Why should I be aware of this?
All forms of tea have health benefits. While the effects of green tea are well known and documented, scientists say that it is White Tea is the healthiest of them all. Since White Tea is closest to the natural state, it contains the most polyphenols (powerful antioxidants that fight and kill carcinogens). A 2004 study at Pace University found that white tea consumption also builds immunity and prevent the growth of dental plaque, the chief cause of tooth decay.
Black tea also has many health benefits. Studies in the Netherlands have found that the catechins (flavenoids known for their antioxidant properties) in black tea prevent ischemic heart disease. They found that men who drink black tea are 50 percent less likely to die of this form of heart disease. A point to remember is that higher quality teas may have more catechins than lower quality teas.
Drinking two cups of Black Tea a day may also promote fertility by stopping chromosomal abnormalities. In a recent test, the pregnancy rates of 250 women who drank as little as half a cup of tea per day, were twice as high as those who did not.
Black tea contains tannins, astringent compounds which are acidic. People find the tannins in used and cooled tea bags as effective in removing warts as various over the counter wart removers!
Tea also soothes burns and sunburns. Put cool and wet tea bags onto the affected areas or keep in place with gauze.
How does this affect me?
- Tea reduces the puffiness around the eyes. Try lying down and placing two used tea bags over your eyes for about twenty minutes. All the puffiness will vanish miraculously!
- Tea absorbs all odors. Use it to rinse your hands, and the tea will remove all odors – even fishy ones! Place used green tea bags or leaves in a small bowl, uncovered, in your refrigerator to help absorb odors from onions and garlic for about three days.
- Used tea leaves make an effective mulch for potted plants, and are especially good for using in rose and fern beds.
- Sprinkle dry tea leaves onto your carpet, crush them lightly and let them sit for 10 minutes, then vacuum. This will refresh your carpet and deodorize your vacuum cleaner and bag.
All about tea
There are many stories about the origins of tea, but most of these lie in the realm of folklore rather than fact. Here is a brief timeline of how tea drinking has developed over the years.
- 2737 BC – Somewhere around this time, the story goes that the second emperor of China, Shen Nung, discovered the pleasures of tea drinking when some tea leaves accidentally flew into his cup of hot water.
- 400-600 – The Chinese discovered the medicinal qualities of tea and it soon became a very popular beverage in the country.
- 593 –Japanese priests studying Buddhism in China carried tea seeds and leaves back to Japan. Tea drinking became popular in the country.
- 780 -- Chinese poet-scholar Lu Yu wrote the first book of tea titled Ch’a Ching (The Classic of Tea), in which he wrote about ancient Chinese tea cultivation and preparation techniques.
- 1101-1125 Teahouses in garden settings became popular in China. Chinese Emperor Hui Tsung became so obsessed with tea and tea tasting contests in his court – that he did not notice when the Mongols took over his empire!
- 1589 -- An Italian writer researches the longevity of Asians, and attributes it to their tea drinking. He acquaints Europeans with tea.
- 1610 -- The Dutch carry back green tea from Asia to Europe. They market it as an exotic medicinal drink, but it is too expensive for everyone but the aristocracy.
- 1657 -- The first tea is sold in London, England at Garway's Coffee House.
- 1706 -- Thomas Twining serves up tea at Tom’s Coffee House in London.
- 1735 -- The Russian Empress extends tea as a regulated trade. In order to cope with the Russian demand for tea, traders and three hundred camels travel 11,000 miles to and from China, in sixteen months with the precious beverage
Where it is grown
Tea requires a moderately hot and humid climate, and thrives on high land well drained soils with a good depth. The best teas in the world come from a handful of countries - India, China, Japan, Taiwan and Sri Lanka.
- India -- Today, India is the greatest tea producing country in the world. With some 35,000 tea estates, India is home to three distinctly different tea growing regions -- Assam (far northeast India), the hills of Darjeeling (northeastern India) and Nilgiri (in south India). With an annual rainfall that can reach 150 inches a year, Assam is the largest tea-producing region in the world. The teas it produces are rich and golden, and are well suited to mixing with milk. Darjeeling tea, now a Geographical Indicator, is referred to as the Champagne of teas. It is arguably amongst the finest teas available today. Tea is cultivated in the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains at elevations as high as forty-five hundred feet.
- China -- Tea unquestionably had its genesis in China around 2737 BC, and eventually became the center of cultural rituals there. While the Chinese drink mainly green tea, most of the tea they export is black. Some varieties of Chinese green tea are produced in such limited quantities that they are rarely, if ever exported. For example, The Republic of Tea, sells a premium tea called Between the Branches, which is a harvested for only ten days each spring and barely makes its way beyond China's borders.
