1 February 2012
Tea Types Explained
Tea has been touted as a wonder food for as long as we can remember. Its benefits range from weight loss and better digestion to the prevention of a wide range of diseases, from diabetes to heart disease to cancer. And with all the hype, unfortunately, comes a lot of confusion. Over the years, a plethora of tea types have come up: black, white, green, red, oolong, chai, herbal, jasmine. While they’re all essentially good for you, it’s become hard to choose both in terms of health targets and sheer preference.
For tea purists, tea should only be produced from a plant called Camellia sinensis, which is grown in China and India. In this sense, only green, white, black, and pu-erh (a post-fermented variety originating in southwest China) fit the definition. Again, any tea is good for you, but there’s good reason to stick to these type: Camellia sinensis is rich in flavonoids, a strong antioxidant that helps prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. They also have more caffeine (although coffee has more) and theanine, which contribute to sharper focus and alertness.
In green tea, the leaves are steamed instead of dried, so little chemical change happens. This is why green tea has the highest antioxidant content and has been shown to inhibit several types of cancer, as well as a host of mental and cognitive disorders.
In black tea, leaves are allowed to oxidize completely. Black tea has fewer flavonoids, but a lot more caffeine. Most flavoured teas, including the Indian variety chai, are made from black tea because it has a sweeter, fruitier flavour. Its most well-known benefit is protecting the lungs from secondary smoke, which is known to be even more destructive than smoking itself. Pu-erh tea is considered a variety of black tea where the leaves are aged and fermented. It has been linked to weight loss and cholesterol reduction, although definitive studies have yet to be made.
Oolong is a green-black tea hybrid in which the Camellia sinensis leaves are allowed to partially oxidize. It’s best known for its weight-loss benefits; combined with regular exercise and proper diet, it boosts metabolism and increases energy levels.
White tea is made from almost completely untouched leaves, neither cured, dried, nor fermented. Not as many studies have been done on it, but data shows that its anti-cancer properties may be even stronger than that of green tea.
The bottom line: what we know about tea is constantly evolving, but what we do know is that it’s good for you. No matter what kind you pick, a cup a day can’t hurt.
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