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Is pu erh the last frontier of tea?

12 hours 28 min ago

Having had the pleasure of tasting some well-curated pu erh teas recently under the expert and gracious guidance of Linda Louie, I feel like I have entered another world. The process of experiencing these green tea-based beverages one after another set me to thinking about how they might best be paired (or with further research, used in cooking and baking). Traditionally the teas make the perfect accompaniment to a procession of dim sum, thought to aid in digesting these rich and sometimes deliciously unctuous small bites.

From the faintly floral varieties to the earthier ones with an almost marine salinity, there is a whole universe of possibilities and each example suggests a host of culinary partnerings. From astringent and sweet with a restrained fruity quality, these teas offer a completely different tasting experience but beckon me to enjoy the best of them on a daily basis. Frequent mindful tasting undoubtedly will lead me to appreciate these teas in all of their complexity. In the meantime, though, I will pursue sourcing and tasting the teas in this category with vigor in an attempt to recognize their flavor profiles.

Experiencing pu erh is a multisensory process.  First the visuals: the beauty of the pressed cakes or blocks from which the desired amount of leaf is broken off to brew. Then the olfactory sense is awakened when inhaling the aroma of the unsteeped leaf, and the scent of the brewed leaf.  Then, finally, gustatory delight awaits with that expectant moment when the first sips are imbibed and one is aware of a special mouthfeel along with complex tastes. After a few sips or even a few small cups, a feeling of alert well-being with a gentle buzz takes hold. And I am ready to taste more and ponder tea and food synergies.  

Should the lighter tea be served with a delicate dish of scallops or some other seafood? Or might a dish of smoked duck or squab pair particularly well with the darker aged pu erhs? How about a small glass of aged port, imbibed alongside a fruitier tasting tea? Or, what about bittersweet chocolate bonbons with a cup of a 10 or 20 year old example? What will you be having with your cup of this fragrant, storied tea from southwestern China? Stay tuned as I arrive at some cooked or baked dishes enhanced by this tea.

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Illustrated review: Wish upon a stir

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 12:49

“You can enjoy the great outdoors while wishing upon a stir!”

Tstix Classic Organic Green Leaf features an illustration I created a few years ago for “What my Tea says to Me” series. Tealightful!

Packaged perfectly for work, travel, camping, and road trips, Tstix includes twenty individual mess-free tea sticks cozied into a vibrantly illustrated portable cup. Not only is the presentation inspiring, but so is the delicate taste. Each Tstix Organic Green Leaf packet boasts a subtle yet complex aroma and flavor.  I can almost envision myself lounging around a campfire, gazing up at the night sky, with each sip.

The best part? There are no strings attached! Just stir it!

Simply place a single Tstix into a cup and pour boiling water over the packet.  Then, use the Tstix to stir the water until the steaming liquid is a beautiful golden-green. For a stronger brew, let the Tstix steep in your cup for two to three minutes. Good for one infusion! When steeping is complete, I cut the bottom off, remove the leaves for compost, and recycle the sleeve.

Tstix has a variety of other teas to explore, too.

Wish upon a stir and tealightful sipping to you.

Interested in individually designed tea reviews? Weaving compelling visual stories for social media is a passion of mine. I love creating immersive illustrated reviews that awaken people to tea and culture. If you desire an illustrated review to engage your followers, please contact me.

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Blast from the past: Tea time two

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 12:00

This article was originally posted to T Ching in July of 2014.

Along with Oscar Wilde, I am a firm believer that “Nothing succeeds like excess.” While it is doubtful that he was referring to the imbibing of tea, or cake, for that matter, I like to believe that he was.  So joyfully faced with the task of choosing which stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines, and their numerous hybrids) from the colorful tapestry available at markets now, I have concocted what I call “Tea times two” as the perfect vehicle to be gilded with those fruits, syruped and perfumed with tea.

