Prior to the health benefits of tea being well understood, the history of tea began in 2737 B.C. when camellia leaves fell into a vat of boiling water. The alluring fragrance enticed the inquisitive Chinese Emperor Shennong to sample the brew. He pronounced that the elixir was medicinal and imparted vigor to the body.
Tea began its worldwide conquest in teahouses throughout China, Korea and Japan. In the 16th Century, tea stormed the shores of Western civilization, frequented the inner sanctum of Europe’s aristocracy and lit the fuse that ignited the American Revolution. Today, tea is second only to water which refuses to relinquish its title as the world’s most consumed beverage.
Global Tea Production
Tea is a mountainous crop grown in 36 countries. The predominant tea-producing regions are China, Japan, Russia, Ceylon, Formosa, India and East Africa.
There are thousands of distinct varieties of tea that fall into four principal categories. They are black tea, green tea, white tea and oolong tea. Every variety of tea originates from one plant, the Camellia Sinensis. The soil, climate, altitude and manufacturing process imparts the unique characteristics and flavors of tea with the length of oxidization during processing giving rise to several different types of tea.
Tea’s meager nutritional facts conceal it status as one of the top superfoods that has caught the eye of many researchers who are investigating the health benefits of tea. One 237 gram serving provides 2 calories and 0% of your daily requirements for minerals, vitamins, protein, carbohydrates, sodium, cholesterol and fat.
The caffeine level of tea is influenced by several factors, such as brewing time, temperature, grade and variety. It is estimated that tea releases large quantities of its caffeine within half a minute of brewing. If you wish to reduce your intake of caffeine, you can quickly pour out this brew and add fresh water.
How to Use Tea
The most popular way to enjoy tea is as a beverage. You can steep it in hot water as either a teabag or as loose leaf tea, use an instant powder or buy a prepared drink in a can or bottle. It is also available as wine, hard candy, jelly and a pastry.
Health Benefits of Teas
As Emperor Shennong surmised nearly 5,000 years ago, tea is a health tonic. The Camellia plant is a rich source of polyphenol and flavonoid antioxidants. These are naturally occurring substances that prevent and reverse the DNA and cellular membrane damage inflicted by free radicals.These molecules are linked to a wide range of diseases, such as cancers, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and premature aging. Tea has 800 to 1000% more polyphenols than vegetables and fruits.
One cup of white tea has the equivalent amount of antioxidants as 80 ounces of apple juice. The longer fermentation period of black tea reduces its level of antioxidants. Green tea has a higher level of antioxidants than black tea. Research indicates that brewing tea for 1 to 5 minutes is the best way to obtain its health benefits.
The antioxidants in tea are believed to reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke by lowering cholesterol levels, oxidative stress and improving blood vessel dilation. Tea also significantly reduces atherosclerosis and triglycerides.
People who consistently drink three to four cups of black tea have lower rates of stroke and heart disease. A statistical analysis of multiple studies demonstrated that drinking three cups of tea a day decreased the risk of heart attack by 11%.
A 5-year study of 805 men showed an inverse relationship between the dose of tea and the incidence of death from stroke and lethal and non-lethal first heart attack.
Tea reduces the incidence of cancer by fighting free radical damage, reducing abnormal cell growth and aiding normal cell death. Regular tea consumption is associated with a reduced risk for lung, ovarian, oral, skin and digestive cancer.
A study of smokers who consumed 4 cups of decaffeinated green tea a day had a 31% reduction in oxidative DNA damage when compared to a control group that drank 4 cups of water.
Drinking black tea dramatically lowers the risk of a form of skin cancer. A population-based study revealed an inverse relationship between tea consumption rectal, colon and pancreatic cancers.
A 1998 Stage I and II breast cancer study demonstrated that Japanese women who drank more than 5 cups of green tea per day were less likely to have disease recurrence and were disease-free longer.