All About Tea: The 5 Types, Cooking ideas and Health Benefits
Most likely, your pantry currently has a row of open tea boxes that are an assortment of flavors and brands promising to treat a broad range of maladies or states of mind. Yet, how much do you really know about those mysterious tea bags on your shelf? What types of tea are there that you may not know about? In what way do teas benefit your body besides what the package promotes?
These are questions I pondered as I cleaned out my oversized tea collection and, finally, I decided that I really wanted to get to know exactly what was in each of those tea baggies.
Turns out, while there are many varieties of teas, there are generally five different categories that they fall into, each of which has a different profile for taste, bodily benefits, and use. It also turns out that tea is way more beneficial to your body then I knew about from cleaning toxins and free radicals from your body to preventing cancer and even aiding in weight loss!
Whether you enjoy tea for caffeine, for relaxation, for a sore throat, or simply for taste, here’s a bit of information about one of the most popular beverages in the world!
Tea and Inflammation
While tea has many health benefits — we’ll get into more below with each type — one benefit that all share in common is the ability to fight inflammation.
Why should you care about inflammation?
When this normal bodily function goes a bit haywire and turns chronic, it can actually lead to serious health conditions. Per the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, “when it’s good, it fights off foreign invaders, heals injuries and mops up debris. But when it’s bad, inflammation ignites a long list of disorders: arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, blindness, cancer, diabetes and, quite possibly, autism and mental illness.”
There are various techniques to fighting inflammation including eating a diet higher in plant-based foods that are rich in antioxidants and that are nutrient-dense. One such plant-based ingredient that has recently come to light as a powerful inflammation fighter is tea.
In one 2010 study published in the Life Sciences Journal, green tea was found to be “one of the most promising dietary agents for the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases,” due to naturally occurring substances such as active catechins and polyphenol’s, specifically EGCG. When it comes to green tea, EGCG “possesses potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.”
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research entitled Evaluation of anti-inflammatory effects of green tea and black tea, also discovered powerful anti-inflammatory effects of green tea as well as black tea.
Another way that tea has been found to fight inflammation is through its ability to help manage a healthy weight. Obesity is one of the leading causes of chronic inflammation, which then leads to other serious conditions including metabolic disorders, heart disease, and diabetes to mention just a few. A 2016 study entitled Mechanisms of Body Weight Reduction by Black Tea Polyphenols — conducted by the Tea Research Institute of Zhejiang University in China and published in Molecules — found that “black tea polyphenols have excellent anti-obesity activity without apparent side effects.” Black tea helps regulate healthy weight by way of its polyphenols which inhibit lipid and saccharide digestion, “promote lipid metabolism and blockage of the pathological processes of obesity,” and help reduce oxidative stress.
These are only a few examples of tea’s incredible anti-inflammatory powers!
The 5 Categories of Tea
Now we get down to the tea! I had to mention again that there are thousands of types of teas in the world. With that said, you’ll most likely find yourself drinking a variety from one of these main categories.
It’s important to note that both green and black teas stem from the same “mother” tea plant called the Camellia sinensis. With that said, green and black tea are drastically different. While they come from the same “mother” plant they are sourced from different varieties of that mother plant and are processed very differently producing a final tea product that both looks and tastes quite different.
Green (and white) tea is sourced from the Camellia sinensis sinensis — that second sinensis is not a mistake, but the actual full name of the plant. This tea plant is native to China and is said to have “evolved as a shrub growing in sunny regions with drier, cooler, climates,” and has a very high tolerance for cold meaning it “thrives in mountainous regions.” Once these small leaves have been harvested, they are “quickly heated—by pan firing or steaming—and dried to prevent too much oxidation from occurring that would turn the leaves brown and alter their fresh-picked flavor.” Brewing the leaves should produce a light green, yellow, or light brown liquid that ranges in flavor from “grass-like and toasted (pan fired) to vegetal, sweet and seaweed-like (steamed).”
Green tea may be the most popular of teas drank for its many well-known and documented health benefits. First off, green tea is filled with beneficial bioactive compounds called polyphenols including very specific catechins — natural antioxidants “that help prevent cell damage” — called Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). EGCG is known as “one of the most powerful compounds in green tea … [and] … may be one of the main reasons green tea has such powerful medicinal properties.”
Green tea has also been linked to increased brain function and intelligence, improved physical performance, a higher rate of fat burning, and a decreased risk of certain cancers, dementia-related illnesses, infections, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
While green tea is sourced from Camellia sinensis sinensis in China, black tea is sourced from the Camellia sinensis assamica, which is a “larger-leafed variety first discovered in the Assam district of India.” While the Camellia sinensis sinensis is found in cooler mountainous regions, the assamica variety grows in “warm, moist climates,” and is mostly found in sub-tropical forests. Once the large leaves are harvested from the assamica they are “allowed to fully oxidize before they are heat-processed and dried,” which turns the leaves a “rich dark brown to black color that black tea is famous for.” This oxidation process also alters their flavor profile. Brewed black tea is dark and warm, generally an amber, red, or dark brown color, with a flavor profile that ranges from “malty to fruity to roasted.” Plus, black tea “typically has more astringency and bitterness.”