If you’re a fan, like I am, of robust black teas from the Nilgiris in India, or Keemuns from mainland China, you probably have most of what you need on hand to make this teatime treat. Shop for the perishables to add to what you probably already have in your pantry, and you’re on way to achieving this portable, easy-to-make gateau de voyage, perfect to take on a picnic or to a summery outdoor concert (pack the fruits in tea syrup in an airtight container and ladle over the cake once ensconced in your alfresco setting).

Yield:  8-10 servings.

For the Lemony Teacake: 

2-1/4 c. (approximately 8.75 ounces) cake flour

1-1/4 t. baking powder

1 t. baking soda

1/3 t. salt

½ pound (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1-1/4 c. (9 ounces) granulated sugar

3 large eggs (approximately 4.8 ounces)

2-1/2 t. vanilla extract

1 c. (8.75 ounces) sour cream

1 t. grated lemon zest

1 T.  lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.

Using an electric mixer outfitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally during the mixing process. Add eggs and vanilla and mix to blend. Add dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir in the zest and lemon juice making sure they are well distributed in the batter. Transfer the mixture loaf pan measuring 8” x 5” x 3” which has first been lined on the bottom and sides with parchment paper and then sprayed with pan release spray.

Bake the cake for about 45 minutes on a rack set halfway up from the bottom of the oven until done (test by inserting a wooden skewer into the cake; it should come out clean and dry). When tested done, remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.

Now make the Tea-Syruped Fruits as follows:

2-3 lbs. of stone fruit—peaches, nectarines, plums, hybrids (choose the most fragrant fruits that are yielding to gentle pressure, indicating perfect ripeness),  cut into wide thick wedges—peel the peaches first if you’d like

2 c. brewed tea of your choice (Indian orthodox black tea from the Nilgiri region or a fragrant Keemun from mainland China are my favorites here, brewed using 3 grams of the dry tea leaf per 6 ounces of water; brewed for 3-5 minutes for a nice robust and strong infusion)

1 c. granulated sugar

Prepare the fruit. Bring the tea and sugar to the boil, reduce to a simmer and add the fruit. Cook at the barest simmer until the fruits have softened (but are not disintegrating about 10-15 minutes). Remove from the heat and allow the fruits to cool in the syrup.

Unmold the cake. Slice the cake, placing portions into deep wide bowls. Ladle the fruit and a generous amount of the syrup over each portion of the cake and serve immediately.

MAIN:                     IMAGE 1: 

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Online tea communities

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 12:00

It can be hard to find fellow tea lovers nearby.   I can’t easily go into a restaurant and order a Shan Lin Xi oolong from this spring’s harvest and then rave about it to whoever is there.  The tea community is niche and very spread out.  Sure, there are people who can casually enjoy a cup of tea, and many restaurants that serve tea.  However, if you want to share tea geekery with others, the best place to do so is online.

The internet tea community is a very positive place!  There isn’t much judgment, that is, unless you are saying Lipton and Bigelow are the greatest teas in the world, and then I’ll totally judge you.  Chances are, if you are reading T Ching on a consistent basis, you already care about tea more than most tea drinkers in the world.  If you are looking to further interact with the tea community, here are a few places to start.

Instagram

Instagram has become my favorite “tea community.”  While this is a huge social media platform, a nice niche tea community has grown within it.  Instagram is primarily a photo sharing social media network, but it has a very positive community in terms of commenting and “meeting” fellow tea lovers.  To get involved, start following and using hashtags related to tea such as #tea #gongfucha #teastagram and come join the great Instagram tea community!  (Shameless plug: @tchingblog is ours!)

Steepster

Steepster is quite an interesting place.  It is basically a forum like you would find in the late 1990s/early 2000s and has had just about no development since.  There is a rating system where users can log their favorite teas and leave tasting notes.  There is also a forum where people can ask questions and talk about teas.  Steepster is also great for swapping teas and organizing group buys.  One of my favorite things about Steepster is what is called a “Traveling Tea Box.”  This is where a big box of tea is mailed across the country and you put in as much as you take out.  It is an excellent way to try new teas that you may not have bought otherwise.   You will notice that there is a huge overlap between Instagram and Steepster in terms of user base.

