CAFFEINE

This site is about ‘tea‘, as well as ‘toast‘ and ‘travel‘.  But, it seems lately I haven’t posted much about the actual beverage ‘tea‘.  Many people think this is a site about food only.  Actually, it was my love for ‘tea‘ and the closing of my tea business which prompted me to start this blog.  I think I still had much more to say on the subject but my audience was gone.  Well, I haven’t stopped talking about ‘tea‘ yet.

I do realize that I still live in that ‘tea world’, a world in which most people do not live.  So when I overhear someone saying ‘yeah, I can’t drink tea because it has too much caffeine‘, or ‘did you know tea has more caffeine than coffee?‘ I have to step away from the conversation, because it still makes me a little crazy.  I feel compelled to set the record straight once more … TEA does not have more caffeine than coffee.  In the most simplistic of terms … ” A cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

Not enough information for you?  Okay, then here’s my CAFFEINE 101.

Camellia Sinensis plant

Where does caffeine come from?  Well, Mother Nature is responsible for caffeine.  She came up with a natural way to protect over 60 plants from destructive leaf, nut and seed-eating predators.  When these hungry, little insects try to eat these plants they get a mouthful of this bitter organic compound.  For the most part, these plants originated from Asia, Africa and South America, which, of course, is where the trees which give us coffee, cocoa and tea originated.  At this point, I am assuming everyone knows tea (not herbal beverages like chamomile, mint, rooibos, hibiscus, etc.) comes from the camellia sinensis plant, which originated in Asia.

Caffeine Structure

Now we’ve established that caffeine is natural.  It can, however, be ‘manipulated’ and it can also be ‘harvested’.  In the beverage we love so much, there are several factors which determine tea’s caffeine content.  In today’s modern world, it begins with the propagation of the bush.  Plants grown from clones can produce twice as much caffeine as bushes from seeds.  Nitrogen fertilizer can also add another 10% to the normal caffeine level.  From there, the caffeine content in the plant can vary according to the picking season. Teas plucked in cooler weather might produce less caffeine than those plucked in the fast growing hot months. Also, things as subtle as the location of the leaf on the stem, or whether its an unfurled bud, can also affect the level of caffeine.  And let’s not forget that the longer the infusion (the longer the leaves sit in the water), the greater the caffeine content.  Did you know that tea bags, which contain broken leaves, fannings and dust, produce an infusion with far more caffeine than loose leaf tea?

Uber-smart Nigel Melican, research scientist and founder of Teacraft, Ltd., says it best Caffeine varies in the fresh green leaf depending on fineness of pluck. For any tea, be it black, green or white, the caffeine is highest in the bud. Silver needle (white tea) is 100% bud and has the highest caffeine content.  If your white tea is 100% bud then it’s going to be one-third higher in caffeine content than green tea made from two leaves and a bud.”

Learning how to properly pluck tea in China.

Please understand we’re not talking about astronomically high amounts of caffeine … perhaps a variance of 8-10% (which might be just enough to keep some people up at night).  The average tea drinker consumes about 180 mg of caffeine per day as compared to the average coffee drinker’s 330 mg per day (far more if they drink robust coffee such as Starbucks).

Upon drinking this naturally-occurring substance, it is absorbed into the small intestine and within 45 minutes is distributed throughout your body.  Yes, it is a stimulant .  And, yes, it has been shown to increase alertness and concentration, quell headaches (which is why some pharmaceutical companies ‘harvest’ caffeine) and it does speed reaction time.  It also increases digestive juices in the stomach (always served after a meal in Asia).  Although it does not dehydrate the body, it does stimulate the kidneys, which helps the body eliminate toxins.  If caffeine keeps you up at night, avoid drinking it four to five hours before bed (which is the amount of time it takes for the caffeine to work its way out of your system).

