Cheaper Tea Than Teavana – Where To Buy Inexpensive, High-Quality Loose-Leaf Tea

tea-time-2Teavana is a popular chain of tea stores in the United States. Although the teas sold by Teavana are consistently above-average quality, there is concern that Teavana’s prices are high. My personal opinion is that although Teavana does sell top-notch tea, I also think that it is possible to obtain similar products from other companies for lower prices.

This article outlines some of the other sources of buying high-quality loose leaf tea, sources that are cheaper than Teavana. Inexpensive does not necessarily mean low quality. I have tried to cover a broad range of prices in this article, so I will cover companies priced slightly lower than Teavana to those offering more bargain buys, but I will focus on companies that sell high-quality loose-leaf tea for reasonable prices.

Upton Tea Imports:

Upton is a very different sort of company from Teavana; it focuses on pure teas and single-origin teas, rather than blends. Its true strengths lie in black teas from India, such as Darjeeling and Assam, although it has quite a selection from China as well. Upton has many offerings which are priced well under $10 for 100-120grams, or about 1/4 a pound.

Ahmad Tea:

Ahmad is a brand of tea, based in London, which is marketed primarily towards a middle-eastern audience. Ahmad is the most popular brand of tea in Iran, and is widely available in boxes in middle-eastern stores. I find it to be an excellent choice for strong black and green teas; many of their offerings are under $10 a pound, yet have impressive quality for this price.

Sustainablity-focused companies: Rishi, Arbor Teas, Shanti Teas:

Three companies that I also like to recommend are Rishi Tea, Arbor Teas, and Shanti Teas. These companies tend to have significantly higher prices than Upton or Ahmad, but the higher prices are associated with an increased selection of organic certified and fair trade certified teas. These companies are all leaders in sustainability. Rishi, being the oldest of the three, is the best-known and the one whose teas I have had the most experience with. If you are going to pay top dollar for your tea, I would recommend buying from one of these companies; many of their teas are still cheaper than Teavana, but you will be paying to empower the tea producers, protect the environment, and preserve local traditions of production in developing countries rather than just paying for the high rents in high-end shopping malls that you are paying for when you buy Teavana’s tea.

In summary:

Teavana’s teas are high quality, but are also high-priced, and are in my opinion, overpriced. There is no company exactly like Teavana, but there are many good alternatives from which you can buy loose-leaf tea at reasonable prices. My personal recommendations of companies to buy from include Upton, Ahmad Tea, and the sustainability-focused companies like Rishi, Arbor, and Shanti Tea, which have a lot of organic and fair trade certified offerings.


Alex Zorach is the founder and editor-in-chief of RateTea, an online community where anyone can rate and review teas, an authoritative source for information about tea. RateTea has a searchable database of teas, classified by brand, style, and region, and articles on tea, health, sustainability, and related topics. Visit RateTea to rate and review teas.

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Buying The Best Black Teas – Choosing For Quality And Value

black-tea-2The notion of the “best black tea” is a bit problematic, because different people have different tastes. However, there is a rough consensus about certain teas being higher quality than others. Some teas, particularly, those that are very fresh, have a strong aroma, and smoother flavor. Stale tea, on the other hand, can be all-around bland, and low-quality tea can often be harsh, overly bitter or astringent, with less of a pleasing aroma.

This article explores the question of how to select black teas to buy so as to obtain the highest quality tea at the most reasonable price, thus finding the best value for one’s dollar.

Buy loose-leaf, not tea bags:

loose-leaf-black-teaMost connoisseurs have a strong preference for loose-leaf. Why? There are two very compelling reasons to prefer loose-leaf over tea bags. The first is quality: most of the best teas on the market are only available in loose-leaf form. But the second is price and value: when you buy tea bags, you are paying for the packaging rather than the leaf itself.

Know the regions producing tea, and buy single-origin teas, not blends:

Black Ceylon Tea

Black Ceylon Tea

Black tea, like all teas, can be classified into two broad categories: single-origin and blends. Single-origin tea is grown in a particular region, like Darjeeling or Assam in India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), or Keemun (originating in Anhui, China). Blends contain teas from different regions; common blends include English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast, and many of them are just labelled as “black tea”, or are labelled by grade, such as “orange pekoe”.