Reddit

The tea subreddit is a confusing place.  Because Reddit is so large, and r/tea is a public subreddit, any Reddit user can contribute.  Because of this, many posts are very repetitive, on a weekly basis people ask what kind of tea they can replace coffee with, how to brew loose leaf tea, and what kind of tea did my friend bring from China?  Outside of that, there is a very loyal core of r/tea users who have some great posts that include links to fascinating blog posts, serious conversations about different cultivars/harvests, and of course lots of memes.  Every morning there is a thread where users can post what they are drinking, ask questions, and just talk about tea related stories.

Through the tea community I have been able to participate (and even organize) group buys which allows users across the country to share the exact teas.  Then everyone gets together and comments on their thoughts about the same teas you have.  Many tea vendors are also involved in the tea community.  While this can be a double-edged sword, most vendors do not try to shamelessly push their product.   I have worked directly with tea vendors to have them source certain teas and even make teaware for me.  One vendor, in particular, knew that I had mentioned that I was looking for a type of pot in a chat room one day.  A few weeks later I received a direct message from him that he was at a pottery studio in Yunnan and asked me if anything in that shop interested me.  This is not a piece I could have easily found on the internet.

This is a very basic list of where to start to get involved with the tea community.  It is really fun to talk about basic things like, what should I order from ___ vendor?  It’s even more fun to talk about teas that you are drinking with other users.   The online tea community allows you to discuss flavor profiles of teas, talk about teaware, and even share tea via swapping.   Beyond these three examples, there are IRC channels, Slack teams, Facebook groups, and even a very serious puerh thread on the wet shaving community Badger and Blade (a niche thread inside a niche community!).   Real friendships are actually developed out of this community.  While it’s not easy to share a cup of charcoal roasted tieguanyin with a friend, as I wrote this post I was talking about different ways to brew it with a tea friend in Canada!

image

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Review: Tea Sparrow

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 13:13

Tea Sparrow is a piece of a growing market of subscription-based tea services on the web. Based in Vancouver, Tea Sparrow grew out of a co-founder’s need for natural teas without artificial flavorings. That enthusiasm for natural loose leaf teas led to the creation of this service, which prides itself in curating a collection of teas for Tea Club members every month.

How does this subscription club compare to the rest?

Most of the monthly clubs explored here on T Ching are predominantly about selling and sharing a company’s own collection of teas. This is not a bad thing at all! If you love the tea you’re getting, chances are you want more of it. But this also means that if you’re looking for a way to explore different varieties and different producers, these programs are not going to help you.

Tea Sparrow’s aim is to get you a different set of teas every month. They have tea parties where they try tons of samples to find the best varieties to put into each month’ box. Within each box you will find samples of a different black, green, rooibos, and other herbal tea every month. And each sample has all the info listed on the bag, so you know not only what’s in the bag, but also where you can buy more of it if it turns out this new green tea is your new favorite.

The teas I received were just spectacular. You can tell this is an operation devoted to choosing quality teas for their service. And because you aren’t going to get the same thing month-to-month, that means that if a specific tea didn’t speak to you, all you have to do is wait until next month. You can also request decaf collections if that is more your style.

Out of many tea services we’ve tried, this one, in my mind, is one of the best. The teas are screened for artificial flavorings, so you know they’re all natural, and they’re chosen for the box by tea party (how cool is that?), which means that what makes it into your box is not only new, but delicious.

Definitely give this service a try.

Images courtesy of Tea Sparrow.

 

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To-go matcha bottle hits Kickstarter

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 13:18

World Tea News dropped a matcha bomb on us yesterday when they pointed us to tea startup Pret-a-Matcha’s new matcha contraption, the Pret-a-Matcha bottle. And, let’s be honest here, it looks pretty sweet…er, umami:

The Pret-a-Matcha bottle has everything you need to take matcha on the go: storage for the matcha in the bottom of the bottle, a scoop, a whisk, and even a sieve.

