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The secret ingredient of calm—just add tea

A traditional Japanese tea ceremony can take more than four hours, but most people have just 15 minutes for a tea break. Here’s how to bring some ceremony into the everyday.

The Japanese tea ceremony has many names. Chado (‘the way of tea’) is a popular one, as is chanoyu, which translates to ‘water for tea’. A full formal ceremony is an elaborate ritual that takes several hours. Everything must follow a strict protocol, from the size, layout and decor in the room, to the dress and movements of the tea-maker and the conversation and manner of the guests. It is very close to a scripted performance.

In Australia we have a far less formal attitude towards tea and I doubt many of us have four hours to spare to conduct a tea ceremony, let alone the hundreds of hours to attend tea school to learn the art. Instead, there are elements of the tea ceremony we can transpose in the 15-minute tea break most of us can spare.

Give yourself some space

A Japanese teahouse or tea room is laid out in a spare manner with tatami mats on the floor and minimal decoration. This is a deliberate way of minimising distractions so guests transition to a state of mind where they can leave their woes behinds and better appreciate the tea.

You can follow this lead by creating a space just for tea. It might just be a corner of your desk or a tiny footprint in your kitchen where you have your kettle and cups, but decluttering that space before you make tea has a corresponding effect on clearing your mind.

The permitted Japanese decorations are usually a seasonal flower and/or a scroll of calligraphy. You can decorate your space with flowers and/or a motivational quote as a nod to that.

Make a good cuppa

Chado requires the tea-maker to not only use the best tea—you may have heard of ‘ceremonial grade’ tea—but also to have practised tea-making to such a degree that the bowl of tea presented to guests is exceptionally well made.

You don’t need ceremonial grade tea when you try this at home, nor hours and hours of practice, but it helps if you make an effort during the tea-making process. Use freshly drawn water and pay attention to it as it boils, and then as you pour it onto the tea to steep.

These small acts of mindfulness give you a break from your work and allow you to enjoy the time you have to yourself as you do this. Many productivity experts say it’s this break that gives you renewed motivation and energy—even inspiration—afterwards.

Appreciate the tea

The Japanese have two ways of showing appreciation during a tea ceremony. One is an aesthetic appreciation where protocol compels guests to remark on the decor the host has chosen for the tea room, and then later the beauty and quality of the tea bowl. The second is in the conscious sipping of the tea: each guest has three sips to savour the tea before the bowl is cleaned and re-used for the next guest.

Of course you don’t need to re-make your tea every three sips but you can take the main principle from this practice. Take some time to admire your teapot or teacup (having a pretty set helps!) and then when the tea is ready to drink, pay attention to how it tastes, even if it’s just for the first three sips.

The Japanese tea ceremony developed out of Zen Buddhism and it is this mindfulness and release of mundane concerns that carries through in the tradition today. If you only have 15 minutes for a tea break, however, you can create a ritual that uses the same principles and benefit from the calm it brings—and you needn’t wear a kimono.

Tea with teapot

 

What is genmaicha? Experience the flavours of this Japanese green tea

Two Rivers Green Tea produces green tea in the Japanese tradition but you may not know much about genmaicha blend.

tea shop genmaicha circle shot (2)

What is genmaicha?

Genmaicha, Japanese for ‘brown rice tea’ is a combination of green tea and roasted brown rice. Sometimes the rice pops during the heating process and it looks like there are little pieces of popcorn in the tea, which gives it its nickname ‘popcorn tea’, although there’s no corn in the blend.

Genmaicha history and legend

As with many tea origins, genmaicha has a legend attached to it. Imagine a samurai’s teahouse in 15th century Japan playing host to a gathering of warlords. A servant called Genmai serves the samurai warriors fine green tea, an expensive luxury back then. As he pours, a few grains of roasted rice from a snack he has stashed in his sleeve drops into the cup.

In a fit of pique, the samurai slays the servant for ruining the tea. But he then takes a sip from the cup and finds the tea has not been ruined after all: the roasted rice gives the vegetal green tea a rounded full-bodied flavour. In commemoration of the late servant he calls the tea ‘genmaicha’ and drinks his green tea with a few grains of roasted rice in it thereafter.

