Samui Wining & Dining
Green T

Maybe it’s time to ‘think green’ when it comes to your daily cuppa.

 Maybe it’s time to ‘think green’ when it comes to your daily cuppa.It’s something the Brits have made an institution of – a nice cup of tea! In fact, some of us can barely function without our morning cuppa. And it’s the green variety that, while sold in the supermarkets back home, few of us have actually tried, or appreciated. And yet it’s been drunk for thousands of years, for very good reasons.

Tea plants were first thought to have been grown in Yunnan Province in southern China. From there they spread to other parts of Asia that had the right soil type and climate. Emperor Shen Nong was reputed to have originated the custom of drinking tea around 2,700 BC. Cha Jing (The Book of Tea), written by the scholar Lu Yu in 760 AD, recounts Shen Nong’s efforts to discover the medicinal effects of over 300 varieties of roots, grass and tree barks. Legend has it that he would try all of them on himself first, and whenever he ingested something poisonous, he would cleanse himself by eating tea leaves. It seems certain that tea leaves were initially eaten as a medicine

long before tea became a popular drink. In fact, there are still some hill tribes in southern China, Thailand and northern Myanmar that eat pickled tea leaves. And it was only in recent times that they were aware that a drink could be brewed from the same leaves!

Tea eventually arrived in Japan from China, brought back by Buddhist monks sent there as missionaries. Around 1191 tea really took hold in Japan with the return of the Zen priest Eisai (1141-1215). He introduced a new way of drinking tea which was known as the ‘matcha style’. Eisai encouraged the cultivation of tea trees, and his ‘kissa yojoki’ (health benefits of tea) tied tea-drinking to longevity, and launched the custom on a large scale. It’s said that, nowadays, the very best green tea comes from China and Japan, although it’s also cultivated in Taiwan, Australia and Thailand. Traditional processing methods are still used, and green tea can be classified into five categories.

First of all there’s Stir-fry Green Tea, where the fresh leaves are sautéed in a pan for drying. Examples are Gunpowder Tea, Young Hyson and Chunmee; all characterised by a high fragrance and a strong taste. Then there’s Roast Green Tea, where the leaves are dried in a roast-chest with the resulting tea being flower-scented. These include Huangshan and Taiping, amongst others. A third style combines roasting and stir-frying with types such as Jianzhai Emerald Eyebrow and Anji Baicha. Sun-dried is another category, using natural sunlight and Steamed Green Tea is processed just as you might imagine.

Green tea, like black tea, is made from the leaves of the plant camellia sinensis. The difference is that green tea is unfermented and the leaves remain green as oxidation has been prevented, and the active substances within the leaves retain their properties. Black teas are made from fermented leaves and, as a result, have less nutritional and enzyme content than green tea.

For the connoisseur, green tea is as varied and unique as wine. And as valued for its health-giving properties as much as for its flavour. Certainly, the Chinese have long used it to treat everything from rheumatism to headaches, anxiety and depression. And today there’s an avalanche of contemporary scientific research in both Asia and the West that’s providing hard evidence to support the perceived medicinal benefits. A study done in 1994 by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicated that drinking green tea reduced the risk of cancer of the oesophagus in Chinese men and women by nearly 60%. And researchers at the University of Purdue in the US concluded that unique compounds (catechins and flavonoids) in green tea inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Current research also indicates that drinking green tea lowers total cholesterol levels.

Dutch researchers have found that women who drink more than five cups of green tea daily had a lower risk of arteriosclerosis. And Japanese studies have determined that catechins can inactivate the influenza virus, and inhibit the activity of the AIDS virus. It’s also been demonstrated that it can kill severe strains of food poisoning bacteria, including staphylococcus, clostridium and botulus. It’s also a good treatment for diarrhoea.

Evidence also suggests that green tea can even help dieters. In 1999, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the results of a study performed at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Here they found that men who were given a combination of caffeine and green tea extract burned more calories than those given only caffeine or a placebo. Green tea is also effective as a glucose regulator, meaning that it slows down the body’s rise in blood sugar levels following the consumption of a meal. A further study published in the same journal, in January 2005, indicated that a beverage rich in catechins leads to both a lowering of body fat and of cholesterol. Additionally, green tea can help prevent tooth decay due to its bacteria-destroying abilities. And skin preparations containing green tea, from deodorants to creams, are starting to appear on the market including those that purportedly reverse the loss of hair! But hey, bald is beautiful!

In culinary terms, chefs have found a number of ways to incorporate green tea into their recipes, from soups to sauces and marinades, as well as desserts. Easy everyday recipes can now be found in a number of publications, including green tea dips, Jasmine green tea poundcake with ginger, green tea sorbets, fruit juice combinations and yoghurts.

With so many benefits and methods of ingesting it would seem wise to try it out. There are even decaffeinated varieties on the market, and types infused with lemon, apple, peach and a host of other flavours. And, after all, more than a billion Chinese can’t be wrong, can they!

          

Rob De Wet


 


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