Choosing the right poison
About one week ago I had exactly 50 types of tea at home. By tea, I don’t only understand black-oolong-green-white tea, but also the various plant infusions that are actually tisanes, being them with or without medicinal properties.
Germans are quite fans of various herbal teas (you’ll find mixtures of 8 or 9 herbs meant to be drank just like that, not as an adjuvant to any ailment); this doesn’t mean that this country is the paradise of the tisane: this people is stupid enough not to know that linden flower (Tilia platyphyllos) tea is not only useful in colds, but also as a mild sedative (in Eastern Europe nobody uses linden in colds, where chamomile is a much better choice; also, the elder (Sambucus nigra) tea is a much better sudorific, but Germans don’t seem to know that). Anyway, linden tea is very difficult to find in Germany, and highly underrated. But this people of philosophers is also stupid enough to use the term Homöopathie (homeopathy) both for Hahnemann’s crap (“Klassische Homöopathie”) and for phytotherapy aka herbal therapy aka botanical medicine (in German also Pflanzenheilkunde, Kräutermedizin, rarely Phytotherapie, but most common just Homöopathie). Another mass idiocy is that here Limonade (or Limo) is used for any fizzy soft drink (any soda or pop, especially Coca Cola!); to get a true lemonade, one has to ask for Zitronenlimonade! They can’t figure out that Zitrone was once also called Limone, simply because it refers to Citrus limon. And this culture had those great philosophers centuries ago?!
But I digress. Fact is that since November 2017 all the black teas with lemon have vanished from all the supermarkets. Most notably, Teekanne’s “nero” schwarzer Tee Fresh Lemon is gone, and it was everywhere!
This being said, let’s explore the teas I’m drinking these days for, go figure, coffee is not my only passion. With 50 different varieties “in stock” (now a few less already), I guess I’ve tried at least 200 or 300 in the last decade or so.
Gone the days when I was drinking Damman Frères green, black or flavored teas. I’m now into supermarket-grade teas. And teabags, not loose tea. Yup, I went that low.
But you see, the idea is to be able to avoid any frustration of not being able to find a tea I like, and to be able to drink quite a lot of tea–after a meal, instead of a meal, instead of one more coffee, and so on. No sugar added! A tea or a tisane is what it is, not a pretext to make a hot syrup! Except for the dog days of August, tea drinking can be a very pleasant experience, provided that the drinker actually likes the respective sort of tea.
On the frustration side, here’s an excellent tea I’ll miss once this last box gets empty: Thee Van Oordt Organic “Refresh Yourself” with nettle.
Generally, this brand is increasingly difficult to find, as if the owner of the brand, Axxent, was planning to discontinue it. In Germany, Thee Van Oordt was available, on and off, from TK Maxx.
I don’t know whether the “purifying” (detoxing, detoxifying, depurative, whatever) properties of the nettle are real or imaginary, but apparently it’s good for the kidneys, and it might diminish a little the appetite. The aforementioned tea has the most delicious formula possible for a tea with 50% nettle: 10% green tea, then rosehip, spearmint, lemongrass, passion fruit, ginger, blackcurrant, ginseng, orange peels, and a bit of liquorice. The blackcurrant is very present in the end taste!
With this gone, the best tasting nettle tea composition is Meßmer’s Nettle-Mango tea (once their “Tea of the Year 2014”):
The current packaging is slightly different (and a bit uglier, not to mention typos, such as Mangosaftgranualt); visit the official page to see it. Anyway, this tea only includes 20% nettle (then: lemongrass, blackberry leaves, orange leaves, peppermint, mango, granulated mango juice concentrate).
For more nettle, but a less fabulous taste, a good choice is Meßmer’s Nettle mix, with 51% nettle, then blackberry leaves, fennel and liquorice root (the web page is a bit defective):
Whoever wants a tea with 90% nettle can opt for dm’s bio nettle tea, but the taste is less than stellar. Note that I didn’t try Meßmer’s detox your feelings, which has 25% nettle and 22% green tea (then 7 other herbs).
Recently I experienced quite a shock to discover that my old mantra “I don’t like rooibos, I’ll never drink rooibos” was crushed by a cheap tea sold under Rossmann’s own brand King’s Crown: Africa’s Sun!