The truth is probably closer to practicality than samurai legend. Green tea, being expensive, was restricted to the samurai and ruling class. When ordinary folk could afford it, it was late harvest bancha green tea and even then considered dear. Someone practical decided to mix roasted rice—a much cheaper commodity—with the tea to make it go further. Genmaicha is therefore often referred to as the ‘people’s tea’.

Genmaicha traditionally comes in the ratio of one portion of bancha to one portion of roasted rice, though every genmaicha maker has their own recipe. While it sometimes carries the stigma of inferior tea, many blenders have perfected the art of balancing its flavours to offer a beautifully balanced tea, often with the earlier harvest, superior sencha green tea.

Genmaicha by Two Rivers

The genmaicha at Two Rivers not only uses our early harvest sencha grown in Australia but also matcha, stone ground green tea powder grown and processed in Japan, to blend with the roasted rice.

The result is a rich, full-bodied tea that takes the vegetal notes of the sencha, the umami flavour of the matcha and the nutty body and taste of the roasted rice to make a warming, savoury beverage. It’s both satisfying on the palate and in the stomach—just perfect for winter.

genmaicha-250_high

 

 

Cool and refreshing: how to make iced green tea without additives

 When the weather’s hot, iced green tea is a healthy, refreshing drink that helps you cool down—and you don’t need sugar, sweeteners or even a kettle to make it. Here are three brewing techniques you can use to make iced green tea.

Hot and cold infusion

This technique does require a kettle and is best for when you need a quick cuppa. Have cold water and some ice on hand to serve.

Prepare your tea as you would prepare a hot green tea (we recommend water at 60-70°C) but use double the amount of tea than usual. This is because you are making a kind of ‘concentrate’ that you can then dilute with cold water. Using more tea increases the flavour whereas extending the brewing time increases astringency, so let the tea brew for your usual infusion time.

Pour the liquid into a larger jug. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, grab another jug and pour the tea from vessel to vessel—this increases the air around the liquid and cools it down faster. To serve, top with cold water equivalent to about a quarter of the total amount and add ice. The tea should now be cool and refreshing to drink.

This style of infusion has all the benefits of green tea and retains the flavour that you love from a hot brew, but without the warm feeling you get from drinking one. You should be able to use the leaves at least once more for another round.

Classic cold brew

This technique needs more time than hot and cold infusion so start about 6-8 hours in advance of when you intend to drink you iced green tea.

It’s more convenient to use a teapot with an infuser in it, but if you don’t have one, use any container you can close. Ideally, this container should be glass, ceramic or porcelain as plastic and metal tend to add unwanted flavours to the tea.

As with hot and cold infusion, you will need more tea than you usually have in a hot brew. Because cold water does not extract as much flavour as hot water, you need more tealeaves to achieve the same level. If you’re going to drink it straight, 50% extra is fine, but if you’re having it ‘on the rocks’ we recommend doubling the amount.

If using a teapot with infuser, place tealeaves in the infuser and insert infuser into the teapot. If using another container, place tealeaves in the container directly. Fill the teapot/container with cold, fresh water and leave it in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours. Close the teapot/container for this time so it doesn’t absorb other scents from the fridge.

When it’s ready, remove the infuser or filter the tealeaves out of the liquid and serve. If you don’t want to drink it right away, transfer the tea to another vessel to keep—we suggest eight hours as a maximum brewing time because after this point the tea becomes robust instead of refreshing (but if you like it that way you can keep the tealeaves in as long as you like).

The main benefit of the classic cold brew method is that the green tea will never become astringent, which is a common complaint against green tea when brewed incorrectly. You will also notice a clean mouthfeel that helps the tea work its magic on a hot day. It will taste a little different and contain less caffeine than the hot version, however, because hot water extracts flavour and caffeine differently compared to cold water.

You should be able to reuse the leaves for another two brews, just increase the steeping time by 1-2 hours each subsequent round.

Ice brew

Brewing tea over ice is called kooridashi in Japan and is perfect for high quality green tea, like our shincha.

