Drinking tea has its roots back in ancient Chinese culture. It’s believed to purify water, giving invigorating taste and even having medicinal value.
By the end of the 3rd century A.D., tea had become China’s number one beverage. The trade of tea spread from Tibet, the middle east, and India. It was not until the 16th century when tea reached Europe, and it was only in the 17th century that the British were introduced to tea.
All tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, an evergreen plant that mostly grows in tropical and subtropical climates. The manner of processing of tea leaves determines what type of tea is produced. Herbal teas, not containing leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant, are actually not considered as a traditional tea but are called infusion.
Today, tea is consumed daily as an enjoyable drink. Tea enthusiasts get to enjoy a variety of health benefits through many teas of choice. There’s also a wide range of caffeine levels, as well as preparation styles.
Benefits and effects of Tea drinking
There are various health benefits to drinking tea. It’s full of antioxidants that boost and protect the immune system. On top of this, tea has vitamins & minerals, and catechins(antioxidants) which boost endurance and burns fat as fuel that’s attributed to improving muscles.
In addition, drinking tea can reduce the risk of heart disease, counteract the bad effects of smoking and studies show it is even linked to lowering the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Green tea, in particular, can improve bone mineral density and strength.
The antioxidants found in tea can help protect against various cancers including breast, colon, coloretal, skin, lung, stomach, liver, prostate, and oral cancers. But do note that this is not a miracle cure and it’s beneficial to accompany a healthy lifestyle while drinking tea to maximize the benefits.
Tea leaves; Camellia sinensis comes in a few different varieties, each with their own characteristic look and flavor. It also differs in terms of preparation and brewing.
- Black tea – western culture refers to it as such due to the dark color of the leaves after oxidation. In Asia, however, it’s commonly referred to as “red tea” after the color of the infusion. Black tea is made from the same plant that’s used to make green tea but the leaves are dried and fermented.
One distinguishing characteristic of thistea is that it’s caffeinated, so it is important to take in moderation. This type of tea can combat inflammation and support the immune system.
High heat (near boiling) is recommended in brewing Black tea. Steep for about 2 to 5 minutes depending on the desired flavor. The longer infusion will create a bitter, strong taste. Some people prefer adding milk to soften the bitter taste and to bring out a different character for flavor.
- Green tea – is made from the unfermented leaves of Camellia sinensis plant. This has a distinct herb flavor. The leaves are heated and dried. Heating is done by either pan-frying or steaming and dried to stop the oxidation process before it changes the flavor.
Brewing green tea produces a peculiar herb flavor but if incorrectly done, can result in bitter taste and the sweet undertones gone. Getting the right temperature (about 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit) is important. Good quality green teas can be steeped multiple times.
This tea has high flavonoids that help boost heart health by lowering bad cholesterol and reducing blood clotting. It also reduces blood pressure and triglycerides. This tea variety has also shown to be anti-inflammatory, which helps keep skin clear.
- White tea – is harvested before the leaves are completely open. It’s called “White tea” because of the unopened buds that have silvery-white hairs. It’s also one of the most delicate varieties due to the process of hand-picking and then quickly drying to prevent any oxidation. It retains a high amount of antioxidants due to the least processing of this tea.
This type of tea is known in China. The infusion is more of a tinge yellow or sometimes green. White tea is one of the most expensive teas available due to the limited number of buds that can be picked from each plant.
This particular tea also has the least amount of caffeine, making it an ideal choice for tea lovers who want to limit or avoid their caffeine consumption.
Similar to green and black tea, prolonged brewing can result in astringent tea and bitter flavor. A low water temperature between 2 to 4 minutes is preferred.
- Oolong tea – is a traditional Chinese tea which means “Black Dragon”. Oolong teas fall in the middle spectrum of green and black tea in terms of oxidation. The green tea is not oxidized much, the black tea is oxidized until it turns black and the Oolong tea is partially oxidized. Oolong is produced through wilting and withering the plant under sunlight.
This tea contains l-theanine, an amino acid that helps reduce anxiety. Research also shows that l-theanine can help prevent illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Oolong is best brewed in water 180-200 degrees Fahrenheit. Similar to other variants, Oolong can be re-steeped, with rich flavor for every reuse.
- Puerh tea – is considered as another form of black tea, but differs on the period of fermentation involving bacteria and fungi. This tea is aged for prolonged periods (3 years up) creating depth in flavor. Black tea is loose leaves, Puerh on the other hand is pressed into patties and sometimes decorative shapes.
Puerh tea stands out because it is not difficult to brew and does not easily become bitter. A strong Puerh tea will have a similar taste to coffee.
Western brewing is about 2 to 4 minutes, while traditional Chinese involves a very short brewing time of 20 to 40 seconds.
- Dark tea – is a variation that goes through a secondary fermentation process. Instead of drying, it is sprinkled with water and then placed in piles to ferment. It’s known in Chinese as “Hei Cha” literally means dark tea.
This tea is rich in nutrients, most notably vitamins, minerals, protein, and amino acids.
You can re-steep this tea multiple times and Chinese drink this after meals.
If you’re a tea drinker, you’re presented with an option of having loose leaves or tea bags. Commercial tea bags are designed for convenience but often have a one-dimensional taste. It’s also produced by a machine for masses. One thing to note about tea bags is the extraction of flavor in just one steeping.
Loose leaf tea is often high-quality grade and produced seasonally that involves hand picking and sorting mostly sold in specialty stores. It can be steeped multiple times for different cups.
Both steeping duration and water temperature play a significant role in tea preparation as these extract and determine the flavor. The hotter the water temperature and longer steep, the richer the taste. But, always remember that some will tend to leave a bitter taste.
The good thing is that you can experiment and be playful with your tea drink to know the characteristics of each variant.
Drinking tea has been widely used in many cultures around the world, and even to this day, it has served many purposes. Benefits of tea are undoubtedly important and are known to alleviate depression, ease tiredness and even refresh the spirit.
A drink that many in the world wake up to every morning, some cannot do without after every meal, and others want a cup the minute they reach home from work.
Have a cup of tea with a friend, and the simplest joy it brings.