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Sunday, September 13, 2009

White Tea for clear skin, and clear mind

If you read the previous article on puerh tea and its remarkable meditative qualities, you already know I have an extreme sensitivity to caffeine. That is why for many years I have had to avoid tea made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Nervous system soothing tisanes like African rooibos tea (red bush) have been a favorite, but though they provide remarkable antioxidants without giving the caffeine-sensitive the nervous jitters, they do not provide the mental clearing effect of caffeinated teas.

Meditation is about being physically calm and mentally alert. It is not about spacing out or floating off into a blurry bliss out. It's not like having a beer or a glass of wine, though many people try to use it that way. There are mental practices you can engage in that over time will give you the ability to calm your emotions, but that is not true meditation. Mental clarity must always be present in addition to the peaceful state if it is true meditation. It is in this form that meditation delivers its most profound effects, which are truly life transforming. I will write more on this in other articles, but want to clarify this crucial and often misunderstood point before proceeding to tout the benefits of a little caffeine in one's diet, no matter how caffeine-sensitive you are.

I am not a purist when it comes to having to do everything by dint of sheer effort. Why not get a little help from natural, legal substances if they actually help rather than becoming a diversion or a crutch? I tend to think of substances like marijuana as diversions. They imitate the "bliss out" experience so many falsely associate with spiritual experience, yet lead down a dead end that will never give you access to true spiritual freedom. And for some people these substances even become a crutch, one that people then need to face the world and get through the day. You can do anything in such a way that you develop a dependency. All I can do is to urge you to be aware of this and to moderate your enjoyment of the things you use accordingly, including caffeine.

And now, with no further prelude, here are the blessed attributes of white tea:

White tea is lower in caffeine than any other type of tea, and yet has the highest level of antioxidants. The tea is picked when it is just a bud, before it has developed all of its caffeine. It is also not cured, and so keeps more of its antioxidants all the way to your cup. This is where the skin clearing benefit is achieved, which I'm sure goes much deeper to be a general health tonic. The skin merely reveals what is going on inside.

Here is what a wikipedia article has to say about white tea:

"A study at Pace University in 2004 showed white tea had more anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities than green tea. White tea contains higher catechin levels than green tea due to its lack of processing. Catechin concentration is greatest in fresh, unbroken and unfermented tea leaves. Furthermore, one study examining the composition of brewed green and white teas found that white tea contained more gallic acid and theobromine. As white tea is made out of young leaves and buds, it has more of amino acid theanine (providing relaxing and mood enhancing properties) than green and black teas, which are made from older leaves."

There is some debate around the internet about the amount of caffeine in white tea compared to other teas, but what I see is that the greatest number of sources say white tea has the least caffeine, while only wikipedia seems to be claiming it has the most. My experience has definitely been that it has the least. Here is a helpful chart of caffeine levels from About.com.

I find that the combination of theanine, antioxidants, and a touch of caffeine makes white tea the perfect health tonic. Served hot, it is a wonderful afternoon break and prelude to meditation. Served iced, it is a delicious accompaniment to many foods. I'm particularly loving it with tuna sandwiches, but that's because the iced white tea I make includes some dried fruit, and fruit is a great compliment to seafood.

I've also notice that my skin is absolutely glowing lately (and no, I most definitely am NOT pregnant). I've always had pretty nice skin, but this is just amazing. My pores have shrunk and my complexion is getting clearer every day. It became noticeable after just 3 days of starting my venture into white tea, and now at the one month mark there is a very marked difference. Another important part of my "great skin" habit is that I take one Apple Cider Vinegar capsule and one Flax seed oil softgel with breakfast each day. I've been doing that for about a year, and also noticed a big reduction in wrinkles and increase in the softness of my skin as a result. The white tea has added the effect of clearing up small blemishes and reducing the size of my pores to create the smooth look of one's twenties. (I'm in my early 40s.)