Place the tealeaves in a glass, ceramic or porcelain vessel, then cover the leaves with ice. Cover the vessel. The amount of tealeaves to ice should be about one teaspoon to about 50-100mls of ice. Leave the vessel at room temperature. When the ice melts, strain the leaves out and drink.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell how much water is in an ice cube because water expands when frozen and there’s such a big range when it comes to ice cube shapes and sizes. As a result, this technique may require a bit of personal experimentation to perfect the ratio of tea to ice cubes.

The other important thing to remember is to make sure you use good quality ice; for example, if you usually use filtered water in your tea, use filtered water for your ice. When using ice from your home freezer, you may want to rinse it in case it has absorbed aromas from other items.

Ice brew often brings out the scientist in tea drinkers because the time it takes for the ice to melt will vary according to the size of the ice cubes (many small ice cubes melt faster than fewer big ones even if they hold the same volume of water), the ambient temperature (ice brew in the sun will differ from ice brew in the refrigerator, of course) and how well the vessel conducts heat. What you will get is a true iced tea with plenty of flavour but without astringency and you can use the tea leaves for a hot or cold brew another 2-3 times.

 

Harvest time at Two Rivers Green Tea

2 Ready for harvestHarvest is the busiest time of year for any tea plantation and it’s no different for Two Rivers Green Tea. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on before the tea hits your cup.

Two Rivers produces Japanese style green tea from our plantation in the Acheron Valley, a couple of hours’ drive northeast of Melbourne.

The Australian picking season is, of course, on an opposite schedule to the tea-growing regions in the northern hemisphere and weather such as frost, rain and the amount of sun we’ve had will determine exactly when we pick. We harvest three times a year, usually November, January and March.

Here’s what the plantation at Two Rivers looks like when the tea is just about ready for harvest.

The tea bushes are planted about 30cm apart to allow the harvester to run its treads either side of the bushes.

 

The body of the harvester is set at about the height where the tealeaves grow up from their stems. There’s a blade that trims at this level, cutting the leaves from the bushes. At the same time, a fan transports the loose leaves into a container at the back of the harvester.

When the container is full, the harvester empties the tealeaves into a larger receptacle, which is loaded onto a truck.

5 Harvester at workThe harvesting equipment is the result of Japanese ingenuity and makes tea picking more efficient so we can get the newly picked leaves to the next stage quicker, resulting in fresher tea.

Each receptacle on the truck has a fan in it, blowing onto the leaves to keep them from stewing. When the truck is fully loaded, it heads straight to the processing plant where the leaves undergo the steaming, drying and rolling that gives Australian-grown tealeaves that clean Japanese taste.

And here’s what the tea bushes look like after trimming—ready to grow again for the next harvest in a few weeks’ time.

It takes about a day to harvest about two hectares of tea bushes, so that’s six days to harvest at Two Rivers, which is 12 hectares.

8 Harvester full of tealeaves 9 Tealeaves ready for processing 4 Harvested leaves

Shincha is new tea

The first harvest, which is what makes our shincha, occurs in late October to early November. The exact date depends on the weather and the readiness of the tea, as different cultivars grow at different rates.

Then, 50 days after the first harvest comes the second harvest, giving enough time for the tea bushes to send out new shoots and regrow its leaves in the warmer weather. The third and final harvest occurs 50 days after the second harvest, in the middle of summer, producing the tea with the most robust flavour. These harvests give us our sencha tea.

Waiting a little longer will often yield more tea, but harvesting more tea isn’t always the best course of action. Firstly, it takes longer to harvest tea that’s a little older because the leaves are bigger and the stems are thicker. Secondly, the smaller the leaves, the finer the taste tends to be, so every harvest is always a decision between producing enough tea with the right taste. If you’ve been drinking our tea, you’ll know it’s of a consistent quality, thanks to the tea masters who make these crucial decisions.

Green tea tastes best fresh, but a lot of the products you see sitting on supermarket shelves have already taken a couple of years to get there. When you drink Two Rivers Green tea, you’re getting a clean local product that’s at its freshest. Enjoy a new season cuppa—try our shincha today.

 

 

7 Trimmed tea bushes 6 Tea bush after harvest

 

How to match cheese with green tea

Green tea is not the first beverage you might consider to accompany your cheese platter but your cuppa can really make for a surprisingly nice dairy pairing.