Although some blends can be remarkably high quality, these blends tend to be the exception, rather than the norm. Many of the best black teas are only available as single-origin, named varieties, because sellers would not want to blend these top-notch teas in with teas from other regions, losing their unique character.

Seek whole-leaf over broken-leaf:

Whole Tea Leaves Provide High Quality Flavor

Whole Tea Leaves Provide High Quality Flavor

Black tea is often classified by grades, according to a system of letters, which includes whole-leaf grades like OP (orange pekoe) or FTGFOP (Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe), and broken-leaf grades like BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) as well as fannings and dust, the lowest grades.

Although there are certainly high-quality broken-leaf teas and low-quality whole-leaf teas out there, as a general rule, whole-leaf tends to be much higher in quality than broken-leaf. It also tends to retain its flavor better when stored, and tends to infuse slower, thus making it harder to oversteep.

In summary:

This article has provided only a brief introduction to choosing the best black teas to buy. My advice here can be summed up in buying loose-leaf rather than tea bags, buying single-origin rather than blends, and buying whole-leaf rather than broken-leaf (or fannings or dust). Because everyone’s taste is different, no one can tell you exactly which teas you will enjoy the most; to figure this out, you will need to sample different teas from different companies. But the tips here can help you to make better informed decisions when purchasing black tea.


Alex Zorach is the founder and editor-in-chief of RateTea, an online community where anyone can rate and review teas, an authoritative source for information about tea. RateTea has a searchable database of teas, classified by brand, style, and region, and articles on tea, health, sustainability, and related topics. Visit RateTea’s page on black tea reviews to learn more about which teas to buy.

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Chinese Oolong Teas Similar To But Cheaper Than Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy)

Oolong Tea

Oolong Tea

I am both a drinker of high-quality loose-leaf tea, and a bargain hunter, and I am particularly fond of Chinese oolong teas. If you are at all like me, you have likely encountered Tie Guan Yin oolong, also called “Iron Goddess of Mercy”, but you are likely frustrated at the high price of good quality Tie Guan Yin.

In this article I explore Chinese oolong teas that are similar to Tie Guan Yin, but more affordable.

Other Anxi oolongs:

Tie Guan Yin Tea

Tie Guan Yin Tea

Tie Guan Yin originates in Anxi County of Fujian province in China, although a few other regions (including Taiwan) also produce high quality versions of this tea. But Anxi county also produces a number of other oolong teas, many of which are quite similar to Tie Guan Yin.

These other oolongs, together, are sometimes referred to as “Se Chung” or “Se Zhong” oolongs. There are a number of different varietals of se chung oolong; the one that is usually considered most similar to Tie Guan Yin is Ben Shan, sometimes translated as “original mountain”. Other varietals include Huang Yin Gui, an oolong whose fragrance resembles that of osmanthus blossoms, Qi Lan, which resembles orchids in aroma, and Mao Xie, meaning hairy crab, referring to the hairy leaves which are twisted into miniature crab-like shapes. Rou Gui, an oolong whose aroma resembles cinnamon, best known for being produced in the Wuyi mountains, also is produced in Anxi.

Although these other varietals of oolong are nowhere near as available as the famous Tie Guan Yin, the fact that they are less well-known makes them often available for a more reasonable price. It is also worth noting that because these other varieties of oolong have little popular appeal in mainstream society, the only companies that carry them tend to be the companies that specialize in Chinese teas, and thus carry higher-quality teas.

Other oolongs from nearby regions:

Tea plantation in Xiping Town. a famous historic site in Xiping, Anxi, Fujian, China.

Tea plantation in Xiping Town. a famous historic site in Xiping, Anxi, Fujian, China.

Two other neighboring counties produce other greener oolongs that can be vaguely similar to Tie Guan Yin, although, to my tastes, both of them are a bit edgier. The two teas that come to my mind are Yongchun Fo Shou, or Buddha’s Palm oolong, produced in Yongchun county, north of Anxi, and Zhangping Shui Xian, or Narcissus oolong, produced in Zhangping, a county-level city west of Anxi.

