Tea - Health In A Cup
With the exception of water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world--about 20 billion cups of it are drunk each day. Even in the U.S., where coffee has long been the beverage of choice, tea is rapidly gaining ground--for its pleasing taste and its increasingly recognized healing power.
 
Strictly speaking, tea leaves come from a shrub of the tea family, Camellia sinensis. They develop unique characteristics during processing, degrees of which vary to produce three distinct types of teas--green, black, and oolong.
 
Green tea is the least processed. The leaves are dried soon after picking, which prevents fermentation. Its delicate flavor makes it a good "stand-alone" tea that's traditionally drunk between meals.
 
In the U.S., about 90 percent of tea consumed is black tea. Oolong tea falls right in the middle. It's slightly fermented, so it's richer than green tea but not as intensely flavored as black.
 
You may encounter white or yellow tea, made from tender buds instead of the leaves. These delicate, slightly sweet teas are more expensive and may be harder to find.
 
Both black and green teas contain a variety of active ingredients, including tannins and polyphenols. These powerful antioxidants neutralize the effects of oxygen molecules in the body, which range from wrinkles to tumors. They have been shown to help prevent low density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad" cholesterol) from sticking to artery walls, decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Harvard researchers found that people who drank a cup of tea a day were less likely to have a heart attack than non-tea drinkers.
 
Tea also contains chemicals that kill bacteria in the mouth, which could help reduce tooth decay. Green and black teas have very different tastes but nearly the same active ingredients.
 
Herbal teas are not true teas because their leaves do not come from the Camellia sinensis shrub; however, they are very popular as both a soothing drink and a medicinal option for minor complaints. In fact, many healing teas contain active ingredients that are nearly identical to those in prescription drugs. The advantage to using herbal teas is that they're much less likely than drugs to cause side effects.
 
Herbal teas are prepared in different ways, depending on the ingredients you're using. Most are made by steeping the dried leaves in hot water, a process called infusion. Teas made by infusion are usually ready in about 3 minutes. When you're making teas with roots, berries, or stems, however, you'll need to use a different process, call decoction. This simply means simmering the ingredients for about 20 minutes in a covered container. The longer cooking time is necessary to extract the active ingredients from the tough, woody fibers.
 
A cup of tea contains about 50 mg. of caffeine, half the amount in a cup of coffee. Caffeine isn't harmful for most people, but it may cause anxiety and insomnia. Also, caffeine blocks the body's absorption of calcium, which may be a problem when you're trying to get more of this bone-building mineral. The caffeine in tea is absorbed in the body more slowly than that of coffee. Drinking tea instead of coffee is a sensible way to get less caffeine in your diet and more health benefits.