For most of us, caffeine really shouldn’t be a concern.  High amounts of caffeine, however, can absolutely have a negative affect on some people.  If you are on medication which is affected by caffeine, or if your doctor is asking you to cut caffeine out of your diet, switch to a decaffeinated tea or a caffeine-free herbal.  (Remember, caffeine is not present in herbals unless they are blended with tea leaves.)  Always consult with your doctor if you have any questions about caffeine’s effects upon your health.

There is much more to say on the subject of caffeine, but I think I’ve gone on enough for the average person.  The next time someone tells me ‘tea has more caffeine than coffee’, I hope you’ll realize that, at that moment, I will be doing everything in my power not to go on a rant … as I’ve done here!  And, for everyone who may still be confused … ” a cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

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References:  Cha DaoCoffee and Health, Wikipedia, Villanova University,

It’s Pumpkin Time!

Pumpkin-flavored anything has taken over the country!  I don’t know who started it (or why) maybe it was the competition between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks with their Pumpkin spiced lattes, but the “pumpkin” craze is crazy!!  Forget about cookies, pie and cheesecake, now it’s all about pumpkin flavored cereals … and truffles … and ice cream …. not to mention yogurt, potato chips and now pumpkin-spiced “Peeps”.  Yikes!  We’ve gone pumpkin mad!

I’d love to bring our love for pumpkin back down to earth, so I’m sharing my recipe for Pumpkin Scones with Pumpkin Butter.  Moist, delicious and full of that pumpkiny flavor we all apparently love.  But, please note, these are not the dry flavorless scones you find in coffee shops.  These are British-inspired scones, moist and biscuit like.   Hot out of the oven, break them open and slather on a good amount of this not overly sweet pumpkin butter.  Enjoy!

PUMPKIN SCONES
Makes about 9 to 12 scones (depending upon size)  Bake at 425° for 20 to 25 minutes

1 14oz. can solid pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 cup cold buttermilk
1 stick cold butter, (cut into 1/2″ cubes)
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
melted butter for brushing
brown sugar for sprinkling

Assemble all your ingredients and baking tools – but do not preheat the oven at this time.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Do not preheat the oven as yet. If you are using fresh pumpkin, you’ll need about 2 cups.  Canned pumpkin can have a lot of moisture, so be sure to drain the pumpkin before using.

pumpkin-scones-1

I use a food processor.  It’s just the easiest and quickest way to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.  While the pumpkin is draining, add the all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, soda, spices, salt and brown sugar) into the food processor and pulse to blend well.

pumpkin-scones-2

Cut the COLD butter into 1/2″ cubes and add to the flour mixture.  Pulse quickly just to combine. Do not overmix the dry ingredients.  Bits of butter should still be visible in the flour.

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In a large separate bowl mix together the drained pumpkin and the buttermilk.

pumpkin-scones-4Put all the dry from the food processor into a large bowl, adding the nuts, and then, with a fork, stir in the pumpkin mixture.  Work quickly mixing all the ingredients together until just blended.  Do not overwork the dough or our scones will be heavy and tough.

pumpkin-scones-5Dump the batter onto a lightly floured board.  Knead lightly until smooth and form into a round or square shape.

pumpkin-scones-6Then roll to a thickness about 3/4″ high and approximately 8″ in diameter.  The shape will depend upon how you want to cut them.  The batter should still be soft and sticky.  By dipping the biscuit cutter or knife into flour after every cut, you avoid squishing the dough together.  Try to make clean cuts, not twisting or turning the dough.  Whether you cut the scones into rounds or triangles or squares is all up to you!  If you have any scraps after cutting, reform the dough and continue making more.

pumpkin-scones-7Transfer the cut pieces onto a parchment lined baking sheet by again dipping a spatula into flour and lifting from underneath.  Try not to compress the dough or add too much pressure.  Arrange the scones on the baking sheet about 1/2″ apart.  They will rise while baking.  Brush the tops of the scones lightly with melted butter and sprinkle with brown sugar.  Then place the baking sheet into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (or more).  Only then should you preheat the oven to 425°.

