Food and medicine in the East are described as possessing certain qualities – for example a warming or cooling nature – certain flavours, or acting on the body in a certain way. This information is obtained by observing the behaviour of the body after a certain food or medicine has been consumed.
Tea is no different. Tea generally has a sweet, bitter and cooling nature, but different teas affect the body in different ways. With these “actions” in mind, tea is not only a drink, but is also used as a cheap herbal medicine to have the desired effect on the body and mind.
Using the principles of Chinese medicine we can use tea to help balance the body and reduce symptoms of imbalance.
For skin care: Longjing green
Also known as ‘Dragon Well’ tea, this classic Chinese green tea comes from the surrounds of the beautiful West Lake in Hangzhou where the women are reported to have the most beautiful skin in Asia. Green teas such as this have a cooling action and are perfect for summer, or if you have a hot constitution.
Worth noting: Remember not to use fully boiled water for green tea – when the first small bubbles in the kettle rise, the temperature is perfect.
Cost: Approx 600RMB per 500g.
To relieve fatigue: Tie guan yin
Tie guan yin (or ‘Iron Goddess of Mercy’) is the most famous oolong tea in China. Farmed in Fujian province, it has fragrance, taste and a serious kick.
Basically, it’s a high caffeine pick-me-up best drunk in the early afternoon when you are feeling a little sluggish – but be careful if you are sensitive to caffeine or a light sleeper; in which case, only drink before noon.
Worth noting: Use boiling hot water, lots of leaves and a small vessel, but watch out for the quick infusion time.
Cost: Approx 200RMB per 500g.
For hay fever: Ju hua cha
Hay fever in Chinese medicine is related to ‘wind’ and usually ‘dampness’. In this case it affects the head.
Flower teas, such as this chrysanthemum tea, use the upper and most external part of the plant, therefore leading the qi to the upper and exterior parts of the body (to protect it from wind entering the body). Chrysanthemum tea has a special relationship with the eyes; it can relieve them if they are dry, itchy, sore or teary.
Worth noting: Sipping warm drinks can help the spleen or stomach and assist the digestive system in reducing significant ‘dampness’.
Cost: Approx 80RMB per 500g.
To help weight loss: Shou pu’er
Tea has a general cooling effect on the body, and in Chinese medicine it is believed that consuming too much cooling food or medicine damages the ‘fire of digestion’ and the ability to convert food into usable energy.
Damaging the digestive fire has a detrimental effect on the body’s ability to tone the muscles. Cooked pu’er is more warming and considered the lightest tea and easiest on your digestive system thanks to its ability to help the body drain ‘dampness’.
Worth noting: Pu’er tea is from Yunnan and is closely associated with the origins of tea brewing in China. This kind of tea used to be transported
Cost: Approx 260RMB per 500g.
To aid your immune system: Ganmai cha
A Japanese form of green tea made with roasted rice. The idea is to limit the side effects of high doses of green tea and to counteract the potential for its ‘over-cooling’ effect on digestion. So roasted rice is added to give the tea a warming nature.
Worth noting: This is an excellent long-term way to boost the immune system and harmonise the main motor of the body in TCM, the spleen.
Cost: Approx 5RMB per packet (400g).
The perfect pour: We visit Maliandao tea market to find out how to prepare the perfect cup of green tea
Step one: Wash/heat the teacups with boiling water, then wash the chosen tea leaves.
Step two: Pour the water that was used to wash the tea leaves into the teapot, then pour it into the teacups so that they have the flavour of the tea. Pour the liquid out from each of the teacups and discard it; nobody drinks the first brew because it is full of dirt and other sediments.
Step three: Add hot water to the ‘washed’ tea leaves and leave them to settle/brew as desired. Green tea (such as longjing) and chrysanthemum tea in general should not be brewed with boiling water, or water of a high temperature, unlike oolong tea.
Step four: Pour and repeat steps three and four as many times as you wish because a good grade of tea will always make rounds of excellent brews. Its taste will never be compromised.Alex Tan, TCM practitioner and educator, operates out of The Hutong.