There’s a trick here, and it’s not only in the combination of mango, ananas and banana extracts (some blackberry leaves too): this tea contains 52% green rooibos. To put it simple, green rooibos is to rooibos what green tea is to black tea. (But without the caffeine.) This is my current tea of choice, and a great tea for 99 cents the box! Can’t beat it. I translated for you a couple of 5/5 reviews from rossmann.de:
- Finally the Sun among the many stars… I actually don’t know anything about rooibos and green rooibos. I prepare most of my teas from the harvest of my medicinal and tea plants in my own garden, plus other spices that can be used. As a result, my need for bag teas in recent years has dropped to zero. But recently I was given this Rossmann “Sun of Africa” tea. At first skeptical, I went then nevertheless to make myself a cup, then another large cup of it the same day. This tea amazes me. It tastes so harmoniously matched to its ingredients like pineapple, banana, mango etc. that I tend not to believe it’s possible to delight so much so many many tea drinkers without artificial additives. It is also a wonderful tea with its intense honey color. I simply added a little liquid honey to the cup, just a little, and yet the pleasant drinking experience intensified. It is worth trying this tea for yourself.
- Delicious, fruity tea. Very aromatic with a delicious fruity note. My new favorite tea.
- Super delicious, best tea from King’s Crown. I’ve been buying this tea regularly for years, it tastes great.
- Great taste. I love this tea. It simply tastes natural, not artificial at all and simply delicious. And a great price too.
- Sweet without sugar. Actually I always drink my tea with sugar, no matter what kind of tea. But here at Rossmann I found this tea which I drink without sugar. This rooibos tea with the sweet fruits is simply delicious as is! Something also to be mentioned: the price is for the quality simply unbeatable.
- Mega delicious. Super tasty tea, when it’s on sale [89 cents] we buy 10 packs first, because we make at least one pot of it every day 🙂 I don’t really like fruit tea so much, but this tea has a tasty fruit note and is still not sour nor artificial in taste.
On the soft side of the rooibos (meaning: no pure rooibos!), my wife (who also didn’t know she could like rooibos) likes two tea combinations from Teekanne: Entspannung (relaxation) and Innere Ruhe (inner peace):
What I dislike is that Teekanne (which generally has too many teas, and their product line includes many overpriced tea compositions) decided to make two teas so much similar:
- Entspannung contains: rooibos, lemon balm, cinnamon, lemon myrtle, liquorice, sweet blackberry leaves, linden flowers, hops, peony flowers (2%).
- Innere Ruhe contains: rooibos, honeybush (a sweeter relative of rooibos), lemon balm, cinnamon, liquorice, hops, sweet blackberry leaves, cardamom, lotus flowers (2%).
Speaking of spices like cinnamon and cardamom, my wife was into a Chai-mania (especially during winter time), which means we’ve tested various cinnamon-based compositions that also included ginger, cloves, black pepper, and whatever else could still make the combination close enough to a Massala Chai. I won’t particularly recommend any such tea, because they’re literally dozens and dozens, but easy to find are Teekanne’s rooibos-free Organics Oriental Chai and Oriental Spice Tea, and their two rooibos-cum-vanilla (I can’t stand vanilla in tea!) New York Chai and Indian Chai Classic. Unfortunately, Meßmer’s Orientalischer Chai has been discontinued. A somewhat related tea is their Wintertraum (rooibos with orange, cinnamon and other spices). Rossmann’s King’s Crown Tee Magie des Orients could also be interesting (fennel, anise, 15% cinnamon, ginger, liquorice roots, blackberry leaves, 2.5% cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, 1.5% black pepper, 1% orange peel, 0.1% natural vanilla), but I find it far too weak.
Related or unrelated to chai, I’ll also skip any recommendation from many brands easy to find in Germany’s supermarkets or Reformhäuser (bio food stores), such as: Alnatura, Yogi Tea (a German company that produces all its overpriced teas in Italy), Cupper (Clipper in Britain), Shoti Maa and Hari Tea, Kirpa (being Italian, this one is actually difficult to find, but it’s also by Hari; it has been available at TK Maxx); TeaTox (expensive); Lebenslaum (overpriced crap); and Sonnentor (which is a pathetic Austrian attempt to sell small paper bags with tiny amounts of tea inside). I didn’t count brands that are actually discounters that have pseudo-brands dedicated to teas (LIDL with Lord Nelson; ALDI Süd with WESTCLIFF, ALDI Nord with Westminster Tea; Rossmann with King’s Crown; Kaufland with K-Classic; dm, Müller, REWE/Penny, EDEKA/Netto, etc.).
