IT’S 900 meters above sea level, just like many of the places I have visited in Brazil but rather than just coffee, they grow tea as well. I found myself touring an organic tea plantation in Chiang Dao about 50 kilometers from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand recently. At elevations ranging from 900 to 1200 meters, they have also started growing Catimor coffee trees. The whole mountain is planted only to organic as they carry all global certifications attesting to the veracity of their organic claims.
I started to wonder why we do not grow tea as well. After all, tea and coffee both have anti-oxidants that are both good for the body, as many medical practitioners claim. Maybe it’s because we as Filipinos never picked up the habit of drinking tea, unless it’s iced tea that I am certain is Hollywood’s influence with iced tea drinks and powders being sold as convenience products.
In many parts of Asia, more notably in parts of Asean where we share the climate with Lao, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia—tea is also developed as an industry. Camellia Sinensis is this kind of tea.
From Kew.org web¬site it says: “Tea is a shrub, grown for a hot drink made from its leaves. It is appreciated for its stimulant properties and health benefits, and as the center of social rituals such as the Japanese tea ceremony and British teatime. Two varieties are recognized; Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (Chinese tea) and C. sinensis var. assamica (Assam tea, Indian tea). For centuries it was thought that black and green teas came from different plants. In fact they come from the same species, but black tea is fermented.”
I found myself doubly lucky for being in a tea farm for the latter variety of Assam tea, which I have never seen. I have seen tea plants in Lao PDR and Japan but they were of the Oolong variety. Assam variety is Indian in origin and the owners of Raming Tea in Thailand knew this was a different kind they purposely cultivated to replicate the Indian plantations also because their geo-tag or location is similar to where Assam grows in India.
Though I am a staunch coffee advocate, I find it fascinating to also learn about tea. And I wonder if indeed we can plant tea in the Philippines.
Of late the locally sourced herbal teas we have in the market are actually tisanes, or infusions. The most popular are malunggay (for vitamins C and A), ginger (for the lungs), banaba (for hypertension), guyabano (anti-cancer) and lemongrass (for hypertension too). Filipinos have started to drink these tisanes, usually for their healthy properties and as an alternative when one has had a little too much caffeine. All tisanes are caffeine-free.
Tea, like coffee, however is caffeine-full. We were treated to an al fresco lunch at the Raming Tea plantation and had as one of the dishes a rare treat: Tea Leaves with tomatoes, onions and sardines! Yes, they cooked the tealeaves. I was warned not to take too much but alas the adventurer in me ate it with gusto. You can guess what happened later in the evening. I was tossing and turning in bed—and I remembered all the tea leaves I had for lunch! Now, that was a caffeinated vegetable course. So, there are even other uses for tea . . . not just for drinking but eating as well.
Our guide Art told us that tea pickers even eat a leaf or two as they go about picking and these tea leaves give the pickers the energy they need to harvest tea all day. That’s an instant energy booster much like how coffee pickers will suck on a red ripe coffee fruit and taste its sweetness in the raw.
Tea and coffee. Both are stimulants. Caffeine-full. Be careful how much you drink or eat, as in the case of what happened to me. These two are the most popular beverages in the world, both vying for number two or second only to water as the most popular beverage.
If we can grow coffee, maybe we can try growing tea as well. And change our habits from just knowing iced tea but to really enjoying tea as much as we enjoy coffee.
In the meantime, Let’s steep some mint or tarragon leaves in hot water and make our herbal tisanes. Or try the popular herbal teas we so proudly produce in the country. Guyabano tea, anyone?
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao and Cebu City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org