- Japan – The Japanese art of preparing and serving tea has now been elevated to a spiritual philosophy. Like in China, most of the tea grown and consumed in Japan is green. Japan produces a fine green tea which, when infused, has a pale yellow or green tint.
- Taiwan – Once Formose, the island of Taiwan is best known for its production of Oolong teas. Cultivated at relatively low altitudes, Formosa Oolongs are usually seventy-five percent fermented (as opposed to Chinese Oolongs, which are fifteen percent fermented).
- Sri Lanka – the verdant hills of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) are home to very high quality tea. The tea produced here is mostly black or fully oxidized. Taking advantage of the spectacular scenery, many gardens here are also actively promoting Tea Tourism.
Types of tea
All teas -- black, green, oolong and white, are made from the fermented dried leaves of the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis. They are just processed differently, which changes not only their flavour and colour, but also their nutritional values.
- Black Teas are oxidized and fermented during processing. These have a full, rich taste and may be drunk with or without added milk.
- Green Tea is not fermented at all. Instead tea leaves are steamed and quickly dried. Since they undergo minimal processing, green teas have a much lighter flavour, tasting fresh and herbal. This also means that it retains more antioxidants than black teas, and it is considered a Super Food.
- Oolong tea falls between a black and a green tea. It only undergoes a small amount of fermentation during processing.
To create White Tea, leaves are picked and harvested before they open fully. They are called buds at this stage, and are covered with a fine silvery fuzz which turns white when the tea is dried – hence their name. Buds are treated very lightly – they are just lightly steamed. The resulting tea is paler, with a delicately silky flavour that is unique. White tea is scarcer than the other traditional teas, and quite a bit more expensive.
How it is consumed
Here are just some of the ways in which it is consumed in cultures --
- The Chinese and Japanese drink green tea and light black tea sometimes scented with jasmine.
- Europeans add milk and sugar to a light liquor of black tea.
- Indians boil it with a lot of milk, sometimes spices and a lot of sugar to make what is recognized the world over as Chai.
- The Tibetans lace their version with yak butter.
- Tea pickers in Darjeeling have theirs cold, with milk and salt.
- The Moroccans flavour their tea with mint, basil, or sage.
- The Americans drink it cold and black as iced tea.
- The Russians actually add jam into it!
These are, of course, cultural variations in tea consumption. In terms of how it is processed, tea may be classified into different categories.
Off late, many tea growers have begun to question conventional tea growing practices which rely on the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These destructive synthetic chemicals devastate the soil, destroy the surrounding ecosystem and adversely affect the health of plantation workers. Many Darjeeling tea producers have become certified organic, and report many benefits from having done so --
- The soil fertility improves, since the soil is freed from harmful herbicides and pesticides. Instead, planters rely on compost, natural organic matter, and supplementary plants to provide the necessary ground cover and nutrients.
- The tea bushes become more resilient to infections.
- It is safer for workers. On conventional tea estates, the spraying of highly toxic pesticides affects workers’ health adversely.
- Local flora and fauna return. The Soil Association, an international organization for organic cultivation, notes that a typical organic field has five times as many wild plants, 57 percent more animal species, and 44 percent more birds than a conventionally cultivated farm.
- Before the English discovered tea, the norm was to eat only two main meals: a breakfast of bread, ale and beef and a hearty dinner in the evening. The story goes that the Duchess of Bedford, Anna, found her irritation and hunger in the late afternoon, dissipated if she invited friends to join her for an informal five o'clock meal of cakes, sandwiches, sweets, and of course, tea. That is how the tradition of the English afternoon tea began!
- In the 18th century, English coffee houses actually served only tea! They were named coffee houses because coffee had arrived in Great Britain before tea. These were often called “Penny Universities" because people could buy a pot of tea and a newspaper for only a penny.
- When in 1618, Chinese ambassadors presented the Russian Czar Alexis with many chests of tea (the first time tea was brought to Russia) – he refused to accept them saying they were useless!
- British tea gardens developed as the first social environment where men and women both could go freely and drink tea. It was in these open-air gardens, that men and women, upper and lower class, were allowed to mingle without censure.
- The concept of tipping developed in the English tea gardens. To Insure Proper Service (TIPS), patrons would drop coins in a small wooden box.
- In the 18th century Britain, people drank tea only in very fine bone china bowls. These were so fragile that if hot tea were poured in them, they could break. So they took to adding cold milk first. Thus originated the European habit of drinking tea with milk!