Friday, March 13, 2009

Tea, where I started

I conducted numerous tea tasting events in the past few months and one of the most asked questions is how I ended up with tea, given my occupational background?

It all comes together naturally, like tea itself! ;)

Last week during my tea tasting event, I spoke to one of my customers who asked me how to stop his sugar crave?

I told him my own story: it was the time that China gradually opened its door to Western markets when I bought my first 3 pounds of the best chocolate (not the dark ones, but the milk ones, Oh yeah, full of fat) ever! I remembered that I finished the first pound in less than 24 hours, then the other 2 pounds in the next few days. The consequence?…just use your imagination…I gained almost 15 pounds! Have you ever tried that? Please do NOT!

My father, who is a retired physician, called that a suicidal lifestyle!...

We all agree that "We need to change!"

My changes resulted from the long time desire for better health and longevity (why not, see you all 200 years later), family background, childhood dream, cultural thirst and curiosity about science.

My family has been drinking tea for generations. I still remember that my grandfather always used his quart-sized tea mug during each meal. Jasmine green tea is the favorite in my family. I was told Jasmine tea is good for your skin and makes your skin smooth like silk.

Drink more Jasmine Green, my dear friends!!

But after I moved to the US, I found no place to continue my Jasmine tea hobby. Simply to put, the tea quality in the US was not even near what I had in China (Sorry, my American fellows). Coffee then became the alternative. After a few months of this coffee adventure, my doctor told me I had heart palpitation. That's the time I started to seriously transport luggage full of tea back from China when I visited my parents in Suzhou. My parents even "complained" that I came back not to visit them, but to quench my thirst for tea!

Through the centuries, navigating by sea allowed people to trade from one continent to another. But there were many sea-faring crews that were afflicted by various ailments. It was known that up to 1/3 of the crew died of died of scurvy, a disease resulting from Vitamin C deficiency. But Chinese crews started long distance sailing in the 15th century and did not have the same health issue simply because they brought dried tea leaves with them!

Another true story: Most Tibetans live at altitudes of around 10,000 to 15,000 feet where growing vegetables was rare due to high elevation and the local climate. However, to combat the lack of nutrients found in vegetables, they rely heavily on tea as their source of nutrition.

Drinking tea not only provides the necessary fluid for your body, but it also gives us many health benefits. Let's drink to that!

After months of research, I found that I have developed my second thirst-tea culture! Let's look at a few interesting points:
#1: All teas we drink now were originated from China, including Indian black teas, Ceylon highland black teas and Taiwan Oolong.
#2: All tea ceremonies started from China
#3: The fabulous Japanese tea utensils, whether ceramic or pottery, were widely used in the Song dynasty in China.
#4: Strong demands and high economic value of tea leaves accelerated the formation of tea plantations all over the world. Skilled Chinese tea workers were smuggled to India and Russia to help the development of tea plantations there.

Today we drink tea mainly for its health benefits. Even though tea has been used in cooking (yes, tea is edible) and as medicine and beverage by the Chinese for thousands years, it was not clear what constituents in tea make it a healthy drink in the past. As my research continued, my curiosity in tea as it relates science grew stronger.

I was raised in the time when scientists were regarded as the most respectful occupation in China. My questions like why, what and how, kept me focused in all my science classes in high school. Broad application of science in life is another reason that I’m attracted to science. Here’s a story. My family had a cat who always sought for yum food in our kitchen. One day he ate bad raw eggs that we left in trash bag. His face was swollen like a water melon when I got home from school. At that time it was very difficult to find a Vet near us and most of vets dealt with horses, not cat or dog. My father, who was a physician, fed the sick cat some active charcoals. Next day, the cat was completely recovered! My father explained to me that active charcoals consist of numerous cells or small holes and those holes can “absorb” the poison. Active charcoals can also be used to purify air and water.

Here’s another story. One of my high school classmates one day got bit by a big hornet bee. He screamed and we saw his arms swollen quickly. There were no soaps available immediately. My teacher told him that urine can help him release the pain.

Now I use the skills and knowledge I learned to test tea samples and do tea experiements. It has become the best part of my business! Of course, I also work closely with tea experts and scientists.

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