In summary:

Tie Guan Yin is the most well-known of the oolongs from southern Fujian province of China. Because it is so well-known, it tends to have a higher price, and there are also quite a few companies that sell low-quality oolong bearing its name. By exploring the other varietals produced in Anxi county, and also in other neighboring regions, you can not only obtain high-quality oolong tea for a reasonable price, but you can discover greater variety and broaden your oolong drinking experience.


Alex Zorach is the founder and editor-in-chief of RateTea, an online community where anyone can rate and review teas, and the web’s authoritative source for information about tea. Visit RateTea’s page on oolong tea varieties or the page on teas from Fujian province to learn more about oolongs other than Tie Guan Yin.

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Teas of the World

tea-plantationTea comes from one plant, Camellia sinensis, which is grown in a number of different locations around the world. Learning about and sampling the different teas of the world is an exciting process which is not only fun for its own sake, but can help you to become more knowledgeable about tea, and to locate the best teas to suit your own personal tastes.

Major tea-producing regions of the world:

Bao Zhong Oolong Tea

Bao Zhong Oolong Tea

The two largest producers of tea are China and India. Both of these countries have diverse and fascinating cultures of both tea production and drinking. India produces mostly black teas, but has a great deal of diversity among the different types of black tea that it produces. China, on the other hand, is the origin of many of the world’s different varieties of tea, including green, black, white, oolong, and Pu-erh. Until recently, there were few countries outside of China that produced an appreciable amount of white, oolong, and Pu-erh.


Tea plantation in Xiping Town. a famous historic site in Xiping, Anxi, Fujian, China.

Tea plantation in Xiping Town. a famous historic site in Xiping, Anxi, Fujian, China.

Chinese teas are so diverse that it would be challenging if not impossible to write a paragraph that accurately depicts their diversity. Some major varieties to come out of China include blacks like Keemun, Yunnan Red, and Lapsang souchong, oolongs like Tie Guan Yin, Se Chung, Feng Huang Dancong, and the Wuyi oolongs, whites like Shou Mei, white peony, and silver needle, greens like Bi Luo Chun, dragonwell, and gunpowder, and also Pu-erh, an aged tea. Many of these styles are now produced in other parts of the world as well.

Indian Teas:

Driving on an unfinished new road to Tibet, an ancient tea trail.

Driving on an unfinished new road to Tibet, an ancient tea trail.

The two most famous types of Indian tea are Darjeeling and Assam. Both are generally black teas, and are named for the regions in which they are produced. Assam, grown at a lower elevation, is a powerful black tea with a strong malty character, and is one of the key ingredients in strong breakfast blends like Irish Breakfast. Darjeeling teas, on the other hand, are grown at a higher altitude, have a lighter character, and are a favorite for English afternoon tea. Less well-known worldwide, but still important, are Nilgiri teas, grown at high elevations in southern India. Recently, India has begun producing a few green, white, and oolong teas as well, especially in Darjeeling.

Ceylon Teas from Sri Lanka:

Black Ceylon Tea

Black Ceylon Tea

Ceylon is simply an older term for Sri Lanka, and Ceylon tea just refers to tea grown in Sri Lanka. Like India, Sri Lanka produces mostly black tea, although it has also recently expanded into green teas. Sri Lanka is an island, and has diverse topography. As the topography changes, so does the climate, and thus, Ceylon teas grown in different parts of the island have radically different characters.

Japanese Green Teas:

Green Tea

Green Tea

Japan produces and consumes almost exclusively green tea. In contrast to Chinese green teas, which are pan-fired, Japanese green teas are steamed, giving them very different qualities of taste and aroma. The leaf of Japanese green teas tends to be more flaky, and the aroma more vegetal, often even seaweedy. Some styles of Japanese tea include sencha, bancha, kukicha (twig tea), hojicha (roasted green tea), genmaicha (brown rice tea), gyokuro, and matcha (a powdered green tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony).