Green and black tea share many similar health benefits including a reduced risk of certain cancers and improved brain function, yet black tea possesses more targeted health benefits. Black tea has the ability to boost your heart health, improve your gut health, lower “LDL” cholesterol levels (also known as bad cholesterol), and reduce blood pressure, risk of stroke, and blood sugar levels.
White tea is one of the oldest forms of tea, dating back to the “Chinese imperial dynasties (between 600 and 1300)” and also happens to be one of the most minimally processed teas, meaning you get most of the natural benefits. White tea is harvested from the same China-based plant as green tea — Camellia sinensis sinensis — yet white tea “is harvested before the tea plant’s leaves open fully, when the young buds are still covered by fine white hairs, hence the name ‘white’ tea.” White tea buds are hand-picked and dried, yet they are not allowed to oxidize, which would then turn this white tea into either green or black tea. There are a variety of white teas, some of the most popular being silver needle, white peony, monkey picked white tea, and darjeeling white tea.
Like most teas, white tea is rich in antioxidants making it a powerful anti-inflammatory and cancer prevention agent. On top of that, white teas have also been linked to weight loss, protection against dental bacteria, and a reduced risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, and dementia-related illnesses.
Oolong is not only fun to say and spell, but it’s also a wonderful beverage to incorporate into your daily regimen! It is said to have originated in both China and Taiwan in mountainous regions with differing climates including rocky, cool environments, mist-covered mountains, and “temperate bamboo-forested foothills.” While green, black, and white teas fall under the same “category” of tea due to their source plant, oolong falls into its own category altogether. Oolong is also differentiated due to its oxidation: white tea is not oxidized, green tea is barely oxidized, black tea is highly oxidized, and oolong plays within the middle ground varying between “8 percent to 80 percent [oxidation] depending on the production style of the tea master.” This broad range of oxidation levels lends to a chameleon-like flavor profile with some oolong teas seemingly more green and others more black. Oolong is also processed uniquely. The leaves are rolled, which “alters the appearance, color, and aroma,” and rolling technique is completely based on the tea master performing the process.
As oolong tea has differing oxidation levels depending on the tea master processing the leaves, the health benefits linked to this tea may differ. With that said, most oolong teas have been linked to healthier cholesterol levels leading to reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes, increased success with weight loss efforts, cancer prevention, and, interestingly enough, reduce risk of dental bacteria due to the teas ability to fight bacteria. On top of that, some research has linked oolong consumption to healthier gut bacteria and increased natural skin defense against UV rays.
Pu-erh tea is one of the lesser-known teas, mostly due to the fact that it originates from a strain of the Camellia sinensis referred to as Dayeh in a very specific part of China in the Yunnan province and is not as widely distributed. With that said, pu-erh is common and can be found in your local natural or whole foods grocery store. Pu-erh is an incredibly unique tea that differs from green, black, white, and oolong in two main respects: first, it can be made from both green and black tea varieties and it’s been fermented.
Specifically, pu-erh tea is “post-fermented, which means that the tea leaves go through a microbial fermentation process after they have been dried and rolled, causing the leaves to darken and change in flavor.” Many compare pu-erh to black tea due to the coloring and flavor. Due to the process of fermentation, pu-erh can last for many years — some as old as 50 years! — and with each year that it’s allowed to continue fermentation, its flavor also improves. Pu-erhs can be purchased in both loose-leaf form or “compressed brick form.”
While pu-erh share similar health benefits to other teas — cancer prevention, increasing heart health, aiding in weight loss, and boosting bone strength — it also offers some unique health benefits including naturally boosting energy levels and focus, cleanses toxins and free radicals from your body, and has been shown to reduce stress levels.
Cooking with Tea
Drinking tea is an obvious way to consume this plant-based product, yet have you ever thought about cooking with tea? Infusing your food with your favorite type of tea is a great way to reap all of those health benefits. Plus, there are countless creative ways to use tea as a culinary tool. Here are a few recipes to get you started!
Matcha Swirl Loaf
This Matcha Swirl Loaf pulls out all of the stops for a delicious baked treat! It’s infused with matcha powder — a potent, powder form of green tea — along with vanilla, flaxseed, vegan butter, yeast, almond milk, and sugar. While this bread takes preparation and forethought, you can make a large loaf for the week or even freeze it for later.
Pumpkin Earl Grey Oatmeal
Earl Grey is one of the most popular teas in the world. It’s under the black tea umbrella meaning it has a good amount of caffeine to give you that boost when you need it most. Earl grey is also a great culinary ingredient such as in this Pumpkin Early Gray Oatmeal recipe.
Baked Osmanthus and Oolong Tea Doughnuts
This Baked Osmanthus and Oolong Tea Doughnuts is a truly creative, yet fun recipe! Ever heard of osmanthus? I hadn’t until this recipe. Osmanthus is a Chinese flower that has been dried to create a naturally sweet treat. Mixed with the natural bitterness of oolong tea, these doughnuts are filled with healthy benefits without sacrificing the sweet delight of a true donut.
Asian Roasted Beets
Taking a step out of the baking realm, we find a perfect use for Pu-erh tea. This Asian Roasted Beets recipe uses pu-erh tea in both the main dish – noodles and beets – as well as in the dressing. Plus, this recipe is infused with cocoa and Asian spices to give it a savory, yet electric flavor.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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