Wait! I forgot about a tea I happen to like now and then, because it’s not Earl Grey, but actually milder and more aromatic, with more orange than bergamot though: Meßmer’s own variant of Madame Grey!
Funny thing, I can only find this tea at REWE, and not at Kaufland, EDEKA or other places that normally sell Meßmer teas. Retards.
I won’t get into black teas. I’ll just say that, despite the Ostfriesische Teekultur (East Frisia is the major black tea drinking region in Germany, historically with a preference for strong Assam blends), the German black teas are not spectacular. Ostfriesische Tee Gesellschaft GmbH & Co. KG–which also owns the brands Meßmer and Milford–does make some black teas, but nothing to write home about. Teekanne has several lines of black tea: Klassik, Darjeeling, Indonesia and Earl Grey are rather mediocre; Nero is cheap; the Ostfriesen Teefix line (e.g. in 1.5 g bags, in 2.8 g bags; Gold Teefix in 2.75 g bags; also in packs of 80, 100 and 160) is somewhat closer to the tradition, but I’m not convinced; Organics English Breakfast is overpriced crap (1.75 g, because 2 g would be too much for the buck); and the professional line is not available in retail.
Now, before I get to the poison part of this post, I’ll insert an intermezzo to complain about the disappearance of pure white teas from the discounters. Years ago, even Teekanne has some 100% white tea, but now they only offer white tea with mango or with jasmine, and Meßmer has a white tea with peach-vanilla. FUCK MANGO, PEACH OR JASMINE IN WHITE TEAS!
Those idiots assume that white tea is “too tasteless” to be enjoyed as is. No, you fucktards, YOU ARE too tasteless!
Now, Rossmann used to be a quick fix with their White Pai Mu Tan, but since some time last year, it’s totally fucked up. The only drinkable and easy to find white tea is Alnatura’s white tea with 2% rose petals. (We still have a couple of pyramids of Mlesna’s Pai Mu Tan Pure White Tea, but they’re too difficult to find, and my wife claims it’s too strong for a white tea, or a bit too close to green tea.)
How about some poison in your cup? I don’t like fruit teas (for most are 98% just apple, rosehip and hibiscus and only then the claimed thing), and usually I hate chamomile (it reminds me of influenza), but every now and then I like to drink some mint tea, or a combination quite popular here, fennel-anise-caraway. But did you know how poisonous herbal tea can be?
I’ll keep the mystery a little bit more. When it comes to fennel (as a tea, because as a vegetable it’s a great source of potassium, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin C and iron), it’s worth noting that on itself it’s less aromatic than expected, and this is why Meßmer packs it in 3 g bags, and the same is valid for Teekanne. Maybe you didn’t notice, but instead of the standard 2 g teabag, most manufacturers often pack some teas in 1.8 g, 1.75 g, 1.7 g, 1.6 g, 1.5 g, and even 1 g teabags, not because this would be the perfect amount for a cup, but in order to keep the price in line with other teas of the same product line! Instead of making a particular tea more expensive, they make it… diluted. So it’s nice when with some herbal teas one can find 3 g or 2.5 g bags (although 2.75 g bags are definitely the “cost-effective” variant of 3 g bags).
But I said fennel-anise-caraway is much more aromatic (hence even more popular), and very useful to digestion. Teekanne sells this mix in 3 g bags, whereas Meßmer has 2 g bags (boo!). On the other hand, Teekanne’s bio variant not only has 2.5 g bags, but it’s more expensive than visible at first sight: 18 bags à 2.5 g for 2.29 € makes 5.09 € per 100 g; the non-bio 20 bags à 3 g for 1.79 € makes 2.98 € per 100 g!