Taiwan, Capital of the Oolongs:

Oolong Tea

Oolong Tea

Taiwan, in the tea world, is often referred to as Formosa. Although oolong originated in China, Taiwan is the origin of many of the world’s best oolongs nowadays. Taiwanese oolong ranges from darker-colored, more oxidized varieties, such as oriental beauty or bai hao oolong (which is sometimes just labelled generically as Formosa oolong), through the intermediate amber oolongs, to jade oolong, and pouchong, an oolong that is barely oxidized and closely resembles green tea. Taiwan’s tropical climate allows the tea plant to be grown at higher elevations than elsewhere in the world, producing high mountain oolongs with unique and highly desirable characteristics of aroma and flavor.

Other Regions:

Yerba Mate Tea

Yerba Mate Tea

Some other countries important in the world of tea include Kenya, Indonesia, Nepal, Turkey, Korea, Argentina, Malawi, and Tanzania. It’s hard to get an exhaustive sampling of the teas of the world, but I would encourage you to start by buying some teas with a single country or region of origin and begin sampling them for yourself. You may be surprised by the amount of diversity in flavor and aroma.


Alex Zorach is the creator of RateTea, an interactive website where anyone can rate and review teas. This site has a database of teas classified by brand, style, and region, with a wealth of information about different varieties of tea. On this site you can read about teas of the world and learn more about the countries and regions that produce the world’s teas.

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Pouchong Tea (Bao Zhong Tea) – A Very Green Oolong

Bao Zhong Oolong Tea

Bao Zhong Oolong Tea

Pouchong tea is a very green variety of Chinese oolong tea. Pouchong is spelled bao zhong or baozhong in the newer Pinyin romanization system, but in the world of tea, the older spelling, “pouchong”, stuck. However, the term “bao zhong” is worth knowing as it tends to be used by some tea connoisseurs, as well as by some Chinese import companies that use the modern spellings.

What characterizes pouchong relative to other teas?

How it is made: Pouchong is a greener oolong tea. Oolong teas are considered to lie somewhere between green teas and black teas in that they are partially oxidized; oxidation is the process that turns the leaf from green to black and changes the leaf’s flavor and aroma. Oolongs are roasted to stop the oxidation. Although it is technically classified as an oolong, pouchong is barely oxidized for any time at all, and its roast is so light that there is no noticeable roast in the aroma: its production process makes it very close in overall characteristics to a green tea, bearing little resemblance to black teas or darker oolongs. For pouchong, the oxidation process does little to change the color of the leaf, and mainly takes the edge off the flavor, leaving it a bit mellower and sweeter.

How it looks: The appearance of pouchong leaves is a dark and intense green color, sometimes with an almost bluish hue. The leaves are left long, rather than tightly rolled as some oolongs are. Although the shape of the loose leaf tea is more similar to some Wuyi oolongs or Dan Cong oolongs, the color tends to be more similar to oolongs from other regions. The leaf brews a light golden colored cup with a delicate aroma.

How it tastes: Pouchong tea has a naturally sweet flavor, and even when it is unsweetened, it often tastes as if one has added a bit of honey to the cup. Its aroma is floral and vegetal, similar in some respects to green tea, but lacking the grassy qualities and the crisp or brisk quality that some green teas possess. Pouchong is similar in overall qualities to other greener oolongs, just as Dong Ding and other Jade Olongs and green high mountain Taiwanese oolongs.

Where is pouchong grown and produced?

Although pouchong tea originated in China, most of the pure, high-quality pouchong is now primarily produced in Taiwan. Pouchong is also used as a base for scented teas, such as Jasmine pouchong or rose-scented teas. Some jasmine green teas are actually pouchong teas, labelled as green tea because the name “pouchong” is perceived as esoteric. A few tea gardens have started producing small batches of teas in this style, in regions outside of where it has traditionally been grown. One such garden is Arya estate, which has produced Darjeeling pouchong tea.

Where can I buy pouchong?

Pouchong, like most of the greener oolongs, is not widely available in western countries. The best sources for buying pouchong tea, for most people, are online retailers. However, people in big cities or those lucky enough to live near specialty tea shops, especially those that focus on oolongs or Chinese or Taiwanese teas, may be able to buy pouchong in stores as well. Pouchong is widely variable in price. However, the lower grades of this tea tend not to be widely sold in the west. Some tea companies only sell very high-end, pricey pouchong. Because this tea has a distinct flavor and aroma, if you are buying the pricier versions, it is best to start by buying a small sample before ordering larger amounts.