The Kickstarter page goes into detail about the development of the bottle as well as a little bit about the company itself, which is always good to see, as the more info and development you see beforehand, the more confident you can be as a backer.

Here’s a diagram showing how the bottle works:

We’ve seen similar tea bottles before, down to the storage compartment for dry tea on the bottom. Recent variations from other Kickstarters have failed to make their funding goals, but a bottle tailored to matcha might give this one the edge. Pret-a-matcha also claims that this bottle is cheaper than buying standard matcha supplies. Backers can get their hands on a bottle with a donation of $60, and early bird backers will get a tin of matcha thrown in too. So if you’ve been unsure about investing in the matcha lifestyle, this might be a great option for you.

It’s hard to say at this point how the Pret-a-Matcha compares to the your standard shaker bottle as far as blending goes, but if you’re looking to upgrade your travel matcha experience, definitely check this one out.

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A Sip of Ceylon

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 12:47

150 years of tea! This year (2017) Ceylon celebrates a century and a half of growing world-class tea, and the planet sipped along with jubilee in a Global Tea Party on July 6th at 5:00 pm in every time zone. Nothing quite like having the world champion Cricket player from Sri Lanka, Kumar Sangakkara, invite everyone to tea!

This was my simple celebration at 5:00 pm on that day:

Last month, the World Tea Expo also celebrated Sri Lanka’s Director of Promotion for the Sri Lanka Tea Board and former manager of several esteemed Sri Lankan tea gardens, Ms. Premala Srikantha, with a plaque commemorating 150 years and praising their sustainability practices across the island.

Sri Lanka is the largest exporter of black orthodox tea. The beautiful island paradise employs 1.5 million people in the cultivation and processing of hand-plucked tea. There are seven established tea-growing regions in Sri Lanka: NUWARA ELIYA, UDA PUSSELLAWA, DIMBULA, UVA, KANDY, SABARAGAMUWA & RUHUNA.

 

“The tea-growing regions of Sri Lanka are clustered mostly among the mountains of the island’s central massif and its southern foothills. Once thickly forested and largely inaccessible to humans, the central mountains were known to the ancient Sinhalese as Mayarata, the Country of Illusions. It was said to be haunted by demons and spirits. This fearsome reputation, together with more tangible threats posed by wild beasts, venomous snakes, landslides, rock falls and the ever-present danger of simply losing one’s way in the forest, kept most people away from the high hills. Settlement was almost nonexistent except in the valleys and around the city of Kandy. Only foresters, hermits, and fugitives had any reason to enter the Mayarata.

 

Thus, it was after the annexation of the Kandyan kingdom in 1815, the British found themselves in possession of vast tracts of virgin mountain forest. Imperial enterprise soon found a way of putting the acquisition to good use. By 1840, there were already about two hundred coffee-estates dotted about the hills; then came a boom in coffee on the London market, fuelling a land-rush. Down came the high forests, acre after acre, to be replaced by endless, regimented rows of coffee-bushes. At the peak of the coffee enterprise in 1878, no less than 113,000 hectares (278,000 acres) were under cultivation.

The blight that was to destroy the enterprise had by then, already made its appearance, and by the end of the 1880s, Ceylon coffee was finished. Looking around for a commercial crop to replace it, the planters settled on tea. They soon discovered that the tea-bush was far better suited to the climate and terrain than coffee ever was; indeed, the hill country of Ceylon – known today as Sri Lanka – proved to be capable of producing the finest tea in the world. It has been doing so ever since. […]

 

“Just like the Appellations d’origines côntrolées of France, the use of the names of the tea-growing regions of Sri Lanka is strictly restricted and controlled. Only teas that conform to a registered, legal definition of origin and manufacture can bear the name of a given district. First, the tea must have been grown entirely within a particular ‘agro-climatic region’ (the technical term for ‘district’). This usually implies a particular altitude range as well; for example, tea from Uva district will have been grown at an altitude between 1000 and 1600m (3000 -5000 ft) above sea level, while Nuwara Eliya tea will have been cultivated at a higher altitude range, averaging 2,000m (6000 ft).