Other providers: Alnatura Bio: 2.25 g (40% fennel and 40% anise); dm Das Gesunde Plus and dm Bio: 2 g (the latter is more balanced, with 40% fennel and 40% anise); Bad Heilbrunner: 2 g (pack of 8 bags); REWE: 2 g; EDEKA Bio: 2 g; Milford: 2 g; Rossmann’s Altapharma and King’s Crown: 2 g (Altapharma with 42.5% fennel and 42.5% anise); Goldmännchen (also with 2% Echinacea): 2 g, but 6 g in “jumbo” bags for a teapot.
Another rather tasty composition useful in gassy bellies or other mild stomach disturbances is fennel-chamomile, with a cheap version from Teekanne, and a fancier Magenliebe (“dear to the stomach”) enhanced formula from Meßmer (33% chamomile, 32% fennel, rooibos, anise, orange peel, liquorice root, cinnamon). Quite drinkable, the last one.
For a mildly calming tea to drink before going to bed, supposing you won’t opt for the overpriced Yogi Tea Sweet Dreams (4.29 € list price; on occasions as low as 1.99 €; fennel, peppermint, lemongrass, 18% chamomile, lemon balm, sage, 5% lavender, cardamom, 1.5% lupine, 1.4% lavender essential oil, nutmeg), interesting choices include:
- From dm Bio: Guten Abend Tee (small 1.5 g bags, but good composition: 30% chamomile, 29% sage, 25% lemon balm, 8% lavender, liquorice root, 2% hop cones) and Lavender and Verbena (29% lemon verbena, 28% rose hip, 15% spearmint, 14% lavender, anise, lemon peel, 1% rose petals).
- From Meßmer, Melissen-Mischung (60% lemon balm, peppermint, anise) and Entspannung Hopfen-Melisse (27% lemon balm, blackberry leaves, rooibos, fennel, peppermint, anise, 2.5% hops).
- From Teekanne, Sleep & Dream Organics and Calm and Relax Organics are overpriced, but Träum Schön (“have a nice dream”) is OK (lemon balm, chamomille, linden, peppermint, sage, lemon verbena, lavender) but in 1.7 g teebags; the previously mentioned Entspannung (relaxation) and Innere Ruhe (inner peace) can also be used at bedtime.
A final tip concerns mint teas: peppermint is “the true” mint (Mentha piperita, although it’s a cross between spearmint and watermint). Its spicy taste makes it however not suitable for excessive concentrations: I once tried ALDI’s ONE WORLD® Fairtrade Bio-Tee Minze in 2.25 g teabags, and using two bags probably saturated my taste buds, as the unsweetened tea seemed sweet. When using spearmint (Mentha spicata) an excessive concentration doesn’t hurt, which is why sometimes it’s preferred to peppermint, or a mix of the two is used. Some German brands like to cheat a bit, and they pretend to be using very specific variations of the spearmint:
- Marokkanische Minze (Mentha spicata var. crispa “Morocco”), from North Africa. Notice that this is not the variant that gives the name to the tea below!
- Nanaminze (Mentha spicata var. piperita “Nana”), a peppermint hybrid used alongside green tea in the Moroccan mint tea aka Moorish tea).
Confusing, right? And who can check what kind of spearmint are is used in any such tea? Either way, good examples of such special spearmint mixtures include: Meßmer’s Nanaminze (listed as containing 100% Krauseminze, which is the common spearmint!); Teekanne’s Marokkanische Minze (90% “Moroccan” mint, 10% peppermint; very tasty, despite the 1.8 g teabag); Alnatura’s Dreierlei Minze Tee (“Nana” mint, 25% peppermint, apple mint—Mentha villosa or Mentha nemorosa, used in Cuba for mojitos), and Pukka’s Three Mint Tea (peppermint, spearmint, field (or wild) mint—Mentha arvensis). Now it’s even more confusing, huh? And “Nana” mint is also present (22%) in Alnatura’s Augenblick der Freude (moment of pleasure). Note that Rossmann’s King’s Crown Grüner Tee Marokkanische Minze is an attempt to the original Moorish tea, as it’s 54% green tea and only then 36% spearmint, sweet blackberry leaves, peppermint, mint aroma. There are however people who believe they’re drinking mint tea, as 54% of 1.5 g is not enough to make the green tea perceptible amidst various mint forms! Also note that Meßmer’s Masir Marokkanische Minze unfortunately contains honey. (Yes, I know they like the tea sweet in Northern Africa, but I always have my teas plain.)