Alex Zorach is the creator of RateTea, an interactive website where anyone can rate and review teas. This site has a database of teas classified by brand, style, and region, with a wealth of information about each variety of tea. On this site you can find listings and reviews of pouchong tea, and locate companies from which you can buy pouchong, as well as other, similar greener oolongs.

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What Is Oxidation in Black Tea and Green Tea?

iced-tea-lemonOxidation is a term which is commonly used in the context of tea production and tea culture. Oxidation is usually presented as the primary difference between black tea (which is fully oxidized) and green tea (which is unoxidized). This article explores a little bit of the biology of what is happening when tea oxidizes.

Oxidation vs. fermentation (Fermentation is NOT the correct word here)

Some tea sources, particularly older ones, use the term “fermentation” when talking about the process that converts tea leaves into black tea. This term is technically incorrect. Fermentation is a process through which sugars are converted to acids or alcohol, and it is the key process in production of beer and wine, as well as foods like yogurt and kimchi. It is also carried out in our muscle cells when short on oxygen.

What happens in tea is different; it is carried out not by yeast or other organisms, but by enzymes that exist in the tea leaf, and the key chemicals being converted are not sugars but rather polyphenols and other chemicals responsible for the flavor, aroma, and health properties of tea.

What is oxidation?

In a very general sense, the oxidation is one half of “reduction-oxidation” reactions, also called “redox reactions”, a broad class of chemical reactions which includes any chemical reactions in which atoms, molecules, or ions gain or lose electrons.

In biology, redox reactions include both part of healthy function, and reactions associated with stress or decay. A few examples are respiration (cells burning sugar for fuel), oxidative stress or reaction with free radicals, and many sorts of metabolic processes that involve conversion of one chemical to another, often catalyzed by enzymes.

What happens in tea?

The oxidation in the tea leaf is a reaction that changes numerous chemicals. Several things need to be in place for the oxidation to be carried out. The enzymes need to come into contact with the chemicals to be oxidized, and there needs to be enough moisture for there to be a reaction.

During this process, the antioxidants in tea, Catechins, become a new class of chemicals, Theaflavins, which are also antioxidants. The colors change from green to brown, and the aromas change from fresh leafy, vegetal and floral aromas, to the deeper, richer aromas of malt or fruit characteristic of classic black teas.

Manipulating the oxidation process

Through how tea is processed, the natural oxidation can either be sped up or facilitated, or inhibited or halted. The most thorough way to halt the oxidation process is through heating.

Heating stops the oxidation of tea, because it denatures the enzymes that carry out the oxidation reactions. Enzymes are protein, and just like cooking protein-containing foods like meat or egg causes the protein to change texture, heating enzymes to a certain point causes them to stop being able to catalyze their reactions.

Green tea is one type of tea produced in this way; by heating the leaf, through steaming (as with Japanese teas), or pan-firing or baking (with Chinese ones), the oxidation can be thoroughly halted. This is why green teas retain both their vibrant green color, and their fresh, vegetal and grassy aromas.

Black tea, on the other hand, is produced by encouraging oxidation. This is accomplished by bruising the leaf. Bruising the leaf breaks cell walls, causing the enzymes to come into contact with more of the total leaf, leading most of the chemicals in the leaf to oxidize. The tea is then heated after the leaf has darkened, stopping it from breaking down entirely.

Climate and oxidation

Just as humans can manipulate the oxidation process, the climate exerts its own influence on this process as well. Thin, dry air, especially at high altitudes, can cause the tea leaf to dry out (and thus oxidation to stop) before the reactions have completed.

This is why Darjeeling first flush teas (harvested in the spring after only light rains, well before the peak of monsoon season, and grown and processed at high altitudes) are very light in color, whereas Assam first flush teas (grown and processed at a lower altitude where the air is thicker and more humid) or Darjeeling teas harvested in wetter seasons, have a darker color.

