“If you really want to experience the health benefits, you’re drinking it at least once a day, possibly three to 10 times a day. When you’re consuming something in that quantity, and with that regularity, then the purity becomes as important as the purity of your water.”
– Simon Cheng
The research is clear, tea is strong medicine. I use tea to lessen anxiety and balance my blood sugar, but that’s just the tip of iceberg. Tea expert, Simon Cheng shares his remarkable story of healing as well as his wisdom about medicinal uses for tea. Listen in (or read the transcript) as we discuss:
- Tea and metabolism, insulin resistance, blood sugar issues, stress, appetite suppression, and gut/digestive health
- Difference between caffeine in tea vs. coffee
- Intermittent fasting tea
- Why the quality of your tea matters (a lot)
Mentioned in this podcast:
Amy: Today we’re going to be talking about one of my, truly one of my favorite things, and that is tea. I write about tea often on PCOS Diva, whether it’s green tea or chamomile tea, spearmint tea, licorice tea. You know, all of those teas and more are very beneficial for women with PCOS. And I have recently discovered a brand of tea that I am absolutely in love with. They are tea crystals that make it really easy to add tea into your lifestyle. And so, there are so many benefits to tea that I wanted to bring on a tea expert to talk a little bit more about it, and I want to welcome Simon. He is the CEO of Pique Tea, and he has really a great story about how tea has helped him heal. So welcome, Simon Cheng, to the PCOS Diva podcast.
Simon Cheng: Thank you very much, Amy. It’s an honor to be here, and I’m so pleased to be able to tell my story to everyone.
Amy: So I want to tell everyone that you are actually a member of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Round Table. You earned your undergraduate and Master’s degrees from Harvard and Stanford, but you also sort of fell into this world of tea. And I would love it if you would share your story with us.
Simon Cheng: Absolutely, so I actually grew up in Hong Kong, ‘til I was in my mid-teens. Thereafter, I came to the US, and the moment I got here, you know, life got very, very intense for me trying to get into the top schools, trying to do all the right things. When I graduated, you know, I was kind of in that rat race trying to get the best job that was the highest paying and the most competitive. And I literally spent a good 15 years of my life in this race. From my 20s to my 30s, well, exactly 20 to 30, I had a decade of really terrible health.
You know, each year, I had about two or three different respiratory infections. Either a sinus infection or a throat infection, or some sort of a cough. And you know, every time I went to see the doctor, I was prescribed antibiotics to cure it with absolutely no attention paid to why am I getting sick all the time? And are these antibiotics actually good for me?
And so, during those two years, those problems blossomed into skin issues, skin allergies, acne, and then believe it or not, my lungs, both my lungs collapsed in those 10 years. I had to get operations to fix both of them, so I have staples in both my lungs now. And even then, the dots didn’t connect for me. Even though all my infections were respiratory.
And then finally when I turned 30, my doctor told me I had sleep apnea, and he said that, “Well, you’re young, you should get the surgery. You think about your personal life, you don’t want to have to use a CPAP machine when you sleep.” And I said, “Okay, you’re the doctor, I’m sure you’re right.” You know, I was brought up to listen to my doctor, and so I did the complete works of the surgery where they removed parts of my soft palate, they removed my tonsils, they removed parts of my nasal turbinates, which is a soft tissue, a soft ligament in your nose. And the worse thing they did was, they moved my tongue forward. And they did this by cutting a hole in my jawbone. Sawing a hole in it, and then taking that piece of bone, which is connected to a tendon on my tongue, and kind of shifted the position of it.
Well, the surgery was a complete flop. My sleep apnea was not any better, in fact it was worse from all the scar tissue, and I got the jaw bone infection from this very invasive surgery that required two and a half months of intravenous, broad spectrum antibiotics to cure. And from that day onwards, I realized that you know, I could no longer listen to what the doctor told me. It was the biggest wakeup call I’ve kind of ever had. That really forced me to look at the past 10 years of my life.
And actually, that started off kind of a year long journey of mine to learn everything I possibly could about how to heal myself outside the world of medicine. And so I delved into traditional Chinese medicine. I delved into kind of herb-ology, into medicinal breath work, or chigo meditation, which is something I practice a great deal. And really fixed myself, and I have to say that I have never felt better. I’ve never felt more inspired.
