When it comes to health, tea packs a powerful punch. Thanks to its exceptionally high antioxidant content, tea is though to guard against heart disease, certain cancers and help prevent the onset of arthritis.
Tea is packed with catechins, powerful antioxidants that prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals. It's estimated that one cup of brewed tea has a greater antioxidant capacity than some fruits and vegetables, including carrots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. While all four types of tea (black, green, white and oolong) are high in antioxidants, green tea retains the most catechins after processing and, as a result, is leading the pack when it comes to researched health benefits.
Mounting evidence suggests that drinking at least three cups of green or black tea per day benefits the heart. In one study, Japanese researchers found that adults who drank five or more cups of green tea per day were almost 30 percent less likely to die from heart disease, compared to those who had less than one cup per day. Green tea drinkers also had a significantly lower risk of stroke.
Drinking tea may also lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. In one study, researchers found that woman who drank at least five cups of green tea per day were 22 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who never drank tea.
The beverage has also been shown to reduce the severity of arthritis thanks to its potent anti-inflammatory effects. And green tea may also combat oral bacteria linked to cavities. There may also be a link between green tea antioxidants and weight control.
Most studies have shown a benefit from drinking anywhere from one to five cups of tea per day.
One cup of brewed tea has 40 to 50 milligrams of caffeine (regular coffee contains 100 to 175 milligrams per cup).
Tea (black, green, white and oolong) comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. The main difference between them has to do with how the leaves are processed. White tea is derived from the young, new leaves of the tea plant, while green, black and oolong teas are made from the more mature leaves.
Green tea is processed before the leaves are allowed to oxidize and ferment, while black and oolong teas are made from dried and crushed fermented leaves, resulting in a much darker colour and richer flavour.
Black tea is made from the most oxidized tea leaves, and is therefore the darkest blend of the four types of tea. Black tea varieties are often named from the area they are grown. Popular varieties include Ceylon, Darjeeling, Assam and Sumatra and often reign from China, India and Africa. Black tea is often blended with various other plants for a signature taste including Earl Grey, English breakfast, Orange Pekoe and Masala Chai. Black tea is characterized by a deep amber colour when it is brewed.
Oolong tea goes through much of the same process as black tea, but is oxidized for half the time resulting in a milder taste than black tea. Oolong tea is the most popular tea served in many Chinese restaurants. It's Chinese name translates to "black dragon tea".
Green tea doesn't undergo the same oxidation process as black and oolong teas; instead the leaves are quickly steamed and then dried resulting in a more delicate flavour. There are dozens of varieties of green tea originating in China and Japan, including Sencha and Matcha. Green tea has a grassy taste and is characterized by its light green colour.
White tea is made from young tea leaves and buds that are steamed and dried before they are allowed to oxidize. Of the four types of tea, white tea is the least processed. As a result, it's more expensive and not as popular than the other types of tea.
Loose-leaf tea is made from whole leaves whereas tea bags contain the fannings or dust from the sorting process of higher-quality loose-leaf tea. While there may be a slight difference in flavour between the two, tea brewed from loose-leaf tea has more antioxidants - and flavour - thanks to a greater surface area of the leaves exposed to water.
Fresh tea leaves are fragrant and should have a sweet, flowery, almost grassy aroma. When purchasing loose leaf tea, rub some between your fingers - if it's fresh it will have a strong aroma. It's not as easy to gauge its freshness since it's usually sold in a sealed box. To ensure you get the freshest tea, purchase it in small quantities from a store with a high product turnover.
Store loose leaf and tea bags in a cool, dark place, such as a cupboard or drawer. When stored for long periods of time tea loses its flavour and can pick up odours from nearby foods.
Store tea in an airtight container for maximum freshness. Black tea can be stored for up to two years, while green tea lasts less than a year.
If you ask anyone who takes their tea seriously, you're likely to get a lesson on how to properly prepare tea. Here's my favourite way to prepare the perfect cup of black tea:
1. Fill the kettle with fresh, cold water and bring to a boil.
2. Pour a small amount of water into your cup or teapot to warm it. Swirl the water around, and then discard it.
3. Add the tea bag(s) or loose tea leaves to the teapot or cup, and pour boiling water directly on top. Let the tea infuse for 2 to 4 minutes (or to taste).
4. Remove tea bag. Add milk, honey or lemon if desired.
Tip: Dunking the tea bag in water not only steeps the tea more quickly; it adds more flavour and extracts more antioxidants.
While boiling water is appropriate for black tea, water used to steep green tea should be slightly less than boiling. The higher quality of tea, the lower the water temperature to prevent "burning" the tea leaves.
Small tea-leaves (including those in tea bags) infuse more quickly than tightly curled or large leaf tea.
Tea is not just for drinking. From green tea ice cream to sauces and marinades, there are plenty of ways to increase your intake of tea's healthy antioxidants.
Healthy ways to enjoy tea:
Start your day by enjoying a cup of freshly brewed green tea with breakfast.
Nothing says winter like a latte - mix things up and try a green tea latte for a change.
Use brewed tea to add flavour to salad dressings and pasta sauces.
Garnish salads, soups and stews with crushed tea leaves.
Marinate fish or chicken in brewed black tea for a sophisticated taste. After cooking, garnish with lemon wedges.
Use crushed tea leaves in a rub for meat, fish and poultry.
Enjoy a cocktail made with cooled brewed tea, cranberry juice, vodka and ginger ale.
Use brewed green or black tea to thin sauces and gravies.
Make your own iced tea by combining a jug of brewed tea with ice, slices of lemon, fresh mint and a touch of honey. Use green or black tea.
On a hot summer day, cool off with a popsicle made with brewed tea - green tea with lemon juice is especially refreshing.
If you have an ice cream maker, try making your own green tea ice cream.
Did you know?
Canad has an official tea sommelier certification program at George Brown College in Toronto.
One of the first shipments of tea to arrive in Canada was in the early 1700's, imported by the Hudson's Bay Company.
Top tea producers include Kenya, Sri Lanka and India as well as Turkey, Iran and Indonesia.