Other teas besides black and green

White tea is the least processed type of tea, but it is not the least oxidized. White tea is typically only allowed to dry or naturally wither, or is very lightly heated to dry the leaf. Because it is not heated enough to denature the enzymes, it still oxidizes somewhat, but because it is not bruised like black tea, the oxidation only carries out partly. This is why white teas smell less like fresh vegetables or grass, and a little more like autumn leaves or dried flowers, and it is also why they have a more silvery, brownish, or pale green color, contrasting with the vibrant green of green teas.


Alex Zorach is the founder and editor of RateTea, an online community where anyone can rate and review teas, an authoritative source for information about tea. RateTea has a searchable database of teas, classified by brand, style, and region, and articles on tea, health, sustainability, and related topics. Here you can learn more about the oxidation of tea, especially as it pertains to the different tea types.

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Inexpensive White Tea – How To Buy White Teas For A Low Price

morning-teaWhite tea, a minimally processed type of tea originating in China, often tends to be among the more expensive types of tea, and is rarely or never outright cheap. However, within the broad class of whites there is a broad range of prices, and if you are willing to think creatively and buy a slightly less visually-appealing product, you can find some bargain buys.

Shun silver needle (bai hao yinzhen) if you are cost-conscious:

Silver needle is one of the most well-known types of white tea, and is one of the varieties most often highlighted by tea companies. When people display photographs of white tea, they often feature a picture of silver needle, often because its dry leaf shows a downy white appearance which fits with the name “white”. And tea companies often promote this particular variety because it fetches such a high price, and thus generates them more profit. But silver needle is by no means a typical tea of any sort, nor does it characterize white teas: it is just one type among many. And it is, for better and worse, one of the most expensive types. As it is made exclusively of tips and leaf buds, it is quite costly.

Seek out larger-leafed varieties: bai mu dan (white peony) and shou mei:

Bai mu dan (meaning white peony) and shou mei (meaning longevity eyebrows) are two other types of white tea. Compared to silver needle, white peony is considered a lower grade of tea, and compared to white peony, shou mei is considered even lower. Lower grade translates to a larger leaf size and darker color. The larger leaf size often corresponds to a lower caffeine content, which can be desirable by some people, and the larger leaf and darker color often corresponds to a bolder flavor, although a somewhat less smooth one.

Personally, I actually prefer shou mei to silver needle, as it has a richer flavor and an aroma that reminds me of autumn leaves. It is also a fraction of a cost of some of the higher-end varieties.

Consider broken-leaf white teas:

Another option, besides pursuing the lower grades of tea like bai mu dan and shou mei, is to buy broken-leaf tea, which can be leftover leaf pieces from the produciton of higher grades. This broken-leaf tea, or fannings for the even smaller pieces, tends to be much more affordable than its whole-leaf counterpart. It infuses faster (thus requiring a briefer steeping time), and it tends not to stay fresh quite as long. However, a high-quality, fresh source of broken-leaf white tea can be quite the bargain buy.

In summary:

White tea tends to be very expensive, but if you are willing to consider lower grades of tea, like shou mei (longevity eyebrows), or the medium-grade bai mu dan (white peony), or if you are willing to buy broken-leaf tea, you can purchase white teas of surprising quality for a very reasonable price. These teas may not look as attractive, but they are sometimes equally or even more tasty, depending on your tastes.


Alex Zorach is the founder and editor-in-chief of RateTea, an online community where anyone can rate and review teas, and an authoritative source for information about tea. Visit RateTea’s page on white tea reviews to find tea companies offering the best quality and value.

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Yerba Mate Tea – A Caffeinated Herbal Tea

yerba-mate-teaYerba mate tea, often just called mate, is an herbal tea made out of the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis. This plant, being in the Ilex genus, is a species of holly, related to the familiar American holly or English hollies. Yerba mate is unusual in that it is one of the few caffeinated herbal teas, indeed, the only caffeinated herbal tea that is widely available in western countries.

Yerba mate is not technically tea (the only true teas come from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis), and, even though it is technically an herbal tea, people selling it usually refrain from labeling it as such, because people tend to assume that herbal teas are caffeine free, and Yerba mate contains caffeine.

Traditional Drinking of Mate:

Yerba mate is consumed traditionally in a number of the native cultures of South America. This culture has spread into the traditional cultures of many of the countries of South America, which have blended both European and Native American cultural practices.