Speaking of “threes” in tea, one of the most tasteless teas ever is Pukka’s Drei Tulsi, known in Britain as Tulsi Clarity (yes, they’re the same product). I don’t know how some reviews can claim “Schmeckt sehr aromatisch, riecht angenehm würzig”, as it’s almost completely tasteless, even after infusing it for 15 minutes. Those green Rama tulsi (45%), purple Krishna tulsi (45%), and wild lemon Vana tulsi (10%) must be sorts of hay or something.
Finally, we’re getting to the poison.
There are two major organizations in Germany that perform tests on all categories of products, and publish the results in monthly magazines: Stiftung Warentest (with “test“) and ÖKO-TEST (which is actually just a magazine issued by an organization that belongs to… SPD). I read or just browse these two magazines since 2015, and I try to memorize which products belonging to what brands I should avoid purchasing.
I tend to prefer Stiftung Warentest with regards to edible stuff tests, as I found them useful in revealing faults and non-conformities in chocolate, bottled water, black teas, coffee, Nespresso-compatible capsules, dishwasher liquids, Nutella-like spreadable creams, and more. Öko-Test was also informative when it came to black teas, dietary supplements, ice creams, cosmetics.
If when examining black teas the focus was on the possible contamination with pesticides, PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons; PAK in German) and pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA), but mostly with pesticides (also the origin was tested: is a Darjeeling tea really from Darjeeling?), herbal teas are usually contaminated with pyrrolizidine alkaloids, and chamomile is the most likely to be poisoned by PA!
How’s that? Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are found in 6,000 different plants, some of which–such as the golden ragwort and the common ragwort–are very common in Europe and highly toxic. Contamination of other cultures is not rare, and in the case of chamomile the vaguely similar aspect doesn’t help at all.
While there is no risk of acute contamination (i.e. one can’t be harmed by a single cup of contaminated tea), the risk is cumulative and it can lead to either benign or cancerous liver tumors; sometimes, the lungs can be affected. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR, Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung) mentions a few well-documented cases: in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, people became ill after eating cereals that were contaminated with seeds of Heliotropium or Crotalaria; in Jamaica poisoning caused by ragwort and by the plant parts of Crotalaria occurred.
There are no clear safety levels for 1,2-unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids (1,2-unsaturated PA), nor are they statutory (legal) limits for food. Here’s the international context:
- In 1988, the World Health Organization suggested a maximum daily intake of 15 micrograms of PAs.
- In 2001, Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) established for “non-cancer effects” of the PAs a tentative NOAEL (NoObserved-Adverse-Effect-Levels) limit of 10 micrograms/kg/day, but applying an “uncertainty factor” of 10 the PTDI (provisional tolerable daily intake) was established at 1 microgram/kg/day.
- In 2005, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) determined for “non-cancer effects” a NOAEL of 10 micrograms/kg/day in rats (!), and applying an “uncertainty factor! of 100 the value for humans became 0.1 micrograms/kg/day. However, for the cancer risk assessment, in 2014 a “Virtually Safe Dose” (VSD) of only 0.00043 micrograms/kg/day was established; this value guarantees that the risk of cancer doesn’t increase with more than 1 in a million.
- In 2008, the British Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and Environment (COT) of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), based on a study on rats (NTP 2003) that only used a specific PA, Riddelliine (still only “suspected” to be carcinogenic), and applying a factor of 100, suggested that exposures of up to 0.007 micrograms/kg/day “would be unlikely to be of concern.”
- In Germany, the BfR recommended in 2011 a maximum of 0.49 micrograms of PA per day for a 70-kilogram adult, hence 0.007 micrograms/kg/day.
- In 1992, the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM, Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte) estimated that an intake of 0.1 micrograms of PA per day per person shouldn’t be exceeded (let’s put it as 0.0014 micrograms/kg/day).
- In 2014, the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) of the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) was on FSA’s/ BfR’s side with an allowable intake of 0.007 micrograms/kg/day.