Next, the tea has to have been ‘manufactured’ within the district. Fresh tea-leaf does not travel well; it has to be processed more or less in situ, and every large estate has its own factory dedicated to this operation. While the regional definition permits some latitude regarding the actual processes of manufacture, most Ceylon tea is still made according to traditional methods, which are deemed by experts to produce an end-product of the highest quality.”

www.pureceylontea.com

 

This preamble of Sri Lanka was not the how I planned for this post to be. However, since I found this information of great value, I thought I’d start with it, and in my next post introduce to you something spectacular from one of the regions in Sri Lanka. Stay tuned because this was just the first sip of Ceylon.

 

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Blast from the past: It’s time for a tea break

Fri, 07/14/2017 - 12:01

This article was originally posted to T Ching in July of 2013

To foster a corporate culture of inclusion and acceptance in the workplace, tea needs equal time in the break room. It is as simple as that. Anyone who enjoys a morning or afternoon tea break should not feel they have to hide their habit from their coffee-drinking counterparts. Why should coffee drinkers get a new superautomatic espresso machine with cappuccino capabilities and tea drinkers get a warehouse-size box of bagged tea on a shelf in the corner?

A break is a break no matter what beverage you prefer to sip. As more offices upgrade their coffee service to keep up with rising employee expectations (often called the Starbucks effect), it is high time to give tea its due in U.S. offices. When the right technique and equipment combine, tea can appeal to even the most staunch coffee drinkers. Let’s make tea the next strategic initiative.

First of all, operationalize tea brewing for quality results! Focus on the basics to brew a good cup of tea that you will be happy to drink and proud to share with coworkers. Start with fresh filtered water, not tap water. This will eliminate impurities and additives that can make your tea taste off, like chlorine and fluoride. Next, use a kettle to boil the filtered water. This allows for aeration and a fresher taste compared to a microwave that can make water taste flat. Finally, loose leaf tea will yield a more enjoyable taste than bagged teas, which, in general, use lesser quality tea leaves.

To maximize these universal tea making truths, check out sample set-ups for the home office, the corner office and every cubicle in between.

For the Solo Sipper

Have an underutilized corner of your desk? An electric kettle and stainless steel infuser allows you to enjoy a spot of tea–on the spot! This works equally well with a small French press or a combination travel mug and press. You’re the boss and you get to decide what’s brewing.

Tea is My Favorite Co-Worker

Have two to five tea drinkers? A shared tea station among multiple coworkers allows for more choices. Try an auto-brewer like the Breville One-Touch Tea Maker. It saves time by making up to 41 ounces of loose leaf tea at the push of a button. This is about the same volume as a standard coffee maker. Refills anyone?

We’re Going to Need A Bigger Mug

Larger corporations like Microsoft have micro kitchens interspersed throughout their headquarters. Even a micro kitchen has room for the Curtis WB5GT Digital Hot Water Dispenser. This commercial water tower is only 9.25 inches wide and can hold up to 5 gallons of hot water. You can program the temperature and it has aeration for fresher tasting water. Now that is handy to have on tap for all types of tea drinkers. Don’t be surprised if you catch someone using it for instant oatmeal, cup o’noodles or Americano coffee drinkers too.

Economies of Scale

Your office is big and your employees are thirsty! What’s brewing in your corporate cafe? Most commercial style coffee makers also come equipped with a dedicated hot water spigot and so do most commercial espresso machines. This answers the question of quantity but where is the quality you ask? Up employee morale to new heights with the latest American-made marvel, the Alpha Dominche Steampunk 4.0. It brews tea (and coffee) with a siphon brewing system that is fun to watch and delicious to drink.

