Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water and for a lot of people it's a way of life. Researchers say that drinking three or more cups of tea a day is as good for you as drinking plenty of water and may even have extra health benefits.
Many conventional tea plantations are converting to organic after seeing the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The conventional way of growing tea is also non-sustainable. It leads to soil erosion and disease, and the pesticides are a health hazard for the workers who pick the leaves. This conversion is a long term process requiring the planting of forests alongside the tea. This allows the original forest to restore environmental stability so slowly the forest is reverting back to the natural ways of nourishment without adulteration by chemicals. The tea is said to provide a fuller and richer taste, which is healthier for consumption.
The Origin of Tea
Tea originated in China about 5000 years ago. It was discovered in 2735BC, where legend has it that one of the emperors of China, Sh'eng Nung, who was considered a divine healer who always boiled his water, accidentally boiled a few leaves from a wild tea plant, which had fallen into his pot, giving it a delightful scent and flavor. From there tea was adopted in the UK during the 17th century after the sea routes between China and Europe opened.
What exactly is tea?
Tea is the dried and processed leaves of a species of plant called Camellia sinensis. The infusion of these leaves in hot water is what makes up tea. Most of the herbal teas on the market are not really teas at all but are infusions made with flowers, herbs, roots, spices or other parts of some plants.
There are four main types of tea.
The differences between these teas is in the harvesting and the drying process. The darker the tea, the more processing it has undergone - this strips away some of the beneficial nutrients.
This is the rarest type of tea, as it is made from the young leaves that are picked before the buds have fully opened - it is very time consuming to harvest. Only small quantities are yielded, therefore it is more expensive to buy. White tea undergoes minimal processing, as it is simply steamed and dried, keeping it close to it's natural state.
Due to the health benefits associated with green tea it has become a very popular drink worldwide. Green tea is a milder type of tea and is made from only the leaf bud and the top two leaves. The leaves are simply withered and then roasted or dried; they are not fermented like black tea, so it does not become oxidized. This process helps to preserve the leaves without destroying the beneficial compounds in the plant.
Oolong tea is a traditional Chinese type of tea, somewhere in between green and black in oxidation. The leaves for oolong tea undergo a moderate fermentation process where they are withered, partially fermented and then dried.
Black tea is the most popular variety of tea. The leaves undergo a complex fermentation process to change the colour of the leaf from green to copper, which causes a reduction of the teas antioxidant content. The leaves are fully oxidized and dried. Black tea is more oxidized than the green, oolong and white varieties and is generally stronger in flavour and contains more caffeine.
Benefits of Tea
Medical research is finding the healing benefits of tea. It is suggested that it may help to prevent everything from tooth cavities to Parkinson's disease. Tea also contains antioxidants and trace amounts of various nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, manganese and potassium and the vitamins A, C, E and K. In general, consumption of tea may prevent or improve conditions such as:
- Arthritis - For older women who drink tea, research suggests that there is a reduced risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
- Bone Density - Drinking tea regularly may produce stronger bones.
- Reduces the risk of heart disease.
- Helps fight cataracts - Research suggests that the antioxidant in tea may actually help fight cataract - one of the primary causes of blindness globally.
There are many more reasons to drink organic tea, each type has different benefits:
- Builds up the immune system in the fight against viral and bacterial infections (healing and protective properties).
- Helps prevent tooth decay and cavities.
- Helps to fight and kill cancer cells.
- Has a positive effect on almost every organ in the human body; the antioxidants help to prevent toxins that build up from unnecessary oxygen.
- Helps prevent cancer by blocking compounds with polyphenols. Cancers that may be prevented include: stomach, colon, lung, esophageal and breast.
- Can help in blood pressure reduction and cholesterol reduction and increase HDL (good cholesterol).
- Aids in preventing viral infections such as the flu or a cold.
- Helps slow down the anti aging process.
- Can help to improve your stress tolerance.
- Reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
- Prevents dental cavities.
- Helps in weight loss as it encourages the body to burn fat.
- Anti-oxidant properties.
- Can reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
- Relaxes and expands arteries, thus increasing blood flow to the heart and decreasing your chances of a heart attack or stroke.
