Corn Plastic to the Rescue

Wal-Mart and others are going green with "biodegradable" packaging made from corn.  But is it really the answer to  America's throwaway culture?

By Elizabeth Royte

Thirty minutes north of Omaha, outside Blair, Nebraska, the aroma of steaming corn—damp and sweet—falls upon my car like a heavy curtain. The farmland rolls on, and the source of the smell remains a mystery until an enormous, steam-belching, gleaming-white architecture of tanks and pipes rises suddenly from the cornfields between Route 75 and the flood plain of the Missouri River. Behold NatureWorks: the largest lactic-acid plant in the world. Into one end of the complex goes corn; out the other come white pellets, an industrial resin poised to become—if you can believe all the hype—the future of plastic in a post-petroleum world.

The resin, known as polylactic acid (PLA), will be formed into containers and packaging for food and consumer goods. The trendy plastic has several things going for it. It’s made from a renewable resource, which means it has a big leg up—both politically and environmentally—on conventional plastic packaging, which uses an estimated 200,000 barrels of oil a day in the United States. Also, PLA is in principle compostable, meaning that it will break down under certain conditions into harmless natural compounds. That could take pressure off the nation’s mounting landfills, since plastics already take up 25 percent of dumps by volume. And corn-based plastics are starting to look cheap, now that oil prices are so high.

For a few years, natural foods purveyors such as Newman’s Own Organics and Wild Oats have been quietly using some PLA products, but the material got its biggest boost when Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, announced this past October that it would sell some produce in PLA containers. The move is part of the company’s effort to counter criticisms that it has been environmentally irresponsible. “Moving toward zero waste is one of our three big corporate goals for the environment,” says Matt Kistler, vice president of private brands and product development for the retailer. Wal-Mart plans to use 114 million PLA containers a year, which company executives estimate will save 800,000 barrels of oil annually.

To make plastic packaging and containers from a renewable resource that can be returned to the earth as fertilizer sounds like an unmitigated good. Selling fruits and veggies in boxes that don’t leach chemicals into landfills sounds equally wonderful. But PLA has considerable drawbacks that haven’t been publicized, while some claims for its environmental virtues are downright misleading. It turns out there’s no free lunch after all, regardless of what its container is made of, as I learned when I tried to get to the bottom of this marvelous news out of corn country.

At the NatureWorks plant in Blair, I don a hard hat, earplugs, gloves and protective eyewear and swear that I will snap no photographs. What can be revealed by my hosts is revealed: corn kernels are delivered and milled, dextrose is extracted from starch. Huge fermenters convert the dextrose into lactic acid, a simple organic chemical that is a by-product of fermentation (or respiration, in the case of the lactic acid that builds up in muscle tissue after intense activity). Industrial lactic acid is derived from many starchy sources, including wheat, beets and potatoes, but NatureWorks is owned by Cargill, the world’s largest corn merchant, and so its lactic acid comes from corn. The compound is converted to lactide, and lactide molecules are linked into long chains or polymers: polylactic acid, PLA.

I did get a chance to see and touch the obscure object of my desire when some liquid PLA, with the color and shine of caramelized sugar, burst from a pipe and solidified in flossy strands on the steel-grated floor. The next time I saw the stuff, in a box in a warehouse, it had been crystallized into translucent white balls the size of peas: PLA resin. In the hands of fabricators, the pellets would be melted and reshaped into containers, films and fibers.

Though the polymer, because of its low melting point, doesn’t yet have as many applications as does the far more common plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used to make soda bottles and some polyester fibers, the company has plans, as a large banner in the office proclaims, to “Beat PET!” In some ways, corn plastic is clearly easier on the environment. Producing PLA uses 65 percent less energy than producing conventional plastics, according to an independent analysis commissioned by NatureWorks. It also generates 68 percent fewer greenhouse gases, and contains no toxins. “It has a drastically different safety profile,” says NatureWorks operations manager Carey Buckles. “It’s not going to blow up the community.”

For retailers, PLA has a halo effect. Wild Oats was an early adopter of the stuff. “Our employees loved the environmental message of the containers, that they came from a renewable resource, and our customers had a strong reaction when we told them they were compostable,” says Sonja Tuitele, a Wild Oats spokesperson. The containers initially boosted the company’s deli sales by 17 percent, she says, and the chain now uses six million PLA containers a year. Newman’s Own Organics uses PLA packaging for its salad mixes. “We felt strongly that everywhere we can get out of petroleum products, we should,” says Newman’s Own CEO Peter Meehan. “No one has ever gone to war over corn.”

Wal-Mart, which has begun using PLA containers in some stores, has also switched packaging on high-end electronics from PET to a sandwich of cardboard and PLA. “It has a smaller packaging footprint, it’s completely biodegradable and it costs less,” says Kistler. What Wal-Mart says about PLA’s biodegradable nature is true, but there’s an important catch.

Corn plastic has been around for 20 years, but the polymer was too expensive for broad commercial applications until 1989, when Patrick Gruber, then a Cargill chemist looking for new ways to use corn, invented a way to make the polymer more efficiently. Working with his wife, also a chemist, he created his first prototype PLA products on his kitchen stove. In the beginning, it cost $200 to make a pound of PLA; now it’s less than $1.

The polymer has had to get over some cultural hurdles. In the mid-1980s, another bio-based plastic appeared on grocery store shelves: bags made from polyethylene and cornstarch that were said to be biodegradable. “People thought they would disappear quickly,” recalls Steven Mojo, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute. They didn’t. Will Brinton, president of Woods End, a compost research laboratory in Mt. Vernon, Maine, says the bags broke into small fragments of polyethylene, fragments that weren’t good for compost—or public relations. “It was a big step backward for the biodegradability movement,” he adds. “Whole communities abandoned the concept of biodegradable bags as a fraud.”

According to a biodegradability standard that Mojo helped develop, PLA is said to decompose into carbon dioxide and water in a “controlled composting environment” in fewer than 90 days. What’s a controlled composting environment? Not your backyard bin, pit or tumbling barrel. It’s a large facility where compost—essentially, plant scraps being digested by microbes into fertilizer—reaches 140 degrees for ten consecutive days. So, yes, as PLA advocates say, corn plastic is “biodegradable.” But in reality very few consumers have access to the sort of composting facilities that can make that happen. NatureWorks has identified 113 such facilities nationwide—some handle industrial food-processing waste or yard trimmings, others are college or prison operations—but only about a quarter of them accept residential food scraps collected by municipalities.