- In 2016, the BfR suggested the limits of 0.1 micrograms/kg/day to avoid the risk of non-cancerous liver tumors, and of 0.026…0.038 micrograms/kg/day (0.019…0.022 micrograms/kg/day for children) to avoid liver cancer after a chronic exposure to PA!
- Compare this to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), whose 2017 “new reference point” (for cancer risk) of 237 micrograms/kg/day is preposterous, as much as it might be “based on new scientific evidence”!
The problem is not only with these limits, but rather with the omnipresence of the risk. In Germany, contamination with golden ragwort occurred in salads. Bee products such as honey and pollen got contaminated with pollen of wild plants such as Echium, Senecio and Borago (note that raw honeys from certain Central and South American countries have higher PA contents compared to raw honeys from most European countries). Since the 1,2-unsaturated PA is temperature-resistant and very soluble in water, the poison can migrate along the food chain via contaminated fodder to farm animals and to derived foods such as milk and eggs.
Speaking of borage (Borago officinalis), which normally contains PAs: it used to be a traditional remedy in gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, respiratory and urinary disorders (Pliny the Elder, Dioscorides and Francis Bacon mentioned it favorably); but its contents is rather modest with 2-10 ppm of PAs in the dried herb. The PAs can be removed from the borage seed oil through processing, but the Frankfurter Grüne Soße is made with dried borage (Borretsch aka Gurkenkraut).
Dietary supplements can sometimes be made from plants, plant parts or extracts that themselves contain 1,2-unsaturated PA.
Is there an end to this? Herbal teas, honey, milk, salads. What can we still eat without fearing such poisoning? (To be fair, no PA milk contamination has been recorded in Germany.)
Several tests have been performed on various herbal teas commonly available in Germany. (Let’s skip Stiftung Warentest’s tests of black teas (test 11/2014) and green teas (test 10/2015), as well as Öko-Test’s 09/2015 test of black teas; too many losers, mostly because of pesticides; Meßmer’s Darjeeling in teabags also because of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.)
In January 2016, NDR lists 3 mint teas and 3 herbal mixtures teas. Only Teekanne’s mint tea and LIDL’s “Lord Nelson 6 Kräuter” tea were PA-free. REWE’s own brand of peppermint tea contained 0.67 micrograms per cup, and EDEKA’s herbal mix 0.36 micrograms per cup.
In March 2017, Stiftung Warentest (test 4/2017) performed a comprehensive herbal tea study that led to a shocking result: the chamomile tea sold by the French hipsterish brand Kusmi Tea contained no less than 73.2 milligrams of PAs per kg of tea! A single teabag contained 161 micrograms of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, 328 times the long-term low-risk daily intake for an adult (using BfR’s 2011 value of 0.007 micrograms/kg/day applied to a 70-kg adult).
This test’s results have been widely publicized and relayed on countless websites (such as this one). The French catastrophe aside (and Kusmi claimed the chamomile originated from France, not from Albania or Egypt!), significant levels of PA in chamomile teas were found at Teekanne (oops!), Pukka (“Drei Kamille” from Egypt, Croatia and Hungary), and ALDI Nord. 10 teas were only “satisfactory.” The best chamomile tea was from Meßmer, with almost no contaminants!
14 of the 15 fennel teas were fabulousy clean, with a single questionable tea due to pesticide contents (Marco Polo, a very cheap brand belonging to Ostfriesische Tee Gesellschaft).
14 of the 18 peppermint teas were good; PAs affected Real’s Tip; pesticides affected Edeka’s Gut und Günstig and Twinings of London.
From the 16 herbal mixtures (8 to 11 “traditional” herbs, not the kind of mixtures shown above), strongly PA-contaminated were Teekanne’s “8 Kräuter” and Rossmann’s “King’s Crown Kräuter-Symphonie” (7 other teas were barely “satisfactory,” sometimes also because of pesticides). It looks like chamomile is not the only herb sensitive to contamination!
In February 2018, NDR performs a second test, with 7 camomile teas and 6 herbal mixtures teas. PA-contaminated were the camomile teas from (oops again!) Teekanne (0.85 micrograms per liter of tea made with 5 teabags, hence 0.17 micrograms per teabag) and from REWE (ten times lower, 0.085 micrograms per liter of tea).
