Oct 25, 2015

30 packs of free tea to give away to US and Canada

My apologies for not having been writing much on the blog and for failing to respond to some of your emails! I have a lot to write about tea (more than 100 half-way drafted blog posts in my folder...) but ended up spending time on some other things.

In this coming week, I would like to offer 30 packs of tea to tea drinkers in the US and Canada. Below are the explanations of this activity.

Recently I have made a wish to give, as part of my personal spiritual practice. I thought of what I could offer, and to whom. Unfortunately, I don't have many useful skills to offer. And fortunately, I have tea to offer, and would like to offer it to people who would enjoy tea.

Tea to offer:
I will send each participant a pack of tea for free. The participant could choose any type of tea from our web store (www.lifeinteacup.com). The tea will be in its usual pre-packed size (size varies, and ranges from 20-30g). For the sake of sending out all tea in a timely manner, I will not customize pack size in this activity.
Please feel free to choose any tea you desire, and don't worry about the official price of the tea. I fully understand that the real giving means giving good stuff and giving something the recipient would truly enjoy. 
If by any chance the tea asked for is not available, I will discuss with the participant to figure out a replacement (usually a tea of similar type).

My apologies to people in other countries. This time the gifts are limited to addressees in US and Canada.

To claim the gift:
Please email me at gingkoheight @ gmail 。com (email address broken to prevent robot mails, please sort out the email address before sending your email), with your address information (US tea drinkers, please don't send any phone number; Canadian tea drinkers, phone number is optional, only if you would like to have your phone number on the shipping label).

Interested participant please email me as soon as possible. This event will open till all 30 gifts are claimed, or till the end of October 29th. After October 29th, if there are remained gift slots, I will give them to people near home.
I will do the packing during my spare time, and will mail out all gifts before mid-November.

Additional notes:
* This gifting activity is my personal behavior and will not affect future pricing of lifeinteacup.com
* Thank you in advance for participating! Helping me fulfill my wish of tea gifting is your precious gift to me!

Jun 27, 2015

remember Zealong?

I have to admit that these days I'm very behind about what's happening in the tea world and overall in this world. (On the other hand, I have been having a good time, of which I hope I will have a chance to tell you more!) So whatever that is news to me, probably is already so old-news to most of you.

So today I'm drinking Zealong Aromatic again, the tea I bought from Chicago Tea Garden 5(?) years ago. It's such a lovely tea. I blogged about it and its sister teas a few years ago. Five years later, the tea is still lovely! Probably less aromatic than 5 years ago, but it has a wonderful warming taste and the "throat massage" feeling. I remember this was a great tea that was a little pricy, and remember when I bought this tea from Chicago Tea Garden, the price was even lower than the retail price from Zealong producer, thankful to the US market size and wonderful work of Chicago Tea Garden. After Chicago Tea Garden was closed, one could barely find as good deals for Zealong. But as long as you could afford it, it's a great tea even at higher prices, and totally worth it.

While drinking this tea today, I wonder where people get Zealong nowadays. And then I found this:

Aww, this is so sad!

Probably many of you already heard of this nearly 2 years ago. I had no idea! So today I was left totally in shock, holding my last 15 grams or so of precious Zealong...

It took more than 10 years of hard work for the farm to be established, a lot of people's work to have this great tea produced and spread to various continents of the work. It's hard to believe the tea is gone like this! But, that is life. Cheers and many thanks to all the hands that worked on Zealong and passed it to my hands!


Then, some more news browsing revealed that somehow Zealong survived this whole thing and it's still doing well today. Phew!

So now I'm thinking of getting more Zealong!

Apr 12, 2015

tea drinking and prostate cancer

Most tea drinkers I know of don't drink tea for its health benefits, although it's widely believed that tea has a lot of health benefits, many of which have been thoroughly demonstrated. Compared with many other health benefit questions about tea (such as tea and weight loss), influence of tea drinking on prostate cancer is probably one of the more important questions. I say it's more important mainly for two reasons.

