Archive for the ‘tea’ Category

Which Grow Light Is Best For My Indoor Tea or Coffee Garden

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

So, if you’ve read my last post, you might now be thinking of starting your own coffee garden. Or, similarly, you might want a tea garden. Also you’ve likely deduced that you can’t grow this outside, because of the climate in your area.

If that is not the case, you are lucky. You live in an area with a good climate for growing tea or coffee, so you can grow outdoors. This will naturally present a bunch of additional problems that you wouldn’t have when growing indoors, but you also avoid a lot of problems, like the need for artificial lighting and for watering.

Places where you might be able to grow outdoors in the US include the South and, of course, Hawaii. Hawaii actually already has a pretty good tea growing reputation. There’s a fairly good oolong tea being grown on the slopes of Hawaii. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the climate in Hawaii is fairly similar to the climate in the mountains of southern China, where the world’s most famous oolong teas come from. Similarly, Taiwan has that same kind of climate. It is the other area with famous oolong teas.

Anyway, if you are one of the ones having to grow indoors, then the rest of this post is for you. You will want to get some artificial lighting. And we will discuss which ones are the best for this.

Since tea does not need to flower and the same is true of coffee, you can stick to fluorescent lighting. It is cheaper and it generally gives you enough output to foster plant growth, but not enough to really get plants flowering well. Again, since tea and coffee plants don’t need to bloom, fluorescent lights are great. If you have a large garden, however, then you need a lot of fluorescent lights, which will cost a lot in terms of power costs and bulb changes. They also generate quite a bit of heat.

HID lighting is another option, but this generates even more heat and uses even more power. Overall it is more efficient than fluorescent lighting, though, so it makes more sense for a larger garden.

HID lighting is further split up into high-pressure sodium and metal halide lighting. High-pressure sodium lighting has a lot of red spectrum light and is great for flowering and blooming. For tea and coffee you do not need this, so you can go ahead and forget about these bulbs. There is no point in buying them.

Metal halide lighting has a spectrum similar to fluorescent and to the daylight sun. It has more blue light and is perfect for vegging plants. A good metal halide system would work wonderful for a larger tea or coffee garden.

If you can afford it, you might want to go with LED grow lights. They are much more expensive to purchase, but they use far less power and emit far less heat. For this reason they are much cheaper to operate.

Again, for a small garden it wouldn’t make as much sense. You could get one LED grow light fixture, but you might as well just get a fluorescent light. But if your garden is larger, you can save a lot of money. I would recommend one of the more cost-effective, but not one of the cheaper brands.

There are some cheaper ones that just won’t work well. While they do veg decently, if anything goes wrong you’ll have trouble getting it replaced. I would definitely recommend going with a more reputable company. You do not need to get the most powerful and most expensive ones, however.

A brand like platinum LED would be perfect for this. Their line of advanced platinum LED lights are cheaper than other similar lights, but they are are still high quality and would work excellently for this function.

advanced platinum led grow light

These are the lights I would consider getting. They have six different wattages and something in the middle might be best, but it really depends on the size of your indoor garden. You can find a lot more info on the advanced platinum line of lights here.

So whatever light you go for, it will cost you some money. But if you do a good job with your tea you can sell that tea for money and make your expenses back. And even if you just drink all the tea yourself, you should still be able to make it back, since you won’t have to buy any more tea. But ideally, your tea will be very high quality and you can sell it for a pretty good price. Good luck with the growing!

In Defense of Black Tea

Monday, July 13th, 2015

“What do you mean you don’t take milk in your tea, you’re British!” And so I start with another lengthy explanation about how, believe me, I’d love a ‘builders brew’ (that’s a strong cup of tea to anyone outside the UK) but the thought of milk in my tea sends me a bit, well, green actually.

cup of black tea without milk

A strong cup of black tea with no milk. Just the way it should be.

Like most Brits I consider any time of day apt for a cup of tea – and depending on my mood, I might even venture in to the world of “funny teas” as my Dad likes to call them. By that, he means anything that isn’t filled with semi-skimmed milk and two sugars.

Mainly though, good old black tea is how I start – and continue – my day. I’ve not had milk in my tea for nearly two years now and I’ve learned I need to wait, on average, eight minutes after brewing before it’s suitable to drink. While that may sound really anal, lessons from thousands of burned lips and sore tongue episodes say otherwise.

Not everyone does their brews like Britain. It’s the stuff of stereotypical legend, UK holiday makers flocking to
the beaches of Spain, armed with pasty bodies, tanning oil and tea bags because life just isn’t worth living without a good cup of tea. Although I must point out I’ve never taken tea bags on holiday. Yet.

