Tea was discovered by Chinese more than 5000 years ago. It was popularized and commercialized by the English. But did they popularize the healthiest tea?
There are three types of tea depending on the level of processing; unfermented, partially fermented and fermented tea. Actually, the correct term for the process that tea undergoes is oxidation rather than fermentation.
Based on these three processes, there is white tea, green tea, Oolong and black tea.
White tea, as the name suggests is white in colour and is the healthiest of all types of teas.
To process white tea, the buds and young tea leaves are picked when they are undeveloped, shortly before they are fully open. Sometimes the young buds are sheltered/covered from sunlight to prevent developing the green pigment called chlorophyll found in plants.
The plucked young leaves are immediately steamed and dried; these two processes are often done in the farm. Quick and minimum processing helps the white tea to retain the highest level of antioxidants and has the lowest level of caffeine than any other tea.
The closest cousin of white tea in powerful health constituents is green tea. Chinese were the first to make green tea. Chinese exposed the plucked and chopped tea leaves to vapour from hot water shortly after harvesting followed by drying in the sun. At the outset, it was thought that this was just a drying process. It is now known that the process did more than drying; it inactivated an enzyme in tea called polyphenol oxidase. Inactivation of polyphenol oxidase ensured this enzyme did not interfere with the good compounds in the tea leaves. The final colour of this type of tea remains green after processing; giving birth to the name, green tea.
Nowadays, green tea is processed by steaming (scientifically known as blanching) the plucked tea leaves and drying them immediately after cutting and rolling. This inactivates the enzymes leaving all the healthy and medicinal chemicals in green tea unaffected or slightly affected.
Green tea is well known for its super health benefits, but it is poorly received by many consumers due to its flavour. But the trend is changing.
Oolong tea is a partially oxidised tea. Processing of Oolong tea follows similar steps as green tea, but the cut and rolled tea leaves stand for slightly longer periods (usually less than an hour) before drying. The waiting period prior to drying allows the enzymes to partially breakdown some chemicals in tea leaves lowering its healthy qualities. This greenish-black tea falls in-between green tea and the well known black tea.
If the tea leaves are withered, macerated and allowed to stand for longer periods usually between 90 and 120 minutes before drying, the enzymes break down the chemicals producing the black tea. This is the most common and widely consumed tea.
Among the types of tea, green and oolong tea are commonly consumed in Asian countries mainly China, Japan, India and Thailand, while black tea is most popular in European countries, their colonies and America.
In terms of medicinal and health properties, white tea is the healthiest followed by green, Oolong and the least rated is black tea.
White tea is expensive while Oolong tea is consumed in limited countries.
Black tea’s popularity is based on its wide acceptance and consumption in Europe, America and Africa, while green tea’s popularity stems from its medicinal and health benefits.
Quantitatively, green tea has twice the amount of antioxidants compared to black tea per serving. This makes green tea more protective to the body cells against degenerative damages of oxidation.
The high levels of antioxidants in green tea are due to less severe processing. On the other hand, the long period before drying of chopped leaves in black tea causes the good chemicals to change to less effective chemicals.
The American Medical Association shows that green tea can lower cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and reduce the risk of strokes (especially in men).
The National Cancer Institute reports that because of the highly effective anti-oxidants in green tea, it can ward off various types of cancer.
There are many other therapeutic values in green tea, including, aiding digestion, blood puriﬁcation, strengthening teeth and bones, boost immune system, enhance heart function, suppress aging, fights viruses, and lowers blood sugar levels.
Although black tea also offers some health benefits, it is inferior to green tea in many aspects. One of them is caffeine content.
Caffeine is good in moderate amounts; it is undesirable in high levels. Comparing the five common types of teas, black tea has the highest caffeine content followed by Oolong and lowest in green and white tea.
Addition of milk to tea (whether black or green) can interfere with the beneficial antioxidants lowering their effectiveness.
Are you drinking the healthiest tea?
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Joshua Arimi simplifies complex scientific facts on food to user friendly, understandable and applicable information. You can view his blog at www.arimifoods.com