Your grocery store tea section likely has more varieties of tea than you’d care to count. But are they all really that different? And is one better than the other? Could a raspberry zinger tea really be as good for you as green tea? And just what makes it green after all?
Learning about tea can quickly become overwhelming, but I’m going to help you sort through some of the more basic stuff.
What is tea?
All tea leaves come from a single type of plant called the Camellia Sinensis, however there are over 3,000 varieties of the plant. Originally from Asia, it can be grown around the world in tropical and subtropical conditions.
All tea that comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant can be categorized as black, green, oolong, white, and puer. The difference in these categories has to do with how and where the plant is grown and processed.
- black tea is the most intense flavor because the picked leaves are allowed to wither and fully oxidize. Black tea has the highest caffeine content of the group, but is still about half of the amount in coffee.
- oolong tea is allowed to partially oxidize resulting in a medium caffeine level and taste profile. The flavor is often compared to florals or fruits.
- green tea is only allowed to slightly oxidize after being picked. The leaves are heated quickly to stop the oxidation process. The resulting taste is more mild and offers more variation depending on the location and where in the oxidation period it was stopped.
- white tea is not allowed to oxidize. The young shoots of the plant are used which adds a natural sweetness to the flavor. White tea is brewed at low temperatures for a short amount of time for a very low caffeine level.
- puer tea is an aged black tea from China. The aging process is highly secretive, but adds a complexity to the flavor making it more “earthy” or “peaty”.
What about other types of teas?
There are a number of other teas out there that do not come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. A few common ones are:
- Herbal teas are pure herbs, flowers, and fruits that are often dried, but can be fresh (ginger root is a good example) that is steeped in hot water. These are often times refreshing and can offer some health benefits from the ingredients.
- Rooibos teas are made from a South African red bush. It is often times red, but can also be green. These teas contain large amounts of antioxidants as well as key minerals like magnesium and calcium.
- Mate teas are made from the leaves and twigs of the yerba mate plant. This tea offers a slightly smokey taste that is preferred by coffee drinkers.
- Chai teas come in thousands of variations, but are most often comprised of black tea, cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom and black pepper.
Health Benefits of Tea
Antioxidants & Anti-inflammatory
According to the Harvard Health, “The main health-promoting substances in tea are polyphenols, in particular catechins and epicatechins. Lab and animal studies say these molecules have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Harvard-led studies of large groups of people over time have found that tea or coffee drinkers are at lower risk for diabetes and possibly cardiovascular disease. Coffee also contains polyphenols.”
Cup for cup, tea only has a 1/3 of the caffeine that coffee does. In fact an 8 ounce cup of coffee contains around 135 mg caffeine while the same amount of tea contains only 30 to 40 mg per cup.
Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke
Flavonoids (antioxidants) in black and green tea prevent oxidation of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. That reduces blood clotting and allows widening of blood vessels in the heart. Studies that looked at the relationship of black tea intake and heart health reported decreased incidence of heart attack, lower cholesterol levels and significantly lower blood pressure in tea drinkers.
Creates Alert Calmness
A powerful amino acid, L-theanine changes the way your brain sends signals by increasing the alpha waves. Doing so increases your conentration while simultaneously creating a sense of calm. There are synthetic supplements of L-Theanine, but it is only found naturally in tea plants. White and green teas contain the highest levels of L-Theanine.
Why Organic Is Important
As mentioned before, all the tea leaves are grown, picked, and allowed to oxidize according to it’s particular type of tea. The leaves are never washed until they are sitting in your cup! Some farmers spray their plants up to 20 times a year. Conventionally grown tea is almost guaranteed to have those pesticides coating the dried leaves. When you are drinking tea for all the health benefits, it can not possibly overcome the negative effects of putting toxins directly into your body.