Traditionally, the mate leaves are steeped and the drink is served in a hollow gourd. Loose leaf mate is steeped in hot water in the gourd. These gourds are made rather permanent, sometimes reinforced with leather or metal. A group of people would then drink mate by passing the gourd around, and drinking it through a straw. The straw has a strainer in it, which filters out the leaves.

Health effects of Yerba mate:

Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate

Yerba mate has received some conflicting attention in association with its supposed health risks and benefits. Unfortunately, there is much less research on mate than on tea or coffee, and there are still many unanswered questions about the effects that this plant and the drink made from it have on health.

Some of the early research on mate suggested that it might be carcinogenic. However, it was later found that much of this risk was due to the way it was consumed: drinking hot liquids through a straw can increase the risk of burns and irritation to the mouth and throat, which, if done regularly over a prolonged period of time, can lead to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer. Another confounding factor was that the early research on mate was carried out on populations that have extremely heavy use of alcohol and tobacco, on top of very heavy mate consumption. It has been proposed that mate does not actually increase cancer risk, but simply makes one more susceptible to carcinogens present in alcohol and tobacco.

Some other research, which was not confounded by these factors, has found powerful anti-cancer activity associated with mate. So it may turn out that mate is beneficial after all, although this has yet to be verified by a large body of strong research.

In conclusion:

Yerba mate is a fascinating herbal beverage, one of the few naturally caffeinated drinks other than tea or coffee, and definitely the most widespread caffeinated beverage in the United States after tea or coffee. It remains somewhat outside the mainstream but is definitely worth trying for people who like consuming caffeine but want to try something different. Little is known about the health effects of mate, but some of the earlier research that suggested it was carcinogenic was found to have confounding factors, so the drink is likely a lot safer than those initial studies gave the impression of.


Alex Zorach is the creator of RateTea, an interactive website where anyone can rate and review teas and herbal teas. This site has a database of teas classified by brand, style, and region, with a wealth of information about different varieties of tea and different types of herbs used to brew herbal teas. Visit RateTea’s page on Yerba mate to read or share reviews and locate different sources of buying mate.

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The Intersection of Tea and Ecology

How Holistic Thinking and Sustainability Relate to Tea Culture

Chouifong Tea Farm Chiangrai, Thailand

Chouifong Tea Farm Chiangrai, Thailand

Tea and ecology have rich and fascinating intersections.

What is Ecology?

I’d hope that we all know what tea is. Ecology, on the other hand, is something that most people have slightly less familiarity with. For many people, the word “ecology” conjures up thoughts of environmentalism, often a political sort of activism. But ecology is not a political movement or ideology–it is a field of science, notably, the branch of science that studies collections of biological organisms.

Ecology is informed by biology without being strictly a sub-field of biology. It is characterized by more systems thinking and holistic thinking. That is, instead of explaining every aspect of an ecosystem in terms of smaller components (the way biologists appeal to chemistry and chemists appeal to physics as the grounding of their subject), ecosystems are only fully understood when one looks at them as a coherent whole.

The Ecology of Tea Production

The very nature of tea is inherently ecological: tea is produced from the leaves of a plant, Camellia sinensis. Camellia sinensis has a fascinating ecology of its own, and the commercial production of tea also touches on many issues relating to environment and sustainability.

Commercial tea production often involves the use of synthetic pesticides, which can have negative impacts both on the environment and on human health. Fertilizers used to replenish the plants’ nutrient stores can also run off into waterways, causing nutrient pollution downstream. Organic certification is a step in this direction, but some tea growers have gone further, incorporating biodynamic practices and practices of sustainable permaculture, to grow tea in a more environmentally friendly way that is both economically feasible and creates a top-quality product.

Holistic Thinking and Tea Culture, Business, and Industry

The holistic approach characteristic of ecology can be applied to tea culture in a variety of ways. A lot of tea drinkers buy their tea, drink it, and that’s the end of the story.

