Friday, December 16, 2016

Whisk(e)y vs. Tea

An experiment in pharmacokinetics

For much of my life I have been a coffee drinker and will continue to be, however I have decided to expand my horizons to other brewed beverages. I have recently decided to get into making tea my beverage of choice for sipping throughout the day and like everything in my life I have taken a very heavy handed analytical approach to what most would consider a delicate topic. 

Most of you know I am fascinated with data, I am always trying the latest health tracking technology (BP reading, HR, galvanic skin response, etc...) and always try to collect as many data points as possible. The data will set you free. Being almost a month into working from home on my startup, my days are much more structured so minor variations in substances become much more obvious. I have noticed that as I increase my caffeine (coffee) intake throughout the day my likelihood to be agitated increases throughout the day. Is baby tired? Am I a closet morning person? Nope, it appears to be directly tied to volume of coffee not time of day. Damn it, I love this black stuff. 

In doing research on the topic of anxiety and caffeine I discovered some interesting reading material around some of the secondary effects of tea, that lies in the pharmacokinetics of theophylline and theobromine (typically found in cocoa and chocolate). When they are consumed in measurable quantity the typical stress response the body relies on for safety is minorly suppressed. So by consuming these wonderful chemicals at the same time as caffeine it decreases the likelihood for caffeine to increase the stress response. Much of this research was highlighted to me by NYT bestselling author and human guinea pig Tim Ferris. 

Bringing it home. After three weeks of cycling my caffeine intake between that of coffee and that of tea I have not only soft data (how I feel/act) but hard data (blood pressure / resting HR) to support the consumption of tea instead of coffee reduces my overall late day stress levels dramatically. 

Now that I have decided to make tea part of my daily routine for some of the health benefits and emotional benefits I have noted above time to go typical Warren style and over do it in my quest to find the perfect cup. When I first started on this data collection journey I did it the only way I knew how, gas kettle on the stove, wait for the whistle, plump a bag into a cup, eventually remove the bag. Obviously for the tea snobs this is exceptionally incorrect for many reasons: most teas don't brew at 212*, tea in bags is crap tea, bags don't extract properly, some bags such as pyramids are made from plastic and as such contain chemicals that leech into the tea, the brew time must be controlled, etc, etc, etc... 

So why the title? 

whiskey:wine :: coffee:tea

Tea is interesting, because all teas come from the exact same plant, where they differ is how they were grown, when they were picked, how they were processed, did it involve fermenting, did it involve enhancing or preventing oxidation, etc... etc... and it dawned on me that tea is much more like wine. It all comes from the same grapes, but location makes the bridal and processing determines if you have a soft Malbec, a bold Cabernet, or a sweet and thick tawny port. I have spent most of my adult life chasing after the perfect cup of coffee and while there are huge variations in it's taste and how you consume it, it lends itself to less versatility in pure form, much in the same way whiskey does. You have Scotches, Rye, Bourbons, and they can be combined with other substances to make some pretty tasty drinks, it is just not as versatile in when it can/should be consumed in raw form. For those wondering about my perfect coffee; Sightglass central american beans + a bonavita and white meleta #4 filters. 

How I am proceeding

After much research I decided on purchasing a Breville electric tea kettle, it not only offers digital temperature control, but also manages the brew time and offers a keep warm/holding function. Most will balk at the $200 price point, but by the time you consider $80 for a good variable electric kettle, $40 for a good extractor and the mental cost of babysitting a brewing pot to prevent over extraction and excretion of tannins in the brew, the premium for the kettle is well worth it (and less clutter). Combined with all glass and stainless steel construction and Breville's elegant design and build quality (many Amazon reviewers speak of multiple uses a day for 5+ years) it seemed like a no brainer. Let me tell you, moving to quality loose leaf tea and proper brewing has changed my mind about what a cup of tea should taste like. 

For those who wonder what the full process looks like in high speed:

My first pass at tea sampling resulted in some Rishi teas from Amazon, most of which have been fantastic but I am hoping to expand into a larger sample size soon, as such this is the current order on deck to me brewed and tasted:


* denotes teas with other herbs and spices which might not be viewed in favorable light to tea elites. 


  1. love it! i totally know the feeling of working from home, or in a quiet environment for an extended period of time, and gradually hearing my body tell me more about how it's feeling.

    and i had the same come-to-Jesus moment after drinking a handful of proper Chinese pu-erhs a long time ago in Hong Kong. coffee definitely has a tough time matching the breadth and depth of flavor in tea.

    1. So what has been your favorite teas so far and brewing method? That comic was published on the day I wrote this post ~ a dozen of my friends sent it to me, the timing is scary to say the least.