Tea and Mindfulness

Tea, at its origin, was a medicine in ancient China. Celebrated through tea ceremonies throughout China and later, to other parts of Asia. The process of making tea, naturally slows us down. The act of putting water to the boil, waiting for the leaf to steep and then slowly sipping tea that is a little-too-hot to drink, shoulders in a window of time for pause, where nothing else matters. The very act of making and drinking tea can be mindful and meditative. Science is revealing more benefits of meditation than we had ever imagined from reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, increasing mental function and just making us all-round nicer human beings!

Below is a simple exercise to transform your next tea drinking experience into a powerful mindful experience:

1.     Start by eliminating as many distractions as possible (TV, screaming children, hungry cat etc.)

2.     Prepare your tea cup with your infuser or teapot. Pause for a moment and take in the sounds and smells of the dry leaf, the shadow your teapot is casting etc.

3.     Bring some water to a boil and take the kettle, cup and tea over to a quite space. Find a comfortable spot to sit.

4.     Place your hand on the kettle handle and the other on your tea cup and pause here for a moment closing your eyes. Take 3 deep breaths from the bottom of your stomach trying to think of nothing in particular other than being aware of what you are feeling and hearing. Try not to judge what you hear and feel. Simply acknowledge it as things happening to you.

5.     Slowly pour the water into your cup or teapot watching how the steam dances. Continue breathing deeply and from the bottom of your stomach.

6.     Holding the cup, focus on the warmth and continue taking long, purposeful breaths focusing on not thinking about anything other than observing and feeling.

When you have thoughts forming in your mind, visualize picking the thought out of your mind and throwing it into a river. Watch as it is washed away and return to the rhythm of your breathing.

7.     Continue taking slow and mindful sips of tea, coming back to your breath and concentrating on what you’re feeling and smelling.

The act of mindfulness doesn't need to be a daunting task task that requires levitating monks and yoga pants. It's often the most humble and basic of routines that can have most effect on our lives when transformed into a mindful activity.

Drinking-tea.jpg

Photo credit: Global Tea Hut. Special thanks to Wu De and the team at the Global Tea hut to first introducing us to tea meditation.

Tea Growing Regions of the World

Tea (camellia sinensis) is an evergreen plant that grows primarily in tropical and sub-tropical climates but some varieties can grow as far south as Tasmania and New Zealand or as far north as Canada. The plants prefer high rain fall regions and slightly acidic soils (like those found in volcanic areas).

It takes about 4 years from planting before harvesting can start at a commercial level. Left to nature, a tea plant can grow up to 16m tall. In many parts of China, there are still forests with ancient and large tea trees.

Tea plants are native to China and up to the mid 1800s, China was the only place growing tea commercially. A spy, Robert Fortune, working for England stole the tea plant from China in the mid-1800s and took it to Darjeeling, India where it has since been spread across the globe.

Australia produces some tea, the Impala + Peacock Genmaicha is sourced from a Victorian farm (under Japanese growing and production techniques) however the Australian climate tends to be very harsh, imparting a bitterness to many of the Australian grown teas. The Impala + Peacock Brunswick Breakfast incorporates some tea grown in northern NSW.

The chart below gives a great snap shot of where our tea comes from. It's clear to see that China still leads the way in tea production, curiously Japan produces only a very small amount of tea despite it's strong tea culture.

How to Pair Tea with Food

Pairing wine, cheese and tea is a growing area of culinary experience. A well paired cake or pasta takes a meal to the next level. We have seen more focus from the cafes that we support in pairing our teas to their menus. In one of our most recent tea blending courses, one of my students asked me what the art and science of pairing tea with food is all about.

There are 3 ways in which you can combine flavours (this can be applied more broadly beyond tea):

Pair by enhance

Use the tea to bring out something more subtle that exists in the food, enhancing the flavor. For example our Earl Grey tea has natural, organic bergamot (citrus) peel and oil blended into a black tea. When you know what you are looking for, the citrus can be spotted, but it is subtle.

