Tea, the perfect way to start a day! Don’t we all love a hot cup of tea? Ah, that brewed fragrance and homelike warmth brings a smile on even the most stubborn of the faces! A perfect ice-breaker, a perfect companion on a rainy day and your body’s friend in health – yes, your cup of tea is all this and much more!
Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to Asia. After water, it is the most widely consumed drink in the world. Some teas, like Darjeeling and Chinese greens, have a cooling, slightly bitter, and astringent flavour, while others have vastly different profiles that include sweet, nutty, floral, or grassy notes.
Tea originated in China, possibly as a medicinal drink. It came to the West via Portuguese priests and merchants, who introduced it during the 16th century. Drinking tea became fashionable among Britons during the 17th century, who started large scale production and commercialization of the plant in India to bypass a Chinese monopoly at that time. Today, tea is found in almost every country with a distinct flavour of its own everywhere.
In the recent years, tea has been in the limelight for its varied medicinal uses. Studies have found that some tea components like flavonoids help with fighting cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; certain varieties even encourage weight loss, lower cholesterol, and bring about mental alertness. Tea is also believed to have antimicrobial qualities.
Tea is a name given to a lot of brews, but purists consider only green tea, black tea, white tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea the real thing. They are all derived from the Camellia sinensis plant, a shrub native to China and India, and contain unique antioxidants called flavonoids. The most potent of these, known as ECGC (Epigallocatechin gallate), may help against free radicals and contribute to cure cancer, heart disease, and clogged arteries.
All these teas also have caffeine and theanine, which affect the brain and seem to heighten mental alertness.
The more processed the tea leaves, usually the less polyphenol content. Polyphenols include flavonoids. Oolong and black teas are oxidized or fermented, so they have lower concentration of polyphenols than green tea; but their anti-oxidizing power is still high. Here’s what some studies have found about the potential health benefits of the various types of tea:
Made with steamed tea leaves, it has a high concentration of EGCG and has been widely studied. Green tea’s antioxidants may interfere with the growth of bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers; prevent clogging of the arteries, burn fat, counteract oxidative stress on the brain, reduce risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, reduce risk of stroke, and improve cholesterol levels.
Made with fermented tea leaves, black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavoured teas like chai, along with some instant teas. Studies have shown that black tea may protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It also may reduce the risk of stroke.
This variety of tea is uncured and unfermented. Studies have shown that white tea has the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas. They possess the highest antioxidant properties of any tea, and its supreme power is in preventing disease and disorder. Everything from radiant skin, strong bones, heart disease, cholesterol-lowering, and a host of numerous healthy benefits, the white tea family is one of the nature’s greatest gifts to humankind.
In an animal study, those given antioxidants from oolong tea were found to have lower bad cholesterol levels. One variety of oolong, Wuyi, is heavily marketed as a weight loss supplement. This strong black tea was actually revered by Buddhist monks who trained monkeys to harvest the leaves from the tops of wild tea trees, where it became a cultural staple in all of Asia. The loose form has the most caffeine content with the highest possible grade having an orchid-like aroma and smooth finish. Sometimes referred to as ‘Black Dragon’ tea, the oolong leaves are potent and can aid in the reduction of cholesterol levels, formation of strong bones, preservation of heart health, and strengthening the immune system.
Made from fermented and aged leaves. Considered a black tea, its leaves are pressed into cakes. One animal study showed that animals given pu-erh had less weight gain and reduced LDL cholesterol.
Made from herbs, fruits, seeds, or roots steeped in hot water, herbal teas have lower concentrations of antioxidants than green, white, black, and oolong teas. Their chemical compositions vary widely depending on the plant used.
Varieties include ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, hibiscus, jasmine, rosehip, mint, rooibos (red tea), chamomile, and echinacea.
Limited research has been done on the health benefits of herbal teas, but claims that they help to shed pounds, stave off colds, and bring on restful sleep are largely unsupported.
Here are some findings:
• Chamomile tea: Its antioxidants may help prevent complications from diabetes, like loss of vision and nerve and kidney damage, and stunt the growth of cancer cells.
• Echinacea: Often touted as a way to fight the common cold, the research on echinacea has been inconclusive.
• Hibiscus: A small study found that drinking three cups of hibiscus tea daily lower blood pressure in people with modestly elevated levels.
• Rooibos (red tea): A South African herb that is fermented. It contains flavonoids that have cancer-fighting properties.
When the tea leaves brew in boiling water, it rejuvenates and leads to great health. Tea is surely a drink to stay! So where’s your cup of this health drink?