That’s when I discovered the incredible power of tea, and developed the idea to start Pique tea crystals, and one thing led to another where, I’ve basically become a huge advocate in natural remedies into prevention and to health management. And yeah, I’m probably the youngest member on the Harvard School of Public Health and the Nutritional Round Table.
Amy: You know, that’s such an amazing story. There are so many women with PCOS who have sleep apnea too, that’s kind of one of the symptoms of PCOS, and I honestly-
Simon Cheng: Interesting.
Amy: Have never heard of such a crazy, invasive surgery for it. I didn’t realize that was kind of like a form of treatment. But you know, as women listening, we know what it’s like to sort of listen to the doctor and take their advice without any questions, and it kind of … And for me, and those listening to the PCOS Diva podcast regularly, you’ve heard my story, and I think that a lot of us have gone down the route of mainstream medical solutions, and have been sort of disenchanted, and it’s only made things worse for us.
And so, looking for alternative remedies, and you mentioned Chinese medicine and herbs, and tea, it really … and tea has made such a huge difference in my life in terms of metabolism, and it helps reduce my anxiety, and that’s one of the reasons that I drink Matcha tea. Now your Pique crystal matcha, your Pique brand matcha tea every morning. It really helps with my stress and anxiety, and it’s just so much better for me, like my body and spirit than my caffeinated coffee was every day.
Simon Cheng: Absolutely.
Amy: And I really like that shift, and we can talk about the benefits of matcha, but I would like it if you just sort of started off with talking about tea and metabolism. So for most of us with PCOS, we have insulin resistance and blood sugar issues. And also, dis-regulation with some of our appetite hormones, and I know that tea can make a big difference in all those things, and was hoping that you could share some of your findings.
Simon Cheng: Yes, absolutely. You know in fact, if I had to look back on those 10 years, I would say that chronic stress was really the root cause of all my health problems. It kind of, you know, destroyed my immunity, which led to all the infections that I got. Those infections led to a weakening of my respiratory system over all. If you look at it from a holistic point of view, it all really leads back to chronic stress, and you’re exactly right Amy, tea has an incredible impact, and I was drinking three double espressos a day, by the way, at that point. For 10 straight years.
You know, tea has an incredible impact on our stress levels. And you know, as I’m sure you know, and a lot of your community is well aware, managing that chronic stress has got everything to do with the entire system of hormone regulation in your body. And so, the way tea plays an impact on that, is that first of all, the caffeine that’s in tea is time released over a four to six-hour period. So time release I mean, it’s like eating a vitamin C that’s time released. Little doses of that caffeine can get released over a much longer period.
Whereas in coffee, it kind of all hits you at once, right? So you can imagine the kind of stimulation you get from a humongous amount, 200 milligrams, 300 milligrams of coffee, kind of just knocking you over within 10 minutes, versus something that’s probably the same, maybe a little bit weaker, depending on the tea, that’s drawn out over four to six hours. So you completely eliminate the kind of hug peaks and troughs of energy, and the corresponding effects that it may have on your nervous system as far as the cortisol, the adrenaline that’s produced, so the adrenal fatigue is much likely to be lower.
The second thing about tea is that, and especially in the case of matcha, it has high levels of L-theanine. Tea is the only plant in the world that’s been identified to contain L-theanine, and it’s an amino acid that actually helps calm you. Studies show that it actually helps your brain enter an alpha state. And alpha is basically the state that you’re in when you’re in the so called flow, when you’re in the flow. So, Picasso painting a painting, you know, Mozart composing a piece. Michael Phelps doing that gold lap. They’re all in the zone, they’re all in the flow, and they’re kind of in that alpha brain wave mode.
It is kind of the step that proceeds a deep meditative state, and so people always say “Try to be present”, and this and that, that’s basically being in the alpha state, and tea actually facilitates that. This is the reason monks have been drinking tea and meditating for hundreds of years.
The reason matcha has a high level of L-theanine is because it specifically grown for this purpose. It’s not because hundreds of years ago people thought, oh, we need L-theanine, let’s specifically grow it like this. It’s actually because people love the flavor of it. When you drink a ceremonial grade matcha, or high grade matcha, you’ll get a much higher level of a savory taste. Some call it an umami taste, and it has this kind of rich, creamy, savory taste, and that’s what the tea masters and the schools of tea serving in Japan always coveted in their matcha.
