Tea is the second most popular drink in the world behind water. It has been consumed by societies for thousands and thousands of years as a social drink and because of its ability to heal the body, calm the mind and wake you up. Tea can provide both mental and physical comfort by nurturing connections between people while simultaneously fighting off diseases. Teas are generally split into two catagories: Camellia sinensis and herbal teas.
Tea is the dried and processed leaves of Camellia sinensis, which is a bush that is native to China (and later in India) These leaves make up 4 major groups of tea: Black, Green, Oolong and White.
Black tea is produced when the tea leaves are picked and then rolled. This breaks the leaves open and causes it to oxidize, which gives it a brownish black color. This same process occurs when you cut open foods like bananas, apples or avocados. The inside of the food reacts with oxygen, turning it brown. After the tea leaves are rolled, they are left in the sun to dry. Black tea has the strongest flavor and the highest content of caffeine, which is about one third the caffeine found in a cup of coffee. It also lasts longer than Green, White and Oolong teas and can be stored for years without losing its flavor.
Oolong tea is slightly less oxidized than Black tea and it has less caffeine than Black tea.
Green tea is steamed, rolled and dried immediately after harvest. This stops the oxidation process and keeps the leaves green.
White tea undergoes the least processing – the young tea buds are picked and air-dried.
The leaves of these teas contain a large reservoir of healthy compounds that fight off diseases. The most popular is a powerful antioxidant called EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate). The others are a variety of antioxidants like Gallic acid, a powerful antioxidant also found in pomegranates, and other polyphenol antioxidants like tannins, flavanoids and polyphenols. Black teas contain the highest amount of caffeine followed by Green tea, Oolong and White tea.
1 cup of Green or Black tea = 40mg of caffeine
Adding milk, non-dairy creamers or soymilk, to these teas could possibly reduce the effect of the health benefits in tea. Milks may keep teas from its ability to enhance the effects of insulin on the body. There are also some studies out there that indicate some milk may not be so bad after all.
On the other hand, drinking tea with some lemon (or any citrus fruit) can make the water more acidic, which may actually keep the antioxidants (most of which are acidic), from breaking down. This maks more of them available for your body to use. Dunking the tea bag in the tea or having the leaves steeped with no bag can release more of the cancer fighting molecules because more of the leaf’s surface area is exposed to the water.
There are many types and variations of Camellia sinensis teas. Try the 4 major types first and then branch out and explore their variants. This will help you figure out which type of flavor is right for you. For example, Assam and Darjeeling teas are both Black teas but you may prefer Assam’s darker full body taste over Darjeeling’s lighter yet flowery taste. Likewise, Oolong teas from different regions of the world can have a very wide range of flavors since the processing and oxidation times can be tailored as the teamaker sees fit. Even teas from the same region can vary substantially because of soil conditions, weather conditions, whether pesticides were used, the timing of the harvest, and the individual who prepared the leaves once they were harvested.
One large study has shown that tea can have a memory enhancing effect on the brain. Whether it can help keep Alzheimer’s away is still unclear. Another study suggests that Camellia sinensis teas can reduce the risks of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, inflammation and diet related obesity. It may also possibly act as an ACE inhibitor, which means it can help lower your blood pressure. According to one very large Japanese study, people who drank teas with caffeine or coffee were less likely to die of cardiovascular disease.
The great thing about all the Camellia sinensis teas is that they can reduce your risk of virtually all the cancers out there. Most of these benefits can be seen when you drink 5 cups of the tea per day. However, 7-10 cups per day may also help fight off pancreatic cancer and liver diseases.
1 cup of tea = 4 ounces (120 ml) = 2.5g of green tea leafs
Herbal teas are infusions of various leaves, flowers, dried fruits and or herbs. They are not in the same family as the Camellia sinensis teas but they have their own unique combination of antioxidants and disease fighting compounds, some of which overlap with the Camellia sinensis teas. The combination of antioxidants and compounds can help calm your body and fight off a wide range of diseases ranging from the common cold to cancer. Most of these teas can help with conditions relating to anxiety, insomnia or restlessness for both adults and children. These types of teas have a tendency to be very calming for both the mind and body. Most herbal teas are caffeine-free.
The health benefits and tastes of teas can be enhanced when you add spices or herbs to them. There are all kinds of combinations that result in a large range of tastes and health benefits. Some spices include: Cinnamon, Cloves, Cardamom seeds, Turmeric, Ginger, Mints and Cumin seeds to name a few.
A good example of mixed tea is Chai tea (Masala Chai), which is a mix of Assam tea leaves and Indian spices and herbs. There is no one way to make Chai tea since everyone has their own unique blend of spices and herbs that they use so there is a large range of Chai teas out there. Another example is Earl Grey tea, which is a mix of Black tea leaves with bergamot orange oils.
Ancient combinations of spices and teas and their health benefits:
Click on the images below to learn more about teas
Camellia sinensis Teas (White, Oolong, Green, Black)
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- Shukla Y. Tea and cancer chemoprevention: a comprehensive review. Asian Pacific Journal Of Cancer Prevention: APJCP. April 2007;8(2):155-166.
- Fujiki H. Green tea: Health benefits as cancer preventive for humans. Chemical Record (New York, N.Y.). 2005;5(3):119-132.
- Nobre A, Rao A, Owen G. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pacific Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-168.