Tea for each season - what to drink and when!

This was posted on 27 Mar 2012

Spring and summer are approaching, and if you drink tea for your health, you might want to take a peek at this introduction to drinking hot and cold teas according to the season (ps. we're not talking about ice-teas!).

Chinese medicine suggests that changing your tea with the seasons will help keep your body in balance. The most simple, straightforward rule of thumb is: drink green in summer, and red in winter. It's pretty easy, right?

The reason is qi. Unless you completely missed all those classic 1970's kung-fu flicks, you'll know that qi (sometimes written as 'chi') is the energy that flows around the body keeping you alive and healthy. You can keep it in balance by eating and drinking the correct 'hot' or 'cold' foods and drinks.

So the idea is that in summer, because it's already hot and easy to overheat (上火 - shang huo) you'll normally want to drink teas that cool (ie. green teas or other types of liang cha like barley tea), and in winter when it's cool, you'll want teas that are warming (ie. red or black teas).

Note: if it's starting to sound like mumbo-jumbo, don't worry. The idea of 'qi' is often presented as a really mystical concept, but in everyday life in China, it's pretty equivalent to the way we'd use the word 'energy'. For example, "I have no energy today" would be said as "I have no qi today". It's pretty normal and natural!

One thing you'll often hear Chinese people complain about is the changing of the seasons - for example, in Spring it's very easy to either get a cold, or become too hot, and the same in Autumn. In these periods, you have to adapt quickly, drinking different teas depending on the weather and also how you feel.

But there's something else to consider.

When I drink tea in China, I often hear the words 暖胃 (nuan wei) or 伤胃 (shang wei) to describe teas - they literally mean 'warm stomach' and 'hurt stomach' respectively, and they refer to whether a tea is 'hot' or 'cold'. The old saying here goes 生茶伤胃,热茶养胃 - it means "raw tea hurts the stomach, warm tea heals it".

So what's most interesting is that green tea is sometimes considered to be harmful.

In the West we tend to label green tea as light, cleansing, healthy and good for our bodies. The Chinese agree, but they also believe that as well as reducing your blood pressure or helping you lose weight, green tea can harm your stomach and digestive system because it's too 'cold'. Green tea here includes any green or more 'raw' tea like our Iron Buddha (tie guan yin) tea

On the flip side, red tea is considered warming, and good for the digestive system. So for example, if you have indigestion or stomach ache, traditional doctors here will constantly remind you not to drink green tea!

Overall it's not hard to drink tea according to the seasons - perhaps your instinct is already correct and in summer you'll look for more green and light-tasting teas. But as always, the Chinese believe in a holistic system where nothing is always good or always bad. If your stomach is suffering because of a late night out, then try taking a cup of good red tea like our Lapsang Souchong instead.