Well it just so happens that the way to get that flavor is to jack up the level of amino acids inside the tea. Many of you may have tried liquid aminos, and it tastes like soy sauce. That’s kind of what the flavor profile people are going for in matcha. The way to do that, in case you’re curious, is to just shade the matcha. When they’re still plants, and they’re growing, you shade them for a long period prior to plucking the leaves, and that actually leads the plant to create much higher levels of amino acids.
Amy: Yeah, and I’ve read that it’s up to five times more L-theanine than just over conventional green tea.
Simon Cheng: It can be, and the only way to really tell is to kind of taste how much umami flavor is in there. Generally, if you’re buying a legitimate matcha, that so called ceremonial grade, that’s truly ceremonial grade, it has to pass certain parameters for shading.
So, for example, our Sun Goddess matcha is a very, very high grade matcha, that’s ceremonial grade, that has a specific number of days that it’s shaded for. And so, there is no clear distinction for ceremonial grade, unfortunately. But if you buy something from Japan that is ceremonial grade, it should have a minimal requirement for how long it’s shaded for.
On this note, I will also add that the purity of the tea you’re drinking is critically important. You know, one of the reasons we started Pique was because of the high level of toxins that are in tea leaves. It’s one of the most polluted plants out there, agricultural products, unfortunately. And there’s a humongous use of pesticides. Tea is a plant that also tends to absorb a lot of heavy metals, and tea that is old and sitting around tends to have high levels of mycotoxins. At Pique, we screen for all three of those. Heavy metals, pesticides, and mycotoxins, which is toxic mold. And with the Sun Goddess, we also screen for radioactive isotopes, because it’s from Japan. For those-
Amy: Yeah, and that’s one of the things that was very important to me, looking for a good matcha, because you’re ingesting the tea leaves, so …
Simon Cheng: Absolutely.
Amy: Yeah, and-
Simon Cheng: With regularity, too.
Amy: Right, and to be clear too, the matcha that you get at Starbucks in your matcha tea latte, it is not the same grade as what you really want to be looking for to safely consume on a regular basis. That’s my opinion.
Simon Cheng: Definitely not. I don’t think anyone, frankly, should be drinking tea that isn’t organic at the least. You know again, tea is one of the most heavily tainted, pesticide tainted crops out there. And the thing about tea is that, it’s not like blueberries, right? Like blueberries, maybe you eat it every day, like most people don’t. Kale, you may not eat it every day, but tea is something that if you really want to experience the health benefits, you’re drinking it at least once a day, possibly three to 10 times a day, which is what a lot of our customers do. And you know, when you’re consuming something like that in that quantity, and that regularity, then the purity becomes, it’s as important as the purity of your water.
Amy: So the other thing with women with PCOS, we have a lot of inflammation. As I mentioned, we have a lot of blood sugar issues, cholesterol issues, and I find that the green tea, you know you’ll often see green tea extracts and different supplements. Maybe you could tell us a little bit more outside of the stress, the relaxation qualities of green tea and matcha tea. What other benefits can we expect?
Simon Cheng: Yeah, I mean I think that there are a lot of studies that have been done on tea and metabolism. Certainly on blood sugars. You know, I would say that tea is probably one of the most studies plants out there, and there is certainly no shortage of supporting evidence for what it can and kind of can’t do. I will say that in addition to that, I think something that is truly very important here, is really management of that stress axis, right? So, the whole autonomic nervous system, the flight or fight, versus the rest and digest. You know, to the extent tea can help calm you so that you can turn on the rest and digest parasympathetic nervous system, and kind of shut down, or at least manage down the flight or fight response.
You know, that’s going to have far ranging impacts. Not just on your digestion, because your digestion shuts down in flight or fight, but even things like sugar, you know, how your body processes sugar. How it regulates hormone. All of these things are so related to that stress.
Amy: Yeah, and that’s so important for those of us with PCOS, because we are already at higher stress levels. We have higher cortisol levels than women without PCOS just to begin with, and stress-
Simon Cheng: Exactly.
Amy: Yeah, as you had mentioned earlier, it can really disrupt hormones, and it just disrupts that sort of hormone cascade and causes progesterone to be lower and thyroid hormone to be lower.
