Congratulations, if you’re a tea drinker. Whether you prefer green, black, white or oolong tea, you’re drinking much more than a simple hot beverage. If you’re not a tea drinker, you’re missing out on a natural drink, free of fat or calories, is inexpensive, tastes good and is loaded with unique, health-yielding properties. “Polyphenol catechins,” a class of chemicals with potent antioxidant properties predominates over the other constituents. One catechin in particular, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the most powerful, reported to have multiple health benefits.
Green tea has been identified as having an abundant amount of EGCG. This component is increasingly recognized with regard to cancer prevention, especially in cancers of the digestive system, lungs, prostate, ovaries, skin and breast. EGCG also offers heart protection by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. Additionally, fresh brewed green tea has demonstrated the ability to reduce the build-up of dental plaque, promote normal blood sugar levels, assist in the reduction of abdominal fat, improve bone health, fight infection and ease rheumatoid arthritis.
Tea contains other impressive, health enhancing substances. Clinical studies indicate L-Theanine, a powerful, calming amino acid found in green tea is a natural relaxant. It reduces stress, anxiety and strengthens the immune system; it improves sleep quality, memory and learning. Black tea, oolong tea and white tea also contain naturally occurring compounds that make them a healthy beverage. Theaflavins in black tea is gaining the attention of researchers for its disease-preventing capabilities. Theaflavins may be responsible for black tea having comparable positive health effects as its green tea cousin. The compound is also present in oolong tea. Not as popular as the other varieties of tea, research has shown that oolong tea helps reduce body fat, inhibits the growth and acid production of cavity-producing bacteria and is useful in treating skin disorders. Scientific findings have indicated the antioxidant capacity of white tea is similar to green tea. Further research may prove it has overlapping health protective potential as the other varieties of tea.
Not all teas provide an array of healthful properties. The type of tea having a substantial amount of scientific literature backing up its health claims comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Green, white, black and oolong tea are all derived from the large evergreen shrub, native to Southeast Asia, where its been used for thousands of years as a medicinal beverage. The antioxidant-rich plant should not be confused with herbal tea made from flowers, leaves, roots, barks, seeds, stems or fruits of many other different members of the plant kingdom. Although many plants have healing medicinal properties, most have not been studied to the same extent as the Camellia sinensis plant.
How the leaves of Camellia sinensis are processed after harvest determines the type of tea. All teas produced from the plant contain caffeine. The light processing of green and white tea makes them the lowest in caffeine levels and highest in antioxidants. Green tea is made from leaves that have been steam roasted, rolled and dried immediately after picking. Less mature leaves are used for white tea where the leaves are steamed and air-dried to prevent oxidation. Black and oolong tea are higher in caffeine levels (still less than in coffee) and the leaves to make it are withered, rolled and fermented, which produces the darkened leaves, before being dried. Oolong tea is between black and green tea, whereby the leaves are processed similar to black tea with a shorter fermentation period.
According to experts, the water for black tea should be added at the boiling point; water for oolong tea should be slightly below boiling and the more delicate green and white tea is best brewed at even lower temperatures, around 60 C to 85 C (140-185 F), well below the boiling point. In general, when preparing tea, the longer it is allowed to steep the more antioxidants are released.
Drinking as little as a cup of tea a day is a healthful addition to the diet. Most of the research for optimum health benefits is based on long term consumption of three or more cups of tea a day. However, drinking this amount of tea may cause nervousness, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, and heart irregularities in persons hypersensitive to caffeine.
People with heart problems, kidney disorders, ulcers, depression or an overactive thyroid should consult their healthcare provider before drinking large amounts of tea. Pregnant or nursing women should also restrict their tea consumption.