Tea is one of the most consumed beverages in the world, second only to water. American tea drinking culture has changed in many ways over the centuries. Here is a little history. As a British colony, American colonists were drinking over 1 million pounds of tea per year during the 1760’s. In 1773 after the passage of the Tea Act, there was a boycott on tea sold by the British East India Company. Then came the Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War. After independence was declared, Americans were back to drinking tea, but their behavior would change. American interest in tea at the turn of the 20th century began with the birth of the ice trade and iced tea. Around 20 million people during the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis found iced teas to be popular. This popularity was then throughout the United States and the world. Tea bags, which hit the market in 1908, made brewing tea and making batches of iced tea and sweet tea even more convenient. Americans were evenly split between green tea and black tea, drinking around 40% green tea, 40% black tea and 20% oolong tea. But during World War II trade with China and Japan was cut off, and Americans drank black tea about 99% of the time. During the 1960’s and 70’s, with the growing interest in yoga, meditation, and the supposed healing properties of tea, Americans became fascinated with other hot tea varieties like green teas, white teas, and other herbal blends. Black tea is still the favorite among Americans at 84% of tea consumed in 2019 according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A Inc. Over 100 years later, iced tea still reigns supreme over hot tea with around 75% to 80% of tea consumed in the United States being iced. With the growing interest in specialty teas and teas in general, stores have a better variety. We see cafes, restaurants and even bars adding tea to their menus. https://stories.kitchenaid.com/article/steeped-in-history-the-rise-of-tea-in-america
What is tea?
A plant called Camellia sinensis produces the leaves and buds that are commonly known as tea. Camellia sinensis, which grows in tropical and subtropical climates, is a flowering evergreen shrub that produces small white flowers; the leaves and buds are ready to be harvested three years after the shrub is planted. Camellia sinensis bushes can live for more than a hundred years. Harvesting leaves and buds from smaller, younger bushes is easier. Once harvested, the leaves are dried and rolled in preparation for distribution. The traditional tea-growing countries are China, Japan, India and Sri Lanka. In recent years, new tea-producing countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Kenya, have emerged. Where your tea is grown impacts the flavor characteristics while altitude, soil type, plant type and age of the tea plant are other influencing factors. Each origin can produce any of the five types of tea, although certain regions are known for one type or another. For example, Japan is known for green tea. China is known for white tea and Pu-erh. Sri Lanka for its black tea. Whether you choose organic green tea, white tea or black tea, it’s important to learn where your tea is grown, as well as how it's harvested and distributed, to ensure the highest standards in ethics, quality and taste.
Healthful Compounds in Tea are antioxidants, flavanols, flavonoids, catechins and polyphenols are types of potentially beneficial vital compounds found in any green, black and white tea. EGCG- epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight against free radicals that can contribute to cancer, heart disease, and clogged arteries. It is important to note that EGCG is found only in green teas. NOTE- I will have a future podcast on ECGC. Additionally, overheating your green tea during steeping could result in a breakdown of this compound. All these teas also have caffeine which affect the brain and seem to heighten mental alertness. They also contain theanine which is an amino acid, a building block for protein. It's naturally in tea leaves, especially green tea. L-Theanine may help people feel more relaxed and lower anxiety, some early studies have shown. Theanine supplements helped boys with ADHD sleep better in one small study. Another small study showed that when combined with caffeine, theanine may sharpen thinking. More research is needed to see how theanine affects these conditions.https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/theanine-uses-and-risks 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 concentrations of polyphenols than green tea; but their antioxidizing power is still high.