Wine and cheese is a staple offering at a dinner party, either as an appetiser to keep guests’ palates occupied before the main event, or at the end of an evening to bring the meal to a close—but did you know you can offer green tea as an accompaniment instead of wine?

Just like wine, green tea has the tannins and astringency to hold its own against the texture and powerful flavours of cheese. The result is a taste sensation that complements every cheese from a mild mozzarella to a creamy camembert or a salty edam. Green tea can offer online casino for us players nuttiness and roasted overtones, as well as floral and fruity notes, all of which are potential partners for cheese.

Additionally, green tea is usually served very warm to hot, so the temperature can react with the cheese in a way that wine does not, activating different parts of your tongue.

The foundation of flavour

Flavour consists of a number of elements, namely:

  • Aroma
  • Taste
  • Texture
  • Intensity
  • Length

When you pair any food with any beverage, it’s important to consider all these elements in both the food and the drink. Use the green tea to complement, contrast or enhance the flavour of the cheese. The elements should be balanced.

Be careful to avoid the flavours competing against one another, or you’ll either get a case of the tea or cheese overwhelming the other or a clash that brings out the worst in both.

Pairing at home

Green tea and cheese pairing is a fairly new concept, so there are no set rules. Cheese can be hard or soft, aged or fresh, strong or mild and the range of flavours you get from green tea—from grassy to vegetal with marine notes, or roasted with woody overtones—means that there are many potential combinations of green tea and cheese.

Much of the information and pairing recommendations you’ll find floating around come from tea or cheese experts’ experiments. Just like tea, it matters where the dairy comes from and where the cheese is made, so in many cases it’s no good to find out that a very specific green tea matches very well with a very specific cheese (especially one that you can only get from a New York cheesemonger!) because you won’t be able to re-create it at home.

Fortunately, pairing is something you can easily try at home without great expense. We recommend 3-4 different teas and up to six cheeses across a range of flavours and textures, paired in every combination. Try this method of testing:

  1. Brew one tea at a time and taste-test each cheese in turn, mild to strong.
  2. Taste in this order: tea then cheese, cheese then tea, then tea and cheese in the mouth together. (Occasionally you’ll find that one sequence tastes better than another.)
  3. Cleanse your palate between each cheese.
  4. Take notes on what you like.

Pairings are rarely 100% amazing first time around, but through this experiment you should be able to form an idea of what kind of tea works with certain kinds of cheeses. You might, for example, notice that roasted teas go well with creamy cheeses, so you could try different types of creamy cheeses next time with that one tea, to refine the pairing.

Our suggestions

Try these Two Rivers green tea and cheese pairings at home:

  • Two Rivers Shincha with chevre goats cheese
  • Two Rivers Sencha with manchego or cheddar
  • Two Rivers Houjicha with brie or camembert
  • Two Rivers Genmaicha with gouda or gruyere

What green tea and cheese pairing is your favourite?

Mythbusting: Green tea and the effect of caffeine

Tea has a stimulating effect often attributed to the caffeine it contains, but there is a lot of misinformation about how much caffeine is in tea.

There’s an old legend that makes an early link between tea and wakefulness. It features a Buddhist follower who accidentally falls asleep during meditation. In order to stay awake, he cuts off his eyelids and throws them on the ground where they became tea bushes.

Waking up to a cup of green tea in the morning is not nearly as brutal, but you can expect a stimulating effect from the caffeine tea contains. However, there are a number of things to consider before you refuse that cup before bedtime.

How much caffeine is in tea?
The caffeine in tea depends a lot on growing conditions, production and steeping. Even though all tea is from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, a green tea grown in Australia like Two Rivers will have a different caffeine profile to one grown in Japan or China, simply because of the elevation, soil and climate.

Time of harvest and production methods, such as whether the tea producer steams or pan-fries the leaves, plus withering time will also have an effect. Lastly, the quality and temperature of water in which you steep your tea, and the brewing time, will also make a difference on the amount of caffeine in the tea liquor.