Simon Cheng: Oh, absolutely.
Amy: Yeah, it just really wreaks havoc. I think that for me, the tea really helps center me before I kind of start my day. It really makes a difference. I also just wanted to mention too, the antioxidant values in matcha tea are really high. You know, if you’re looking at this ORAC rating where the oxygen radical absorbance capacity of green tea, and compared to other foods. Like for example, pomegranates are at like 105 units per gram, and matcha tea can have over 1300 ORAC units per gram, so it’s a great source of antioxidants too.
Simon Cheng: Yeah, absolutely. I think that the oxidative capacity of matcha is certainly very, very high. You know, there is a misconception that we should probably clarify, and it’s related to the number of catechins in matcha. And so there are a lot of claims that matcha has like 138 times the catechins, which is a green tea, a specific green tea antioxidant, than other green teas. And this is, you know, based on a study that is very often misquoted, and based on unfair comparisons of matcha and other very commercial low grade green teas.
The fundamental thing about this is not so much to do with the study, but just the physical process of creating high levels of L-theanine, or those amino acids. It’s by a mathematical relationship, implies that there has to be less catechins, because the chemical relationship is that catechins are actually converted into L-theanine. And so, the more L-theanine you have, the less catechins you can have. It’s like someone saying, “Oh well, I have 10 lemons.” And one person said they juiced 10 liters of lemonade from those lemons. Then the next person, falsely claiming that “Well I have 10 lemons, and I have 10 liters of lemonade.” It’s just not possible, right? That’s kind of the grounds on which a lot of the matcha having crazy numbers of catechins that claim is based on, yeah.
Amy: So being on all of those antibiotics, it must have really wreaked havoc on your gut, and your gut health, and you used tea to sort of rebuild your gut health, it sounds like. I know that many of your teas are sort of geared toward healing your gut, so I was hoping that you could kind of share a little bit about those benefits with us.
Simon Cheng: Yeah, absolutely, so I think one of the most important things about gut health, and kind of common understanding about gut health is that the foods that you eat actually play a much greater role to your gut health than eating probiotics. Especially with the huge diversity and quality of probiotic pills out there. And so, the way that I healed my get health was by being very conscious of what I put into my gut. I mean basically, prebiotic foods. And prebiotics are things that your gut microbiome loves to eat, and in many cases, like in the case of tea, it can actually increase the number of good bugs, and decrease the number of bad bugs or pathogens completely naturally.
And so, tea is one of those incredible things that is very, the thioflavines in tea, the compounds that give tea its color are actually something that your gut bacteria and fungi love. They eat it, and it makes the number of good bugs basically much higher, and the number of pathogens lower.
In addition to that, it has a tremendous impact on digestion, helping you basically poop regularly, which is again, fundamentally important to gut health, and I think many people may overlook. I find so many people are doing gut health tests, and doing all sorts of, measuring all sorts of bio-markers, but they’re actually not paying much attention to their poop. I mean it sounds gross, and weird, and awkward, but that’s a pretty good sign of your gut health, a regularity-
Amy: Yeah, and actually I just did a podcast about that subject with Dr. Marisol Teijeiro. She is the Queen of Thrones, and we just-
Simon Cheng: Amazing!
Amy: Yeah, we just did a great podcast on what your poop is telling you, so check that podcast out.
Simon Cheng: Exactly, definitely will.
Amy: So you know, I would love for you to tell us more about the crystals, and why the crystals? And I will tell you, that’s one of the reasons I love the Pique Tea, because they come in these little stick packs, and they’re super convenient to carry around with you, and for those of you that are kind of hooked on Crystal Light, and flavoring your water, that’s what I love about the Pique Tea, is you can flavor your cold or room temperature water, and your hot water with these crystals. So, tell us more about that process, and why you came out with that as a product.
Simon Cheng: Yeah, definitely, so Pique has two types of products. The first one is the matcha, and the second type is you know, what we call tea crystals. Tea crystals are different from matcha in the sense that they are completely soluble in cold or hot water, and so what we have done is, we’ve found a way to take high quality loose leaf tea, that’s been triple toxin screened, and we extract all of the beneficial compounds, the flavor compounds, all of the naturally occurring stuff that’s in that tea leaf into a crystalline form. So, all you have to do when you prepare it, when you want to make your tea beverage, is just mix it with water. So, we’ve effectively removed the entire brewing process from the equations, and now anyone can make gold medal winning teas. We actually won three gold medals at the 2018 Global Tea Championships with our crystals.
