another study showing the health benefits of tea. And this time, it's not green tea getting the good press.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pu'er, the official tea of the Beijing Olympics

Not sure whether it's because of the Coca Cola sponsorship, or despite it, but the 2008 summer games will have an official tea, pu-er.
I guess that may expose new people to the delights of pu'er. But on the other hand, it takes a tea with age-old tradition and makes it seem like just another McDonalds french fry. No word on the quality of the tea, but the official Olympic site points out that the tea's being released in limited quantity "only" 50,000 units of each of several types of pu'er.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More monkey stuff

I'm back from China with some new thoughts on monkeys and tea. We drank some fabulous green Monkey Tea in Anhui. This is not the monkey-picked tea mentioned in my previous post, but probably the least famous of the famous teas of China: Taiping Houkui Tea.
This tea has crazy, long stiletto leaves and produces a sweet smooth broth with a bright color. It grows in almost the same regions at Mao Feng, but is very different. It would be an exaggeration to say Mao Feng was the classical violinist and Houkui was the punk rock sister, but not completely wrong. The tea's original region near Yellow Mountain, Houkeng, is similar in name to the Chinese word for monkey, and so the tea became known as monkey tea.
Monkey tea is made from a bud and one or two leaves, but they are amazingly long leaves. It's different, but very good. Maybe even great.
Monkey-picked is just a euphamism for high-altitude tea. All authentic Houkui monkey tea grows above 700 meters. It all gets confusing. Houkui is a traditional, exceptional tea. Monkey-picked is marketing hype.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Not long after I started drinking Chinese tea, I came across a can of Monkey Picked Tea in the local Asian grocery store.
The marketing material skirted the issue, but made no claim that the contents had been picked by simians. I've since come across two versions of the legends behind the monkeys. One is that Buddhist monks trained monkeys to climb trees and pick wild tea leaves.
Another version is that there was a village where the locals would incite the monkeys in tea trees. The irate critters would throw handfuls of leaves at the people.
I tend to suspect that the tea historians are correct who say it's just a metaphor for tea picked on steep hills and mountain tops.
The interesting thing is that the most common references today are to "monkey picked tie guan yin." Since tie guan yin has since the beginning come from domestic plants, cultivated bushes, it seems like marketing hooey.
Someone's selling a cheap wholesale Monkey Picked Tea that's turning up on many websites with the claim that it's actually picked by monkeys.
For starters, given most monkeys' love for scratching their butts and picking lice from their girlfriends' heads, I wouldn't drink anything picked by a monkey. But I guess some people think it'll induce suckers to spend big on cheap tea. A lot of the claims sound like the telling of urban legends: It's true because it was my cousin's neighbor's grandmother.
Established site offers this nonsense with their monkey-butt-picked tea:
"Nowadays the practice of monkeys picking tea has all but died out, except in one small remote village where they still continue this remarkable tradition."
Notice how they don't know the name of the village.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Slim chance

Interesting article on black tea mimicing insulin and the possible implications for diabetes in the Also in there is an update on the latest nonsense over Chinese slimming teas:

Recently, tea's battle to retain its supremacy has been aided by a string of celebrity endorsements. Victoria Beckham is said to drink Pu-erh tea, a type of black tea, for its slimming benefits. It is also believed to boost metabolism, reduce blood pressure and flush the body of toxins. Supermodels Kate Moss – who is said to drink 12 cups a day – and Claudia Schiffer have publicly backed the beverage.

Mover over Wulong Slimming Tea. Soon we can expect email spam for Pu'er, Pu'erh, Pu-ehr or however you care to spell it. I've been known to drink 12 cups of Pu'er in a day and nobody ever accused me of Kate Mossish anorexia. I guess I got a little cardio workout making all those trips to the bathroom.
Can't we just drink pu'er because it tastes so good?
(Today's post fueled by the mystery tea in the pic to the right.)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Thirsty Chinese?

This one cracks me up. We had a story in the newspaper the other day about how the Chinese appetite for cheese and flour was driving up the price of pizza in the US.
This story in the British Times Online blames Chinese tea consumption for the rise in the price of tea in England. Didn't the US oil companies blame the Chinese for their excess profits, uh, I mean rising cost of gas?

“Tea will be a bull market in 2008,” Kaison Chang, of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said. “The fundamentals have changed and consumers are likely to see price rises” ...
... (The FAO) also highlighted China's surging appetite for black tea, a factor that tea buyers say could trigger another market shock. After a 13 per cent increase in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, Chinese tea consumption surpassed that of India for the first time. In particular, buyers say that Chinese consumers have developed a taste for Pu-erh, a type of black tea that is fermented for up to three weeks, renowned for its “musty” taste and is marketed as a slimming aid.

So 'splain this to me again. The Chinese are drinking more Pu'er, so the price of the Brits' Kenyan black is going up? Pu'er's never been a big export tea so it's got no bearing on British imports. Somebody at the UN is smoking something and it's not tea.
And while we're at it, does anyone but me get tired of hearing Pu'er described as "musty" or "dirty?" Sounds like the Times Online reporter is drinking cheap pu. I had a fine cup or two or six this morning that was neither musty nor dirty. Not even really earthy. Just smooth and mellow and flavorful.
(This post powered by pu'er)

Tourist traps

I've been meaning to start this blog -- dedicated to Chinese tea -- and when I saw this article form the Tapei Times this morning I thought "what better time?"

TAIWAN -- Mar. 1, 2008 Two tea dealers based in Chiayi County were convicted of fraud yesterday for conning Chinese tourists into buying their tea leaves at unreasonably high prices.
Judges at the Chiayi District Court said Wang Cheh-chien, 51, a tea dealer based in Leyeh Village, Alishan Township, was discovered to have purchased ordinary tea leaves that were machine-harvested from tea fields in low-lying areas in Nantou County since July 2005.
He paid between NT$160 and NT$450 per 600g and then, after simply processing and packaging the product, sold the tea leaves to visiting Chinese tourists at more than 10 times the price he paid -- between NT$4,000 and NT$8,000 per 600g.
Wang presented the leaves as hand-picked Oolong tea originating from the Alishan mountains.
Forty-five percent of the proceeds from the sales were paid to travel agents as commission for bringing the Chinese tourists to his shop, the judges said.

I don't see anything about charges against the tour guides.

(This post powered by Maosheng loose Liubao 5622)