Tea is apparently the most commonly found beverage around the world (besides water of course), but is this just because it’s warm and soothing, or is there something more hidden in this particular infusion? True enough the flavor can change drastically so it’s easy to find a tea that you will love, however, are there any benefits related to drinking tea? Well, you might have heard about the benefits of green tea, however, it seems that every tea has some beneficial property! Ever heard of the soothing effect of slightly warm tea bags on your eyes? So let’s have a closer look at the benefits of tea (and for a moment, forget about its addictive nature thanks to its caffeine content.)
What is Tea?
Tea is made from the leaves and buds of Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to East Asia that can grow up to three meters in height. Several tea variations are produced from this shrub and even specific plant variations that are grown specifically for certain tea types, however, you can find more information in our previous article Tea Vs Infusion about the curing and preparation of the leaves to create the different types of teas, so I will not go into that again here.
The tea plant started its way into our kitchen as a medical drink used by several ethnic groups in Southwest China, Northeast India. Myanmar and Tibet. Tea was mentioned in several medical texts, going back all the way to the third century AD, however, the first mention dates back to the 10 century BC! It took a while longer to be popularized as a recreational drink, which happened during the Chinese Tang dynasty (618 – 907 AD), giving birth to the drink we know today. It was introduced to Europe during the 16th century and became fashionable among the English later on during the 17th century. Although tea is a Chinese tradition, milk and sugar found their way in this drink from the British users marking a new trend to the Asian drink. Last but not least one has to mention the tradition that came much later on (in the late 19th century) and was born in Southern USA, namely sweet tea or iced tea. This is simply sweetened tea, usually served iced cold and sometimes flavored with lemon, peach, raspberry, or mint. The drink is occasionally tempered with baking soda to reduce its acidity.
Herbal tea usually refers to drinks not made from Camellia sinensis (these are also referred to as tisanes or herbal infusion to prevent the confusion and we will not be talking about any of them in this article), although herbal teas can also include tea leaves among their herbal blend. Green tea is probably the most known for having additional flavors to its blends, however, mixed teas are becoming more and more available.
Now let’s take a look at the chemical composition of tea. Just like coffee, tea contains caffeine, this varies mostly with the process the leaves have been exposed to, with black tea containing a significantly higher amount than green tea (although decaf tea is now a thing too!). Other stimulants and xanthines, similar to caffeine, which are also found in teas (although in small amounts) are theobromine and theophylline. The main essential nutrient found in tea is the dietary mineral manganese, which is rather abundant in this leafy drink. At times fluoride is also found in tea, especially in teas made from old leaves and stems (mainly some varieties of ‘brick tea’), in some cases, it’s high enough to pose a health risk if this tea is drunk in abundance.
The most abundant compounds in tea, however, are polyphenols, these are the main culprits of the tea’s astringency. These include flavonoids, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and other catechins and fall under the water-soluble compounds extracted from the tea leaves. Other such compounds found in tea are the amino acids that are rather important for our health. It has been suggested that green and black teas may protect against cancer and other diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease as well as fight obesity. So, let’s now head on to take a closer look at those lovely health benefits found in this shrub!
Tea has been regarded in the East as the key to good health, happiness, and wisdom, but what does that mean? What benefits do we get from this drink? First off, if you want to take the most benefits from your tea, do not pour boiling water on those poor leaves! Boiling water will kill some of the living organisms that benefit us in the leaves, so don’t overdo it with the temperature of your boiling water, always wait those few minutes before pouring.
Tea has antimicrobial qualities, brings about mental alertness, helps to lower cholesterol, improves digestion and so encourages weight loss, and also fights against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, especially cancers of the colon, breast, ovary, prostate, and lung. Although all teas come from the same plant and have more or less the same benefits, here are what tea seems to work best for what:
Green tea preserves most of the EGCG found in the plant, it is the least tempered with after all. The higher concentration of antioxidants in this version makes it the best tea to hinder bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer growth. It counteracts oxidative stress on the brain and so reduces the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and also reduces the risk of strokes. Green tea also helps prevent the arteries from clogging, improves cholesterol levels, and also burns fat. Green tea also helps against bad breath thanks to its disinfectant and deodorizing properties, add a touch of mint and you have perfect breath in no time!
Black tea has the highest caffeine content, probably due to its fermentation process. This helps sharpen the brain and increase concentration, just like coffee does, although tea is known to have lower levels of caffeine than coffee. There is some evidence that black tea may protect the lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It also helps to reduce the risk of strokes.
White tea, as mentioned in the other article, is still a query as to what it exactly is. However, if you manage to come across white tea that is uncured and unfermented, it should be the best fighter against cancer compared to the other teas.
Oolong tea seems to be the best to fight against cholesterol and weight loss, however, this also has one hundred and one variations so it is hard to classify and study as a whole and the variety studied might not be the one that you are buying. The same benefits seem to also be found in Pu-erh tea (fermented or dark tea).
And after you have enjoyed your tea do not throw away your teabags! They may help improve the appearance of your eyes reducing those pesky dark circles, puffiness, and even redness. Just let them cool down and place a tea bag on each eye, just like you would do with an eye mask, and leave there while you take a moment to relax. They may also help to treat infections, irritation, styes, and pink eye. (We suggest you would still talk to a doctor especially if the symptoms are severe or persistent, however, do keep tea bags in mind and see if you can use them with any medication given. They’re cheap and helping the medicine to heal faster is always good, right?)
Of course, we will also take a look at the side effects you need to be cautious of. First off, tea reduces your iron intake, so unless you are trying to reduce your iron levels, it’s best to not drink tea with other foods and certainly not close to any iron supplements you might be taking! Other symptoms are similar to excessive coffee intake, so actual tea might not be ideal close to your bedtime (chamomile might be more ideal to gently lull you to sleep!). But let’s take a list as usual:
- lowers iron absorbtion
- Anxiety, stress, restlessness, or poor sleep
- Pregnancy complications
- Caffeine dependency
Making the ‘Perfect’ Tea
- Tea leaves (or tea bags)
- Freshly boiled water
Now, this is tricky, cos tea has one hundred and one variations and each variation has several options. However, the most common suggestions are:
- Boil fresh water. That means do not reboil, it flattens the taste.
- Heat the pot before you make the tea. This simply means pouring hot water into the pot before you make the tea.
- This procedure will automatically allow the boiling water to cool slightly before pouring on your teabags, although each tea has a favored temperature, so you might check on that if you want the really optimum tea!
- Let seep and stir for a while. Stirring will help to infuse the flavors better. Time here is again debatable but it is usually longer than two minutes.
- If you want a traditional British cup of tea, pour the milk in the cup before pouring the tea. This was actually done not to crack the delicate china. Placing the teaspoon face down in the cup and pouring on the teaspoon is another trick to preserve your lovely teacups!
Enjoy your cup of tea with some great company, be it a friend, a book, or a lovely view. It somehow tastes better.
Everyone has his way of tempering with tea, but here are two recipes you might want to try. One doesn’t need much intro, I am sure you have heard about Chai. The other one is a fun way to enjoy green tea if you’re not a big fan of it, adding some strawberries to it you can transform it into a delicious smoothie or milkshake!