Let us look at each specific tea-
1. Black Tea
Black tea is a true tea, meaning it is harvested from the Camellia sinensis plant. What makes it unique is that after the leaves are picked, they are then laid out to wither for about 8 to 24 hours which lets most of the water evaporate. Then the leaves are rolled in order to crack up the surface so that oxygen will react with the enzymes and begin the oxidation process. The leaves are left to completely oxidize which turns the leaves to a deep black color. Next, A final drying takes place. The result is a tea that is rich, robust, and tannic in flavor. Black tea has an amber hue when brewed, which is why in certain countries like China, it’s referred to as red tea, or hong cha. Black tea is generally stronger in flavor than its green and white counterparts and will also maintain its flavor for several years. black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored 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. Also note- you don’t have to merely drink black tea to benefit from its healthy properties. It can be steamed, cooled and then pressed on minor cuts, scrapes and bruises to relieve pain and reduce swelling. A black tea bath can also ease inflammation caused by skin rashes and conditions such as poison ivy. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2019/december/health-benefits-of-tea
2. GREEN TEA
Green tea originates from China. What sets the processing of green tea apart from the rest is that it does not involve oxidation. In order to neutralize enzymes and prevent oxidation, the Camellia sinensis tea leaves are typically steamed or pan fried. Pan-firing the leaves results in a lighter, almost toasted flavor while steaming the leaves creates a more grassy, brisk brew. Next the leaves are rolled up in various ways with tightness. After that, a final drying takes place. Since no oxidation takes place, the tea keeps more of its original green leafy appearance. Green tea is exceptionally high in the concentration of EGCG and flavonoids that can help boost your heart health by lowering total cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and reducing blood clotting. Other research has found that green tea has a possible impact on bladder, lung, stomach, pancreatic, liver, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. As discussed last week, green tea fights oxidative stress on the brain which reduces the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. This tea variety has also shown to be anti-inflammatory, which helps keep your skin clear and glowing.
3. OOLONG TEA
Oolong tea is a traditional Chinese tea variety that’s made from the same plant used to make green and black teas. It also comes from the Camellia sinensis plant but it’s processed in various ways, so oolong has a wider range of flavors and colors than most other categories of tea. Unlike white or green tea, oolong varieties are harvested from mature leaves, allowing them to adopt the qualities and complexity in flavor. Oolong leaves are processed immediately after they are plucked. Typically, the tea leaves are first laid out in the sun to dry and then placed into baskets and shaken, which “bruises” the leaves. The leaves are then spread out again under the sun to begin a partial oxidation process, however the process is halted after two hours so the leaves can be fired in hot woks. Ultimately, an Oolong will have crisp, dry leaves and a rich dark color. Oolong tea is also high in polyphenols, which are linked to lowering inflammation, preventing the growth of cancers and decreasing type 2 diabetes risk. Oolong tea is notable for containing l-theanine the amino acid that reduces anxiety and increases alertness and attention as we stated a few minutes ago. Scientists have found that l-theanine can help prevent cognitive diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
4. WHITE TEA
Known to have a delicate flavor, white tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant that’s native to China and India. It is also the least processed tea variety. This tea starts with the tightly rolled buds of the plant. White tea does not go through any oxidation at all. In order to prevent oxidation, white teas are immediately fired or steamed after letting them wither (air dry) for a period of time. There is no rolling, breaking, or bruising of any kind. White Tea is derived from the first flush buds of the tea bush which is the new growth on a tea plant consisting of a full complement of leaves. It takes about 40 days for a new bud to blossom into a flush. The name refers to the silver-colored (white) hairs on the picked tea bud. Availability is limited and the cost high as a result of the limitations of the plucking standard. When brewed, white tea carries a light, fresh mild flavor and is very yellow in color. White tea doesn’t get its name from its color when brewed but instead, the white hairs that cover the young leaves of its plant when it’s harvested. White tea should be prepared using water that is just off the boil. Research shows it may be the most effective tea in fighting various forms of cancer thanks to its high level of antioxidants. White tea may also be good for your teeth since it contains a high source of fluoride, catechins and tannins that can strengthen teeth, fight plaque, and make it more resistant to acid and sugar. White tea also offers the least amount of caffeine, making it a smart choice for tea drinkers who want to limit their caffeine intake.