1. Prostate cancer affects 1 in every 7 men in the US throughout life time (http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/prost.html). It's found in about 1 in every 3 men over 70 years old, and 1 in every 2 men over 80 years old. But don't be too worried, men! Most prostate cancer cases don't kill at all. Be aware, but don't get over-worried. 

2. Association between tea drinking and prostate cancer has been studied a lot. I didn't realize this until recently when I saw a meta-analysis paper scrutinizing more than 2 dozen peer-reviewed articles in this topic. This means, even though we may not yet know everything about this topic, we do have some evidence-based opinions to look into.

Now as we go over some scientific studies on tea drinking and prostate cancer, I would like to recommend several rules in exploring health benefit of tea (or of anything).

Rule #1, Don't trust a striking headline on news media - many of them are (intentionally) wrong.

Headlines are made to grab public attention, not to give a correct message. A simple assertion on a health problem is almost always wrong. Sometimes reading the entire news article is better than reading just the headline. But sometimes, the news article isn't much better either.

An example is:
Seven cups of tea a day 'raises risk of prostate cancer by 50%' (Daily Mail 18 June 2012)

Another example is:
Two teas a day reduces prostate cancer risk 'by a third', but coffee offers no benefit (Daily Mail 26 March 2013)

Another example is:
Drinking more than five cups of tea 'cuts risk of prostate cancer by a third' (Daily Mail 26 July 2013)

I used all examples from Daily Mail because Brits do seem to care tea a lot more than Americans. American media have a lot of bad examples on reporting other health issues.

I don't know how many people, after reading these news report, would decided that, for the best of their prostate health, they should drink about 5 cups of two types of teas every day but never go for as much as 7 cups. Well, I'm sure you tea drinkers are smarter than this!

News media contribute to the public awareness of the newest scientific research. Once we are aware of the research, to find more accurate information about it, the best source is the original source.

Rule #2, To get the most accurate information about a research, go to its original publication (or abstract of it). 

Just 10-15 years ago, it was not that easy to find the original publication that you are interested in, unless you are close to a large academic library. But today, it's very easy and information is usually just a few clicks away. A very useful search engine is Google Scholar (scholar.google.com). Once you learn of a research through news media, you could use keywords found in the news (such as names of the authors, name of the research project and institution, title of the study, etc.) to search on Google Scholar for the abstract of the original publication. For medical and public health studies, another very useful tool is PubMed (pubmed.gov), where you could also do a keywords-based search.

Today, results of vast majority of new studies are immediately available online - not all in full text, but at least their abstract with main results. It may take some specialized expertise to thoroughly understand a scientific article, but for the general public, just by reading an abstract, they could get a good idea about what was done in a study, and this first-hand information is always more accurate then what one could find from news stories.

Rule #3, Randomized control trial (RCT) is an important form of clinical study that makes fair and well-controlled comparisons. Other clinical studies could provide insightful information too, depending on how well the "noise" is adjusted in the comparison.

The key feature of a randomized control trial is that the two (or more) treatment groups are randomly assigned and are intended to be balanced in all their features, so that they are comparable, like "comparing apples to apples", and unlike "comparing apples to oranges."

An example of RCT is:

Randomized clinical trial of brewed green and black tea in men with prostate cancer prior to prostatectomy.


We can imagine that long-term RCT with tea drinking vs. no tea drinking is very hard to carry out. For such a trial, basically, you would need to randomize people in tea drinking group and no-tea group, and make sure they stick to the assigned habit for years. It's both extremely hard and somewhat unethical to keep participants adhere to their assigned life style. The above-mentioned example is one of the few RCT in tea drinking studies. It was made possible because it was a short-term study. Therefore, this study gave us some very inspiring information about impact of green tea on prostate tissues, but it cannot provide sufficient information on how long-term tea drinking influence prostate health. 

