Legend has it that tea was first discovered almost 5000 years when a tea leaf fell into a Chinese emperor’s water and he decided to drink it.
Today, tea is the second most popular beverage in the world; right after water, and in the USA, where coffee and soft drinks have ruled the non-alcoholic beverage market, enthusiasm about tea is on the rise. We believe this is because of tea’s appeal to people looking to relax, revitalize, and enhance their health, and to the variety of high quality teas now available to the sophisticated and health conscious consumer.
THE VERY BASICS
Many people are surprised to learn that all true tea comes from one plant, the Camellia Sinensis, and that not everything we call tea is really tea. Black, oolong, green and white tea are all correctly referred to as tea, but herbal tea and red tea (rooibos) are actually herbal infusions or tisanes. The differences between the various types of true tea have do with how the tea is processed. Like wine, differences in flavor and taste of tea have to do with this processing as well as with where the tea was grown, climate conditions and other factors.
Tea leaves contain caffeine, polyphenols, and essential oils.
TEA AND CAFFEINE
Caffeine stimulates blood pressure and heart rate, enhances endurance, and increases metabolism. Tea contains less caffeine than coffee and affects the body differently than coffee. This may be because tea also contains a chemical called l-theanine that has been proven to produce relaxation and well-being. The presence of l-theanine in combination with caffeine in tea may explain why tea consumption results in a long lasting state of calmness and alertness rather than a state of “being wired”, and why Buddhist monks drink tea during extended periods of meditation. The bottom line is that the caffeine in tea is released in the body in a slower and more extended manner, and consumed in moderation may be more beneficial than problematic for most people.
Many people believe that you can decaffeinate your tea by rinsing it in hot water for a minute or so. Unfortunately, research is suggesting that this is not so. While caffeine is water soluble which means that it does dissipate in water, the latest studies are revealing that it takes about 10 minutes for the caffeine to fully dissolve. About half of the caffeine in tea dissolves after about 4 to 5 minutes so if you re-brew your tea leaves (which we recommend), your second cup of tea from the same leaves will likely be "half-caf".
TEA AND HEALTH
Tea has been promoted as beneficial for everything from cancer prevention to relieving foot odor! Some of the health claims about tea may be hype and some come from centuries of use in eastern medicine. Recent interest in the health benefits of tea has resulted in tea coming under Western scientific scrutiny, and the results have been very exciting. Some recent findings are summarized here:
In September 2006, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a study of over 40,000 adults in Japan that found that those who consumed at least a pint of green tea a day were 15% less likely to die during the course of the study than those who drank less than one cup of green tea a day.
Studies examining antioxidants (including EGCG) present in tea have found reduced incidence of breast, prostate, ovarian, lung, colon, esophageal, skin cancer and leukemia associated with tea consumption.
Tea has also been shown to help lower cholesterol and reverse heart disease, improve insulin function and immune function, reduce the incidence of stroke, benefit oral health, enhance recovery from stress, and help with rheumatoid arthritis and weight loss and possibly with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In addition to physical health, tea has been associated with mental and spiritual health and well-being, and is widely considered the perfect beverage for quiet moments of contemplation and relaxation. Century old tea ceremonies, tea house traditions, and more modern customs of afternoon tea illustrate the value of tea for connecting with others.
We hear so much about the health benefits of green tea, and people often wonder if green tea is the only tea that's healthy. More recently, people have been discovering white tea and wondering if white tea is the only tea that's healthy. What the research appears to suggest is that the chemical processing that changes tea from white to green to oolong and finally to black does, to some degree, change the chemical composition of the resulting product and the anti-oxidants present in the leaves of green and black tea do differ to some degree. Much of the research on green tea has focused on a particular form of anti-oxidant, catechin, and the oxidatation process that changes tea from green to black does appear to reduce the amount of catechin in the tea. However, it also appears that the oxidation process increases the presence of different anti-oxidants, specifically theaflavins and thearubigins.
The scientific evidence, although preliminary, does strongly suggest that tea can be very good for you, whether white, green, oolong or black, and the best tea choice is the tea that is most appealing to you, unless counter-indicated by your physician. For more information about tea and health, click here to visit the Tea Association of Canada's terrific page devoted to tea and health.
TEA AND FLAVOR
There are so many varieties of tea available, so there surely is a tea for everyone. Traditional teas offer hundreds of styles and tastes, and flavored teas make the choices almost unlimited. Flavored tea is really popular lately, especially with tea novices and those who want to experience all the benefits of tea, but are not really “into tea”.
THE BOTTOM LINE
When you drink a cup of tea, you’re getting a healthy dose of water, plus energy and vitality from the caffeine, health and well-being from the polyphenols, and fragrance and flavor from the essential oils. Never has one beverage been associated with so many important benefits.
WHAT ABOUT ROOIBOS?
Rooibos, sometimes referred to as “red tea” or “red bush tea” is a shrub from South Africa that produces a naturally sweet, tea-like infusion. Rooibos has been found to be a good source of hydration; when used as a fluid replacement with South African athletes, it provided measurable amounts of electrolytes. Rooibos is also naturally caffeine free, making it a good choice for anyone with caffeine sensitivity. Rooibos is also rich in anti-oxidants, but in different anti-oxidants than black and green tea, therefore comparisons of which is “better for you” are not appropriate.
AND HERBAL TEA?
Any infusion that doesn't come from the camellia sinensis is techically termed a tisane (tea-zahn). While some tea aficionados take this issue of terminology very seriously, most people refer to tisanes as herbal tea. Mint, chamomile, lavender, fruit, spice - anything that you steep in water to extract flavor and drink will qualify. Many tisanes offer health and well-being benefits, they tend to be caffeine-free, and are often quite tasty and enjoyable.
WHY CHOOSE GOURMET LOOSE LEAF TEA?
While there are exceptions to all rules, generally loose leaf tea yields a tastier cup of tea than tea bags. There are two reasons for this. Most tea bags use the smallest pieces of tea leaf that are left over after the larger pieces are separated out. In the tea industry, these small pieces of tea leaf are known as dust. The dust has less of the flavor of the leaf and more of the bitterness. Another reason loose leaf tea generally produces a better cup is because when the leaf opens, it releases its essential oils, which are responsible for the flavor and aroma of tea. It’s no wonder that people who are used to drinking bagged tea often think of tea as a flat and flavorless, and even those who like it are often pleasantly surprised when they first experience loose leaf tea.
If you’re still wondering why to drink tea, the bottom line is that whether you choose true tea or rooibos, you are offering yourself a truly healthy indulgence. Offering pleasure, vitality and well-being, tea is a true magic elixir!
Copyright 2008 by Michelle Marks. All rights reserved. Use of this material without permission is prohibited.