There is always room for ingenui-tea in the workplace. And in case you were wondering about Seattle Coffee Gear, our company includes coffee and tea drinkers too. The break room is stocked with black, green, white and herbals along with coffees–and the synergy is win-win. Happy employees are the best employees!

Featured Image courtesy of Jomphong of freedigitalphotos.net

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How to host a perfect tea tasting party

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 12:48
Afternoon tea is a practice that simply calls for socializing. A nicely set table with charming porcelain teacups on saucers, a steaming pot of tea and stacks of deserts, is not complete without a lively chatter of your dear friends. The intricate tea-drinking culture in Asia also revolves around hospitality and social interactions. Really, a tea party is one of the most enjoyable and elegant parties you can organize. It doesn’t require much planning and effort, but if you really want to amaze your guests, read on to learn the secrets behind a perfect tea tasting party. It’s tea time

Every afternoon tea is a very special occasion, so it is important to set the right mood. Think about the setting. Would you like your party to be indoors or outdoors? If it´s springtime, don’t be afraid to break the rules of a conventional tea party, and feel free to throw a casual picnic or a buffet style party in your garden. If it’s indoors, the decoration is even more important. Lots of fresh flowers, your best china pieces, silverware, and nice linen are a must. Do you want a mid-afternoon or a late afternoon tea party? It’s best if your guests arrive just after lunch at 2pm, or dinner, around 7pm. If you’re organizing a traditional afternoon tea, schedule it somewhere between 3 and 5pm. The main appeal of this party is enjoyable conversation, so pick light music, and have a couple of board games ready (check out our list of tea-themed board games!).

Tea & scones

You should plan nourishment and tea for about 6-7 people, as this is the perfect number to accommodate for a tea tasting, which you will manage to serve timely and properly. When it comes to tea, you want to offer a wide variety of flavours, strengths and textures. Decide how you want to present your tea, loose in whole leaves or broken, or teabags, and maybe in arranged synergies of black teas like Darjeeling or Assam, contrasted varieties of Chinese and Japanese white and green teas, and full-bodied blends, like Earl Grey and English Breakfast. It is best if you have a couple of teapots ready, and be careful to prepare each tea properly. Each tea requires different brewing times and water temperatures.

You don’t want your guests to get full from tea only. You’ll want to serve shortbread, scones and other desserts that they can easily eat in one or two bites. Other finger food includes tea sandwiches, biscuits, petit fours, delicious cupcakes and, of course, cake! If by now, you’re thinking that this is too much complicated work for a tea tasting party that you also want to enjoy, it is always a good idea to hire professional party planning services, that can handle the task and add a touch of that gentry elegance. Prepare fresh lemonade or coffee for those few guests who don’t drink tea. Don’t forget a large jug of water with mint leaves, a little milk jug, sugar cubes or honey, and lemon slices.

Etiquette

Everyone knows that a traditional tea tasting party requires a fancy dress. However, you can decide on this and let your guests know about the dress code. If you´re a guest, fancy dress does not necessarily mean a tie-and-suit scenario, but you should put some effort in. The ladies can opt for a nice summer floral dress and wide-brimmed hats. When you’re tasting teas, it is best to go from light to darker ones. Also, as difficult as it may look, try not to over-stuff yourself with the delicious snacks. If you´re the host of the tea party, try to provide nourishment which goes well with the different teas. Set the table with a nice tablecloth and serviettes, and lay out the cutlery properly. You want everything to look and taste perfect. A tea tasting party should be just that.

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Blue Zones

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 12:58

Everyone wants to live longer…and be healthier. Modern medicine has made it possible to increase the overall lifespan of the human population. While we can all be thankful that someone can be on their third heart, there is only so much modern medicine can accomplish in the face of deep underlying cultural problems that are acting as a counterweight to these advances. Obesity is probably the most visible problem of modern times. This has in fact led to reduced life expectancy for some demographics.