5. PU-ERH TEA
Originating in Yunnan, China, Pu-erh tea comes from the large-leaf Assamica variety of the Camellia sinensis plant. Its heritage and classification is protected by the Chinese government. There are two main categories of Pu-erh tea, known as sheng, or raw Pu-erh, and shou, or ripe Pu-erh. Raw Pu-erh tea is first withered and then heated in batches to slow the oxidation process. It’s then dried in the sun, pressed into cakes, and aged for anywhere from 3 months to more than 30 years. Aging the tea allows its flavor to mature so a quality raw Pu-erh should taste full-bodied but not sharp. Ripe Pu-erh is a recent invention in terms of tea production, starting in the 1970s when makers developed a method to speed up processing. After the leaves are sundried, they are piled and left in temperature-controlled conditions, allowing them to ferment before they are compressed. This matures the flavor of the tea in a matter of months, not years, and although ripe Pu-erh is often made with lower quality leaves, it can yield a unique, earthy flavor often sought out by tea-lovers. Pu-erh tea is considered a black tea and purchased in cakes or disks and is regarded as one of the highest quality teas on the market.
6. Herbal Tea
Herbal teas, sometimes called tisanes, are very similar to white teas, but they contain a blend of herbs, spices, fruits or other plants in addition to tea leaves. Herbal teas are not true teas. These teas don’t contain caffeine, which is why they’re known for their calming properties. There are numerous types of herbal teas, all with unique benefits. Some of the most popular herbal teas include:
Chamomile tea – Helps to reduce menstrual pain and muscle spasms, improves sleep and relaxation, and reduces stress.
Rooibos – (red tea): A South African herb that is fermented. Although it has flavonoids with cancer-fighting properties, medical studies have been limited. It has been known to improve blood pressure and circulation, boost good cholesterol while lowering bad cholesterol, keeps hair strong and skin healthy, and provides relief from allergies.
Peppermint – Contains menthol, which can soothe an upset stomach and serve as a cure for constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and motion sickness. This tea variety also offers pain relief from tension headaches and migraines.
Ginger – Helps to fight against morning sickness, can be used to treat chronic indigestion and helps to relieve joint pain caused by osteoarthritis.
Hibiscus – Lowers blood pressure and fat levels, improves overall liver health, can starve off cravings for unhealthy sweets, and may prevent the formation of kidney stones.
Echinacea: Often used as a way to fight the common cold, the research on echinacea has been inconclusive.
7. Instant Teas-
These teas may contain very little actual tea and plenty of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Please read the label to make sure you are not consuming a beverage with empty calories with no health benefits.
8. Popular tea today is CHAI-
Chai is steeped in a rich history. Legend says the king in what is now India ordered a healing spiced beverage be created for use in a traditional medicinal practice in which herbs and spices are used for healing. The heat from ginger and black pepper was believed to stimulate digestion; the antiseptic properties in cloves were thought to help relieve pain; cardamom was used as a mood elevator; cinnamon supported circulation and respiratory function; and star anise was known to freshen the breath. The healing beverage spread across India and a wide variety of spices were used to prepare the drink, depending on the region of the continent or even the neighborhood where the beverage was being made. The traditional ingredients of a spiced tea blend usually include black tea mixed with strong spices, like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger and black peppercorns. The spiced tea mixture is typically brewed strong with milk and sweetened with sugar or honey. However, the milky sweet tea treat we order today has very little in common with the origins of Indian chai.
9. Decaffeinated tea- is it healthy?
Decaffeinated tea is an option if you enjoy tea but are sensitive or want or reduce to caffeine in your fueling. Traditional teas have about half the caffeine of coffee and even less if the brewing time is shorter. To decaffeinate tea, there are different methods. One process uses an organic chemical solvent (either ethyl acetate or methylene chloride) that also removes most of tea’s polyphenols. Another method called “effervescence” uses water and carbon dioxide, which retains the majority of polyphenols. Both methods apply the chemical or gas onto moistened tea leaves, which bonds to the caffeine. When the leaves are dried, the caffeine evaporates along with the solvent/gas. If you want to know which processing method is used, check the package label or contact the manufacturer. Even though decaffeinated teas have been processed to remove most of the naturally occurring caffeine from the leaves, they may still contain trace amounts of caffeine. Remember, Herbal teas are naturally caffeine-free and do not undergo a decaffeination process. The research we provided looks at the health benefits of traditional teas, not decaffeinated. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/tea/
Which Teas Should Be Avoided?
