Last week in part one of this blog post, we discovered the relationship between tea and Traditional Chinese Medicine and how tea turned into "a medicine for ten thousand illnesses". We also talked about two of the three most suitable teas to drink in wintertime - black tea and dark tea (like shou pu-erh and Liu Bao). We discussed how they support vital body functions and help preserve our health during the colder months. Now let's go on with the last suggestion - and a bonus mention!
3. Aged white tea
As you know by now, tea has inspired a lot of folklore wisdom in China and beyond. It reaches us in proverbs, local customs, and old sayings, the origin of which fades back in the distant past. It takes a special kind of tea to be called treasure, among other teas. Here's a well-known proverb: "A tea in one year is tea; in three years is a medicine; in seven years is a treasure." It gives an insight into how aged white tea settled into Chinese people's collective mind. This is one of the tea types with documented medicinal usage in China since ancient times.
White tea is a traditional remedy used in TCM and as a folk medicine to fight the accumulation of fire. We shouldn't confuse the notions: excessive fire is a pathogenic factor responsible for developing internal inflammations and many subsequent illnesses in TCM. It has nothing to do with the much-needed warmth in the colder seasons.
Indeed, aged white tea's anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties might be its most significant advantage. Recent research conducted in China has evaluated the composition of some essential substances (incl. caffeine, polyphenols, amino acids, etc.) in white tea samples, aged subsequently from 1 to 20 years. The results were particularly astonishing as to the content of flavonoids – a group of polyphenolic compounds with strong biological activity, protecting cells from oxidative damage. Following the timeline of the white tea aging, the overall amount of flavonoids has more than tripled compared to new tea! It gave space for new and elaborated research on aged tea and its benefits for human health. Indeed, time is the most precious commodity – and in the case of aged white tea, it comes with a huge benefit to health and wellbeing.
The accumulation over time of white tea's two powerful ingredients, EGCG and EGC, help with protecting the liver, decomposing of high-fat food intake and fat deposits, and lowering the bad cholesterol blood levels.
Aging has a powerful transformative effect on white tea both inside and outside. Under the influence of the active enzymes, the polyphenolic substances undergo a slow metamorphose. The color changes from yellow through deep golden to deep amber red. The taste smooths out and mellows, while the aroma becomes more and more intense and layered, developing unique aged notes (Chen Xiang) along with the honey and sundried notes. The tea's inner character slowly becomes warmer and more stable, balancing the body and the mood alike.
Shou Mei is a class of white tea particularly suitable for aging that can be your guide in discovering and experiencing the beauty of aged white tea. This type of white tea is particularly ideal for aging. It is produced by more significant, more developed leaves containing substances that transform over time. Thus, it gives out a richer, more layered taste once brewed. The aged white tea's smooth and mellow character contains balanced aged and woody nuances, invigorated with bright colors honey and fruity notes.
Bonus mention: Oolong tea
Our honorable mention of the best teas for wintertime goes to Oolong. This type of partially oxidized tea is also called blue-green tea or Qīng chá. It is one of the newest additions to the six big types of tea, yet with great significance for the development of the tea culture. Its production started around 1725 during the Qing dynasty in the Anxi county of Southern Fujian. From there, it spreads to Northern Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan, giving birth to one of the most prominent forms of tea culture in Southern Asia - the gong fu cha.
According to its production process, Oolong stands between the unoxidized green tea and the fully oxidized black tea. It retains some features from both types. Oolong is considered mild in nature, neither too hot nor too cold. It implies the freshness of green tea fragrance and the sweet notes and mellow mouthfeel of the black tea, along with their healing properties.
During the winter, most of the indoor air is dry. People are prone to cough and dehydrated skin. Much like the light and fresh green tea, Oolong stimulates fluid secretion and helps alleviate the dry air discomfort in the mouth and lungs. (Be careful not to overdose, though, as some teas have diuretic effects in more significant doses!). Moreover, Oolong tea is milder on the stomach than green tea, which has a reputation for causing problems to those with more sensitive stomachs.
Oolong also has a warming effect on the body. Its tea leaves have a pronounced ability to regulate lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, helping decompose fats and preventing fatty cells accumulation. It also supports liver function and prevents the formation of fatty liver. Due to the higher amount of oxidized polyphenols, the effect of Oolong tea on gastric mucus is not so intense compared to green tea.
While combining the healing properties of both green and black tea, Oolong is also a favorite in terms of scent and taste. So much so that it has earned the honorable titles of "champagne among teas" and "perfume among teas". Its unique aromatic blend includes flowery, fruity, and honey notes, along with the sought-after "Yan Yun" (called "Shan Yun" in Guangdong Oolongs). It may seem that this is purely olfactory and serves only to enjoy the senses. However, they are related to chemical composition and directly influence body health.
"Yan Yun" and "Shan Yun" are present only in high-quality, high-altitude teas of this type. They serve as quality distinguishers and are an essential regional characteristic for Oolong teas.
"Yan Yun" and "Shan Yun" refer to the terroir's specifics and how they manifest in the tea soup. Both notions describe the soil's mineral composition, which affects the taste of the tea and provides valuable elements for the functioning of our body. "Yan Yun" is used mainly for Northern Fujian Oolongs, growing on rocky mountain slopes. The soil is particularly rich in micro-elements and gives off a "mineral taste" in the tea soup, hence the name, which translates as "rock flavor". "Shan Yun" has the same meaning but is predominantly used for Guangdong Dancong Oolongs, like Phoenix Oolong tea. Their presence turns the tea session into a feast of senses while supplementing essential trace minerals to our body and wellbeing.
So, during colder months, aim for more oxidized and fermented teas, along with the more balanced aged varieties.
They will gently support your body in dealing with heavier and greasier food, assisting with protein and fat decomposition and toxins excretion while balancing the intestinal microbiome. Their layered, rich taste, balanced earthy aroma, and warm character will uplift your mood and ease your mind during the winter days, giving you one more reason to appreciate the warmth and coziness of the tea ritual.