We here at the Whistling Kettle have always stressed that drinking tea is a healthy habit. Numerous studies over the years support this claim, and you can easily find tons of credible scientific studies. We recently came across the blue zone project. If you haven’t heard of this, it is an exhaustive undertaking that investigates pockets of longevity throughout the world. These zones have a high concentration of people living in their 90’s and beyond while maintaining overall physical fitness and mental acuity.  Dan Buettner founded this project which has turned into somewhat of a movement, with an ongoing program of research, teaching and advocacy. 

We recommend listening to one of his Ted talks:

THE WESTERN FLAW…

As students of history we particularly enjoyed Niall Ferguson’s 2011 Documentary, CIVILIZATION: Is the West History?. There are many great points made in this fascinating documentary, but two areas need attention: Medicine and Consumerism. While these two areas helped Western civilization become dominant, their application in the modern area has created distortions. We have become a world awash in stuff, both material and food. Might we have become too efficient, too quickly?

While the majority of medical advances are great, big problems lurk underneath with the rise of chronic ‘lifestyle’ diseases. The success of capitalism has lowered the cost of many products, from air conditioners to televisions. But it has also greatly lowered the cost of food. In the past, diseases like gout were known as the “rich man’s” disease. Now with costs reduced through factory farming efficiency, the poor now take the brunt of these diseases. It’s ironic that the rich person’s diet now probably has more in common with the peasant diet hundreds of years ago.

As modern medicine has allowed people to live longer, it also makes them more susceptible to chronic age-related disease that requires constant medication, which massively increases cost. Budgets are being busted because of skyrocketing health care costs and we are seeing this borne out in the current Affordable Care Act debate. But let’s put aside the fiscal issues for a moment: does access to health insurance lead to better health? Despite politicians saying otherwise, the evidence suggests no. If healthy means we need to have a cocktail of drugs to survive, or shop in a motorized scooter because we can’t walk, then we need to define what living really means. 

A flaw that has evolved within Western culture, particularly in the USA, is the panacea approach to problems. In both the public or private sector,  it isn’t sexy to “maintain”..rather it seems to take a crisis…train derailments.. terrorism..natural disaster..pensions…you get the picture. Then some miracle comes to the rescue…be it a politician or a pill. Side effects or long term effects are not considered. Ever wonder what will happen to all the ultra-medicated children when they are in their middle age or older? 

Turn on evening news and notice most of the commercial breaks are for cruises and prescription medication. On one side you have advertisements for trips that, let’s face it – will feed you enormous amounts of food, and on the other side – the pills to alleviate the symptoms. We see the rush to gyms after a gluttonous holiday season. How many diets have popped up over the years, or fads like “low carb” or “gluten free” (Note: There is a new fad coming we will discuss about soon) ?

We have a never ending circle of food companies selling us a lot of junk, and other companies developing medicines (with lots of side effects), diets, products to control what is essentially our inability to moderate our behavior.

 

NOT A SILVER BULLET, BUT A SILVER SHOTGUN

One theme of the blue zones is there is no ONE MAGIC secret, but rather a series of areas that when combined, yield a healthier, longer and more fulfilling life. 

Some of these major areas:

SOCIALLY ACTIVE + QUALITY FRIENDS

Choosing friends wisely is a huge. The saying is true: ‘ Birds of a the same feather, flock together’. While Western Culture absorbs itself in social media, real social connections are sacrificed. Surrounding oneself with positive influences, good friends and family has proven health benefits. Social media is simply not the same. Religion also seems to play a positive role. These societies also value the elderly, and don’t throw them as quickly into nursing homes, if at all.

PHYSICALLY ACTIVE

Most blue zones populations don’t go to gyms. They keep themselves fit by incorporating exercise during everyday activity. Whether it’s walking, hiking, gardening – there is constant movement. What they don’t do is sit in cars for long periods of time or remain sedentary for long stretches at a desk. Think of how many developments in the last 50 years were built so you had to drive. Drive to  your destination parking lot, get out of the car and walk inside. Our society formed around car culture, which resulted in far fewer steps taken each day. It’s easy to do the math – more calories consumed, less burned = more obesity.

