Wednesday, September 28, 2011

GRE's and Tea

As many of you may know, on October 21st, 1 PM, I plan on settling my affairs, walking through the front door of an office building in Brighton, and feeding my soul to the Great Devourer, ETS.

I'll be sitting the GRE's, the test that determines whether or not one is intelligent enough to be considered for admission to higher higher education.

Here's a sample problem:

If there are 10 fully-funded openings at Masters University, 5,000 applicants, and the school requires a minimum of a 750 out of a possible 800 on the verbal portion of the GRE, approximately how many tears must an applicant cry before she has enough water to sail her imaginary boat down Anguish River?

I like to think that I'm the most English American I know. Despite being born in a part of the country that took a Scottish accent and cooked it for 300 years at 115˚, I've overcome the geographical disadvantages of my birth to become... positively smashing, as it were. A British man told me I had a caustic wit because I told him that he was besmirching his tea by adding milk, and asked me if we could be friends.

Why do I mention this? Because I decided that in the face of such adversity, I would keep calm, carry on, and do things the way the British do.

Rather than get the entire English department of my chosen university wildly addicted to cheap imported opiates, I thought I'd do the other Really British Thing:

Drink a cup of tea.

Let's Talk About Tea. It's My Job.

What is it, really?
Tea, black, white, green, oolong, pu-erh, and twig, all come from the exact same plant. One species of bush, camellia sinensis, is responsible for it all. The differences in taste comes from the part of the world it's grown in, the altitude (high in the mountains or down near the sea), and the treatment of the leaves after they're picked. White tea is the top bud and first leaf of the tea bush, while twig tea is, as you may guess, the twigs of the bush. But you could have asked Wikipedia all that.

This is Snackrobiotic. What teas do Macro people drink?
Tea has a role to play in the macrobiotic diet. Just keep in mind that when they say "tea," many times, they don't mean camellia sinensis, or Tea tea. Many of the teas your macro counselor will ask you to drink are actually, technically herbal infusions under the alias of "tea."

This is important, because some day you may be talking to a nerd and you'll make him really angry if you say you're a tea drinker and show him a box of "Throat Coat." He'll go off on some diatribe about how he studied under a Chinese tea master in San Francisco, you'll be trapped in a spell of boredom, and you'll really wish I had told you all this.

Twig Tea (Kukicha) *
Roasted Green Tea (Hojicha) *
Barley Tea
Genmaicha *
Umeboshi Plum Tea
Ume-Sho-Kuzu Tea
Yellow Dock, Dong Quai, Burdock Root, etc.
Rooibos Tea
Lemongrass Tea
Ginger Tea

The teas with the star next to them come from the proper tea plant. From a macrobiotic perspective, you shouldn't drink any of those teas on an empty stomach because the acidity of Tea tea is too strong and often results in nausea, abdominal pain, and excessive sweating.

I had a lady come into the tea shop last week who said she was allergic to black tea, but green, oolong, and white were okay. I tried to explain to her that this was incorrect because it's all... um... the same bush, but she told me, "I KNOW I'm allergic. When I drink black tea on an empty stomach, I throw up."

I'll bet she does. Because of the drying process of black tea, it will peel the inside of your stomach and small intestines like a grape if you drink it on an empty or acidic stomach.

Herbal infusions like yellow dock and dong quai can be amazingly effective, but should be ingested in the amounts recommended to you by your macrobiotic counselor. Many of these herbs can be too harsh for the body when ingested too frequently, so follow the instructions of your counselor closely to avoid side effects. For instance, a kuzu root tea can be amazingly effective at treating certain kinds of inflammation when taken 2-3 times a week, but any more than that can cause constipation.

What are some of the health effects of Tea tea?
This is where I'm going to nerd out for a second. Tea is an amazing plant, and some of the health benefits are, for the lack of a better word, really cool.

1. There is no such thing as a weight loss tea.
If you want to lose weight, stop eating sugar and put down that pitcher of whole milk. This is probably the most commonly asked question we get at the tea shop, and while Teavana will tell you something different so that you can spend $50 on their products, at my tea shop, we keep it real.

2. That being said, there are appetite-suppressing teas and teas that make you poop a lot.
The former, genmaicha, is a really warming blend of toasted, popped brown rice mixed with the high-quality Japanese green tea, gyokuro. Don't drink it on an empty stomach, but it's a pretty great way to avoid snacking while feeling satisfied.

The latter, pu-erh, is one of the most delicious, expensive teas on the market. It literally tastes like dirt and smells vaguely of fish. It's black or green tea that has been aged and fermented for months or even years!

It often is sold in a brick, and bricks can go for up to $1500. The best pu-erhs in America can be found in San Francisco's Chinatown, and are often sold to connoisseurs in back rooms. This is no joke. It's an "I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy in Chinatown who has a brick of the good stuff" kind of a deal.

If you drink pu-erh, in about 8-12 hours, you poop. Lots. It's pretty remarkable, actually.

3. Rooibos is a lifesaver for colds.

The second most common question we get about tea is which one to drink when you're feeling ill. I like to start with a rooibos base and create the following:

Rooibos: African red bush tea, naturally caffeine-free and full of Vitamin C.
Cardamom Pods: These things really blast open your sinuses.
Peppermint: Also blasts open your sinuses
Cherry Bark: Smoothes and coats the inside of your throat
Slippery Elm: See above.
Cloves: Natural anesthetic. Numbs the pain.

4. Twig tea is a huge winner, and in our opinion, not enough people drink it.

This tea has a bit of a bad reputation in Japan, where it's associated with the post-WWII poverty of the nation. Because the nation's economy was crippled by the loss of the war, those who couldn't afford green tea turned to drinking the supposedly inferior twigs and discarded leaves of the bush for a darker, nuttier cup at a fraction of the cost of higher-grade national teas like sencha and gyokuro.

It's a shame it's got this reputation, because twig tea has many of the positive health benefits of green tea with far fewer of the negative effects, like caffeine stimulation and high acidity. Far more gentle and alkaline than its green counterpart, twig tea is the darling of the macrobiotic diet.

WOW. That was a ton of text. I hope you guys enjoyed it, and that you'll read when I share some fun and creative ways to cook and bake with tea!

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