Moreover, PLA by the truckload may potentially pose a problem for some large-scale composters. Chris Choate, a composting expert at Norcal Waste Systems, headquartered in San Francisco, says large amounts of PLA can interfere with conventional composting because the polymer reverts into lactic acid, making the compost wetter and more acidic. “Microbes will consume the lactic acid, but they demand a lot of oxygen, and we’re having trouble providing enough,” he says. “Right now, PLA isn’t a problem,” because there’s so little of it, Choate says. (NatureWorks disputes that idea, saying that PLA has no such effect on composting processes.) In any event, Norcal says a future PLA boom won’t be a problem because the company hopes to convert its composters to so-called anaerobic digesters, which break down organic material in the absence of oxygen and capture the resulting methane for fuel.

Wild Oats accepts used PLA containers in half of its 80 stores. “We mix the PLA with produce and scraps from our juice bars and deliver it to an industrial composting facility,” says the company’s Tuitele. But at the Wild Oats stores that don’t take back PLA, customers are on their own, and they can’t be blamed if they feel deceived by PLA containers stamped “compostable.” Brinton, who has done extensive testing of PLA, says such containers are “unchanged” after six months in a home composting operation. For that reason, he considers the Wild Oats stamp, and their in-store signage touting PLA’s compostability, to be false advertising.

Wal-Mart’s Kistler says the company isn’t about to take back used PLA for composting. “We’re not in the business of collecting garbage,” he says. “How do we get states and municipalities to set up composting systems? That is the million-dollar question. It’s not our role to tell government what to do. There is money to be made in the recycling business. As we develop packaging that can be recycled and composted, the industry will be developed.”

For their part, recycling facilities have problems with PLA too. They worry that consumers will simply dump PLA in with their PET. To plastic processors, PLA in tiny amounts is merely a nuisance. But in large amounts it can be an expensive hassle. In the recycling business, soda bottles, milk jugs and the like are collected and baled by materials recovery facilities, or MRFs (pronounced “murfs”). The MRFs sell the material to processors, which break down the plastic into pellets or flakes, which are, in turn, made into new products, such as carpeting, fiberfill, or containers for detergent or motor oil. Because PLA and PET mix about as well as oil and water, recyclers consider PLA a contaminant. They have to pay to sort it out and pay again to dispose of it.

NatureWorks has given this problem some thought. “If the MRF separates the PLA, we’ll buy it back from them when they’ve got enough to fill a truck,” says spokeswoman Bridget Charon. The company will then either take the PLA to an industrial composter or haul it back to Blair, where the polymer will be broken down and remade into fresh PLA.

Despite PLA’s potential as an environmentally friendly material, it seems clear that a great deal of corn packaging, probably the majority of it, will end up in landfills. And there’s no evidence it will break down there any faster or more thoroughly than PET or any other form of plastic. Glenn Johnston, manager of global regulatory affairs for NatureWorks, says that a PLA container dumped in a landfill will last “as long as a PET bottle.” No one knows for sure how long that is, but estimates range from 100 to 1,000 years.

Environmentalists have other objections to PLA. Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, questions the morality of turning a foodstuff into packaging when so many people in the world are hungry. “Already we’re converting 12 percent of the U.S. grain harvest to ethanol,” he says. The USDA projects that figure will rise to 23 percent by 2014. “How much corn do we want to convert to nonfood products?” In addition, most of the corn that NatureWorks uses to make PLA resin is genetically modified to resist pests, and some environmentalists oppose the use of such crops, claiming they will contaminate conventional crops or disrupt local ecosystems. Other critics point to the steep environmental toll of industrially grown corn. The cultivation of corn uses more nitrogen fertilizer, more herbicides and more insecticides than any other U.S. crop; those practices contribute to soil erosion and water pollution when nitrogen runs off fields into streams and rivers.

NatureWorks, acknowledging some of those criticisms, points out that the corn it uses is low-grade animal feed not intended for human use. And it processes a small amount of non-genetically engineered corn for customers who request it. NatureWorks is also investigating better ways to segregate PLA in traditional recycling facilities, and it’s even buying renewable energy certificates (investments in wind power) to offset its use of fossil fuels. But there’s not much the company can do about the most fundamental question about corn plastic containers: Are they really necessary?

A few miles south of Blair, in Fort Calhoun, Wilkinson Industries occupies a sprawling, low brick building in a residential neighborhood. Wilkinson converts NatureWorks resin into packaging. In a warehouse-size room, the pellets are melted, pressed into a thin film and stretched into sheets that a thermoformer stamps into rigid containers—square, tall, rectangular or round. (PLA can also take the shape of labels, electronics casings, wrap for flowers, gift cards, clothing fiber and pillow stuffing.) “We’re shipping trays to Google’s cafeteria and to [filmmaker] George Lucas’ studio in San Francisco,” says Joe Selzer, a Wilkinson vice president. “We do trays for Del Monte’s and Meijer stores’ fresh cut fruit. And, oh yeah, we do Wal-Mart.”

PLA amounts to about 20 percent of the plastic products made by Wilkinson. The rest is polystyrene and PET. “We’d like to see PLA be the resin of the future, but we know it never will be,” says Selzer. “It’s cost stable, but it can’t go above 114 degrees. I’ve had people call me and say, ‘Oh my god, I had my takeout box in my car in the sun and it melted into a pancake!’” Bridget Charon, sitting next to me, raises an eyebrow. Selzer continues. “Our number-one concern is PLA’s competitive price, and then its applications. After that comes the feel-good.”

Selzer leads us up a staircase to an interior room the size of a large pantry. It’s crammed with samples of the 450 different containers fabricated by Wilkinson, which also stamps out aluminum trays. “Here’s Kentucky Fried Chicken’s potpie,” Selzer says, pointing to a small round tin. “This plastic tray is for a wedding cake. This one’s for crudités. This is for cut pineapple.” (Wilkinson manufactured the original TV dinner tray, a sample of which resides in the Smithsonian Institution.) As I look around, I can’t help thinking that almost all these products will be dumped, after just an hour or two of use, straight into a big hole in the ground.