Most studies on influence of tea drinking on prostate health must be non-RCT studies. In these studies, the tea drinking group and non-drinking groups were not randomly assigned, and inevitably there were imbalance in many other aspects of their life styles and health conditions. Usually the researchers would do their best to identify the potential imbalance factors and adjust them in the analyses, so to make the comparison as fair as possible. However, it's impossible to identify and adjust all imbalance factors. Therefore, each of such studies will add to the scientific understanding of the topic, while each bears its own bias. Health problems are often complicated. Therefore, to understand a problem, we will need to look into results of many relevant studies.

Rule #4, Do not draw a final conclusion based on just one or few studies, especially when they are not RCT.

Most of us don't spend all our days reading and studying prostate cancers. Where could we get results of many relevant studies? Systematic reviews and meta-analysis articles are good sources for us to get summarized results of many studies at one time. To find these articles, you could include keywords "systematic review" and/or "meta-analysis" in your search on Google Scholar or PubMed.

Here is an example of a meta-analysis:

The association of tea consumption and the risk and progression of prostate cancer: a meta-analysis.


On the top-right corner of this webpage for abstract, you can also find a link to the full-text of the article.

A great feature of a meta-analysis is that an exhaustive search on available studies is required, which means it must include all available studies that pass its inclusion criteria. Thus it can give us a broad enough view about what has been done in this field and what is known up to the time when the article was written.

Happy reading! And lastly,

Rule #5, Critical thinking and an open mind are the key! 

Feb 15, 2015

Kokang has great tea!

"Kokang has great tea!" said General Pheung Kya-shin on September 29, 2006. This line was printed on the wrappers of some limited-edition puerh cakes made by Man Le Tea Farm in Kokang. 

Kokang is located in the so called "Golden Triangle", infamous for its drug trade. For decades, opium and other illegal drugs was the only main source of income for local people. The drug trade was encouraged by military powers including the Myanmar government.

Grown up in ceaseless wars and drug trades, Genearl Pheung had come to understand that drug trade could never bring long-term peace and prosperity for his people. In 1990, as the head of Kokang army and Kokang autonomous region, Pheung ordered the prohibition of drug production, usage and trade in Kokang. Since then, Pheung pulled together a lot of resources to promote agricultural economics in Kokang, and led people of Kokang to shift from drug production to businesses including sugarcane, tobacco, and, of course, puerh tea.

That was how Kokang puerh was introduced to puerh lovers. The production was not large, but since it was relatively less known, the price was very good for its quality. More importantly, the ecosystem is great and the trees are old.

Previously I have discussed geographic patent of puerh and puerh that is not from Yunnan. Although Kokang puerh does not fit in the "geographic patent" requirements of puerh, generally tea drinkers have no problem at all seeing it as puerh. In fact, Kokang puerh is a perfect example that in spite of the borders between countries, there isn't such a border for the ecosystem and culture.

Kokang puerh is how I learned of anything about Kokang. Before drinking Kokang puerh, I literally knew nothing about the place, not only because it is such a small region in a small country, but also because of political reasons that I wasn't aware of. Briefly speaking, Kokang was "given" by Chinese government in 1960s to Myanmar (many people would see this as sort of political "bribery") and throughout the decades, Chinese media almost never mentioned this place.

People of Kokang have a hard life. In the past several decades, they lived through endless battles and killings. Their best time was probably between 1995 and 2009, with the economics progressing and a relative peace lasting for more than 10 years. In 2009, in a military conflict between Myanmar government army and Kokang army, Pheung disappeared. In the 5 years to follow, I heard of nothing about Pheung. Like many other people, I believed he must have died.

However, the reality is almost as dramatic as a historical romance. Suddenly, Pheung returned to Kokang in last December, and led his people to fight against the government army again. In the past week, there was a time when he almost entirely drove the government army out of Kokang. But the latest news is that the government army recaptured Kokang and Kokang army receded.

The war is nothing new for the region. But I was saddened for a few things.

First of all, this was never just a war between military powers. There are often news reports about local civilians being killed by the government army. And the most recent news mentioned that in order to search for fugitives of Kokang army, the government army burnt up acres after acres of sugarcane field, which is the main income source of local farmers after they shifted away from opium production.