Pairing Earl Grey with a lemon tart will enhance the citrus and be a delicate, implied association of flavors.

Pair by compliment

This is the easiest of food combinations where two of the same flavours are combined. Pairing our lemon myrtle and ginger with a lemon tart is the perfect example of this. The lemon from the lemon myrtle flavour with the lemon tart making a simple complementing strategy.

Pair by contrast

Pairing by contrasting flavours usually has a polarizing effect where one half of your dinner guests will love it, and the other half will say they love it, while secretly trying to get fluffy’s attention under the table to feed the dog your new mushroom-chocolate tart.

Lindt ventured into pairing by contrast when they created their sea salt chocolate and chocolate chili blocks. Our Monk’s Garden pu’erh tea pairs by contrast by combining an earthy pu’erh tea with lavender flowers and coconut.

Whatever the outcome, pairing food is a sure way to push your food skills and is have a bit of fun. As a starting guide we’ve recommended the following combinations with some of our most popular teas and tisanes:

Coconut Mint – Paired by enhancing to rice pudding

Lemon Myrtle + Ginger – Pair by complimenting with lemon sorbet (the temperature difference here makes for a pair by contrast in some ways as well)

Genmaicha Green – Pairs by enhancing a fried rice savory dish

Mint Variation – Pairs by contrast with a thick mud cake

Peacock Chai – Pair by enhancing with an Indian curry

How to Blend your Own Tea

Blending tea (or tisanes) is a fun way of exploring different tastes and making something unique and special. A personal blend can make an intimate gift to a friend or lover. It can meet your exact needs and tastes and it is easy and fun to do!

At Impala + Peacock we have been blending our own teas and tisanes since the beginning. Here are a few tips we've picked up along the way:

Ingredients:

Many things can be used for blends - be creative and adventurous (please use common sense at the same time as not everything is edible, do some research if unsure). Almost all spices, dried herbs and many flowers can work. A spice store or Indian supermarket are excellent places to begin or even your own garden. We strongly recommend using organic ingredients where possible as it's healthier and usually much stronger in flavour and aroma. Ensure that all the ingredients are dried.

Intent:

Decide what the intent of your blend is. Deciding on your intent will guide your choice of ingredients. A medicinal blend would be very different to a blend that is created to look and smell appealing. A caffeine free tisane would not use tea for a base whereas a pick-me-up blend would.

Ratios:

Some ingredients extract stronger than others (e.g. lavender, spices etc.). To avoid an unbalanced blend where one ingredient is over-powering, we recommend following a simple ratio of 70% "base" ingredients and 30% "heart" or "top note" ingredients (by volume not weight). A base ingredient is one that you would be able to have a whole pot of by itself. The base must not be over-powering but have enough complexity to combine the other ingredients together. Rooibos, tea (white, green, black etc.) and chamomile make great bases. Heart and top notes are those that offer more pronounced flavour that could overwhelm. Pepper, chili, lavender and lemon peel are all heart or top note ingredients.

Chai is a good example of a blend that follows this ratio; 70-80% of a chai is black tea and 20-30% is a mix of spices (ginger, cardamon, cloves, pepper, cinnamon etc.)

Integration

Consider how the ingredients would mix. If you select a base with large fluffy leaves (e.g. peppermint) and mix pepper into it, the small, dense pepper particles would likely drop to the bottom of the jar and result in a poorly mixed blend. This would require regular mixing and caution when spooning out the mix. This can be avoided by mixing ingredients together that have similar sized leaves or parts.

Other points

You may want to give some consideration to the temperatures at which the ingredients should steep at and ensuring that they are consistent. For example if a green tea is used as the base then the steep temperature would be limited to 75-80 C. Most herbs, flowers and spices will take high temperatures and will not burn and become bitter like tea leaves, however it's best to test each on a case-by-case basis if in doubt.

