Herbal teas: how two Hong Kong experts tweaked TCM to cater for modern lifestyles and the quest for balance
Using traditional Chinese medicine principles but focusing on time-pressed 21st century consumers, Cinci Leung and Clair Beardson help clients drink the right types of herbal tea for their body type to maximise the health benefits
From igniting wars to shaping cultures, tea has played a crucial role in the lives of billions of people around the world for centuries – and its popularity is not waning. The global tea market is on the rise and is estimated to be worth US$47 billion by 2020, up from almost US$38 billion in 2013, according to Transparency Market Research.
Meanwhile, a new wellness tea movement has emerged in recent times, with health-conscious people turning to one of the world’s most popular drinks to tap its benefits.
Two traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners in Hong Kong are trying to help busy people make better choices about the teas they drink by creating their own herbal tea lines that promote all-round well-being and balance.
Cinci Leung has been practising TCM for five years, but she is anything but traditional. The 35-year-old has spent the last year making her TCM philosophy more accessible to today’s consumers folk through her clinic, cafes and CheckCheckCin brand, which includes a herbal tea range, mocktail tea bars, a smartphone health app and cookery books.
CheckCheckCin means “to check first” in Cantonese. It refers to Leung’s passion for TCM’s preventative medicine principles that encourage people to make healthy decisions for a balanced life.
The principle behind TCM is that each person has a unique body type or constitution that is controlled by their lifestyle and eating habits. Leung believes it is important to check such things first, and eat and drink according to your body’s needs to prevent illness. In TCM, food and herbs can be categorised as having a heating (yang) or cooling (yin) effect on the body, meaning the food you eat is linked to your body’s inner harmony and overall well-being.
Leung opened her first tea shop in late 2016 in Sheung Wan, with a clinic operating out the back. Her aim was to modernise the experience of going to a Chinese medicine store. “Very old-school Chinese medicine tea places always had this concept; the front is where they sell the teas and in the back they always had the Chinese medicine doctor,” she says.
While keeping with this strategy, Leung’s shop does not have walls stacked with mysterious jars of herbs and other ingredients. Instead, the airy CheckCheckCin shop greets guests with a mocktail tea bar and kitchen, with a list of suggested herbal teas and rice waters on the wall written in both Chinese and English.
She got the idea for the mocktail bar while she was pregnant. “I went out and a bartender served me a mocktail and it was so yummy. So my husband and I thought, why couldn’t we make something healthy that is delicious?” she recalls. They eventually hired the same bartender to work with Leung to create a range of healthy yet delicious herbal concoctions for the store. It has proved so popular that she has opened a further three tea stores in Causeway Bay, Taikoo and Tsim Sha Tsui.
The mild-natured tea and rice water mocktails are whipped up by trained mixologists behind the bar for people on the go. Customers simply choose the mocktail which corresponds to how their body is feeling that day. To make this easy, Leung has arranged the herbal tea mocktails, which range from HK$26 to HK$44, into seven categories of conditions they aim to alleviate. These include feeling annoyed, tired and stressed.
Those looking for a wider selection can opt for a box from her take-home healing tea range (HK$69 per box) or rice water series (HK$69 to HK$129 per box). Leung created these after seeing many of her female clients drinking the wrong tea for their body type at work. Leung says there are eight common body types in TCM and what you consume, including tea, can affect your body’s balance (yin and yang) – so it is important to choose the right one for you.
Leung sells 34 such tea ranges in total and each targets a specific symptom that their herbs and ingredients are meant to relieve, including bloating, bad breath and dry throat. Each tea gives a short description of which body type should be taking them and who should avoid them.
“There are so many super foods and so many trending nutritional herbs out there, and when people hear about it, they are like, ‘try this!’” Leung says. “Before you do that, you should check yourself first, listening to your symptoms and the signals you are giving.”
To help promote wellness, she also runs a TCM health advice portal on CheckCheckCin’s social media pages, writing short daily posts with bilingual health tips for her more than 52,000 Instagram and 130,000 Facebook followers.
“I think there is a need for people to have a better understanding of these seemingly difficult Chinese medicine theories,” she says. “That’s why I have been trying to make it more accessible to laymen.”
Clair Beardson has been practising TCM for more than 25 years. Originally from England, she was born into a family of Western medicine doctors but decided to forge her own path, studying botany, herbal medicine and TCM.
Beardson now owns two acupuncture and Chinese medicine clinics. The first – Albert Place Practice – opened in London in the late 1980s, with the second opening under the same name after she moved to Hong Kong a few years later. She also works in conjunction with the spas at the Mandarin Oriental hotels in Hong Kong and London.
Recently, Beardson saw a growing number of clients requesting 100 per cent natural herbal teas to help their overall health. Many of the “organic” teas she found on the market, however, contained artificial additives. She also found clients were drinking teas with the wrong energetic properties for their body types.
“People often don’t know the energetic side of it, like hibiscus being cold and fennel being warming,” Beardson says. As a result, she has now branched out and created Clair’s Teas of Joy, a wellness tea collection to help with “body rebalance”.
With the aid of nutritionist and herbalist Raymond Chung, her long-time professional partner from her Hong Kong clinic in Central, they spent nine months combining their Eastern and Western expertise to develop two tea collections that aim to improve drinkers’ emotional well-being while helping to restore energetic balance.
“They are all yin and yang, and hot and cold. So each tea is balanced and each collection is balanced with yin and yang,” she says.
Each HK$840 collection is made up of three different teas, with a cup of each to be drunk every day for 30 days. The “nourishing” Blossom Collection helps boost the immune system in the morning, build energy and balance emotions in the afternoon, and ensure better sleep at night. The “clearing” Flourish Collection starts with a purifying and detoxing tea in the morning, a lavender and rooibos blend to sip the stress away at midday, and after your big meal of the day, a gentle digestive tea. A third tea range is also in the works.
“These are teas with a purpose,” Beardson says. “You need to compare it with having a massage or going to the gym, rather than having a cup of tea.”
In many ways, Beardson’s tea journey has come full circle; her relatives were tea growers in Darjeeling in India, owning a company called Duncan Brothers. “I was brought up tasting different teas,” she says.
Drinking three teas a day is a “commitment”, she admits, “but you are going to get something out of it. Above all, I am trying to get you to live well.”
Like Beardson, most of Leung’s products were developed in response to clients’ habits and questions. Leung found she was being bombarded with inquiries from people wanting to find out if they could eat specific foods to help their constitution. To help them decide what hot and cold foods they should be eating to promote a balanced lifestyle, Leung created a CheckCheckCin smartphone app that was released in Chinese in January on iOS.
Users first take a questionnaire to determine which body type they are that day, then the app suggests the foods they should be eating to help balance the body. With Leung’s recognition that many Hongkongers eat most of their meals in restaurants, the app also categorises food into cuisine types, suggesting dishes that should be ordered when dining out. The app will be translated into English in the next month.
“It is like a traditional medicine doctor in your pocket,” Leung says.