Ok, thanks to so many of you…
I am unwell, and had decided to take a few weeks off of blogging. And then, unbidden into my inbox / Messenger/ Facebook/carrier pigeon hole came multiple copies of a story from ABC news, along with cries of outrage.
And I looked upon it, and I was displeased.
I am talking about ABC as in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which is, for those of you not in the know a reasonably balanced news channel owned by the Australian people. And by reasonably balanced, I mean, think of an eagle, gliding majestically, roughly level but missing a few right hand side feathers to it leans a bit to the left.
And this article – for want of a better word – caused me to put aside my other issues and pick up my keyboard, because vengeance needs to rain down upon some heads here.
And look, we may have to slap some people.
But I am going to provide reasonable, measured and well-argued commentary. THEN the slapping can start.
So, on the preview of the article, the headline says this ” Want to make the perfect cuppa. Microwave it”
And when you actually click, the actual headline is “Microwaving tea the best way to brew and extract health benefits”
WHAT??!! WHAT??!! WHAT???!!
Sure, we all know the best thing to do is take a deep breath, count to ten, and click on another headline, such as “Hubble just spotted something massive coming out of Uranus” which is probably going to be a lot more credible. Can we, though? Can we ignore such provocation? CAN WE BOLLOCKS! I’m going in.
So, firstly, this is an article based on a study from 2012, and it’s come to light in view of the furore where the brilliant David Tennant, in Broadchurch, shows how far his character has descended into chaos after 36 hours without sleep by microwaving a cup of cold water with a bag in it.
The article itself describes a study where food scientist Dr Quan Vuong, who is an expert in nutrients, suggesting that microwaving a teab*g extracted maximum anti-oxidants, polyphenols etc out of it.
This may be true. It probably is. I mean, if you are so coarse of sensibility that you would consider using a teab*g, AND your primary reason for drinking the tea was maximum anti-oxidants and polyphenols because, well, whatever, because your chakra is unbalanced or something and so you need the minuscule health benefit, well then fair enough.
SIDEBAR: If you see someone microwaving a teab*g, move out of the direct line of sight. If they happen to have used a teab*g with a metal staple, the microwave may blow up and kill them, and while that’s fair enough, there’s no reason for you to be killed or injured because of their stupidity.
Dr Vuong is no doubt good at his job, which has nothing to do with taste and everything to do with industrial chemistry. As right as he may be about this, there is NO justification for the headline and the text to suggest tea is “perfect” because it maximises the amount of minute flim-flam floating about in it. IT”S THE TASTE, STUPID! Otherwise we’d all just drink Cod Liver Oil and eat mung beans and seaweed.
So, Amanda Hoh of the ABC, the first slap is for you*
The story, thought is based on a radio interview with Dr Emma Beckett (University of Newcastle, same as Dr Vuong) which basically says the same thing. Dr Beckett believes that a teab*g is adequate. She used the “second most consumed beverage in the world line” which I have previously debunked.
Dr Beckett describes the method (I’m not going to) and then mentions she used to use two teab*gs to get a stronger brew. That shows an amazing level of ignorance. When you consider the plethora of teas available, the idea that you buy something that isn’t strong enough and use two is puzzling. Presumably, Dr Beckett copes without this logic in other purchases: I need a ten-metre extension cord. Better go buy two five metre extension cords! Then again, she also admits to not realising that black tea and green tea are from the same plant.
Before handing out a slap, let’s examine Dr Beckett’s qualifications to comment on the taste of a cup of tea. Here’s some fabulous bits from Dr Beckett’s Staff profile:
“A lot of diseases carry a certain dietary risk: but we don’t always know how the food we eat actually causes the risk in the body. I’m interested in working out what’s happening on a molecular level,” Emma explains. Molecular nutrition explores the bi-directional interaction of nutrients with molecules in the body and helps us understand fundamental questions about our health.
This study of nutrients at a cellular level helps to assess how different nutrients interact with molecules in the body, including the bacteria that live in us, such as the gastrointestinal microbiome. Emma is interested in unraveling how our genes, diet and microbiome interact to predispose us to health or disease. “We all eat food, we all have genes, and we all have a microbiome. But it’s a matter of figuring out how our different unique combinations interact to mean some of us stay healthy while others become unwell” explains Emma. “We can do this by studying cohorts of people, measuring what they eat, what versions of genes they have, and which microbes live in their guts. We compare the different profile to the outcomes and make inferences about disease risk. We can also use cell culture to model the gastrointestinal environment and take control of the interactions to uncover the mechanisms.”
Emma’s undergraduate study was in biomedical science with an honours year in immunology and microbiology, followed by four years working in asthma and allergy research at UON. However, for her PhD, Emma wished to explore a new topic that really inspired her: diet and epigenetics. “I’m a twin, so I was already thinking that one of the only things different about me and my twin sister is diet. So I decided that I wanted to do a project exploring that and found the nutrition group here on the Central Coast to explore my project.
I couldn’t be happier for her, and hey, it’s important work. Well done. Gold stars.
But there is no mention of a Tea Sommelier qualification, blending experience or even working part time in a tea shop during study. And much as I might venture an opinion, such as “As a layman, I read the studies and conclude that the benefits of the properties in tea are worthwhile, but pretty minor compared to other things good and bad you can do in your diet”, I would always defer in my opinion on these matters to a properly qualified person, such as Dr Beckett.
I have no doubt that the method employed improved the tea drunk by Dr Beckett, but leveling up from a 30 second steep of two teab*gs to a longer steep of one teab*g is hardly going to win the Nobel Prize for tea, is it?
So, Dr Beckett: Slap!*
The article and the radio piece also talk about green tea grown in Australia (from “green tea plantations”) as being ‘some of the best in the world” and quite frankly, that’s a highly dubious claim. In fact, one claim was “best outside of Japan” which seemingly elevates Japanese green tea over 4000+ years worth of Chinese efforts. A few more people slapped there, I think.
But what about Dr Vuong, the guy who did this study?
Well, he’s brilliant. he worked our great ways to decaffeinate tea (sadly) and he really knows everything there is to know about maximum extraction of compounds from tea. Just read this from his profile:
“I developed a novel method to remove caffeine from tea,” he recalls.
“I also established effective methods for the production of caffeine, decaffeinated green tea and decaffeinated green tea powders to meet changing market demands.”
Quan established the optimal conditions for novel means of extracting, isolating and purifying the important components of green tea during his candidature, using a Preparative High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) System. Under these optimal conditions, all of the major bioactive compounds such as L-theanine and individual catechins, were effectively isolated for further utilisation.
“My goal is, and always has been, to add value to natural foods,” he says.
Woo Hoo. I salute, you Dr Vuong. Keep up the good work.
But again, I see nothing in the profile to indicate any type of tea taste expertise. None of that makes you say “YUM!”
So here’s the deal: I and at least five dozen other tea bloggers won’t make claims we know about perfect methods of nutrient extraction. And you, shut up about the taste of tea.
Oh, and one last thing:
PS: the damn thing has just made the Huffington Post. My friends, I imagine you’ll be sharing this piece for days. Go for it.
- these are metaphorical slaps, of course, but no-one mentioned should pop by for a cuppa and risk it