If you are a serious tea drinker like me, what is the information you would be looking for first in your purchase decision on a certain type of tea, say loose oolong tea? Is it price, brand, taste, country of origin, or the nitty-gritty tea district and tea plantation where it was produced? Ah, little doubt that price often is our first screener. But among all these decision points, if you can track the tea’s original source down to the tea plantation, you would be in a better position to judge its true value.
Unfortunately, that most crucial information is often unavailable to end consumers, making tea shopping a constant guessing game that leads to a hit-or-miss experience. Even in Taiwan where unflavored and unblended oolong teas remain the mainstream in the traditional loose tea market, consumers are increasingly concerned about another type of alteration: mixing oolong tea leaves (of different grades) from different tea plantations or districts at home and abroad. Because they are worried that they would pay for something that is not worth the claim.
Up until recently, only the very seasoned tea masters and connoisseurs could truly “taste” where an oolong tea came from because their trained taste buds could discern the subtle difference in tastes affected by each tea district’s distinct climate, minerals in the soil, and tea cavaliers. In other words, the process of proving an oolong’s original source has been more of an art than a science.
So it is encouraging for consumers (and retail tea vendors who are also vexed by this issue) when I learned the other day from Taiwanese media that researchers in Taiwan have successfully used a scientific method to prove the original source of the sample oolong tea leaves.
According to Chien-Chen Lai, the project lead and professor from the researcher Taiwan’s Institute of Molecular Biology, National Chung Hsing University, the environment where a tea tree grows and how tea leaves are processed would affect the reaction of the proteins contained in the leaves. So they applied the “proteomic techniques, nanoscale liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectroscopy (nano-LC/MS/MS), and 2-layer feature selection mechanism” and discovered 20 proteins that can be used to identify the tea’s original source. The testing of the sample leaves from 23 tea districts in Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries resulted in a 95.5% accuracy. Lai, currently in charge of the operation of the university’s Proteomic Core Lab, said the team spent two years in developing the web-based OTPS system that can certify oolong tea’s original source by the featured proteins. With the system in place, he hopes that it can help Taiwanese tea farmers to build up their product traceability and uphold Taiwan oolong tea’s reputation in the tea market.
[If you're interested in the detail of the team's work, you can find their report in the journal Food Chemistry.]
Although a layman in bio-tech and food science, I would assume what this science method has achieved is similar to the ancestry composition shown in PBS's program Finding Your Roots. In this program, the guests went through a cutting-edge DNA analysis and were presented a chart showing their ancestry composition, sometimes as specific as a certain tribe in Africa, for example. In the similar vein, I supposed the proteomic techniques would help us unmask the tea district composition of the tested tea leaves. If the major tea production countries can adopt the similar technology to tackle the issue of fake teas, it would benefit tea consumers and tea vendors who value pure tea.
For people looking for hangover remedies, tea sometimes makes it to the list of tips, but at other times is advised against. What has become even more complicated is when peppermint tea or ginger tea is being suggested as an effective cure. Which ingredient exactly is working? Is it peppermint and ginger, or is it tea?
According to the director of gastroenterology of Taipei Medical University Hospital in Taiwan, Rui-Xiang Tang, there is no medical evidence yet to support the popular claim that drinking tea is effective to cure a hangover. People who claim its effectiveness may have to attribute the substantial amount of water being washed down that help speed up alcohol metabolism in the body, not attribute to tea leaves themselves. Eliminating alcohol from the body has to rely on the liver and enzymes such as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).
He added that because the metabolism of both theophylline (existing in tea leaves) and alcohol need to go through the kidney, so when a significant amount of tea liquor is consumed, the elimination of alcohol from the body slows down. This does not help cure the hangover and the function of the liver is likely to be negatively impacted. Therefore, it's better to avoid drink tea right after alcohol consumption.
Source of the above information can be found here (in Chinese)
For tea connoisseurs and specialty tea lovers, oolong tea is usually on their radar, as part of their tea appreciation journey. Oolong differentiates itself among the world of tea by the complex processing it involves to produce tastes not only complex but sustainable after several steepings. Because it is so complex that the simplest way to make it understandable to the masses usually ends up in three words: a semi-oxidized tea.
But other than knowing oolong tea from a technical perspective, have you ever wondered what the name “oolong tea” means, and if there’s a history associated with its coming into being? Many people may be surprised to learn that the name oolong was not created on a whim for marketing purpose nor based on any geographic location where the tea was originated, but rather it stemmed from a 280-plus year legend in China. Or a legend with two variations.
The first version of the legend went like this. In the early eighteenth century during Chinese Emperor Yongzheng’s reign (1722 – 1735 AD), a tea farmer from a village in the south-eastern Chinese province, Fujian, went to the mountains to pluck fresh leaves from wild tea trees (note: at that time all tea trees grew in the wild, and there were no manmade tea plantations) as the ingredient for green tea, the only type of tea produced at that time. On his way home in the woods, he encountered a black snake. He immediately dropped his basket and ran for his life.
He waited for a while for the black snake to be gone before returning back to the mountains to fetch his tea basket. To his alarm, the edge of fresh green leaves had turned red (a sign of oxidization). Just when he was frustrated at the sight of oxidized leaves, he smelled in the air very pleasant aroma coming out from the withered leaves. He later processed the leaves into tea. To remember how this tea came into being because of his accidental encounter with the black snake, he named it oolong tea.
In Chinese language, oolong is written in two Chinese characters: oo (烏) + long (龍).
The word black in Fujian dialect (not in Chinese) pronounced as “oo”, and the word dragon in both Chinese language and Fujian dialect pronounced as “long.” There were two explanations on why a dragon was used to replace a snake in the naming of the tea: first, a snake was a symbol of a dragon, which was a fictional transformation of a Chinese emperor and thus a symbol of royal; second, most people disliked black snakes and preferred dragons instead. So, in this version of the legend, oolong tea literally means black snake tea.
Do the above dry leaves of Pouchong Oolong look like black snakes to you?
The second version of the legend went like this. In the eighteenth century of Qing Dynasty, all tea trees in the Fujian province grew in the wild and there were various tea cultivars among them. But a black snake liked to wrap its body around a particular tea tree. The black snake was friendly to humans and did not bite even when tea farmers extended their hand to pluck leaves from the tea tree. The farmers later noticed that the tea produced from these leaves of this particular cultivar carried great flavors and tastes. They initially named it “black snake tea,” but most people considered the name “black snake tea” vulgar and renamed it to “oolong tea,” based on the two same explanations in the first version.
Although the two versions of the legend may seem similar in terms of the evolvement of the name from black snake tea to oolong tea, my take on the first version is that it shed light on the accidental discovery of the positive impact of sun withering on the tastes. On the second version, it was more about the impact of a right choice of cultivars that would be able to produce perfect tastes.
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