Martin Bourque, executive director of the Berkeley Ecology Center, a nonprofit recycling organization, holds a dim view of PLA convenience packaging. “Yes, corn-based packaging is better than petroleum-based packaging for absolutely necessary plastics that aren’t already successfully recycled, and for packaging that cannot be made of paper,” he says. “But it’s not as good as asking, ‘Why are we using so many containers?’ My worry is that PLA legitimizes single-serving, over-packaged products.”

Many ecologists argue that companies should produce consumer goods that don’t pollute the earth in their manufacture or disposal. In Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, the architect William McDonough writes about a future in which durable goods, like TVs and cars, are made from substances that cycle back into the manufacturing process, while packaging for short-lived products, like shampoo, will decompose back into the earth. NatureWorks says it wants to be part of that future. As the company’s former CEO, Kathleen Bader, told Forbes magazine, “We’re offering companies a chance to preempt embarrassing demands for responsible packaging. Brands that wait for legislative fiat will be left behind and exposed.”

Eric Lombardi, president of the Grassroots Recycling Network and a leader in the international Zero Waste movement, takes a nuanced view of PLA’s progress. He says it’s “visionary” even to think about biologically based plastic instead of a petroleum-based one. True, he says, there are problems with PLA, “but let’s not kill the good in pursuit of the perfect.” He suggests that the difficulty disposing of PLA reflects a larger deficiency in how we handle trash. He’s calling for a composting revolution. “We need a convenient, creative collection system with three bins: one for biodegradables, which we’ll compost, one for recycling, and one for whatever’s left.”

Until such a system is in place, it’s going to be hard to have cheap convenience packaging and feel good about its environmental effect—to have our takeout cake and eat it too. But the manufacture of PLA does save oil and generates far less air pollution. And we have to start somewhere.

Elizabeth Royte, a resident of Brooklyn, is the author of Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash.

Are Tea Bags Turning Us Into Plastic?

By Taylor Orci - The Atlantic

Some of the fancy new tea bags are made of fancy plastic. A fair price to pay for drinkable luxury?

Here's what happened: I was making tea one day, waiting for my water to get hot, and I started reading the box. It touted the fact that the company didn't use "silky" plastic tea bags, which prompted my the question, "Wait... silky tea bags are plastic tea bags?" I'd used "silky" or "mesh" tea bags before, and as someone who is turned off by the idea of eating heated plastic, I never made the connection that "silky" didn't actually mean silk, and "mesh" isn't really a specific thing at all. More put off by the fact I'd been had than anything else, I wanted to find out if my alarm about using plastic tea bags had any real basis to it.

At first blush, "silky tea bags" sound like drinkable luxury. Often pyramidal in shape, this type of tea bag is supposed to have higher quality -- sometimes even whole leaf -- tea inside, a departure from the "dust" in most tea bags. If the quality isn't higher, the tea is definitely more colorful.  The see-through mesh allows you to view what looks like edible potpourri.

Tea companies are very forthcoming in the pains they've gone through to adopt such an innovative design. Boasts one    website, "In 2000, Revolution started a full-scale uprising, overthrowing the paper tea bag i favor of the first flow-through Infuser bag." Another site, Tea Forte, explains adopting the silky tea bag because "[They] wanted to create a total sensory and emotional experience that was relevant to life today." What many of these sites don't mention is that these silky tea bags, (or "sachets," or "infusers," or "sculptural works of art," etc.) are plastic.

"If the question is, 'As the polymer goes through that transition state, is it easier for something to leach out?', the answer is yes."
The idea of a plastic tea bag might be unpalatable for folks for a number of reasons, the most clear-cut being the contribution to landfill waste, but additionally because heating plastic can rouse alarm in consumers. That's probably why tea companies like to describe their silken sachets as a quality compromise for loose leaf lovers who "are switching to [mesh tea bags] as their lives get more hectic," instead of emphasizing "get the plastic hot and then drink the thing it was in." For these reasons, some tea companies like Numi even use their lack of plastic tea bags as a selling point.

Could plastic tea bags also be bad for our health? They are most commonly made from food grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which are two of the safest plastics on the scale of harmful leaching potential. Both have very high melting points, which offer some assurance to consumers, as one would think the melting point of plastic is the temperature at which one would need to worry about accidentally eating it.

There is another temperature point for plastics, though, that we may need to worry about, called the "glass transition" temperature (Tg) . That is the temperature at which the molecule in certain materials such as polymers begin to break down. As a rule, the Tg of a material is always lower than the melting point. In the case of PET and food grade nylon (either nylon 6 or nylon6-6), all have a Tg lower than the temperature of boiling water. For example, while the melting point of PET is 482 degrees Fahrenheit, the Tg is about 169 degrees. Both nylons have a lower glass transition temperature than PET. (Remember that water boils at 212 degrees.) This means the molecules that make up these plastic tea bags begin to break down in hot water.

"If the question is, 'As the polymer goes through that transition state, is it easier for something to leach out?', the answer is yes," said Dr. Ray    Fernando, professor and director of polymers and coatings at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "However, just because it makes it easier for something to leach out, it doesn't mean it will." There seems to be something in the plastic collective consciousness that says there are inherently toxins in all plastics, and when they begin to break down, they will naturally gravitate toward food. "This would only happen if there are potential materials trapped in the substance. What we don't know is what FDA requirements manufacturers have to meet before they go to market," said Dr. Fernando.

There is also a matter of whether or not the leachate is hydrophobic or hydrophilic. If hydrophobic pollutants were potentially in the plastic tea bag materials, their nature would be to stay in the bag and not go frolicking into the water and into your mouth.

So polymers will only leach out harmful chemicals, like cancer causing phthalates, at their glass transition temperature if there are said phthalates to begin with. It almost seems silly to think that either of these materials would have toxins to begin with, considering we eat off of them and in them. That's what food standards are for, right? The Lipton website reassures us their Pyramid Tea Bags made of PET are "the same food grade material clear water and juice bottles are made of and ... are microwave safe." That sounds, well ... safe.