pumpkin-scones-8

Bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes (rotating the tray about halfway through the bake time), or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  The scones should be puffed up, lightly browned on top and on the bottom.  Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool.  Serve warm or cool.  It’s entirely up to you!

pumpkin-scones-9

For breakfast or tea, if you and your family love pumpkin, I hope you LOVE these moist, rich and delicious (not overly sweet) scones.
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The Culture Shift … Tea to Coffee

What is happening in Great Britain today?  Traditional tea rooms are on the decline while lattés, caramelattés, cappuchinos, mochachinos and espresso drinking cafés are on the upswing.  The new millenials would rather log on and slurp, than clink cups and sip.  Although people are living longer, older generation Brits just can’t seem to hold onto their dying traditions anymore.  The solid foundations are slipping away.  The special occasion “afternoon tea” may be as popular as ever, but the mid-morning, mid-day, early evening tea break is just about gone.

Starbucks Cafe
Now there appears to be a war between Caffé Nero, Starbucks and Costa.  Take away their signs and all the marketing materials, and quite honestly, they are impossible to tell apart.  No character.  No charm.  No unique identity.  They refer to themselves as “customer centric”?  What exactly does “customer centric” mean anyway?

They each use surveys to track the customer service experience.  Surveys from how the customers like the furniture, the music, the art, and most recently what was printed on the take-away cup.  What about a survey about how good the coffee or tea tastes?  I guess that’s no longer important.

costaWhen I go to one of these take-away cafes, I know I’m going to have to compromise on the quality of the tea that I’m about to order.  I love green tea, but I know it will be a teabag of questionable quality, steeped with water that is far too hot and, if I don’t tell them to please not put the teabag into the cup, it will definitely be oversteeped and bitter.  I will carry the cup, perhaps on a tray, back to a table, which may or may not be clean, slopping most of the tea over the top, only to find that there’s no chair available, and napkins are nowhere in sight.  (Sigh)

caffe neroAnd the media tells me everyone is so concerned about their calorie and sugar intake, yet many Brits now consume these beverages regularly.  Action on Sugar, which is a group of specialists concerned with sugar intake and its effects on health, analyzed 131 hot drinks and found Starbucks, Caffé Nero and Costa to be among the worst offenders.

At Starbucks a “White Chocolate Mocha Venti with Whipped Cream” has 18 teaspoons of sugar.  Now, if I’m ordering dessert at a restaurant, that might be okay, but … really … this is just a beverage?  All right, that might seem a bit extreme.  How about if we wanted one of their seasonal beverages, such as Starbuck’s seasonal Hot Mulled Fruit drinks?  Would you believe 25 TEASPOONS of sugar!   Or if you think a nice hot chai would warm you up, at Costa a Chai Latte has only 20 teaspoons of sugar.  ONLY 20 TEASPOONS!

Want to know how many teaspoons of sugar are in a steaming, hot cup of tea?  0  Oh, maybe I didn’t stress that enough …. 0!  If you want sugar, you can put it in yourself.  I dare you to add 20 teaspoons of sugar to your cuppa and see if you still want to drink it.

We might have to get into the cost of these highly-calorific beverages on another post, but, for now, just think of the calorie savings alone.  The lowly cup of tea has 0 fat and 0 calories.  You can still hold it in your hands.  It still warms you.  It tastes delicious.  It is very social.  What’s better than sharing a good pot of tea with friends?  And it costs pennies.

So c’mon Brits.  Don’t be like so many other countries and let your traditions slip away.  Does every shopping area need to look like every other shopping area and every café look like every other café?  Perhaps tearooms may not be the chic, savvy trend-setting places they once were, but what they always have provided is a hearty cuppa, for a reasonable cost, warming the hearts and hands of generations of Brits!

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References:  Independent, Nunwood, Action on Sugar, TEA & COFFEE magazine

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