Secondly, it's very disappointing that Chinese media and international media remain blind and silent about violence in Kokang. In spite of the large scale discussion among Chinese online community about Kokang, Chinese media didn't say anything about it except for the brief report of the short comments from the Foreign Ministry spokesman. The international media ignored the incidence as well. As always, if there is something happening in New York, Paris, or any western European major cities, it would be on the headlines for days or weeks. When there are slaughters in some remote corner of Africa or Asia, few media would care about it. This most recent Kokang conflicts started about a week ago. Up till this past Friday, by conducting an exhaustive Google search, I didn't find any news report about it by English language media, not a single one. Up till today, there are only some brief and shallow coverage, most simply repeating the lasted Myanmar government news release word by word. In contrast, American media (and oddly even some Chinese media) are so interested in giving long reports about the recent blizzards in Boston (which, by the way, are only comparable to the regular type of snow storm in rural Upstate New York).

Politics are complicated. It's hard to tell "right" from "wrong" or distinguish the "good guys" from the "bad guys". But awareness is the first step of understanding. For this, I thank Kokang tea for leading me to learn more about Kokang and its people. Drinking this tea, I pray for Kokang people and wish the 85-year-old General Pheung the best of luck.

Below are some unpleasant pictures from Kokang in the past day. 

Civilians in Kokang killed by the government militants. Their bodies were covered by the green blankets.
Some were killed after refusing to join the battle on site to the government army's side. Some were killed for no obvious reasons. Among the dead bodies, there are some with white hairs and some looked very young.

(I omitted some more bloody pictures.)

Young males of Kokang were tied up by the government soldiers. They will be sent to the battle front line to "fight for the government" or used as "flesh shields" for the government army. The government soldiers search door by door for young males. If nobody answers the door, they would burn up the house.

Feb 2, 2015

Guang Ya (广雅) "mellow taste" (味之淳)

This is a tea I sampled a few months ago and it's so interesting that I still think of it from time to time.

Recently, I also constantly wonder how much longer the tea blog could last. I'm not just talking about this tea blog - although I have to admit that these days I share tasting notes more in other ways than on the blog, mostly because one could be lazy using other media that involves only taking a few pictures and writing a few lines, while getting a lot more instant feedbacks from people. I still think blog is a better medium for writing about tea. But most people, including me, go lazy whenever they could :-p Even my puerh icon, Ulumochi, who used to write tons of nice stuff almost on daily basis, nowadays mostly writes micro blogs on WeChat (the Chinese counterpart of Twitter). His micro blogs are as intelligent and interesting, but I constantly miss his long blog posts!

I drank this tea a few months ago in my office. Then I took photos and immediately micro blogged it. One doesn't have the luxury of writing a real blog at work!

I got the sample for free from a Guang Ya dealer. In recent years, some very, very expensive new puerh brands came to the scene, and about half dozen of them got quite popular (I mean quite popular among rich people, of course). Guang Ya is one of them. I have never bought their puerh, because I don't know what could trigger me to make up my mind to buy a new puerh for several hundred dollars. But I bought some of their Liu Bao. Their Liu Bao is under the sub-brand Guang Wu (广梧). It's still way more expensive than most other brands. But new Liu Bao is overall a lot more affordable than puerh, and they seemed to have some unique traditional-style technique rarely found in other products. So I got their entry level Liu Bao, and to my surprise, got abundant free samples of their higher grade Liu Bao with my orders. Obviously I was hooked by their free samples, and went back buying some higher grade Liu Bao. Then to my joy, they gave me more samples of various types of Liu Bao and puerh. This is one of the samples.

The tea looks very decent and clean. That's sort of expected, for a new shu of almost $100 a cake (357g).

I expected the taste to be nice too. And it exceeded my expectation! It's not stinky (which is already a big plus for a new shu), the liquor is smooth, the taste is interesting and sweet, and it lasts for several decent infusions. Overall it's one of the best new shu's that I've had in recent years (although it's not even the high-grade shu of Guang Ya), and I think it could easily beat a lot of aged shu.