Most destinations are for coffee lovers. Think Italian espresso, American styrofoam cups to go, Spanish cafe con leche. These are places where late nights are obligatory and a short, sharp caffeine injection is needed to get through the hour, not just the morning. Let’s face it, a lot of places just don’t ‘get’ tea.

So why did I step away from a milky cuppa in favour of a dark, inky, boiling brew? Blame Spain. Yes, it’s all Spain’s fault. Salamanca in fact. I’d been teaching and touring my way through Spain two summers ago, when three weeks in to my trip I realised, shockingly, I’d not had a cup of tea thus far. Just loads of red wine. (OK, and a coffee at breakfast). I practically ran to the nearest adorable cafe for an al fresco tea.

Five minutes later, it arrives and I’m actually pitifully excited. This may have also been to do with the cake that was alongside it. I painstakingly made sure I didn’t put too much milk in my cup in case the tea wasn’t strong enough. (It usually isn’t when it’s Lipton yellow label, ubiquitous tea of choice in Europe). The colour looked good, so I dived right in.

Eeeeugh! What on earth…? To my shock and horror, I’d only been given hot milk. Hot milk and tea. There is
actually nothing worse in the world. No, seriously. I’ve got no idea what happens to the tea when you add hot milk, but it basically turns a refreshing beverage in to liquid poison. Which is weird, because a spicy, milky chai is beautiful. But a normal, run of the mill tea bag is, well, just plain wrong.

To make matters worse, it’s apparently common practice in Spain to do that, unless you specifically ask for cold milk. Which makes me think there are people all over the county actually drinking this stuff on purpose. Which can’t be right.

It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been scarred for life. I tried a couple more cuppas – with cold milk – on my travels, but they were all insipid, not to mention slightly grey in both colour and taste. Upon returning home I just couldn’t face it, I gave up black tea altogether in favour of herbal varieties. I’d even carry a couple in my bag so that I wouldn’t be caught out at friends’ houses. Or have to explain my slightly pathetic tea trauma. Until one morning, slightly worse
for wear, when the cupboards were empty, that I had no choice: I’d have to have an English Breakfast tea if I
was to make it through my morning emails.

I think I over-brewed – it was more like a tea soup than a cup of tea. But over the next few tea breaks, I stuck with it, dunking the bag in the cup less and less until I had a perfect strength to taste ratio. And you know what? I’d forgotten what a lovely taste tea has. Slightly nutty, earthy and fresh. Something that I never tasted when I drank it with milk.

Yes, I have to bleach my mugs more often (Tea stains are a bugger to get out) but I wouldn’t trade it for the masked milky taste of brews gone by.

Black tea also has a ton of health benefits, something that gets lost in all the hype surrounding green tea (and, these days, coffee). Check out this lifehacker article for more.

The Difference Between Black Tea and Green Tea

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Although there are actually four main types of tea, the two big power houses are green tea and black tea. Traditionally in the western world, black tea is the mainstay, accounting for well over 70% of our brewing. However, green tea has long been common in
Eastern societies and is rapidly gaining momentum in the west. This brief guide points out the main differences between the two, so you’ll always have the perfect cup, no matter what.

 

Where they come from?

All tea comes from the same place, which originally was China. Since then it’s been exported to Japan, India and the Himalayas. The best green tea, though, is usually Chinese. If they’re the same plant, then what’s the difference? The two big differences come from when the tea is picked and what happens after.

Green tea is the younger of the two, and picked early in the spring season for freshness. The idea is to keep the youth and its freshness in the taste. You ‘wither’ the leaves to dry them out a little, usually done on bamboo in the sun (makes me a little jealous!). The leaves are then heated to stop oxidation and keep them fresh and juicy. This can sometimes be done with a wok or steam. It also serves to help to roll the leaves easier.

Rolling the leaves locks in the oils, flavours and smells of the tea so when it’s plunged in to hot water, it comes alive again. Black tea is made in a very similar way. The first main difference is the leaves stay on the plant longer and can be picked more often during the year. They go through the same drying process, only they’re usually left out to bake more and dry out. After the rolling part, the leaves are put in a room with oxygen – this is oxidation. It does something magical to the leaves and gives then their dark colour and more robust flavour.

black tea leaves

Curled black tea leaves

 

And now, for the science bit

The chemical process that darkens the leaves also changes the chemical structure. This changes the health benefits of each tea, but only slightly. Both types of leaves have powerful health boosting agents called antioxidants. In green tea, they are a simpler structure, due to the immature leaves. What’s best to drink then?

