Do you take one or two lumps of sugar in your tea? Maybe your taste buds prefer your grandma’s sweet tea over a hot cup of matcha? Here’s a quick guide to the types, uses and health benefits of this leafy wonder, which is filled with antioxidants and flavor.
Antioxidants and the battle against aging
Free radicals are atoms that contain an unpaired electron, which makes the atom unstable and reactive in the body. In this state, the atoms are believed to damage cells and negatively affect one’s health.
While everyone produces free radicals, lifestyle choices can increase or decrease their production rate. For example, poor diet and habits like smoking and heavy drinking can increase free radicals, according to Huntington’s Outreach Project for Education at Stanford University.
Antioxidants are compounds that either prevent the formation of free radicals or react with them and neutralize them by providing an electron to create the final pair. Once the free radical is stabilized, it becomes nontoxic.
Most teas have some form of antioxidants, with green tea touted as having the most. Research on antioxidants and their battle against free radicals isn’t conclusive, but it does give you something to think about as you sip your tea.
THE SIX MAIN TYPES
Regardless of how you take your tea, the six main types come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, which is indigenous to China.
The difference in flavor is attributed to the processing and oxidation of the leaves after they’ve been plucked, as well as the soil and the region in which the plant is grown. How the tea is prepared, how long the tea steeps and the quality also play a part.
Unoxidized and less processed than green tea.
Flavor: light, delicate and slightly sweet
Defining characteristic: The least processed of all the teas
Health claims: Antioxidants/anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, promotes weight loss.
Other considerations: Hard to find and can be expensive.
Caffeine: 10-15 mg/8 oz.
Flavor: Light, grassy, can be bitter or sweet depending on the quality.
Defining characteristic: High in antioxidants
Health claims: Antioxidants; increases energy, concentration and mood; heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory and good for joints.
Other considerations: Can exacerbate dehydration; too much can lead to problems digesting iron or problems during pregnancy.
Caffeine: 30-35 mg/8 oz.
Flavor: Light, grassy and slightly sweet.
Defining characteristics: Undergoes a special process that the Chinese call “men huan” or sealing in the yellow. Yellow tea is extremely rare and is produced in Hunan, Zhejiang and Sichuan provinces of China.
Health claims: Antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, skin clarifying.
Cons: Hard to find, many low-quality products on the market, can be pricey.
Caffeine: 33 mg/8 oz.
Green pu-erh is unoxidized, black pu-erh is oxidized. Pu-erh is the only tea that’s fermented.
Flavor: Fresh pu-erh is woody; as the tea ages, the flavor progresses into a more mellow, complex flavor.
Defining characteristics Pu-erh: Must be grown in Yunnan Province in southwestern China, limiting the variance of its terroir. It undergoes fermentation and is often compressed into a tiny rectangle or circle-like cake, as it’s more stable during the aging process.
Health claims: Antioxidants, digestion aid, anti-inflammatory. decreases cholesterol.
Other considerations: Hard to find and buy, can cause dehydration, can be unhealthy during pregnancy.
Caffeine: 60-70 mg/8 oz.
Flavor: Dark, strong, bold. It can range from sweet to savory.
Defining characteristic: The full oxidation process give black tea its depth of color.
Health claims: Contains antioxidants, promotes bone health, reduces fatigue, increases energy and concentration, reduces asthma, decreases cholesterol.
Other considerations: Highly caffeinated, can be unhealthy during pregnancy, can inhibit iron absorption.
Caffeine: 40-60+ mg./8 oz.
Flavor: Can be sweet, fruity or woody, depending on where it’s harvested from.
Defining characteristic: It’s semi-fermented.
Health claims: Antioxidants, heart healthy, calming, good for weight loss and gut health.
Other considerations: Can exacerbate dehydration, too much is unhealthy during pregnancy.
Caffeine: 30-50 mg/8 oz.
TEA TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD
Tibetan salted butter tea (po cha): This traditional tea inspired the creation of bulletproof coffee. Pu-erh or Pemagul black tea is used as the foundation, then Tibetans add yak milk, butter and salt to taste. Depending on the region, some po cha will be saltier than others.
Irish breakfast tea: Tea in the U.K. has a long, deeply rooted history, but the English, Scottish and Irish all take their tea slightly differently. While the varying groups all drink black tea, Irish breakfast tea is usually Assam and ceylon tea with milk and sugar. Its name is considered a misnomer, because tea is often the drink of choice throughout the day, not just at breakfast. The ideal method is to make the tea, pouring milk into the cup first, followed by sugar.
Sweet tea: Sweet tea in the South is taken seriously. The preferred method is to steep black tea in a glass pitcher and then add cane sugar. After the pitcher is brewed, place it in the fridge, adding the ice cubes after it’s served.
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