Two-thirds of the world’s population could join us for a tea party. Tea, the second most consumed drink in the world, the first being water, is a beverage made from processing the Camellia sinensis plant. There are five categories of tea, all derived from the same plant: black, green, oolong, white and Pu-erh. Each tea is differentiated its processing or harvested leaf development.
Simply defined: black tea is fermented, green tea is not fermented, oolong is semi-fermented, white uses only the newest leaves and is minimally processed, and Pu-erh— the oldest and rarest tea— is processed in a unique manner. Other beverages referred to as tea, but are not derived from the Camellia sinensis plant, are more aptly named tisanes, often called herbal teas. Tisanes include chamomile, rooibos, and fruit teas.
Health benefits of drinking tea
The first historical record of tea is from the Third Century from China, which described it as a medicinal beverage. Tea contains polyphenols, alkaloids, amino acids, carbohydrates, proteins, chlorophyll, volatile organic compounds (chemicals that readily produce vapors and contribute to the aroma of tea), fluoride, aluminum, minerals, and trace elements. The polyphenols act as antioxidants, which control the damaging effects of free radicals in the body.
As reported in an article entitled “Tea” from The Nutrition Source, published by the Harvard School of Public Health, “Animal studies suggest potential health benefits of tea due to its high polyphenol content. Human studies have generally been less conclusive, yet show promise. Observational research has found that tea consumption of 2-3 cups daily is associated with a reduced risk of premature death, heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.”
While animal studies have shown clear results that tea acts as a chemopreventive agent against a wide range of cancers; including esophageal, lung, liver and colon, more clinical studies are needed on humans. Some factors that may account for the differences in results with the animal and human studies thus far include the concentration of the tea, which has been much higher with the animal studies and did not include factors such as milk or cream added.
Tea for weight loss
The realitea is that no study has proven that drinking tea leads to weight loss. Instead, drinking tea is a healthy option to drinking sugary beverages. Additionally, drinking tea causes a slight metabolic rate increase and encourages the body to burn fat. So drinking tea is not a method for weight loss but can certainly be part of the plan.
From a United States Department of Agriculture article, “Until we do a really comprehensive study in which we have humans drink tea and see whether they lose weight, we can’t actually say that green tea makes people lose weight. What we can say is that it raises metabolic rates and increases fat oxidation rates. Those are two things that are predictive of weight loss.”
Especially for iced tea, you should opt for brewing your own instead of purchasing bottled teas. Brewing tea at home costs pennies on the dollar, you control the sugar content, and fresh brewed tea has a higher polyphenol content.
Here is a simple guide to decide which tea you might enjoy most:
Black – Contains the most caffeine. Black tea has the strongest flavor, and some would say, the most astringent. It is often the base of iced teas.
Green – The most popular of teas worldwide and commonly touted for its health benefits. The leaves are air dried. There are many varieties to choose from, but each can be made milder or more astringent, based on time and temperature. So, if you prefer mild, you might opt for lower temperature water or steeping for less time.
Oolong – This is the traditional Chinese tea made from semi-oxidized mature leaves. The process is not rushed and so flavors are deeper and more varied.
Matcha – Made from the whole green leaves and ground into a powder, matcha has more antioxidants and more caffeine than traditional green tea.
White – The most subtle of the varieties, it consists of the newest leaves and buds of the plant. Gaining in popularity, but still difficult to find.
Chai – Black tea infused with spices, which, depending on the spice, can increase the antioxidant level of the tea.
Tisanes or herbal teas such as chamomile and hibiscus contain no caffeine and are technically not tea. Traditionally, they were brewed for medicinal purposes but have become increasingly mainstream for the variety of flavors and being a “tea” sans caffeine. There is not actually any tea in these beverages; most any dried flower, fruit, or herb can be steeped to be a tisane.
Excuse me, I’ve got to run and follow that white rabbit!
Contributing writer Denise Lum is a Health and Fitness Coach raising her family in Alameda. Contact her via [email protected] or FitnessByDsign.com. Her writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Denise-Lum.