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Tea is one of the most consumed beverages in the world after water

Tea and its Health Benefits | February 4, 2019

Tea is one of the most consumed beverages in the world after water. Presently, it is cultivated in about 40 countries around the world. Tea beverage is an infusion of the dried leaves of Camellia sinesis, a member of Theaceae family.

The tea tree or shrub is branched heavily with dark-green, hairy, oblong, oval shaped leaves. Preferably, the leaves which are picked for preparation of tea are young shoots. Older leaves are considered to be of inferior quality.

Tea is believed to be originated in China. In India, large scale cultivation of tea started in the 19th century. Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are the highest tea growing states in India. India is a major producer of tea next to China. Around 80% of tea produced in India, is consumed within the country itself.

‘Healthy Foods’ that contain antioxidants meaning scavengers of free radicals are very popular nowadays. Tea benefits the human health due to the presence of health-promoting chemicals known as antioxidants like polyphenols and flavonoids, particularly a group of flavonoids called catechins.

Types of tea

All true tea i.e. white, green, oolong and black belong to the same species of plant, Camellia sinensis. The difference is in their processing, with white and green being the least processed oolong in the middle and black the most processed. The nutritional contents and certain health benefits differ with the processing. Whatever may be the process; all tea leaves are packed with flavonoids, which are also found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and most plants.

Following are the nutritional compounds which get extracted from tea leaves into the cup of tea that is consumed.

Compounds Percentage
Total Polyphenols 27-40
Caffeine 3 – 4
Amino Acids (Theanine and others) 4

The fresh tea leaves contain four derivatives from catechin, namely, epicatechin (EC), epi gallo catechin (EGC), and epicatechin gallate (EG). Processing of the fresh tea leaves can result in little or no oxidation of the catechins as in the case of green tea to complete (100 %) oxidation in black tea.

Based on the type of manufacturing process, teas can be broadly categorized into black tea, green tea, and oolong tea. Other types being, white tea, yellow tea, scented tea, instant tea etc. Among the various types, black tea is the most common, accounting for about 75% of the world tea production.

  • Black tea: It is made with fermented tea leaves. For fermentation it requires an appropriate temperature of about 22 – 25 degree celcius and a relative humidity of 90%. The leaves thus fermented develop black tea’s distinctive strong flavour. It has the highest caffeine content.

When black tea is ready after the processing, is sorted into various commercial grades. Tea grades refer primarily to the way the leaves look. The graded teas broadly belong to the following three groups:- Leaf, Brokens and Dust. Some common grades are

  • Whole Leaf:-FP- Flowery Pekoe, FOP- Flowery Orange Pekoe, TGF OP Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe etc.
  • Broken Tea:- BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe, FBOP Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe etc.
  • Fanning Tea:- FOF Flowery Orange Fannings etc.
  • Dust Tea:- FD- Fine Dust, SFD – Super Fine Dust etc.
  • Green tea: It is made with steamed tea leaves and is least processed of all the teas. It has the highest concentration of EGCG which is thought to be responsible for most of its health benefits. Green tea retains most of its natural dark green color, tannins, vitamin C, chlorophyll etc. because of the elimination of the oxidation process. Hence the taste of green tea is mild. It contains very low level of caffeine. Thus, it acts as a mild stimulant, without causing insomnia or nervousness. It refreshes and quiets. It’s produced mainly in China and Japan. Also, grown in other countries like India, in small quantities.
  • White tea: It is the least processed of all teas. Uncured and unfermented. It is produced from the unopened, tight buds of leaves. White tea has the most delicate flavor and aroma. It contains the least amount of caffeine of all tea. It is a very expensive variety of tea. White teas are mostly grown in Fujian Province, China.
  • Oolong tea: Oolong tea contains partially oxidized / fermented leaves. This places it mid–way between green and black teas. This gives it the colour and freshness similar to the green tea and structure of a black tea. The caffeine and antioxidant content also falls in between green and black teas, making it a very healthy and palatable option.The production of oolong tea is mainly in China and Taiwan. 
Health Benefits of Tea
  • Black and green tea rich in flavonoids, help in improving blood circulation and vascular health (Ras et al. 2011). Studies have shown drinking 3 - 4 cups of tea will help reduce the risk of heart attack by 11% and decrease the risk of stroke by 21%. (Gardner et al, 2007; Peters et al., 2001)
  • Black tea consumption also helps to improve blood flow by relaxing the blood vessels (Ras et al 2011). This is through the action of a molecule called nitric oxide (NO). Thus also helps in lowering blood pressure indirectly.
  • Studies have indicated that black tea may protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke.
  • Green tea’s antioxidants may interfere with the cancerous growth in bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreas, and colorectal areas. Helps prevent clogging of the arteries, reduces cholesterol levels. When consumed without sugar and milk, it also helps in burning body fat and leads to increased energy expenditure which may result in healthy weight loss (Westerterp-Platenga, 2010). It counteracts the oxidative stress on the brain and decreases the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
  • White tea is believed to have the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas.
  • Studies by Durlach 1998, Hindmarch 1998 and Hindmarch 2000, found that drinking tea helped in sustaining alertness. These studies focused at the immediate effects of drinking tea. Recent studies have shown a link between drinking tea regularly and reduced stress and increased relaxation (Steptoe et al., 2007) or an increased ability to focus attention (de Bruin et al, 2011).
  • In elderly, regular tea drinking provides protection against cognitive decline.
Tips on how to prepare a cup of tea and it’s consumption for maximum benefits:-
  1. Boil water.
  2. Put the tea leaves directly into the boiling water.
  3. Brew the tea leaves for 2 minutes or maximum 3 minutes.
  4. For optimal effects drink about 3 cups of tea daily.
  5. Can be consumed without sugar and milk especially for weight management and fat loss.
  6. If milk is added, use low fat milk and less sugar.
  7. Instead of sugar and milk can add lemon juice / tulsi leaves / mint leaves / cinnamon stick or powder for enhancing flavor and taste.

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