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The Gifts of Green Tea

A lifetime tea lover brings her secrets from central China to the East Bay


Growing up in the Chinese city of Wuhan, I developed a taste for green tea at a young age. My passion for the drink was so strong that I became known in my family as a tea bandit. When my father was entertaining, I would steal his tea right out of his cup. I became very good at it.

My father would make fresh tea whenever his friends came over. After preparing the cups, he would cover them to allow the tea to cool slowly and the leaves to sink to the bottom. I learned how to test the cup with the back of my hand to determine the exact moment when the leaves had sunk and the tea was just cool enough to drink. I would open the cover, gulp down the tea, replace the lid, and slip the cup back where it belonged, all before my father noticed. I enjoyed seeing his look of surprise when he opened his empty teacup and said to his friends, “There is a hole in this cup.”

But green tea was more than just a drink in our house. My grandmother prepared special dishes using the leaves, and my mother used green tea to make her own beauty treatments, to perfume drawers, and to feed the soil of garden plants. Green tea always reminds me of my childhood and moments with family and friends.

Green tea has a larger story, too. It is the unfermented leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, and the Chinese have long used it medicinally. The polyphenols found in green tea have been proven to be among the most effective antioxidants—more powerful than vitamins C and E. “It is believed that polyphenols contribute to slowing the aging process and the prevention of cancer and heart disease,” says Lester A. Mitscher, Ph.D., professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Kansas and co-author of The Green Tea Book (Avery, 1997). “Green tea slows the absorption of carbohydrates and stimulates fat burning, but try to drink it like the Chinese: without sugar and cream.

”Even if you can’t resist sugar and cream, green tea may help you burn them off. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has reported that the caffeine and natural flavonoids found in green tea increase the rate at which the body burns calories.

Mitscher points out that one has to drink quite a bit of green tea to reap any of its health benefits. He recommends at least four cups a day, but given our fast-paced lives, drinking four leisurely cups of tea each day might prove difficult. So incorporating green tea into cooking and beauty regimens, as the Chinese have done for generations, is a wonderful strategy.

Use the freshest green tea for maximum flavor (some brands have dates on the box). Once you’ve opened the tea, store it in a sealed container in a cool, dark place for no more than six months. Loose and bagged tea can be used interchangeably. One tea bag contains about one teaspoon of tea leaves.

Green tea has less caffeine than both coffee and black tea, but if you’re sensitive to caffeine you may want to use decaffeinated green tea for the suggestions below.

Tips for Cooking
Use dry tea leaves as a seasoning when making stir-fries. Green tea tastes best with mild foods, such as chicken and tofu. Heat oil in a frying pan or wok, add loose tea, and cook until fragrant. Then add other ingredients. Use about two teaspoons for four servings.

Use strong brewed tea—one cup water with three to four tea bags—as a base (instead of water) when making soy-ginger and garlic dipping sauces.

For a delicate flavor when steaming fish or vegetables, add a few bags of green tea to the water.

Tips for Beauty
Fill a large basin halfway with very hot green tea. Add three or four drops of vitamin E oil. Drape a bath towel over your head, and steam your face for four minutes. It will give you a healthy glow.

Bathe in mint-flavored green tea to rejuvenate and heal sunburned skin. Add three to four bags of mint green tea to the tub as you’re drawing the bath; once you get in, you can place the tea bags over your eyes while you relax.

Put some unscented lotion in your palm and mix it with a pinch of green tea powder (available from Japanese grocers and at www.enjoyingtea.com); apply to your face and hands to help prevent aging and keep your skin smooth.

Rinse freshly washed hair with strong green tea for shine and softness. You’ll need about two cups of warm green tea. Pour the green tea through your hair. Squeeze out excess moisture, and let hair dry naturally.

Swirl cooled green tea in your mouth: It’s a natural mouthwash.

Household Uses
Spread leftover green tea leaves around the roots of garden plants, especially roses and peppers. Watch them thrive.

Collect used green tea bags or leaves in a ramekin, and place in your refrigerator overnight to absorb odors.

Fill nylon stockings with loose green tea. Use these sachets to refresh shoes and lightly perfume dresser drawers.

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