Three of the herbal mixtures also got PAs. Meßmer’s Krauter Pur had 0.4 micrograms per liter of tea (made with 4 teabags); Alnatura’s registered 0.098 micrograms per liter of tea (made with 5 teabags); EDEKA’s had 0.13 micrograms per liter of tea (made with 5 teabags). Meßmer quickly contested the test’s accuracy, as the original report claimed that 7.5 teabags were needed for a liter of tea (0.75 micrograms per liter); NDR stood corrected, but the problem still stands: whatever measures had been taken to minimize the risk of contamination, they weren’t sufficient.
It’s now for ÖKO-TEST to come in 10/2018 with a newer herbal tea test. This time–good news!–the pesticides were the main issue, not the PAs! (Well, “good” is relative…) No herbal teas had measurable levels of PAs, then the pesticides decided:
- Of the 7 bio teas, 2 were very good, 2 good (dm Bio Bergkräuter Tee, REWE Bio Kräutertee), 2 satisfactory (incl. Alnatura Kräutertee), 2 deficient (Sonnentor, loose tea).
- Of the 17 “normal” teas, 1 was very good (ALDI Süd’s Westcliff Kräuter-Genuss), 6 were good (K-Classic Kräuter, LIDL’s Lord Nelson 6 Kräuter, Meßmer’s 6-Kräuter, Penny’s 9 Kräuter, Teehaus’ 9 Kräuter, Teekanne’s 8 Kräuter), 4 were satisfactory (incl. Rossmann’s King’s Crown 9 Kräuter), 1 barely sufficient (Norma’s Cornwall Kräutergenuss), 2 deficient (Netto’s Captains* Tea 9-Kräuter, Goldmännchen 9-Kräuter), and 3 totally unacceptable (from Bünting, Teehandelskontor (both loose tea) and… EDEKA’s Kräuter Klostermischung).
*yes, Captains Tea is incorrect both in German and in English: “Captains” is a fake German genitive of an English word.
All in all, and beyond EDEKA’s pathetical failure (which made the newspapers and helped me avoid their cheap teas), things seem to have improved lately, right?
And yet, I’ll mimimize my intake of chamomile of all sorts, for the rest of my life.
LATE EDIT: I just noticed that I should have mentioned another issue. Suppose I need a green tea, in teabags (not loose), and plain–no jasmine, peppermint, apple, elderberry, lemon (that goes with black tea!), orange, mandarin, lemongrass, or whatnot. Plain green tea. Not even with (traces of) matcha. Oh, and make it be Sencha, not Chinese! (Bancha is sometimes available as loose tea, but never in teabags.) What choice do I have in Germany?
But I am mean. Jasmine-flavored green tea is actually fine, such as Alnatura Bio Grüner Tee Jasmin (à 1.5 g) or Rossmann King’s Crown Bio Grüner Tee Jasmin (à 1.5 g), although my all-time favorite remains Dammann Frères Thé vert parfumé au jasmin (à 2 g), which is not in the same price range. What bothers me is that they’re all cheating by not saying how much jasmine are they putting in such a tea: 2%? 10%? They all give as ingredients only “green tea,” although Jasminum officinale is a different plant, and it should have been mentioned with the amount!
For a plain green Sencha… it gets difficult. Here’s the list of the most popular green teas in bags:
- Alnatura Bio Grüner Tee Sencha (à 1.5 g): too weak to my taste, it’s the winner of the Stiftung Warentest 10/2015 study! But the Sencha is from China (Zhejiang).
- Meßmer’s Feinster Grüner Tee (à 1.75 g) is not Sencha and not from Japan. It was a big loser in test 10/2015: deficient, especially due to those poisonous pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA). Avoid at all costs.
- Teekanne’s Hochland Grüner Tee Mischung (à 1.8 g): also a bit weak for me, it was co-winner of the test 10/2015 study! Not Sencha.
- Teekanne’s Bio Grüner Tee (à 1.75 g): not tested, and I didn’t try it (it’s newer). Not Sencha either.
- Rossmann King’s Crown Grüner Tee Sencha (à 1.5 g): Sencha from Japan, they say! Not tested by Stiftung Warentest.
- EDEKA Grüner Tee Sencha (à 1.75 g): satisfactory in test 10/2015 (place 4/13). Some anthraquinone and mineral oils. Sencha from China (Hunan).