Then I thought more about its price. Still I think it's very expensive. But on the other hand, the price is not so forbidding. If I bought a cake, I could probably be happy drinking it on most of the days and finish the cake in a year. Then it's $100 well spent. You know, many puerh drinkers have many $30 cakes at home that were less than 1/10 used. So what's so wrong with a $100 new shu if you could enjoy every bit of it.

Then I thought of another question, couldn't somebody else make some $50 or $20 shu that is as enjoyable? Of course somebody could do it. And I have some less expensive shu that I enjoy very much. That's why I haven't bought this $100 yet (but indeed I was tempted). Meantime, I also understand why these super expensive brands could get so popular nowadays. I spend a lot of time searching tea. But not everybody who is interested in puerh would also be interested in spending so much time searching and trying different teas. For people who don't have time or don't want to spend time in tea hunting, brands like Guang Ya could be perfect for them for shu and ancient tree young sheng. 

My final comments on Guang Ya is, although their tea is expensive, their dealers are always generous in giving out free samples.

If you invert the two sections of the above sentence, it would make sense too ;-)

And my suggestion to tea friends was, buy some of their Liu Bao, and ask for free samples of more expensive teas!

Guess what, Twitter is firewalled in my new office. Otherwise, I could have done some tea twittering during the week...

Jan 10, 2015

to avoid over-brewing (and under-brewing) Chinese green tea (2)

Part (1) is here

3. Temperature
I don't believe temperature is a big factor that can cause over-brewing. As previously explained, in a vessel with wide opening and small volume, a tea can rarely be over-brewed, even when very hot water is used.

Interestingly, in my observation, I've noticed temperature is often a big factor that causes under-brewing. In recent years, there seems a trend of recommending rather low temperature for green tea brewing. I believe brewing temperature can definitely be flexible, based on personal preferences and with other brewing parameters (infusion time, leaf/water ratio, etc.) adjusted. But I am a little concerned that more or less, lower brewing temperature is becoming a dogma. Many people are told they "should" use rather low temperature for green tea (and similarly, for white tea), and are worried that higher temperature would ruin a green tea. Traditionally, many Chinese green teas are brewed at nearly boiling temperature (205-212 F) , some high end green teas with a lot of young buds are brewed at a lower temperature of about 180-205 F), and very few high end teas (such as March harvest Bi Luo Chun and En Shi Yu Lu, the latter one similar to Gyokuro of Japan) use even lower temperature of about 170-180 F). Currently, a lot of brewing temperatures recommended by various sources are even lower than the lowest of above-mentioned brewing temperature. When brewing a Chinese green tea at rather low temperature, a potential risk is the tea can be under-brewed, and the drinker would find the tea rather "tasteless". So when a tea drinker finds a Chinese green tea (or a white tea) short of taste, the first thought coming up to my mind would be "try hotter water". It doesn't always solve the problem, but sometimes it does.

(This previous post includes some discussion about brewing temperature for white tea.)

I have been wondering what makes people think very low temperature should be used for green tea. I guess, the influence of Japanese tea drinking might be a factor. Many Japanese green teas require significantly lower brewing temperature than Chinese green tea. When some people extends their tea drinking from Japanese green to Chinese green, they may naturally think similar low temperature should be used. But in fact, most Japanese green and most Chinese green are significantly different and therefore require very different brewing methods. Another possible reason why people think low temperature is suitable for green tea is the thought of "the more tender the tea leaves are, the lower temperature should be used", which might be naturally intuitive, but is often untrue. Besides, some brewing suggestions are probably made for 16 oz. or larger teapots that are more commonly found in an average household. Then lower temperature is used to compensate for the steaming and volume effect as above analyzed.

Some green teas can be enjoyed with lower brewing temperature without being under-brewed. Usually this involves adjustment of other brewing parameters.