But then there are studies like this: In 2009, a study found that single-use PET plastic water bottles were found to have estrogen-mimicking pollutants in them. Such toxins have been linked to cancer. If PET is found in these water bottles, the same material Lipton claims to use in their plastic tea bags, it's fair to say there is a chance these tea bags are leaching toxins into the tea they're brewing. Further, this study did not look at the glass transition temperature and how that could increase the leaching of said toxins. And while this study is only about PET plastic, it is logical to question if nylon has the same potential.

"The consumer doesn't have a way to know how to choose a safe plastic," said Stephen Lester, science director for the Center for Health, Environment & Justice. He made mention of a study decades ago where researchers found putting hot liquids in styrofoam cups could be harmful. If I was at a party that was serving hot cocoa in styrofoam cups, I probably wouldn't decline it -- the same with plastic tea bags. It's not like I'm unaware they may pose a health risk, but I unconsciously file them under the heading of, "probably not so bad." But this may be at my own peril. There's just no comprehensive way of knowing.

In our discussion, Dr. Fernando departed from talking about the sexy topic of polymer toxicity potential for a moment and mentioned that paper manufacturing is also highly polluting, "[Regarding the paper tea bag] paper is a very chemically intensive process. But the thing is we've been using the [paper] bag for a long time, so we know it's okay." One would love to soothe the nerves agitated by this topic with a scintillating cup of White Tea with Island Mango and Peach, if only one knew for sure it was okay.

My polymers expert made mention-- and I agree, that to test the level of phthalates in tea made from plastic tea bags would be an easy one to conduct. So I contacted the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice to see if they had any such study in their databases. As helpful as they were digging up many peer reviews about plastic, tea, and toxicity, a study about the toxicity of plastic tea bags couldn't be found. I also contacted the Center for Disease Control -- the disease here being cancer which has been linked to phthalates, and asked the same thing, but as of this writing I've yet to hear back.

*This post was updated on June 4, 2013, to remove a reference to Mighty Leaf Tea. Mighty Leaf uses bags made of corn plastic, which do not contain phthalates and do not leach even at boiling temperatures.

The Health Benefits of Ginger

from the website Nutrition Facts

Ginger has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is a traditional ingredient in prescriptions to ensure absorption through the stomach to all parts of the body.  As a diffusive stimulant it starts at the capillaries and works its way back to the heart.  Thus, its application for poor circulation in peripheral areas - cold hands and feet have
found a warm friend in Ginger.  Ginger is thought to have blood-thinning properties and the ability to lower
blood cholesterol levels.  Therefore, it may help in preventing heart attacks.  It is a blood stimulant and cleansing herb.  It is also used for respiratory problems such as colds, sore throats, bronchitis, congestion, headaches and pain.
Ginger is also known to help with nausea, kidney problems, heart problems, fever, vomiting, cramps and in herbal combinations to aid in the effectiveness of other herbs. It is used for numerous ailments, including menstrual problems, inflammation, arthritis, high cholesterol, liver problems, gastrointestinal problems and motion sickness.  Recent research has shown there are two natural antibiotics in Ginger and that it has been found to inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Another recent study involved patients with rheumatoid arthritis who had tried numerous conventional drugs which provided only temporary or partial relief.  All of the patients reported significant improvement, pain relief, reduction in swelling and improved mobility from Ginger therapy.
Ginger is probably best known for its positive effect on the gastrointestinal system.  It has the ability to relieve dizziness and motion sickness without causing drowsiness.  It also eases morning sickness.

Ginger for cancer A study in mice found that the mice given gingerol, the antioxidant found in ginger which gives it its distinctive flavor, had less tumors and their size was significantly smaller than those of mice who didn’t get gingerol. In another study, mice that had been injected with cancer cells and given ginger had protection against the forming of colon cancer.

Ginger for morning sickness Research has revealed that 125mg of ginger extract taken 4 times daily for 4 days reduced morning sickness significantly in women who were less than 20 weeks pregnant.In other research, 53% of women who were less than 16 weeks pregnant who consumed a 1.05 gram ginger capsule reported a reduction in both vomiting and nausea associated with pregnancy.

Ginger for motion sickness Studies have shown that ginger has a substantial effect on both the prevention and treatment of motion sickness.

Ginger for osteoarthritis A study has found that individuals having osteoarthritis who had ingested ginger extract had a greater reduction in knee pain compared to those who did not ingest ginger.

History of Ginger Ginger originated in China, Southeastern Asia and India, where it has been used as a culinary spice no less than 4,400 years ago. Ginger was brought from China by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. The Spanish introduced ginger to Mexico and South America.

China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nigeria and Thailand are presently the main producers of ginger.

You can find it in our Cleansing, Stress Release, Vitality and Women's Blend Teas.  It is also available as a single herb.

The Health Benefits of Tea

From the website Nutrition Facts

Tea is one of the more commonly consumed beverages worldwide, and it’s also one of the more extensively researched due to the potential health benefits of tea.

Tea leaves consist of thousands of bioactive compounds which have been identified and researched. Although many of the compounds serve as antioxidant flavonoids, not all of the benefits are believed to be entirely from antioxidant activity.

Tea for Heart Health Many studies indicate that tea supports heart health as well as healthy blood pressure, and seems to be linked to a reduced cardiovascular disease risk, including heart attack and stroke.

Tea for Weight Loss Studies on tea catechins show that they could be beneficial to maintain body weight or promote weight loss. Researchers have discovered that 24-hour energy expenditure as well as fat oxidation increased when individuals drank green tea and caffeine. Study results indicate that the caloric expenditure increase is the same as about 100 calories for a 24-hour period. Green tea and caffeine also seem to boost fat oxidation over 24 hours by about 16% or 0.02 grams per mg catechins. Researchers have also determined that individuals drinking green tea and caffeine lost about 2.9 pounds in 12 weeks, while sticking to their regular diet.