Things You Will Need


If you would like to add white tea to your diet, you can just buy teabags at the grocery store that are labeled "white tea," but that is going to get you a lower quality product that you may have a hard time considering enough of a treat to actually enjoy drinking it enough to get the significant effects I'm talking about. If you can financially swing it, I would encourage your investing in the following:

The Tea - White Tea Sampler from Adagio, 4 different white teas in 1.5 ounce tins. I discovered I liked the Silver Needle the best, which is no surprise, since Silver Needles is widely considered the best white tea. You don't need to get the sampler to find that out. The reason to get the sampler is to see if there is another white tea you will like enough to buy it instead, because Silver Needle is also the most expensive. Once I decided to get Silver Needle in larger quantities, I went with a different vendor because Adagio's teas aren't the very best you can get for the prices they charge. White tea is best the freshest it is, so a tea that has been picked the same year is ideal. Adagio doesn't even present the ages of its white teas, which tells you a lot. I went with Imperial Tea Court's 2009 Harvest Imperial Silver Needle, which unfortunately seems to be out of stock now. They do still have a 2009 White Peony, which is often considered the second best quality of white tea, and at less than half the price of Silver Needle.

For iced tea, try Adagio's flavored white tea sampler for $7 or mix and match your own 2 oz. tins for $2 each. I love the combination of 2 parts White Pear, to 1 part White Peach and 1 part White Blueberry. Truly AMAZINGLY delicious.

The Accessories - The most significant investment I made in starting up my white tea lifestyle was in getting a temperature controlled electric tea kettle. White tea has to be brewed at a lower temperature than boiling, and I just couldn't be bothered to try to get it right without a kettle like this. You can find them on the internet from $50-100 by just doing a search for "temperature controlled tea kettle" but I got mine from Adagio. Here is a great find at Amazon Temperature controlled tea kettle.

(You will notice that I am mentioning Adagio a lot. I must give the disclaimer that I have mixed feelings about this vendor due to how they handled my last order, which they eventually had to reimburse me for, but they do have a wide selection of useful things for a tea drinker. The biggest drawback that is likely to affect you is that they don't post tracking numbers on their website. The only way you can track your package directly is if you email them and ask for your tracking number. On their website it just shows where they think the package is now. So when at 9pm I got an email from them saying my packaged had been delivered, but I had no package in my possession, they were no help in finding where it was. I called UPS and was on the phone with them half an hour, trying to figure out what package I was even talking about as well as where it actually was. I may still do business with them, because I love their flavored teas for iced tea, but I will do so knowing the drawbacks and never buy anything high-priced from them again.)

The other accessory that may be worth your investment is a clear glass teapot. It is helpful to be able to gauge brewing time by the color of the tea. Different white tea vendors suggest different brewing times, and I find my sight is now the best true gauge, now that I've experimented a little with the exact teas I'm using, the quantities I use, and the brewing purpose (iced or hot). The other benefit of a glass teapot is that the flavor of white tea is so subtle that it can be affected by the pot you brew it in. Never make white tea in a teapot that you have been using to brew black tea, or even oolong or green tea, for that matter, unless it is a non-porous teapot. Glass is non-porous. Yixing is quite porous. Ceramic is moderately porous. Iron pots are always coated with an internal glaze, and I don't know what it is or whether it is porous, but if you have one, hopefully you know.

My glass teapot came with an internal strainer at the spout, so that the tea floats freely while brewing, then automatically gets strained as it is poured out of the pot. I got a small pot because I am usually brewing just for myself, and since you have to let white tea steep several minutes, you don't want a mostly empty pot cooling down your tea before it is ready for drinking. I generally make one cup at a time, for two steeps. Between the iced flavored white tea I often have with lunch, and the hot tea break mid-afternoon, I drink 2-3 cups of tea each day. Sometimes the afternoon break is with a different type of tea, and sometimes I skip the iced tea at lunch, but on average its 2-3 cups a day that leads to clear skin for me. The cost is about $1 per day.

The Preparation - Recommended steeping times vary from 2-7 minutes. I find that my first drinkable steep of most white teas come out best at around 3 minutes. I say first "drinkable" steep, because I always wash my tea leaves with the first steep of 30-45 seconds. This also washes off much of the caffeine, because caffeine is water soluble. Add time to each steep to get more of the flavor out of the leaves.

Brewing temperature is recommended at 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit (about 80 degrees Celsius). In the days before temperature controlled tea kettles, people would pour boiling water into cooling pitchers, let the temperature drop for a minute or two, then pour the water into the teapot. This is also the method used with Green Tea, and White Tea is even more delicate than green.

I hope you will give it a try. To your health!

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