Lastly don't be overly caution. Have fun, explore and be prepared to try something new and different. You may just create your next favourite drink!

If you are looking for some help or want to expand your library of ingredients, we run one-on-one blending sessions in Brunswick, follow this link to find out more Blending Classes.

Exploring a Rare Japanese Green Tea

One of the rarest and most flavorsome green teas in the world is Japanese Guyokuro (pronounced "Guyo-Ku-ru" with the "Guyo" sounding more like a rapid "gooey").

Twenty days before harvest, the tea plants are covered in a thick cloth starving them from sunlight. In response the plants completely changes their leaf chemistry resulting in a completely different flavour.

Even more interestingly the change in chemistry results in a boost of chemicals called catechins. Gyokuro, in particular, has extremely high levels of catechins and has been studied extensively by scientists who have found that the particular catechins found in Guyokuro inhibits the growth of cancerous cells in humans. There is sound scientific evidence showing inhibition of leukemia, renal cancer, skin cancer, breast cancers, mouth cancers and prostate cancer (see note 1).

Guyokuro is also steeped at a much lower temperature than most green teas (60-70 C) and can be re-steeped 3-4 times without much loss of flavour intensity. The resulting liquor is fluorescent green in colour, herbaceous in flavour with strong umami (marine) tones.

You can order your Guyokuro online here.

Note 1: "Foods that Fight Cancer" by Professor Richard Beliveau and Dr. Denis Gingras is an excellent introduction-level book and looks at the anti-cancer properties of green tea in particular.

 

5 Rules for Making Great Iced Tea

With the weather warming, it’s time to start cooling down with iced tea!

There are 3 main ways to make iced tea; hot steep, cold steep and by making from a concentrate. I’ll be focusing primarily on the hot steep method and might cover the other two in later blog posts.

1.     Use more tea

Tea, when served cold, will lose intensity and flavor. To make a great iced tea you’ll need to increase the overall amount of leaf, about 1.5 – 2.0 times of what you would normally use. Be careful not to over-steep (if you don’t know what this means, look back at our brewing blog.

2.     Sweeten

Our taste buds have been trained to expect sweet things when eating chilled foods (think ice-cream and soda soft-drinks). Your cold infusion will probably need additional sweetening. Consider using agave, honey or good old sugar.

Tip: Don’t add honey to boiling water – it will break the honey down making it taste less sweet. Wait until the tea is warm to the touch and then stir in the honey.

3.     Cool in stages

Allow your tea to steep in peace while hot, resisting the urge to stuff your still-steeping and immature tea into the fridge prematurely. This way you can give your brewing tea all the attention that a steeping tea requires.

Once the steep is complete, remove the tea leaves and allow it to cool for an hour or so to approach ambient temperatures. Cover the container with glad-wrap (oxygen will ruin even an iced tea) and put it in the fridge. Cooling your tea too quickly can cause a cloudy mixture.

4.     Add-ons

Wait until just before serving to add in fresh fruit to have your iced tea looking fresh and lasting longer. Fresh fruit (like lemons, strawberry or limes) bring life, freshness and beauty to a delicious iced tea but chilling fruit in your iced tea for long periods of time will have your iced tea looking stale and sad (think apples left out for a few hours).

5.     Don’t compromise at the end!

If you’re using a quality tea, free from synthetic flavor enhancers don’t give it all up at the end by squirting in nasty lemon juice concentrate or an artificial sweetner syrup. There are plenty of natural, tasty options.

 

There are many great recipes on the web and some of our staples at our café are rooibos, mint and black teas (not breakfast tea but more exotic loose leaf teas). Drinking a tea chilled compared to hot is a completely different flavor experience, so make sure to test your tea before serving.

Something Special is Brewing

Impala + Peacock is excited to partner with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and Mary Eats Cake in their love for all things good.