While a majority of teas are beneficial for your health, you may want to steer clear of these varieties:
-Detox teas made for fad diets that suggest you will quickly lose weight. Avoid teas that contain senna, aloe, buckthorn, and other plant-derived laxatives that can be harmful to your health.
-Fancy tea lattes and drinks from your favorite drive thru. While some of these drinks may appear healthy, they are loaded with sugar.
-Trendy bubble teas that are also loaded with sugar, calories and carbs, and have little to no nutritional value.
-Herbal teas that may potentially trigger allergies. Many herbal teas contain different types of fruits, herbs, spices and flowers that some people are allergic to. If you have allergies, always read the ingredients on the package before you consume a new herbal tea.
HOW TO BREW A PERFECT CUP OF TEA
It doesn’t take much to brew the perfect cup of hot tea. As long as you consider all of the foundational elements of tea – the leaves, the water, and your steep time. Storing-Tea can go stale and lose its flavor over time. Store it away from heat, light, moisture. If properly sealed in an airtight container, you’ve probably got a good two years of shelf life for tea. Water- The quality of your water also affects the flavor of your tea. Tap water high in minerals or treated with chlorine will impart an off-flavor, so ideally, you should use fresh, cold, filtered water when brewing. The water temperature and steeping time is key. Most tea that you purchase will include the water temperature and steeping time on the brewing instructions. Steeping- To steep tea, pour hot water over your ingredients and let them rest for a few minutes. It isn’t an exact science, and you should experiment to find what tastes right to you. A hotter temperature or longer steeping time isn’t necessarily better. Green tea brewed this way scored lower on color, flavor, aroma. If the steep time is too short, you won’t extract enough flavors and antioxidants. To get the best benefit from the total amount of polyphenol antioxidants extracted over time from black tea it took 6–8 minutes to extract the maximum amount. Also, the caffeine content increases with a longer steep time. True teas have varying amounts of caffeine. A 6-ounce cup of black tea contains 35 mg of caffeine, while the same serving of green tea has 21 mg. Steeping tea for an extra minute increases the caffeine content by up to 29%, and using boiling-temperature water increases it by up to 66%.
Hot steeping guidelines:
Tea Time Temperature
White tea 4–5 minutes 175°F (79°C)
Green tea 3–4 minutes 175°F (79°C)
Oolong tea 3–5 minutes 195°F (91°C)
Black tea 3–4 minutes 195°F (91°C)
Dried herbal tea (e.g., dried chamomile, peppermint, hibiscus, lemon balm) Up to 15 minutes or according to the manufacturer’s instructions 212°F (100°C)
Fresh herbal tea (e.g., fresh herbs, ginger, turmeric) 5–15 minutes for tender herbs, 15–30 minutes for chopped or grated roots 212°F (100°C)
In general, green tea is the most delicate, while black and herbal teas are more forgiving when it comes to temperature and steeping time.
We know about tea, and the storage, water and steep times so-Let us make tea-
Get your teacup or cup, tea bag, and kettle. Place the tea bag in your cup. Fill the kettle with fresh, cold, filtered water and bring it to the temperature of choice, or a near boil if brewing green or white tea. Pour the water over your tea bag in the cup. Covering the cup with a saucer is optional, but doing so will help retain more of the aromatic compounds. Steep for the desired time depending on your tea and taste. If you use loose leaf tea, you’ll also need a metal tea ball or infuser to hold the leaves. Measure out 1 teaspoon of dried tea leaves or 1 tablespoon of fresh ingredients per 6–8-ounce cup. (Or follow directions on your bag). Place the leaves in the tea ball or infuser and submerge it in a cup of hot water for the proper amount of time. Enjoy the taste and the health benefits!