Tea for Osteoporosis Researchers have performed studies with postmenopausal women having low bone mass to determine if adding green tea flavanols will help improve bone health markers as well as muscle strength. At the end of the six-month study the researchers discovered that 500 mg green tea extract (equal to 4-6 servings of green tea every day) improved markers for the formation of bone, reduced inflammation markers and also increased muscle strength.

Tea for Mental Sharpness Drinking black tea improves attention as well as alertness. In a study, individuals consuming tea had been more precise on an attention task as well as feeling more alert than individuals drinking a placebo. This study supports earlier research on the mental benefits of tea.

10 Amazing Benefits of Matcha Green Tea

From the website www.naturallivingideas.com

A long standing tradition of Japanese culture, Matcha Green Tea is the highest quality powdered green tea available. Made from the nutrient-rich young leaves picked from the tips of shade-grown Camellia sinensis plants, Matcha Green Tea is steamed, stemmed, and de-vined before being stone-ground into very fine powder. Matcha Green Tea powder is then stored away from light and oxygen in order to preserve its brilliant green color and antioxidant properties. This miracle elixir has been consumed for over a millennium in the Far East, and is now considered to be one of the most powerful super foods on the market today.

Here we give you ten great reasons to enjoy a cup of Matcha Green Tea as part of your daily routine.

1. High in Antioxidants

We’ve all read this word before. Antioxidants are the magical nutrients and enzymes responsible for fighting against the negative effects of UV radiation, giving us younger-looking skin, and preventing a number of life-threatening maladies. Antioxidants are something that all health-conscious individuals seek from such foods as raw fruits, green veggies, and (let’s not forget) dark chocolate. The first amazing benefit of Matcha Green Tea is that just one bowl provides over 5 times as many antioxidants as any other food – the highest rated by the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) method.

Furthermore, on that note…

2. Loaded with Catechin, EGCg

You may have already heard that not all antioxidants are created equal. Green tea contains a specific set of organic compounds known as catechins. Among antioxidants, catechins are the most potent and beneficial. One specific catechin called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg) makes up 60% of the catechins in Matcha Green Tea. Out of all the antioxidants, EGCg is the most widely recognized for its cancer fighting properties. Scientists have found that Matcha Green Tea contains over 100 times more EGCg than any other tea on the market.

3. Enhances Calm

For over a millennium, Matcha Green Tea has been used by Chinese Daoists and Japanese Zen Buddhist monks as a means to relax and meditate while remaining alert. Now we know that this higher state of consciousness is due to the amino acid L-Theanine contained in the leaves used to make Matcha. L-Theanine promotes the production of alpha waves in the brain which induces relaxation without the inherent drowsiness caused by other “downers.”

4. Boosts Memory and Concentration

Another side-effect of L-Theanine is the production of dopamine and serotonin. These two chemicals serve to enhance mood, improve memory, and promote better concentration – something that can benefit everyone!

5. Increases Energy Levels and Endurance

Samurai, the noble warriors of medieval and early-modern Japan, drank Matcha Green Tea before going into battle due to the tea’s energizing properties. While all green tea naturally contains caffeine, the energy boost received from Matcha is largely due to its unique combination of other nutrients. The increased endurance from a bowl of Matcha Green Tea can last up to 6 hours and because of the effects of L-Theanine, Matcha drinkers experience none of the usual side-effects of stimulants such as nervousness and hypertension. It’s good, clean energy.

6. Burns Calories

Drinking Matcha Green Tea has also been shown to increase metabolism and help the body burn fat about four times faster than average. Again, unlike many diet aides currently on the market, Matcha causes no negative side-effects such as increased heart rate and high blood pressure.

7. Detoxifies the Body

During the last three weeks before tea leaves are harvested to be made into Matcha, Camellia sinensis are covered to deprive them of sunlight. This causes a tremendous increase in chlorophyll production in the new growth of these plants. The resulting high levels of chlorophyll in Matcha Green Tea not only give this tea its beautiful vibrant green color. Matcha is also a powerful detoxifier capable of naturally removing heavy metals and chemical toxins from the body.

8. Fortifies the Immune System

The catechins in Matcha Green Tea have been shown to have antibiotic properties which promote overall health. Additionally, just one bowl of Matcha Green Tea provides substantial quantities of Potassium, Vitamins A & C, Iron, Protein, and Calcium. Further studies have even suggested that the nutrients in Matcha may have the ability to inhibit the attacks of HIV on human T-cells.

9. Improves Cholesterol

Researchers aren’t entirely certain how Matcha Green Tea has such a positive effect on cholesterol, however studies of different populations have show that people who drink Match Green Tea on a regular basis have lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol while at the same time displaying higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Men who drink Matcha Green Tea are about 11% less likely to develop heart disease than those who don’t drink Matcha.

Finally, the tenth and final benefit of drinking Matcha Green Tea…

10. Amazing Flavor

Drinking something just because it’s healthy can be a lot like swallowing medicine. It’s unpleasant and you dread it, but you feel obligated to do it. After all, it’s good for you… right? Sure, but wouldn’t you rather look forward to improving your overall well-being? Of course you would!

Fortunately, unlike a lot of other teas which require sugar, milk, or lemon to make them palatable to the average consumer, Matcha is absolutely wonderful all by itself. It’s crisp vegetative notes are complimented by the savory taste of the L-Theanine amino acid making Matcha a tea that is truly unique in every way. So sit back, relax, and enjoy a delicious bowl of hot Matcha.

America & Canada Now Have Levels of Tea Consumption that Rival Britain, China & India

Written by E.W. @theeconomist

A STAND at the entrance of a Teavana tea store heralds the arrival of Monkey Picked Oolong Tea. “According to legend, Buddhist monks trained monkeys to harvest the youngest leaves from the tops of wild tea trees,” the placard explains. Behind the checkout counter, the line-up of tins on Teavana’s “Wall of Tea” (pictured) reads like a hymn to exoticism: Maharaja Chai, Imperial Acai Blueberry, Sweet Asian Pear, Zingiber Ginger Coconut Rooibos. In recent years the specialty tea industry in North America has exploded. DavidsTea, a Canadian retailer founded in 2008, now has 130 stores across North America. Earlier this year Capital Teas, a regional chain based in Annapolis, Maryland, received a $5m investment to double the number of its store locations.  And Starbucks, which acquired Teavana in 2012 for $620m, operates 366 Teavana outlets and plans to open 1,000 more within the next five years.