Honestly, it’s about personal preference. Although the structure is different, the actual level of health promoting goodness is similar in both types of tea. The only variation comes from how fresh your tea is—with both teas, the fresher the better. What do antioxidants do?

Antioxidants are chemical compounds found in loads of the healthy food we eat (and in some good stuff like wine and chocolate). They’re basically disease-fighting ninjas that help protect your body from so called ‘free radicals’ that are caused by nasty things such as smoking. And too much exercise. In fact, general modern living. Antioxidants in tea have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and help lower cholesterol.

 

In the green room

Health wise, green tea ticks all the boxes. As well as promoting good cholesterol, it keeps bad cholesterol in check. It’s brilliant for the immune system as it acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. It literally soothes from inside. It also has antibacterial features—very cool—and can even help reduce blood clot formation. Lately it’s been the subject of a number of studies to do with weight loss. Although the jury is still out on whether it’ll get you into small jeans, there’s no doubt that drinking green tea keeps you refreshed, reduces your caffeine, dairy and sugar in take all while promoting good health from the inside.

Buying Matcha Green Tea Online

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

I get a lot of questions from readers asking me where to buy tea online. Generally, they ask me about specific teas and the one question they ask more than any other is where to buy matcha green tea. When it comes to buying matcha, my first answer is always, “go to Japan and get it there.”

matcha green tea

A cup of matcha green tea

Of course, that is a bit of a sarcastic answer and perhaps a bit mean-spirited, but it is the truth. The best green tea powder is found in Japan and everything you get outside that country doesn’t even come close. Unfortunately, most people are not able to simply hop on a plane to Japan just to buy some tea. For these people, the best option is to buy from an online tea vendor.

Some people may live close to a specialty tea store, if they are in a big city and are extremely lucky and that tea store might carry high quality tea. If it does, great. You might pay a bit more than you would ordering tea online, but you have the advantage of being able to taste your tea before you buy it.

The rest of us need to use online tea shops. The problem with this is that there are so many tea stores to be found on the internet and the quality ranges from excellent to absolute crap. This is especially true with matcha. And because the stores are online, you can obviously not taste the tea as you could in a brick-and-mortar store. Some of these online shops offer sample sizes, though. You’ll have to pay for them, at least in most cases, but the sample tea packs are usually pretty cheap and are a great way to get a good idea of the quality of the store’s selection.

Once you’ve tried a sample of a tea and have found it to your liking, you can begin ordering larger quantities. Of course, if you find a sample of one type of tea to be great, that does not mean that other types offered by that tea shop are also great. Some tea shops have a few good quality teas and a whole bunch of crap. Because of this, I recommend ordering sample sizes of any tea you plan on eventually buying in larger quantities.

I realize this seems like a lot of work, but it is worth it when you find a great supplier who will always provide you with excellent quality teas, especially high quality green tea powder. I know there are many review sites on the internet that you could use, but tastes differ, so you might not like something that a reviewer loved and vice versa. On top of that, many of those reviewers get commissions when you purchase a tea they recommend, so you don’t really know who you can trust. Is a reviewer giving a glowing review to that Japanese green tea you are considering because he loves it or because he gets 20% of the sale price every time someone makes a purchase based on his recommendation? That is a question you need to ask yourself and it is the reason I prefer to try samples of every tea I plan on buying more of in the future.

Matcha Green Tea Powder is the Healthiest Drink of All

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

The coffee versus tea debate can go on forever and probably will do just that, but when it comes to the question of which drink is healthier, there’s a clear-cut answer. Of course, that answer is not as clear-cut as most people would believe. Tea is probably healthier than coffee in general, but the difference is much smaller than you might think. That is not true, however, when it comes to matcha green tea.

cup of matcha

A cup of matcha green tea

Matcha is a powdered form of green tea from Japan. The powder is made from the whole leaves of the highest quality tea plants. The plants are shade-grown, which means there are more nutrients in the leaves already and when you add in the fact that with this tea the whole leaves are consumed, instead of just the essence, it is easy to understand why this tea is the healthiest of all. Here’s a great website with more information on matcha green tea powder.

This powdered form of green tea is becoming much more popular these days. That said, most people in the west don’t even drink it. The brewing process is relatively complicated and involved and requires a number of specialized implements, making it difficult to prepare a perfect cup for the average person. And when this tea is brewed incorrectly, does not taste very good to most people. Thus, it makes sense that very few people outside of Japan, or maybe China, even try brewing this type of tea. If you’d like to give it a shot, here’s a video showing you how to prepare matcha:

Luckily for those who don’t want to bother with the difficult preparation, matcha can be eaten just as easily as it can be drunk. In fact, many recipes in Japan call for the addition of green tea powder. It goes very well with sweet things, so it is mostly used in desserts. It is commonly added to ice cream or to cake batter or cookie dough or any other baked product. But it doesn’t even have to be added into the dough or batter. You can simply sprinkle the powder over just about anything. In this way, you can use it as a topping for salads or for any kind of desserts or even for drinks, both alcoholic or nonalcoholic.