A holistic approach to tea purchasing, on the other hand, looks at all the impacts that the purchase of tea has on society. This includes how the tea is produced, including both environmental and human rights issues associated with its production, as well as how the tea is packaged, shipped, and marketed. A holistic-thinking tea drinker will be concerned not only with the quality and price of the tea, but with the portion of the price that reaches the original producers, and with whether or not the tea has been produced in an environmentally-sound method.

Systems Thinking, Meditation, and Mindfulness

A holistic approach to tea does not stop at the external world, but it also encompasses the more private, internal world of a person’s mind and body. I’m not talking about the supposed “health benefits of tea” that are actively touted all across the web, often in a thinly-veiled attempt to sell a low-quality product at jacked up prices. I’m talking about the effect on mind and body of paying attention to one’s cup of tea as one drinks it.

There is solid science backing the idea that mindfulness, the idea of living in the moment, has compelling benefits for both physical and psychological health. This is particularly true in our fast-paced modern society. Tea offers a potential respite from the hurried nature of our society, and the act of paying attention to a cup of tea, to the flavors and aromas and other sensations, while drinking it, can be a great way to promote mindfulness.

In Summary

The intersection of tea and ecology is a particularly rich one, and the holistic or systems thinking approach characteristic of ecology can also inform one’s experience of both tea culture, and business and industry, in rich and novel ways.

Alex Zorach is the founder and editor of RateTea, an interactive website for rating and reviewing teas, with a sustainability angle to it. He also is the author of Teacology, a blog about tea written with an ecological approach like that described in this article.

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Chamomile Tea – Side Effects, Health Risks, and Points Of Caution

Chamomile tea is used as aromatherapy for relaxing effects. Always use caution when trying out new aromatherapy options.

Chamomile tea is used as aromatherapy for relaxing effects. Always use caution when trying out new aromatherapy options.

Chamomile tea is a popular caffeine-free herbal tea with a reputation for its mild relaxing effects. Chamomile is widely consumed as a beverage, and is generally recognized as safe. However, there are a few special populations of people that are at risk for potentially dangerous side-effects or negative impacts on health associated with chamomile consumption. This article outlines the largest known concerns about potential risks or negative side effects associated with drinking chamomile tea.

Blood-thinning effect:

Chamomile is known to contain small but significant amounts of a chemical called coumarin. Coumarin, which has a pleasing fruity aroma, is known to act as a blood thinner. It is chemically very similar to coumadin, a synthetic chemical sold under the name Warfarin, as a prescription blood thinner.

Although the effects of a single cup of chamomile tea are small, chamomile is best used with caution by any people for whom a blood-thinning effect could be harmful or undesirable, especially those who are taking prescription blood thinners.

Allergic reaction:

Chamomile is in the composite family, related to asters and daisies, and as such, is relatively closely related to a large number of allergens, including ragweed and mugwort. Although uncommon, there are documented cases of cross-reactivity between these plants and chamomile. This means that a person who has never been exposed to chamomile but who is allergic to these other plants, or other plants in the composite family, has a small chance of reacting to chamomile in a similar way. Although rare, a few severe allergic reactions have been documented.

For this reason, chamomile is best used cautiously by people the first time they are exposed to the plant, among people who are at risk of severe reactions to plants in this family.

Chamomile is generally healthy:

Although this article has focused primarily on side-effects and potential health risks associated with chamomile tea, these risks and side effects are relatively insignificant compared to those of many prescription drugs. Chamomile is also known to have a number of compelling health benefits, including lowering blood sugar, and having a relaxing effect.

In summary:

Chamomile tea is safe and widely-consumed as a beverage. However, there are a few points of concern with respect to potential side effects or negative effects on health. The first is due to the fact that chamomile contains a chemical known to act as a blood thinner, and the second is due to possible allergic reactions due to cross-reactivity. Chamomile is thus best used with caution among people for whom blood thinning effects could be dangerous, and among people at risk of severe allergic reaction to plants in the composite (daisy or aster) family.


Alex Zorach is the founder and editor-in-chief of RateTea, an online community where anyone can rate and review teas, and the web’s authoritative source for information about tea. RateTea has a searchable database of teas and herbal teas, classified by brand, style, and region, and articles on tea, health, sustainability, and related topics. Visit RateTea to learn more about chamomile tea, in an article which references sources backing up the material found here.

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