America and its northern neighbour now boast levels of tea consumption usually associated with the tea-drinking cultures of Britain, China, and India. According to Packaged Facts, a consumer-goods research firm, tea sales have risen by 32% since 2007. Tazo, also owned by Starbucks, remains the largest specialty tea brand in America, but other big chains—not to mention countless independent tea boutiques, lounges and startups—are also capitalising on tea’s new-found popularity. World Tea News forecasts the emergence of 8,000 tea-specific retail outlets in America by 2018 (in 2003 there were only 1,000). George Jage, founder of World Tea Expo, which held its 12th annual trade show in May, expects tea sales in America to surpass those of coffee by 2017.

 

Much of the growth in sales is expected to come from coffee retailers that are willing to expand their offerings to meet changing consumer demands. Tea is conspicuously marketed as the healthier alternative to coffee. Laden with antioxidants and containing 80% less caffeine, it promises to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, neurological decline—and even certain cancers. Some blends are used treat insomnia. Others, like Capital Teas’ Slimming Oolong Organic Tea and Detox Tea, are said to improve metabolism to “cleanse body and mind”.

The growth of the specialty tea industry goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of a class of consumers who are health conscious and interested in Eastern culture. Until 2013 Tazo’s tea boxes were labeled “Blessed by a certified tea shaman” and they continue to use new-age-style product labeling. Meanwhile, Teavana insists on balance, the importance of “a life well lived,” and the need to “step back from the frantic pace of the modern world.” Tea-drinking draws on a discourse of purification and renewal that complements popular spiritual practices like yoga and meditation. The Tea Gallerie in San Diego holds “Reiki-energy” healing workshops and regularly transforms its tea lounge into a yoga studio.

This is not to say that tea culture is somehow anti-modern. In fact, a new industry of hi-tech tea-brewing machines has sprung up to accommodate tea’s growing popularity. But tea drinking represents a different approach: if coffee is the elixir of efficiency and overstimulation, tea energises by pressing the pause button. It encourages reflection and reprieve. Partnering with Teavana, Oprah invites you to “Steep Your Soul.” There is an intimation of luxury well deserved—but a luxury that almost everyone can afford.

At the same time, brands are encouraging consumers to become connoisseurs of fine teas, just as they are of fine wines or coffees. Specialty teas are marketed as complex beverages steeped in history and ritual. Tea bars and restaurants offer tea ceremonies. Retailers sell accessories such as bamboo tea tools, cast-iron teapots, and tea-making sets that adhere to 12th-century Japanese tea-making practices. High-end teas like the Super Butterfly Wuyi Oolong sell out, even at a price of $220 for eight ounces (227 grammes). There is a pervasive belief that tea requires understanding and appreciation. Capital Teas proclaims its mission to “educate people… one cup at a time,” and Teavana offers books like “Culinary Teas” and “The Way of the Buddha.” Tea isn’t just a drink, in other words; it is an experience—one well suited to the modern culture of customisation. A manager at DavidsTea says that the retailer aspires to being far more than the Starbucks of tea. “I’ll give people a cup of tea and make their day.”

The Nuts and Bolts of Tea Processing – How a tea leaf is maximized for steeping

Did you know that all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, and the categories of tea are distinguished by the type of processing that they undergo?

Do you remember those childhood days when your mind was able to ask simple questions, like how one went from Point A to Point B, or how things worked? Sadly, as we age and our minds become busier with responsibilities, we often forget to ask the simple questions of childhood that are so fundamental to our understanding and our enjoyment of the world around us.

We decided to get our childhood glasses on and ask just how the heck those tea plants growing the ground become the dry, curled, steepable leaves we sell in our store. Here’s what we found out:

There are three different ways of processing most teas – orthodox, CTC, and LTC. For our purposes, we focus on the orthodox, which consists of five or six stages of processing: Withering, Steaming, Rolling, Fermentation, Drying, and Sorting. Production of black tea involves all five processes, while other types of tea processing have variations of the five. For example, green tea omits the fermentation, oolong semi-ferments, and white tea processing elongates the steaming step in open-air.

Withering:

This process varies widely according to the type of tea; some are withered much longer than others. Freshly picked leaves are spread out on ventilated trays in order to extract up to 30% of the moisture. This makes the leaves soft and pliable for rolling.

Steaming:

Much as it sounds, leaves are steamed or dry heated in order to break down their natural enzymes. This retains their colour in further processing; as such, this step is emphasized more in green and white tea processing as opposed to black tea processing.

Rolling:

Rolling is performed manually or by machine depending on the type of tea. This breaks up the cells and allows for extraction of any sap, triggering the fermentation process. At the same time, essential oils that produce the tea aroma are also released. In many cases the leaf is rolled into an artistic shape following a tradition which dates back thousands of years. A short rolling time produces larger leaf grades, while longer breaks up the leaves more resulting in lower grade tea.

Fermentation:

Leaves are again spread out for fermentation. They are left over time for this process to occur. Oolong teas ferment the outer leaf, leaving the inside non-fermented, whereas black tea processing often ferments the entire leaf.

Drying and Sorting:

After fermentation is complete (or skipped), the leaves are stacked in hot-air rack driers or exposed to the natural heat of the sun.  Once dried, they are sorted by size into different grades -- leaf, fannings, or dust.

So there you have it – inner child satisfied. That is how the tea leaf becomes drinkable for your cup! Next time you enjoy that sip of Herbal Republic tea, know that it’s gone through a lot to get to your cup and taste as good as it does. Enjoy!

 Our Teaz Tea Boutique has teas on sale, please drop by and check out the deals.

 

 

 

Darjeeling – the Champagne of Teas

If you're a tea drinker, you've no doubt sampled a Darjeeling tea. Darjeeling  is one of the most popular teas in the world, and it is grown only in India.  Darjeeling has been around for many years, but even today, it is a best  seller.