Perhaps the most famous thing made with matcha in the west comes from Starbucks: they have a latte drink made with this tea powder. That said, this drink is pretty terrible. Most of the health benefits of the tea or nullified by the ridiculously high sugar content. I would stay away from this thing and just make my own.

One question I get very often from people interested in trying matcha is where it can be purchased. Outside of specialty tea shops in large cities, it can be very difficult to find good quality green tea powder. Luckily, in the age of the internet, you can buy just about anything online. And this stuff is no exception. A number of online tea retailers sell matcha and this is my favorite way to buy this tea or any tea, really. Given the large number of tea stores online, it can be a little difficult to know which tea shop is the best, so here’s a website that reviews and compares some of the top online tea vendors and is an invaluable resource for anyone looking to buy tea online.

I hope you’ll forgive me this little interjection in the coffee versus tea debate, but I simply don’t think it’s fair to even have this debate until you’ve tried some of the best teas and the best coffees. You want to compare the best of both worlds, not the average drinks or the bad ones. And matcha green tea powder is one of the best teas available. Many people believe it is the best tea, period. So find your favorite online tea store, buy some of this tea and give it a try.

Video on the Tea vs. Coffee Debate

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Here’s an interesting video I found on Youtube that compares the health benefits of tea and the benefits of coffee. Will it put to rest the tea vs. coffee debate? I doubt it. But it’s informative and worth a watch.

The Health Benefits of Drinking Tea

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

This was a bit easier to write than the article on coffee, because it requires no research. The benefits of tea have become such common knowledge that most of us can list them in our sleep. The only difficulty is that there is a new benefit announced seemingly daily, so I suppose it does take a bit of research to figure out what the newest benefits are. Either way, let’s look at some of the more common health benefits of tea.

 

cup of white tea

A cup of healthy white tea

Tea helps fight cancer. That’s the big one that everyone is aware of. Tea is loaded with antioxidants, which combat free radicals, preventing cell damage. Because of this tea has also become a common ingredient in skin care products, as the high concentration of antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory ingredients make it very effective in fighting UV damage and other skin damage. Similarly, tea is now being added to hair products.

Like coffee, tea is also said to help prevent Parkinson’s disease. Green tea’s phytochemicals protect the neurons that create dopamine in the brain. This dopamine helps combat Parkinson’s. Also like coffee, tea helps fight heart disease, although how it does it is a bit different. Catechins in the tea help prevent hardening of the arteries. This also helps reduce the risk of stroke, but even if a stroke does occur, tea has you covered. It has tannins that help reduce the brain damage after a stroke or other brain injuries.

Another study has shown that drinking tea can significantly increase insulin production. Unfortunately this benefit doesn’t last long, so you have to drink quite a bit of tea to get it. You also have to forgo the milk, as it has a negative effect on this benefit.

Drinking tea is also said to help with weight loss. Not only does it lower the body fat content, but also blood pressure and bad cholesterol. Tea is also linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. The problem here is that tea has an adverse affect when combined with certain chemotherapy drugs, so doctors will often warn cancer patients against drinking it.

Overall, people who drink 3 to 6 cups of tea day are 45% less likely to die of heart disease. Drinking 10 cups per day apparently protects against liver disorders, although it’s hard to imagine most people drinking so much of it and I also recently read an article about a woman who drank ridiculous amounts of tea every day and ended up dying from liver damage, so take this one with a grain of salt.

Drinking one cup or more per day is also said to help reduce gingivitis. This comes from a Japanese study and they would know; they drink a ton of tea. Finally, cool and damp teabags placed directly on the eyes reduce puffiness. I’ve seen people with cucumbers on their eyes but I’ve never seen teabags, so I guess this one is not yet common knowledge.

Most of these health benefits require further study, as is always the case, but you can be sure of one thing: tea is not bad for you. And neither is coffee. Drink them both, but as always, don’t overdo it. Everything in moderation, right?

For more on the health benefits of tea see:

  1. Web MD: Types of Teas and Their Health Benefits
  2. LA Times: Tea’s health benefits exist, but many claims remain cloudy
  3. NY Times: Tea index