- GEPA Bio Grüntee Ceylon (à 2 g): good and place 3/13 in test 10/2015, but not Sencha.
- dm Bio Grüner Tee Sencha (à 1.5 g): Chinese Sencha, not tested.
- The other deficient green teas in the same test include discounter brands: LIDL (Lord Nelson), ALDI Süd (Westcliff), Kaufland (K-Classic), Penny (Mayfair), Netto (Captains Tea). At least they’re half the price of Meßmer’s, but equally poisonous.
Life is tough. Can’t have a good Japanese Sencha in teabags. Maybe the one from Rossmann, but I don’t have any lab results for it; the only test for this label was for the loose tea variant, and it dates from 7/2006: measuring the contamination with pesticides using the grades “no contamination,” “very low contamination,” “low contamination,” “considerable contamination,” “very strong contamination,” this one got a “considerable contamination” rating because of the presence of 6 pesticides, of which at least one exceeded the officially admissible limit with at least 50%. Sigh.
As a side note, Teekanne has a range of “luxury teas” meant for restaurants (so they won’t be available in supermarkets, mostly because they cost 8.99 € the box of 20 luxury teabags à 4…5.5 g), but they can be ordered online; this includes Sencha Morgenblüte (à 4 g), but even this one is only 93% (Chinese) Sencha and 7% exotic fruit aroma, rose petals, orange petals and marigold petals. WTF.
I also forgot to add that there is a tea that I only drink as loose-leaf because I like it really strong (and I let infuse longer than the recommended time; but I do this with most of what I drink): Yerba mate.
It’s hard to recommend a brand, as I drink what I can find. Good popular brands include La Merced, Cruz de Malta, Amanda, Taragüi (all from Argentina), in 500 g and 1 kg packs (Cruz de Malta and Taragüi also come in teabags). For a German brand, Bad Heilbrunner Mate Tee Grün (15 teabags à 1.8 g) is rather decent.
NOSTALGIC UPDATE: Since I started this post mentioning that for about 1½ years lemon-flavored black tea is impossible to find in Germany, maybe I should also speak of a brand of fruit-flavored black tea I very much liked in the early 1990s: Pickwick (now part of Jacobs Douwe Egberts).
I very rarely drink fruit tea (for it’s almost always 96-98% apple, rosehip and hibiscus), but I still enjoy fruit-flavored black tea on occasions; the problem is I hate Lipton (I don’t drink shit, especially since they screwed their Tchaé Thé Vert Orient about a decade ago by increasing the amount of spices from 2.3% to 7%; nowadays most of their teas are pretty much artificial in taste), and Pickwick is a brand that (in a time of hyperglobalization!) only targets specific markets!
A couple of years ago they were focusing on Russia and Ukraine, the same way Ahmad Tea London also has a penchant for the same area, and Greeenfield tea is actually manufactured in Ukraine; but now Pickwick teas can be found in The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary. The full collection is unfortunately only available in The Netherlands, and it includes a comprehensive choice of black, green, white (but not plain), rooibos (not plain; even their “Original” blend has 10.6% cinnamon, 7% cardamom, and ginger), herbal (interesting), spices and fruit teas, plus the Joy of Tea and Even collections. Why can’t them be distributed throughout Europe? Wasn’t this fucking European Union supposed to promote the fucking free trade between member states? Why are those bloody stupid capitalists from Douwe Egberts not selling their fucking shit to whoever might want it? (And they say the communists were stupid…)
Funny thing, on Amazon and on some Eastern markets the classical packaging of the flavored black teas seem to be still available, including my favorite tea in 1993-1994, the blackcurrant-flavored one!
Homework: how many brands have been mentioned in this post?
LATE EDIT: Now that I was able to find it again at my local Tk Maxx, I noticed I failed to mention another tropical-flavored tea I like, Thee Van Oordt Organic “Natural Boost” (Green tea, ginseng, natural tropical flavour, ginger, lemongrass).
Also, now that I experience a sudden craving for a fruit tea and that I’m not satisfied with whatever I tried, going back to Rossmann’s Orange des Südens proved to be a good idea (even if I should add two teabags per cup):