Darjeeling tea is produced only in the Darjeeling region of India. The  Darjeeling region is an area of high altitude: 4,000-10,000 feet above sea  level. In this part of India there is a mist in the air almost constantly. This  mist, combined with the high altitude ensures that the tea trees are always cool  and moist. This moisture, combined with the soil's excellent drainage produce  tea leaves that have a very distinct flavor. It is often described as a  muscadine flavor, leading Darjeeling to be known as the "champagne" of teas.  Darjeeling is a lighter tea than many black teas, which is why the English  consider it to be one of the best afternoon teas.

The tea from the Darjeeling region of India is so popular that it has even  made the area popular with tourists. Each year, thousands of people ride the  Darjeeling Himalayan Railway up into these mountains to see the beautiful tea  gardens.

When you taste a good Darjeeling, you'll taste definite fruity notes, along  with nut and florals blending beautifully with that muscatel flavoring that  comes only from this part of the world. And, only Darjeeling has that particular  astringency. It's one of the things that make the flavor of Darjeeling so  unique. And, as a special treat, a really good Darjeeling offers an exquisite  bouquet, as well, often with the smell of a fine wine. But, finding a really  good Darjeeling can be difficult.

Darjeeling is one of the most popular tea blends, and the demand often  exceeds the supply. For this reason, the Darjeeling you purchase from many tea  purveyors is only part Darjeeling, having been mixed with other types of black  tea, but labeled Darjeeling. If you read the label closely, you'll see the true  mix; usually about 50%.

The rest is filler - mostly dust from poor grade Darjeeling or other black  teas. In fact, it is estimated that each year, about ten thousand pounds of  Darjeeling tea is grown, but over forty thousand pounds of tea is sold each year  as Darjeeling!

Tending a quality tea garden is a year round job. The first work of the year  begins in March, when the tea plants are pruned one last time before the first  pluckings begin. Then, in April or May, the tea begins being harvested.  Typically, tea made from the first plucking of the year will be the best for the  entire growing season. This is because the tea leaves are the most tender during  the spring.

Once the first harvest is plucked, the tea is processed. The black tea leaves  will be fully fermented and processed according to grade.

During the rest of the year, the tea garden must be tended to keep it at its  best. The plants must be weeded all throughout the summer along with harvesting  additional crops of tea. Tea plants do most of their growing during the autumn,  so the plants must be fertilized during this time.

Around October, the tea plants will be pruned in preparation for the winter.  Then throughout the winter, the tea gardener must pay special attention to any  tea plants under four years of age, ensuring that they are protected from the  cold.

Darjeeling tea is easy to find. Exceptional Darjeeling is a rare treat. If  you've never had really high quality Darjeeling tea froma quality supplier,  you're missing out on one of the world's greatest tea experiences. Don't skimp  when it comes to Darjeeling.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/744548

Ezine @rticles - By Jon Stout

 

9 Varieties of Japanese Green Tea

From the website True Beauty Tips

It seems we in the West are finally learning that Japanese Green Tea is healthy and good for us. Choose the one you like from nine varieties of Green Tea.

The world of Japanese green tea is vast, with literally thousands of varieties, each featuring subtle differences in taste and aroma.  However, a fair number of those new to Japanese green tea, seem to be taking a strong dislike to the flavour.  If you don’t like the flavour the answer isn’t to give up on green tea but to try another type.  You may have mistakenly tried Chinese Green Tea or teabags from one of the brand name tea makers – a big mistake.

Many are available at natural food stores, some supermarkets and fine tea boutiques.  Just find one you like and enjoy the taste along with the health benefits.

Matcha …

  • Drink Japanese Matcha Green TeaMatcha is the quintessential experience of Japanese green tea. It is made from skillfully cultivated, shade-grown tea leaves that have been meticulously stone-ground into a fine powder.

    To prepare Matcha, take a teaspoon of matcha and stir it vigorously with hot water using a bamboo whisk. Because it is made from the entire tea leaf, matcha has a bold, rich herbaceous flavour in the mouth. It is traditionally served with delicately flavored sweets to balance this intense flavor.

  • Sencha …

    • Drink Japanese Sencha Green Tea

      Sencha refers to a broad category of loose leaf green tea meant to be infused. Senchas can range from simple, unassertive teas that may be enjoyed daily to bolder teas.

      In general the top few tea leaves from the shoot are used since they are rich in flavouur. The finished tea may consist of small, almost powdery particles, or long, delicate, slender strands. For the best balance of flavor and color, many senchas are a mix of leaves of different sizes and shapes. The final brew will be yellow-green to a deeper green in color. The taste will range from mellow with a hint of maize or wildflower to lively and herbaceous with a palate-cleansing astringency. Sometimes the leaves are deeply steamed to create a bolder sencha known as fukamushi-cha.

  • Gyokuro …

    • Drink Japanese Gyokuro Green TeaGyokuro translates as Jade Dew, referring to the deep green color of its leaves.  An elaborate form of Sencha, Gyokuro leaves are meticulously shade-grown in the same manner as leaves for matcha. The shading creates a tea that is intensely rich in flavour and low in astringency. The intense labor required to produce Gyokuro, make it one of Japan’s most expensive teas.
    • Kabusecha …

      • Drink Japanese Kabusecha Green TeaKabusecha is similar to gyokuro in that it is also shade-grown, but for a shorter length of time.  Its flavor lies between sencha and gyokuro, offering a mild sweetness and great depth of character.
      • Bancha …

        • Japanese Bancha TeaBancha is made from more mature leaves than sencha, picked during the later harvest season.  Not as complex a flavor as sencha, but it is mellow and easy to drink. It is also low in caffeine and high in antioxidants, making it an ideal tea to drink daily.
        • Genmaicha …

          • Japanese Genmaicha TeaGenmaicha is one of the most popular Japanese green teas. It consists of a mix of roasted rice and either sencha or bancha tea. The roasted rice imparts a warm, toasty flavor to the green tea, creating a rich, smooth taste. Genmaicha’s popularity grew out of the lean war years when fresh tea was scarce and the small amounts available were mixed with rice to make it go further.
          • Hojicha …

            • Japanese Hojicha Tea

              This tea takes its name from the Japanese words hoji, meaning roasted and cha meaning tea.  The Hojicha story relates how a Kyoto tea merchant had a large stock of green tea that he was an unable to sell and instead of disposing of the tea, he roasted the tea leaves and offered free tastings to the public, who took an instant liking to it.

