Why We Must Have Our Daily Cuppa
Author’s note: My interest in tea began around 1984 in Bangkok when my American friend’s father-in-law, a Chinese Thai, showed a Taiwanese friend the proper way of preparing tea. Since then I’d been drinking the heavenly brew without a break and reading on it. The text was compiled after reading report of Jankun’s findings in 1997. The article was first published in 2000 in Penang Club magazine.
Green tea can help prevent cancer through the action of a chemical known as a cathechin, researchers in the US reported on 3 June 1997. They said it was non-toxic in doses found in tea – but a single cup of green tea contained huge amount of the chemical.
“One of the major ingredients of green tea inhibits urokinase, an enzyme crucial for cancer growth,” Jerzy Jankun of the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo and colleagues wrote in a paper.
Researchers knew all along, tea and especially green tea contained chemicals that could protect against cancer but have been unable to identify the precise mechanism.
Jankun’s group said they had found ‘epigallocathechin-3 gallate’ (EGCG) acted against urokinase, which is often found in large amount in human cancers. EGCG attaches to it and prevents it from invading cells and forming tumors.
Black tea does not work in this way because its fermentation process destroy the effects of cathechins.
Jankun’s group compares the dose of cathechins in green tea to a drug, amiloride, that acts in similar way but is usually used to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.
“Amiloride is administered in a maximum dose of 20 mg per day, whereas a single cup of tea 150 mg of EGCG, and some tea lovers consume up to 10 cups a day,” they wrote.
“Such high levels of urokinase inhibitor are likely to have a physiological effect and could reduce incidence of cancer in humans or the size of the cancer alredy formed.”
TEA May Be The Oldest, as it is surely the most constantly congenial, reminder of the West’s debt to the East – Francis Ross Carpenter, translator of Lu Yu’s Cha-ching.
Chemical analysis of tea, Ternstroemiaceae, confirms that it has some 20 amino acids, 30 polypeptide bodies, 12 sugars, 6 organic acids and as much as 5 percent caffeine and theophylline. It also has fluoride, vitamin C and B complex, plus nicotine acid (B3). Theophyline is an active ingredient in relaxing the bronchioles, as well as helping to produce urine and stomach acid and speeding up the heart beat, which covers many of the functions with which folklore accredits the wonders of Tea.
In the 8th century AD, the Chinese scholar Lu Yu wrote a classical treatise on Tea called Cha Ching, or the book of tea, in which he commented: “Tea tempers the spirit, calms and harmonises the mind; it arouses thoughts and prevents drowsiness, lightens and refreshes the body and cleans the perceptive faculties.”
“Born to the earth are three kinds of creatures. Some are winged and fly. Some are furred and run. Still others stretch their mouths and talk. All of them must eat and drink to survive. There are times, nonetheless, when the meaning of ‘drink’ becomes obscure. If one would merely slake his thirst, then he can drink rice and water. Should melancholy, sadness or anger strike, he can turn to wine to drink. But if one would dispel an evening’s unproductive lassitude, the meaning of ‘drink’ is tea.”
Lu Yu recommended that good tea should be sipped in a bamboo grove, on a small bridge near a painted boat, on in a pavilion surrounded by water lilies in the company of slender concubines.
Other moments of drinking tea are: When one’s heart and hands are idle; tired after reading poetry; playing the ‘chin’ and looking over paintings; engaged in conversation with bosom friends deep in the night.
All formalities will be abolished and among intimate friends, we will chat and laugh and forget our own existence. We will not discuss the right and wrong of other people and will be totally indifferent to worldly glory and wealth. In our leisure we will discuss the ancients and the moderns and in our quiet we will play with the mountains and rivers.
What is this enjoyment which makes us so quietly happy and so forgetful of everything else, and what is the condition of the infinite universe?
Chastened in spirit, quiet in mind and surrounded by proper company, one is fit to enjoy tea.
Things to be avoided: bad water, bad utensils, brass spoons, brass kettles.
The waste of fine tea through incompetent manipulation was considered one of the three deplorable acts in the world (the other two being false education of youth and uninformed admiration of fine paintings).
The preparation and drinking of tea is always a performance of loving pleasure, importance and distinction. In a true tea lover, the pleasure of handling all the paraphernalia is such that it is enjoyed for its own sake.
The utensils for preparing tea are as important as good tea itself. The appreciation of rare cups, the touch, feel and smell of hand crafted bamboo enhance the feeling of nature – all at once we are transported to the singing of the wind among pine trees and bamboo.
Lu Yu says: Tea is of a cold nature and may be used in case of blockage or stoppage of the bowels. When its flavour is at its coldest nature, it is most suitable as a drink. If one is generally moderate but is feeling hot or warm, given to melancholia, suffering from aching of the brain, smarting of the eyes, troubled in the four limbs, or afflicted in the hundred joints, he may take tea four or five times. Its liquor is like the sweetest dew of Heaven.
From Francis Ross Carpenter: Finally, and perhaps most important, tea epitomizes the Chinese attitude toward time and change. To the Westerner, life has always seemed very linear. Today must somehow improve upon yesterday and tomorrow must extend and build upon today. The Chinese have taken a more cyclic view of their world. The Westerner has danced to an insistent beat called “progress,” the Chinese, to a rhythm of natural movement…standstill and rest are a part of change…To get back to the starting point and the source of one’s strength was of the essence of change.
Implicit in ‘The Classic of Tea’ is the acceptance of this idea of change. That there must be a time to rest is a lesson taught by nature. We disregard it at society’s peril, and Lu Yu understood that. Hence, tea was not just a medicine to banish drowsiness (although he frequently praises it for that virtue). It was a means of helping man return to his starting point – that hour in the rhythm of the day when the prince and the peasant shared thoughts and a common cheer as they readied themselves for their separate lives. Such are the virtues that Lu Yu finds in tea and it is those virtues that dictact the loving attention he would have his reader give to the moment of tea.
Lu Yu was born in Hupei Province in Ching Ling (now T’ien Men or Gate of Heaven), probably in the second quarter of the eighth century, and died in 804. He is so revered in Chinese culture that sacrifices have been made to him as the “god of tea.”
Francis Ross Carpenter studied Chinese language and philosophy at Stanford University and the University of London. After many years of government service in Chinese affairs, he became associate director of the Museum of the American China Trade in Milton, Massachusetts.