In Zen and Japanese Culture, DT Suzuki asked, “Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space?” The beginning of a new year is a great time to transcend December’s madness into a more calm and re-energizing realm. With so many meals and treats to be had, many people seek to keep their newly –made resolutions by opting for healthier alternatives to the wines and spirits they’ve consumed in the holiday months. A rejuvenating choice for a beverage is none other than green tea. With a variety of forms and flavors, green tea is packed with long-purported health benefits, and is a great mood booster.
Green tea, though offered in a variety of formats, is derived solely from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. The leaves are minimally oxidized, which means that the leaves are left in a temperature controlled room to darken, which releases and breaks down the chlorophyll within. This process is stopped quickly with the application of some type of heat, either with steam (as in Japanese teas), or dry cooking (as in Chinese teas). In some cases the leaves are rolled into pellets to make Gunpowder green teas, which is a very time consuming and painstaking process. Green teas are primarily produced in China and Japan, though Kenya and various other countries are becoming a formidable force in the tea world.
With its consumption dating back over 4000 years with legendary Chinese origins, green tea has been used not only as a beverage but also as a form of traditional medicine. The healthful “ancient Chinese secret,” if you will, lies in the fact that green tea is chock full of the powerful antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). According to many health studies, EGCG not only slows the growth of cancer cells, but actually kills them off without harming healthy tissues. The EGCG also provides benefits to the digestive tract, lowering cholesterol and also tempers blood clot formation. It does have a minimal amount of caffeine, which allows for a little bit of a mood boosting effect, too, without the common peak and crash of coffee.
Despite a clear list of benefits backing generous green tea drinking, it is still hard to know where to start when contemplating delving into this truly special drink class. There is a profound difference between Chinese and Japanese teas alone, not to mention the myriads of flavor varieties available from Kenya, India and other regions. Chinese green teas are allowed to dry naturally in the sun before they are steamed or roasted in pans, whereas Japanese teas are for the most part steamed or pan fired. The Chinese Gunpowder green tea is withered, steamed, rolled, and then dried. It has a smoky flavor profile, almost like sipping a cup of campfire. Japan’s Gyokuro tea is a shade-grown tea and offers a light pale green infusion that is bright and sweet. Sencha tea, or “decocted tea,” is the most-consumed tea in Japan, with a floral yet neutral profile, and jasmine tea offers a heady and special treat. Genmaicha, with its bursts of roasted brown rice, is a wonderful tea if one is to look to shed a few extra pounds in January, as the toasted rice serves as a filling agent for the stomach. Japanese Matcha is a finely milled tea made from the same shade-grown leaves of Gyokuro, and has been increasingly popular within the past couple of years. Easily dissolved into water, or into a smoothie or even sprinkled onto cereal, it offers the entire leaf and stem pulverized together, allowing for maximum antioxidant content. Liquid Planet offers a wonderful Matcha Latté, which simply substitutes premium matcha for the latté’s coffee, with an added whirl of honey & sweet vanilla drizzled into the steamed milk. In addition, there is a fine selection of teas that can be purchased as a pot of tea, for those who would like to try a wide selection of green teas without being committed to one particular type.
It is also helpful to mention that though not an absolute necessity in preparing and drinking one’s tea, it is recommended to find a vessel that will bring out the best profile of the green tea itself. Much like having a variety of wine glasses to enhance various properties within wine, it can be said that some glasses and teapots can do the same with green tea. Glass teapots are great if you like watching the magic “agony of the leaves” as the leaves unfurl within the hot water in steeping. Ceramic teapots and mugs have natural heat-retention properties, low seepage and brew the leaves quickly. Unglazed and Yixing teapots are wonderful if you love to drink one particular type of tea. Much like cast-iron, a Yixing teapot or mug becomes “seasoned” with each cup of tea that is steeped, gradually enhancing more notes and profiles in the teas. Glazed ceramic mugs and teapots are terrific for those who like a variety of tea profiles. Liquid Planet has a wonderful selection of all three types of vessels, including a vast array of Yixing Pots and exquisitely handcrafted glazed ceramic mugs made in Montana by the wonderful Briney clan. I was fortunate enough to be gifted with one of these mugs, and on a delighted note, I saw that there was actually a thumb rest on the top of each mug’s handle, which is not only incredibly beautiful, but also incredibly functional.
With the start of 2013, go ahead and resolve that you will take the time to ‘swallow the universe’ and do something good for yourself, whether it is sipping your Sencha in a unique handcrafted mug or enjoying a delightfully rejuvenating Matcha Latté. If you’ve fallen in love with green tea and absolutely must try as much as you can get your hands on, Liquid Planet also offers a stunning selection of bulk teas from all around the globe, conveniently bringing the world to your doorstep. In the beautiful words of T’ien Yieheng, “Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world.” We encourage you to indulge in your cup of serenity as you hunker down for the Montana winter months. Salud!