It’s the first time in history that a company won three gold medals, and so the idea behind that is that convenience is very, very fundamental to our ability to keep up with health routines. I mean, in an ideal world, I would wake up and spend an hour preparing my breakfast, boiling steel cut oats from scratch and start washing all my whole vegetables and cutting them down to make a smoothie, but the reality is that I actually have maybe 10 minutes, right? And so, everyone is constrained for time, and the whole idea behind tea crystals is to deliver this product that is not just pure, but extremely effective.
It has 12 times more antioxidants than other teas on the market because of this cold crystalline process, but most importantly, or as importantly the convenience factor. So, I can carry this stuff with me when I’m traveling, when I’m in the office, when I have basically no time, and have this ability to drink three plus cups of tea a day, and that’s in fact what doctors recommend. You know, whether it’s Harvard School of Public Health or any study that’s ever been done on tea, you’ll see that “Such and such results were observed, and such and such dosage was administered”. You know, that dosage happens to be about three cups of tea a day.
And so, you know the way that I discovered the tea crystals is a fun story. During that year that I was traveling around the world finding breath work experts, and TCM experts, you know, Chinese medicine experts, plant doctors, I actually ended up in Yunnan Province, which is a province in China, it’s next to Tibet. It’s kind of at the foothills of the Himalayas, and it’s where tea was first discovered 3500 years ago, and the amazing things is that trees there are actually still that old. Like the oldest tea tree that’s there is actually 3200 years old. I went to visit it, and took a photo with it.
Anyone that buys Pique will see me hugging that tree, that’s our thank you email. And so, the incredible thing is that the natives there, you know, they’ve been living symbiotically with tea for basically their entire existence. And they found a way to extract the benefits, the beneficial compounds of this tea into a paste called tea paste, and when I first discovered it, I was like, wow, this tea paste is ingenious. Because they would take it on their journeys, on their hikes. Going from one village to the next. It could be like a three day hike. They would bring it with them, and put it in their bottle, and just dissolve, or they would just eat it, and this would help them stay strong and energized and be able to make that journey and withstand the elements when it’s suddenly windy or storming or cold. And I was like, wow, this is incredible! And that was actually the seed, for me, for our tea crystals.
Amy: Yeah, that is so interesting. It kind of reminds me of Dave Asprey’s story about his bullet proof coffee too, going to sort of the, kind of like an ancient culture and seeing what, you know adding butter to tea, and then getting the idea about coffee.
Simon Cheng: Yeah, yeah, very similar, very similar.
Amy: Yeah, there’s so much wisdom, right? In those indigenous cultures that can get lost, but I’m glad that you’re bringing this to us in the states.
Simon Cheng: Yeah definitely. I mean, just the whole concept of preventing health issues, of listening to your body, and being sensitive to it, and you know, really trying to heal yourself before you get to the stage of doctors and prescription drugs. It’s just so important I think, for us to get this revolution going.
Amy: There’s a lot of talk about intermittent fasting, and I actually just interviewed one of my favorite PCOS doctors, Dr. Felice Gersh, she would talk quite a bit about intermittent fasting, and I know that you also had some fasting teas that you offer. I’d love to learn more about why are they fasting teas, and how would you use them in an intermittent fast?
Simon Cheng: Yeah definitely, so we partnered with Dr. Jason Fung, who is a nephrologist. He’s a well-known person in the world of fasting. He wrote two number one international best sellers on fasting. And you know, he had done some research that catechins in tea actually help suppress appetite, so it helps suppress the hunger hormone called ghrelin, and he has been prescribing tea for his faster, his patients there. I think there may be now thousands of them, during their intermittent fast, as a very good way to help them get through those long fasting windows, and to comply with the program.
