Tea (Camellia sinensis) is, perhaps, my favorite drink. By it, I mean real tea. Not the fannings passed off as tea in the common, everyday grocery store (with a very few exceptions). A girlfriend of mine, who claims she is now a tea snob, got me thinking about the subject–the types, their health benefits, and how it brings people together or soothes the drinker. So let’s take a moment and study tea.
First, we’ll look at the types of tea. These mostly vary by how they are processed rather than the plants used, though this also plays a factor. Flavor also depends on where tea leaves are grown and for how long they are steeped.
- White: young, least processed (wilted but unoxidized) tea leaves with very little caffeine (compared to a cup of coffee) and light flavors.
- Green: the most popular choice of drink, and sometimes mixed with fruit or flowers for added flavor, these unprocessed (unwilted, unoxidized) leaves have only 5-10% caffeine and go well with any meal.
- Oolong: also known as wu long, this tea is bruised, wilted, and partially oxidized (semi-fermented) to give it a full, aromatic flavor; it contains around 15% caffeine content.
- Black: wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized (fermented), this tea is most recognized in the West and contains about 20% of the caffeine in a typical cup of coffee.
- Post-fermented: teas “aged” in the open air for several months to years, altering the smell and taste of the tea and leaving pleasant “mouthfeels” and aftertastes.
- Herbal: contains no leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant and is sometimes referred to as a tisane, and are usually broken down into categories–rooibos, mate, and herbal infusions.
- Rooibos: “red tea” made from the South African red bush, it is naturally caffeine free and has delicious flavor.
- Mate: considered the coffee lover’s favorite, it is made from the yerba plant; it gives the drinker the same amount of energy as coffee without any negative side effects (i.e. “jitters”) and also tastes like a good old-fashioned cup of Joe.
There are also blended teas, which combine the best of both worlds by mixing herbal with tea, or black with green, or so on. The choices are virtually limitless. So, too, it seems the benefits of drinking tea, which have been known about for thousands of years. Mondal, 2007, writes:
Tea leaves contain more than 700 chemicals, among which the compounds closely related to human health are flavanoids, amino acids, vitamins (C, E and K), caffeine and polysaccharides. Moreover, tea drinking has recently proven to be associated with cell-mediated immune function of the human body. Tea plays an important role in improving beneficial intestinal microflora, as well as providing immunity against intestinal disorders and in protecting cell membranes from oxidative damage. Tea also prevents dental caries due to the presence of fluorine. The role of tea is well established in normalizing blood pressure, lipid depressing activity, prevention of coronary heart diseases and diabetes by reducing the blood-glucose activity. Tea also possesses germicidal and germistatic activities against various gram-positive and gram-negative human pathogenic bacteria. Both green and black tea infusions contain a number of antioxidants, mainly catechins that have anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic and anti-tumoric properties. (Wikipedia)
A 2010 study also suggested that tea may play a role in slowing cognitive decline. Furthermore, there are claims that tea improves skin and skin tone, helps one lose weight by curbing appetite, and promotes digestion and a healthy immune system.
Once you’ve picked your tea, one then must decide whether loose leaf or bagged tea suits you. I personally prefer loose leaf teas, and buy little tea bags into which I scoop a teaspoon or two at a time. Also, if you are new to the world of tea, realize that good quality teas can be used more than once. In fact, Asians believe that oolongs should be steeped at least 5 times as they change in flavor with each consecutively longer brew.
If and when possible, try to buy organic, fair-trade teas. Many harvesters are paid below the living wage and face hard working conditions in developing countries. Therefore, look for teas that are certified by schemes like Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, UTZ Certified, and Organic. (Look for these on other crops, like coffee and cocoa, too.) You may also go into a local tea shop and talk with the store clerks. Many times, shops promote fairtrade ideals.
Most of all, however, take the time out for yourself, or with some friends, to enjoy a cup or a pot of tea. Tea brings happiness. It brings people together. Over cups of tea, I have enjoyed some of the best conversation–and tea goodies! Tea helps the time to pass. For me, it fades away and leaves me wondered what happened to my day.