DIET IS KEY

One of the cornerstones is diet. Meat intake is limited and most food is plant based, with little to no processed food. Lots of fish, legumes, etc. Unfortunately, the USA is awash in garbage food, and the effectiveness of blue zones are being compromised in part because of the infiltration of Western processed foods.

But for many, eating properly is not even an afterthought. Schools don’t teach nutrition, and many children inherit their parents’ poor eating habits. Simply making fruits and vegetables available is only half the answer. People will also need to demand it.

One example of this is taken from the book, Hillbilly Elegy:

“Organized exercise is nonexistent. Eating habits are dreadful. We rarely cook. Instead, there are Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast, Taco Bell for lunch, and McDonald’s for dinner. New to me was “Mountain Dew mouth”: rotten teeth from a lifetime consumption of soda. The culture is plagued by suicide and heroin overdose.” 

These places, as well as many other parts of America, have dreadful eating habits. And you can see the real results of this by the crisis that is literally killing people.

STRESS

Avoiding stress. Be it a job, your surroundings, money, or a long traffic plagued commute – stress decreases life span. 

TEA….YES…IT’S PART OF THE BLUE ZONE HABIT

From Okinawa, Japan to Ikaria, Greece – tea is a staple of blue zones. Whether it is a steady stream of anti-oxidants via green tea, or anti-inflammatory compounds found in many herbal teas – the populations are literally drinking a natural medicine without even knowing it. Much of age related disease is caused by inflammation, so naturally reducing it will also help control age related diseases. 

USE TEA WISELY

That’s not to say that tea hasn’t been misused to promote the panacea approach. One area we wrote about previously is the scourge of detox and Instagram weight loss tea regimens. It’s all a big scam designed to charge you big bucks for a few grams of tea you can easily buy from any good tea shop. You don’t need any miracle blend to maintain good health. A few targeted teas might help to boost metabolism, help with a cold, cleanse the liver or get things “moving” but good quality everyday tea will have long lasting overall health benefits.

Some sites promote a ‘magic tea’ with a special ingredient found nowhere else on earth. In reality, there are many herbal blends that contain the anti-inflammatory compounds that are chock full of the good stuff we are looking for. We wrote about purple tea and its super high concentrations of anthocyanins, the same antioxidants found in blueberries. There are many different herbal blends with a variety of benefits, from Ashwagandha to Tulsi. 

PROMOTE TEA CULTURE

The key is to try and convince someone to drink tea. Behavior cannot be changed simply making new laws. Some trends take place because they make economic sense – witness the quick demise of the incandescent light bulb or the rise of Uber in a short period of time. Volvo just announced that by 2019 they will only sell hybrid or electric cars. Steve Jobs got flak for eliminating the floppy drive, only to see all computers phase it out within a couple of years after Apple did so. There are countless instances in the real world where things change rapidly for the better. 

One must discover the art of gentle persuasion. You are not going to convert someone over to tea by saying they are an idiot for drinking Mountain Dew. But there are other tactics. One is to get a clear glass tea tumbler and bring it with you to work. Many times it will spark a look of ‘What on earth are you drinking’ – it will often lead into a conversation. Find a tea with a great aroma that will make someone wonder ‘what smells so good?’. Plant seeds. Mention how you like the tea, the antioxidants you consume and how it makes you feel great. Offer to share a cup. It might get them excited about tea, or maybe the topic changes to the latest ‘Game of Thrones’ episode. Regardless – when have you had a bad conversation over a cup of tea? 

Not all first tea encounters go viral, like the dance scene from ‘Can’t buy me Love’. You may not make a difference at that moment, or they may forget. But perhaps a doctor or someone else will mention drinking tea and they will remember that cup of tea they had with you. 

Please take a look at the Bluezones.com website.

 

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