Despite the nation’s obsession with coffee house caffeine and the aromatic lure of fresh brewed coffees, brewed teas are steadily rising in popularity. The health benefits (and options of caffeinated or decaf) of brewed teas are lauded by the health-concsious crowd who wants an alternative to a coffee bar buzz. Green tea is renowned for its high antioxidant levels, but white tea, red tea, and some rather unique teas are becoming more mainstream. Put your cup of Lipton (or double mocha latte) down and give one the following teas a try.
East meets West
Regularly consumed in the East, tea is growing in popularity in the U.S. Tea’s ancient Oriental affiliation gives it an alternative medicine appeal for the Westerners who are looking for ways to improve their health.
Mark “Dr. Tea” Ukra, author of The Ultimate Tea Diet and owner of the Tea Garden and Herbal Emporium in West Hollywood offers a taste of his extensive knowledge of teas and tea affiliates. If you need some convincing that tea is good for you or you just want to know more about this alluring sip-worthy drink, read on.
THE TRUTH ABOUT TEA
White, green, oolong and black tea all originate from the same camellia senensis plant. Their differences come from how they are processed to the desired level of oxidation.
Green tea has been all the rage for its content of epigallocatechin (EGCG), a form of antioxidants associated a number of health benefits. However, Ukra points out that many studies that led to green tea’s popularity used only green tea, leaving out its other counterparts. Now, researchers are focusing on the health benefits of white tea, which has a higher level of EGCG.
Give a variety of teas a taste and, though there are varying levels of antioxidants and other healthy compounds, decide which is right for you. “[You] do not have to seek out a green tea for, say, cancer prevention, and a white tea for skin rejuvenation as [you] would read about in a study,” Ukra says. “Merely find the teas [you] love to drink, and drink four to six cups a day because they all provide the same health benefits.”
WHITE TEA: NO LONGER JUST FOR ROYALTY
Originally a drink for only the distinguished royalty of China, white tea has gained popularity in the U.S. recently for its health benefits as well as its delicate flavor.
“When you understand that white is made by merely harvesting the leaves, cleaning and drying, without any oxidizing (which adds flavor), then you understand that most white teas are light and delicious,” Ukra says.
White tea has the most antioxidants (EGCG) than any other tea, and its caffeine content is minimal (about 90 percent less than a cup of coffee).
According to Ukra, researchers have found that white tea is effective in preventing cancer, heart attacks and stroke. It also lowers type II diabetes and is beneficial for other conditions including halitosis (bad breath) and skin rejuvenation.
THE BENEFITS OF AN UNTRUE TEA: ROOIBOS
Red and green rooibos teas originate in South Africa. It is not technically a tea because it does not come from the same camellia senensis plant, but is, instead, from the legume family, which gives it a different chemical makeup, according to Ukra. Although commonly called a tea, the tea industry refers to anything that is consumed as tea without originating from the tea plant as a tisane.
The benefits from rooibos have been linked from skin care to pregnancy. While it does not contain EGCG as green and white teas do, it does possess other strong antioxidants.
Ukra says that this caffeine-free psuedo-tea “has been shown to soothe the body’s reaction to allergy and rashes.” He also adds that Japanese women believe rooibos to aid the development of the womb and regularly drink rooibos throughout their pregnancies.
Rooibos has low tannin content, which means that it won’t have the pungent, harsh taste that many teas have after long steeping times. Ukra says that this drink may also be a good alternative for people who have a hard time digesting tannin-rich beverages.
Tannins cause that dry and puckery feeling in your mouth following consumption of red wine, fruit juices, strong tea, or an unripened fruit.
OBSCURE TEAS OF NOTE
In the mood to try something new? Ukra says that there are two Eastern teas making their way into U.S. tea culture: Pu-erh and yellow tea.
Pu-erh, called so because of its origin from the pu-erh region of China, has had a hard time settling in the U.S. because of its distinctive flavor. It’s health benefits are still being studied, but the tea has been used in China for its curative power for hundreds of years. If you are able to find it, the key to purchasing good pu-erhs is the older the better. This particular tea gets better with time, much like a fine wine says Ukra.
Another lesser-known tea, which many Americans may be uncomfortable drinking, is yellow tea. “This tea turns off most Americans because of the way it is made; which is to take Chinese green tea and place it into the dried bladder of a cow,” says Ukra. This process evolved from centuries ago when a Chinese Emperor wanted his tea to be less bitter.
A tip from Ukra, regardling yellow and all other teas, is if you don’t like a tea you have tried, don’t be turned off by the tea entirely, simply experiment with different brands.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ICED TEA
If you want to maintain health benefits from your tea, but prefer to drink it chilled, Ukra says to brew the tea a minute longer because you will be adding ice and diluting the drink. Ultimately, however, iced tea and hot tea have the same benefits.
“The best way to preserve all the health benefits is to make the tea and place it into water bottles in the fridge so it is already cold and you do not have to add the ice,” Ukra says.
Ukra also points out that when making tea, be careful not to use too much because it will give the tea a bitter taste. All that is needed is a thin layer to coat the bottom of your vessel or strainer or, if using tea bags, the number of bags called for in the tea purveyor’s instructions.
If giving up your coffee for tea, regardless of the health benefits, sounds like too daunting of a task, break yourself in by having one cup of tea a day and gradually increase it as you gradually decrease your coffee intake.