In addition to the hunger suppression, the kind of appetite suppression component, the combination of catechins and caffeine in tea can also speed up calorie burn, or energy burn. Essentially, you burning fat for energy, which is kind of another very desired result of fasting, obviously. And so, we decided to partner together, because he really loved the kind of triple toxin screening, the purity, the convenience, all of the stuff that we offered as well as the efficacy, and so our fasting teas are really kind of designed for fasters. It delivers kind of like a higher therapeutic dose, so it makes a bigger cup with higher levels of catechins, so we basically combine all of the teas with high levels of catechins.
We’ve also, you know, we have two teas, and we’ve also incorporated in one of them things like ginger, peppermint, citrus peels, which is basically like a bergamot peel, right? And these are all things that have either been used for hundreds of years to kind of soothe digestion, so the ginger helps sooth digestion. You know, been used in, obviously, the far east forever, and in all sorts of cooking. Peppermint is something the geishas in Japan used to use. They would chew on a piece of mint leaf before going into a meal, which would suppress their appetite so they don’t over eat during the meal, because it was a sign of impoliteness to basically gorge back in those days. And then, the citrus peels, actually, there’s a story out of Italy in Sardinia, where citrus peels were used to facilitate autophagi.
And so, it’s a combination of all these different types of plants with a long history of traditional usage that is geared for all of the different fasting, you know, the benefits of fasting people want. Whether it’s autophagi, or appetite suppression, or calorie burn. And ultimately, it helps calm you right? So the reason Jason recommends tea over coffee in a lot of cases is because people can’t handle the amount of caffeine in coffee when they’re on a fast.
Amy: Yeah, you know, and all of these health benefits, I mean, the tea just plain tastes really good, you know, I just-
Simon Cheng: That’s the most important, right?
Amy: Yeah, I just enjoy it. I know I bought a little Christmas gift for myself. I bought the whole, your whole suite of teas, and I have them all on my counter in just a little canister, and I just kind of grab, it’s kind of like a candy jar, right?
Simon Cheng: Oh my goodness!
Amy: You know, I just sort of put my hand in there, and pick one out, and that’s what I make for myself.
Simon Cheng: Oh my, well Amy, you’re not allowed to do that again. From now on, you’ll have to just tell us what you like, and we’ll send it to you.
Amy: Oh, well, you know what? I really, really love the tea and you know, I wouldn’t, we wouldn’t be talking about it if I didn’t love it as much as I do, and I’m a big loose leaf, I like the whole meditative moment, I guess, of getting my loose leaf tea out, and my tea pot, and you know, letting it steep. And you know, sometimes, and I will still do that, but I really love the convenience when I’m running out the door with the kids, it literally takes like a minute for my electric kettle to boil, and then put the crystals in, and it mixes, and there’s no messy tea bag or tea leaves. And it’s just convenient and really yummy, so thank you so much for creating them.
Simon Cheng: Not at all. We’re so grateful to you for your partnership, and for your support and then endorsement. It means the world to us. You know, loose leaf tea, I still drink loose leaf tea. I love it. But you know, it’s a kind of a luxury that I really just love indulging in like Saturday mornings, or you know, if I have a slower weekday morning, it’s a fantastic thing.
Amy: Yeah, and the thing that I like too, is having some in my purse, so when you go to restaurants, and if I want a tea, like the restaurant quality tea is usually pretty crappy, so I just ask for-
Simon Cheng: Yeah, yeah.
Amy: A mug of hot water, and just you know, put my crystals in there.
Simon Cheng: Totally, totally.
Simon Cheng: It’s unbelievable how poor the quality of tea is in restaurants and in hotels, and I think that honestly, it’s one of the reasons people don’t drink more tea in America. Just the quality is so terrible. I mean, you know you get free tea bags in your hotel room, not even in a nice hotel room, like a three, four star. Three star hotel might have free tea in the room. That’s not going to be very good, right? It’s just, it’s unfortunate.
Amy: Yeah, especially when you’re a tea snob like me. But thank you for coming on, and telling us more about the benefits of tea, and I really encourage PCOS Divas listening to try the matcha in the morning. I think you’ll notice the subtle energy shift, and lowering of anxiety and stress, and just like an uplifting mood. It makes a huge difference for me, and you know I’d love it if you gave it a try to, and we will put all the information about Pique tea and how to get it in the show notes underneath the podcast.
Simon Cheng: Fantastic.
Amy: So, thank you so much Simon, for joining us, and thank you everyone for listening. I look forward to being with you again very soon. Bye-bye.