Put the Kettle On!
Like many others, I do enjoy a good cup of tea. How much do you know about the substance you’re consuming when you drink that hot cup of goodness? What kind of tea is in your mug? If it’s tea and not herbal tea, then you’re drinking the infusion from the leaves of Camellia sinensis.
Camellia sinensis is a woody shrub plant and generally is native to Asia. The leaves of this plant are harvested to make the oh so popular drink - tea. There are different varieties of the plant that grow in Indian versus those that grow in China or Japan. Where the plant grows affects its flavour, as does when it is harvested, the quality of the soil and characteristics of its natural environment. For example, Darjeeling and Asaam teas come from those respective areas in Indian and can have beautiful aromas and subtle flavours.
There are three main forms that tea leaves are consumed as an infusion (when we soak plant in hot water it’s called a hot water infusion) - green, black and oolong. Green tea is the most studied for its health benefits. Green tea is made from the fresh leaves that are steamed as soon as they are harvested. The means the pigments (and do I love to extol the benefits of green!) in the leaves remain stable and there is less breakdown of the phytochemicals in the plant. Oolong and black are more fermented and during that process the phytochemical composition and therefore flavour and characteristics change. Pu-erh tea is a speciality fermented and aged tea made from Camilla sinensis. Matcha tea is made from green tea and is powdered into a dust, then mixed and frothed to make a very rich, super charged beverage. In this drink the whole leaves are consumed, versus the infusion that we normally take when we have tea.
One of the main ways I explain the the differences in green, black and oolong teas are by their thermic natures. Green tea is cooling, oolong tea mostly neutral and black tea is warming, the flavour tends to intensify also from green to black. If you’re drinking tea like Red Rose and King Cole chances are it’s black tea, but these companies also sell green tea. Green tea has been studied for a variety of health benefits. We know that is helps with weight loss through modulation of how fats are used for fuel in the body. It has a wonderful detoxifying effect in the liver. Green tea is also known to be an anti-cancer food and has been well studied in relation to its benefits in cervical cancer and other women’s health issues.
Oolong tea tends to be very good for digestion and black tea is also through its warming and toning effect on the digestive system. Both oolong and black do retain some of the qualities of green tea but remember they are different since green tea contains the most of the original qualities of the leaf - which so far in the research are the most characterized for health benefit. Low daily doses of anti-cancer substances are beneficial - it definitely helps and counts to consume things like green tea over the long run; this is being characterized more and more in our scientific understanding of cancer prevention for example. Some things to consider when consuming tea - it will bind iron so don’t take it with meals if you are iron deficient; please consider switching to organic tea with cleanly sourced bags or use loose leave teas to decrease exposure to carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting pesticides and chemicals; if you have stomach ulcers best to avoid black teas or talk to your ND. In addition, there are significant quantities of caffeine in tea, especially black teas like King Cole and Red Rose. Caffeine is definitely not good for everyone - more on that another time. For now, happy sipping!