The power of tea
You can’t beat iced tea when it comes to liquid relief from the Texas heat. And on a chilly winter day, a nice, hot cup of tea warms you up. But there’s more to tea than its thirst quenching and comforting abilities—it can actually be just what the doctor ordered.
As it turns out, tea contains substances that have been linked to a lower risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems, including high blood pressure and cholesterol. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substances called polyphenols may be responsible. Research shows they help regulate blood sugar (glucose), and reduce elevated oxidant levels that can cause harm, such as attacking artery walls and contributing to cardiovascular disease.
What’s in Your Cup?
We call many things infused in hot water tea, but technically tea is only made from the leaves and buds of an evergreen plant indigenous to China and India called Camellia sinensis.
All genuine teas—white, green, oolong, black, and pu’er—according to TheTeaSpot.com and other sources, are made from the leaves of the same species of Camellia sinensis. The differences among tea types develops during processing and oxidation, which begins after the leaf has been plucked from the plant. Generally speaking, the more processed the tea leaves, the less polyphenol content.
White tea is minimally processed and not oxidized. It retains natural antioxidants, but does not develop as much flavor, color, or caffeine. Sweet or flowery flavors are characteristic.
Green tea has a minimal amount of oxidation, halted by pan-frying (Chinese) or steaming (Japanese) steps. The additional processing brings out more flavor, and allows for caffeine to develop. Characteristic flavors are grassy and earthy, with some sweet notes.
Oolong is partially fermented. Often, an additional shaking/bruising step releases additional flavors. The combination of bruising and partial fermentation give many oolongs distinct flowery and earthy flavors. Darker oolongs may have buttery or smoky tastes to them. It has somewhat more caffeine and less antioxidants than green tea.
Black tea is fully fermented, which causes the formation of caffeine and tannins. It generally has the most robust flavor and highest level of caffeine, but the least antioxidants. Black tea forms the basis for flavored teas, like chai and many of the iced tea blends we love.
Pu’er tea is made from fermented and aged leaves. Considered a black tea, its leaves are pressed into cakes.
Tisanes and herbal infusions contain blends of dried herbs, fruits, spices, and flowers, and are steeped like teas, but do not contain tea leaves. Varieties include ginger, ginseng, hibiscus, jasmine, rosehip, mint, rooibos (red tea), chamomile, and echinacea.
Tempted to grab a soda? Choose tea instead. Fresh brewed, unadulterated tea is 100 percent natural, fat-free, calorie-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, and preservative-free. Incorporate it into a healthy diet of whole grains, fish, fruits, and vegetables, and less red and processed meat.
The Beauty of Blending
Flavorings ranging from flowery to fruity to spicy can be added to any type of tea. For example, a blend of white tea with rose petals, mint, and lavender provides a fascinatingly distinct flavor profile. Spicy masala chai tea—a powerful blend of tea, herbs, and spices—has been cherished around the world for centuries.
Although the ingredients in chai vary, it typically includes black tea, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, clove, and black pepper—a blend that can enhance the immune system, fight inflammation, and has antibacterial effects, among other benefits. Ginger is believed to aid digestion, improve circulation, boost the immune system, and reduce inflammation. Cardamom also aids digestion and supports the immune system. Cinnamon may help balance blood sugar and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. Fennel provides vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Clove can have analgesic (pain relieving) and antibacterial properties. And new research shows that black pepper may affect our metabolism by influencing fat storage, thus helping prevent fat accumulation.
Mad About Matcha
Chances are you’ve noticed matcha green tea at your local market, or on tea menus in trendy cafés. Matcha literally means “powdered tea,” so with matcha, you’re drinking the actual leaves—versus an infusion—which have been finely powdered and made into a solution. Matcha tea is the nutritional equivalent of about 10 cups of regularly brewed green tea, has over 100 times more antioxidants, and around three times as much caffeine as a cup of steeped green tea.
Look for pure, organic, high-quality matcha, and enjoy it in moderation. Be wary of cheap matcha—it can be a red flag for a poor quality product.
- Tea is the world’s second most popular beverage, after water. Nearly three million tons are produced annually, worldwide.
- Tea is a great no-calorie alternative to diet sodas chock full of chemicals, with many options for flavor and versatility. Have it hot or cold, and add flavor with lemon, a cinnamon stick, or some ginger.
- Make a refreshing mint iced tea mojito by crushing some fresh mint leaves into your pitcher of chilled black tea.
- Iced tea originated in 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair. A tea merchant planned to provide free hot tea samples, but the weather was hot, so he didn’t have many takers. He dumped ice into the hot brewed tea to promote sales, and it was a big hit.
Most herbal infusions and teas are safe to drink, but the FDA has issued warnings about so-called dieter’s teas that contain senna, aloe, buckthorn, and other plant-derived laxatives. The FDA also cautions against taking certain supplements, including infusions that include ingredients such as comfrey, ephedra, willow bark, germander, lobelia, and chaparral. Always check with your physician before you consume herbal supplements in any form.
By Annette Brooks