              To create hojicha, the finished tea leaves or stems are roasted for a few minutes, which turns them a dark brown color. The resulting tea has a smooth flavor with no astringency, making it ideal with to have with meals.

            • Kukicha …

              • Drink Japanese Kukicha Green Tea

                Kukicha is a tea made mainly from stems, or kuki. Its flavor is vibrant with a mild astringency. Kukicha is often referred to in macrobiotic circles, but this is actually Hojicha made from stems.

                Kukicha is strictly made from stalks produced by the harvesting of one type of bud and three types of tea leaf. The leaves go on to make gyokuro and high graded sencha. The main characteristics of Kukicha are its light flavour, and fresh green aroma with a very light yellow-green colour. For Kukicha drinkers, the thinner and less green the infusion; the higher the quality of the tea. The flavor of the best Kukicha tea is considered to be as good as the highest quality sencha. It is an inexpensive and an enthusiasts tea, rarely seen outside Japan.

              • Konacha …

                • Drink Japanese Konacha Green Tea

                  Konacha is made from from fine, powdery tea leaves. It brews to a vibrant green and yields a clean, brisk taste. It cleans the palate and is often the recommended tea to have with sushi.

                  Konacha is the tea served by most sushi shops in Japan, because of its refreshing astringency.

                  While processing Gyokuro and Sencha, the components are categorized into three groups: stem, leaf and powder. Konacha is made from the powder and the small parts of the leaves. It is best brewed with steaming hot water and poured through a fine mesh strainer, which keeps the smaller parts of the tea leaves our of your cup. This tea is prepared quickly and is often used when large groups have to be served quickly.

7 Herbal Teas That Will Make You Healthier

By Meredith Dault - Best Health Reader's Digest

Need a health boost? Reach for a soothing cup of herbal tea to relieve nausea, bloating and other common ailments.  But besides being a tasty, warming, caffeine-free pick-me-up, herbal tea has lots of wonderful health benefits. From soothing a troubled tummy to easing insomnia and calming a troubled mind, herbs have all sorts of healing powers. Drinking herbal tea can also be a great source of vitamins and minerals.

What is herbal tea?

Herbal tea isn’t really made from tea—which is a specific kind of plant. The French use the word tisane, which is a little more accurate, since herbal tea is really just an infusion of leaves, seeds, roots or bark, extracted in hot water. In drinking a well-steeped herbal tea, we get all the plant’s benefits in an easily digestible form.

The benefits of herbal tea

“In a lot of ways, we might get more benefit from a good organic tea than from a vitamin pill,” says herbalist Marianne Beacon of Elderberry Herbals in Peterborough, Ont. "You’re getting the benefits of hydration. There’s the social element: Tea is something that you can share with people. And when you’re drinking herbal tea, you get aromatherapy at the same time—and that’s something you don’t get from a tablet!”

That’s why Toronto-based herbalist Marcia Dixon says herbal tea should always be steeped in a covered vessel to contain the beneficial essential oils. “Otherwise, your room smells nice but you aren’t retaining the medicinal properties.”

How to choose a herbal tea

When it comes to choosing a herbal tea, both Dixon and Beacon agree that it’s important to look for a well-sourced product made from high-quality ingredients. If you’re drinking tea for the medicinal benefits, then definitely steer clear of products that add things like essential oils or flavours. And to really get the full benefits from drinking herbal tea, make sure you steep your loose tea or tea bags long enough—in some cases, as long as 10 to 15 minutes—to really bring out all the healthful properties.

“Anytime you’re ingesting something, you’re giving your body the building blocks it needs to manufacture tissues and hormones,” says Dixon. “If you drink tea every day, you can make all sorts of significant changes to your mood, your skin, your sense of well-being and energy.”
There are so many wonderful herbal teas to choose from. Here are a few of the most common. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

Peppermint tea

Halifax naturopath Colin Huska recommends drinking peppermint tea to relieve the symptoms of abdominal gas and bloating, and to relieve muscle spasms. It’s also good for nausea (without vomiting) and for heating up the body and making it sweat. If indigestion or heartburn are problems, however, then Dixon recommends avoiding peppermint altogether. Peppermint tea can also be made using fresh herbs from the garden—and it's one of the easiest herbs to grow.

Ginger tea

Another great digestive aid, ginger can be used to curb nausea, vomiting or upset stomach due to motion sickness. Make fresh ginger tea by simmering a piece of ginger root on the stove for 10 to 15 minutes—add fresh lemon juice and honey when you have a cold for a powerful germ-fighting combination. Beacon also suggests making tea from powdered ginger to ward off a chill.

Chamomile tea

A gentle calming and sedative tea made from flowers, chamomile tea can be helpful for insomnia. It can also be helpful with digestion after a meal. Huska recommends chamomile in cases of cough and bronchitis, when you have a cold or fever, or as a gargle for inflammation of the mouth. Be sure to steep it well to get all the medicinal benefits.

Rooibos tea

High in vitamin C as well as other minerals, rooibos has all sorts of health benefits. An easy drinking tea, it’s largely grown in South Africa and has been touted for its antioxidant properties—which may in turn help ward off disease and the signs of aging. It has also been shown to help with common skin concerns, such as eczema.

Lemon balm tea

An easy-to-grow plant, lemon balm is helpful for lifting the spirits. “It’s good for the winter blahs,” says Deacon, “and it can help improve concentration.” She adds that lemon balm is safe for children and may help prevent nightmares when consumed before bed. This herb also makes a refreshing iced tea, and can be flavoured with lemon or maple syrup.

Milk thistle and dandelion tea

When consumed as a tea, milk thistle or dandelion are gentle liver cleansers. “They help the liver to regenerate and function at a higher capacity,” says Huska. “They can also assist in the production of bile, which can help with our digestive process.”

Rosehip tea

Rosehips are the fruit of the rose plant and are one of the best plant sources of vitamin C, which is important for the immune system, skin and tissue health and adrenal function. Consider reaching for rosehip tea next time you need a health boost.