This mean you’ll get wildly different caffeine measurements from study to study depending on the tea the scientists use and how they brew it. According to the Australian Beverage Council [link: http://australianbeverages.org/for-consumers/caffeine-facts/], a cup (250ml) of green tea contains anywhere from 30 to 50mg of caffeine, while a latte or cappuccino has anywhere from 113-282mg for the same volume.

But just measuring the caffeine in green tea is not enough. How it is absorbed will give you an idea of how you can use it for stimulation—or relaxation.

Tea versus coffee
Milligram for milligram, the caffeine in tea is different from the caffeine in coffee. Coffee gives you a jolt. Within 20 minutes, the caffeine will begin to remove some of the ‘traffic lights’ in your system, making you more alert. The downside is that once you reach peak stimulation, it drops off pretty quickly, so you crash.

Green tea, however,

has a much gentler ascent due the antioxidants in tea, which slows the absorption of caffeine. You may not reach peak alertness as quickly as you do with coffee but tea will keep you on a plateau of stimulation for longer.

Another thing to note is the way caffeine works with L-theanine, an amino acid in tea, which reduces stress. That’s right, you get the alertness from the caffeine while remaining relaxed. This means no caffeine crash.

Green tea before bedtime
Will green tea keep you awake all night if you have a cuppa before bedtime? Everyone processes caffeine differently so if you’re sensitive to caffeine, a cup before hitting the pillow is probably not a recipe for a good night’s sleep.

But if you know where green tea takes you stimulation-wise—with the L-theanine strong enough to help you de-stress but the caffeine mild enough to allow you to sleep—then a cuppa before bedtime might be a good way to relax.

3 ways tea can boost hydration

Does tea make you thirsty? Or is it a good way to stay hydrated? Two Rivers finds out the truth.

It wasn’t so long ago that any article about hydration would recommend you cut down on tea and coffee. The accepted wisdom was that the caffeine in these beverages had a diuretic effect (cause you to urinate more) and were therefore dehydrating.

Not only is that not true for most tea drinkers, the issue of hydration is quite a complex one that relies heavily on the individual, including your body shape as well as the health of your renal system.

The initial study that linked caffeine to the diuretic effect was conducted under a couple of conditions that you wouldn’t consider normal consumption. Firstly, the scientists gave the test subjects a beverage of water and pure caffeine instead of tea or coffee like you or I would drink, which means the other nutrients in tea that would offset any effect were not present.

Secondly, the test subjects abstained from tea and coffee for several days prior to the test. Subsequent tests on regular tea drinkers show caffeine has a diminished effect when the drinker has built a tolerance. Regularly drinking tea makes you less susceptible to the diuretic effect, if it ever did affect you that way.

It turns out caffeine is a mild diuretic in some people—but it’s coffee that’s the culprit. For regular tea drinkers, tea has a hydrating effect equivalent to water according to a study that compared people who drank nothing but tea for the 12-hour trial with those who drank an equivalent amount of boiled water. There was no difference in hydration levels between them.

[http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21450118]

Tea’s advantage over water
Tea does have a few advantages over water as a source of hydration, however.

1. It tastes good
If it tastes good, we drink it. Some people don’t like water because of the taste; tea can help make water palatable. If people find tea easier to drink than water, they will drink more of it and stay hydrated.

2. It has additional nutrients
In addition to providing you with water for hydration, tea has a whole lot of other nutrients such as antioxidants and polyphenols that boost immunity and help you maintain physical and mental health.

3. It increases your intake of warm water
We don’t often drink warm water, but we will often drink hot tea. Warm water has a stimulating effect on your body, reducing congestion and aiding digestion, but many people find it hard to drink water at a higher temperature—but what about hot tea?

When it’s cold, such as in the early morning, at night and during the cooler months, we don’t get thirsty as often as when it’s hot, so the triggers for rehydrating aren’t as frequent. Because it’s easy to drink tea even when you’re not thirsty, for warmth and time out, this can help you stay hydrated.

Read more:
http://www.abc.net.au/health/talkinghealth/factbuster/stories/2014/02/27/3951831.htm
http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140402-are-coffee-and-tea-dehydrating
http://www.researchgate.net/publication/228474317_Hydration_and_health_promotion

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