We will be offering a very special once-in-a-year workshop. 

A custom tea blending class and High Tea degustation featuring raw botanicals.


The class involves tasting and pairing unique combinations of raw botanicals (guided by a Tea Sommelier) to create your very own custom blend. You then enjoy a unique High Tea degustation featuring a glass of chandon on arrival, a selection of savoury items, sweet items, scones, and pots of artisan tea. 

Classes will be offered on:

Friday 31 March
Monday 3 April
Friday 7 April

Bookings are necessary. 
 

How to brew Tea properly

For thousands of years, philosophers have debated whether humans are fundamentally good or bad. Do we have a good nature that is corrupted by society, or an inherent bad nature that is kept in check by society? This made us think about tea. Whilst it may not have an inherent moral disposition, it is indeed sensitive to the human touch point. You can take an inherently good tea and butcher it with the wrong water temperature or brewing time. A common culprit of this human negligence is Green Tea. We have heard it described as 'bitter, astringent, unpleasant and dry' and this makes us sad. The tea is GOOD; the preparation is BAD. So let us walk you through the brewing recommendation for tea to ensure that you nurture its good nature.

There are two main T's one must be mindful of when brewing Tea. That is; Time and Temperature.

Time & Temperature:
(Approximate guide to tea categories. Specific teas require specific parameters that your tea supplier should supply you with)

  •  WHITE TEA: 70 degree water brewed for 3-5 minutes

Here's why: White Tea is very delicate. It is the fresh new bud of the tea plant and as such delicate, sensitive, and pure. The lower water temperature ensures the tea is not burned straight off the bat. The longer time ensures the full flavour has time to flourish.  

  • GREEN TEA: 75 degree water brewed for 1-2 minutes

Here's why: Green Tea is usually the pick of two leaves and a bud. Once it is picked it is very quickly roasted and dried in order to preserve its rich green colour. This deep green colour bursts with flavour, complexity and nutrients if brewed correctly. If the water is too hot you are burning the leaf and making it release dryness and astringency. If you brew it correctly (short brew time and cooler water) you will release deep vegetal, nutty, and sweet flavour profiles. It's delicious! 

  • OOLONG TEA: 85 degree water brewed for 1 minute

Here's why: Oolong tea is one of the most complex tea (in our opinion). It sits between a green and black tea and as such is very sensitive to its brewing guide. A very lightly oxidised oolong tea (usually light green) needs to be brewed similar to a green tea. A heavily oxidised oolong (dark roasted colour) might need a longer brew time and higher temperature to release its ideal flavour. We recommend speaking to your tea supplier about your unique oolong and how to brew it best. 

  • BLACK TEA: 95 degree water brewed for 3 minutes

Here's why: Black Tea can take the heat. It is a more mature leaf that has been fully oxidised. As such you can put close to boiling water on it for a longer amount of time and it will thrive.

  • PUERH TEA: 100 degree water brewed for 1 minute

Here's why: This tea is strong and flavoursome. The tea is processed as a black tea and then placed in temperature and humidity controlled facilities in order for it to mature and ferment. The flavour can be intense and as such only requires a very short brewing time for it to come alive.

  • TISANE INFUSIONS: 95 degree water for at least 4 minutes

    Here's why: Tisanes are not tea. As in, it does not come from the tea plant (Camellia Sinensis). It is usually a combination of dried flowers, fruits, spices and herbs such as lavender, chamomile, peppermint, lemongrass etc. You need to brew it for quite a while in order to extract the flavour.

P.S.
Some teas require you to rinse the leaf before you brew it. This is common among Chinese teas and especially Oolong tea. To rinse it simply get the recommended water temperature and wash it over the leaves and discard this water. Then begin your brewing. Rinsing the leaf will help begin the re-hydration process and physically wash any impurities off the leaf.

For a specific example of brewing a tea, you can watch Sarah our Tea Sommelier brew our Oolong here.