- May have cancer inhibiting powers.
- May increase your immunity to the flu virus.
- Prevents dental cavities.
Why is tea good for you?
Of all plants, tea leaves have one of the highest contents of flavonoids (15% of the leaf by dry weight). Flavonoids are a group of compounds with antioxidant activity. Antioxidants protect against the damage caused by excess free radicals. Free radicals are a damaging, physiological process that works against the immune system and is also responsible for aging. Antioxidants help our body eliminate these harmful free radicals.
Flavonoids have anti-cancer properties and can act as a potential cancer preventative compound. Also these flavonoids may help in the treatment of cancer especially green tea.
Each of the four teas contain similar amounts of flavonoids, however they differ in chemical structure. Green and white tea contain a simple flavonoids called catechins, where as Oolong and black tea undergo oxidation and convert these simple flavonoids to more complex varieties called theaflavins and thearubigins.
All teas produced from the Camellia sinensis plant contain caffeine. Black tea contains the highest amount, then oolong, green and white tea (which has the lowest amount). On average a cup of black tea contains about one third of the caffeine of a cup of coffee and green tea contains about one six of that amount.
What about Herbal Teas?
Herbal teas are not actually teas. They are referred to as infusions or tisanes, and are a simple and effective way of extracting the goodness and flavour from the aerial parts of herbs. Tisanes can be made with fresh or dried leaves, soft stems, flowers, seeds or roots.
Often herbal teas are consumed for their physical or medicinal effects, especially as a stimulant, relaxant or sedative. Also they can contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
There are some precautions to be observed when enjoying herbal teas:
- Avoid all strong herbal teas during the first three months of pregnancy.
- Do not give peppermint or sage tea to children under four years of age.
- Do not drink licorice tea if you have high blood pressure.
- Do not use vervain if you have liver disease.
- Do not exceed the recommended measures of ingredients or frequency of drinking.
It is recommended that before you consume any amount of herbal tea you do a "taste test" to ensure that you do not have an allergic reaction to a particular herbal tea.
Below is a list of some popular herbal teas and what they can be used for:
- Chamomile is a member of the daisy family. The tea is made using the flowers of the plant.
- Can be used in the treatment of mouth ulcers, diarrhea, insomnia, eczema, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Is mildly sedative and gently stimulates the digestive system.
- Is used for gastrointestinal complaints.
- Can sooth menstrual cramps.
- Ginger tea is made using the Rhizome (root) of the plant.
- Ginger can be used for heart disease, constipation, asthma, vomiting, migrain headaches, morning sickness, motion sickness and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Ginger is a very warming herb, so is ideal for colds and flu.
- May protect the stomach from the damaging effects of alcohol and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and may help prevent ulcers.
- Peppermint tea is made using the aerial parts of the plant. (Dried leaves).
- Peppermint can be used for combating flatulence, stimulating bile and digestive juice flow and help relieve the pain of menstrual cramps.
- Used for calming the digestive system.
- Can relieve the nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy and travel sickness.
- Traditionally used in the treatment of colds, fevers and influenza.
- May help the body to breakdown gallstones.
- Rooibos tea is made using the aerial parts of the plant. (Oxidized leaves).
- Can be recommended for people suffering irritability, headaches, insomnia, mild depression and nervous tension.
- Contains high level of antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase (SOD). In fact contains 50 times more SOD than green tea.
- Contains no caffeine.
- Can relieve stomach and digestive problems.
- Echinacea tea is made using the roots of the plant.
- Echinacea can be used for mouth ulcers, common cold/ sore throat, yeast infections, arthritis and Crohn's disease.
- Supports the immune system.
- Can be used for the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions, including burns, herpes, abscesses, eczema and varicose ulcers of the leg.
- Helps in the fight against cancer, stabilizes white blood cells in patients.
- Some herbs are known to react with medication and are not recommended during pregnancy. Please consult your doctor before drinking herbal teas.
Drinking three to four cups of tea is recommended and can be beneficial for your health. It replaces fluids and contains many antioxidants. So next time your thirsty, remember the benefits of pouring yourself a good "cuppa" tea!!