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Drink tea - the healthy alternative

Many Americans are now turning to tea as the healthier alternative to coffee. In Europe, tea is a substantial part of the diet. In Asia, tea and China are indelibly linked. In Japan, a ritualized ceremony has grown around making and drinking tea.

Research shows that all leaf teas, including the green tea, its semi oxidized version called the oolong tea and its totally oxidized version called black tea, have many health benefits. These include:-

1.  An antioxidant action on free radicals (which are responsible for cancer). By acting on free radicals, it is suggested that they may reduce the possibility of developing cancer. This action is stronger in green tea, and only occurs when at least 2-3 cups a day are consumed.

2.  Weight loss benefit. Tea contains catechin polyphenol, which intensifies the level of fat oxidation, leading to fat burning and increased metabolic rate. It may also inhibit fat absorption and be an appetite suppressor. They can also have a stimulating effect on digestion if sipped while eating.

Traditionally, all teas come from a shrub called Camellia sinensis, native to Burma, Cambodia, China and north-east India. Leaves from this plant are harvested and made into leaf teas. There are also teas which are made from flowers, such has rose hip tea. This article is about leaf teas only.

Although leaf tea contains caffeine, this is at a much lower level than coffee. Therefore, people who are sensitive to caffeine are unlikely to have a problem with tea, especially if it is lightly infused.

In Asia, milk or sugar is never added to hot tea. If milk, cream and/or sugar are left out, regular tea consumption can provide substantial health benefits. It has a delicate flavour. If you drink the really good teas, you can smell the mountains or taste the earthiness of the plains they were grown in.

There are four types of leaf tea - green, black, oolong and white. The main difference is the degree of oxygen the fresh leaves are exposed to during processing. This process called oxidation creates natural chemical reactions in tea leaves, resulting in distinctive colour and taste characteristics. Increasing oxidation results in increased amounts of tannin and caffeine being present in the tea.

Green tea is not oxidized. The freshly plucked leaves are steamed and then rolled and dried. An example of green tea is Jasmine which is fragrant, contains only a slight amount of caffeine and is drunk for its cooling effect.

Oolong tea is in a class of its own because a different plucking standard or 'leaf set' is used. The skill in making the best oolong tea is coveted. An example of Oolong tea is Ti Kuan Yin, which has a bitter flavour, has moderate caffeine and is drunk for its cooling and laxative effects.

Black tea is oxidized for 2-4 hours. The most expensive ones come from India and usually from single estates. Examples of black tea are Darjeeling in the hills (whose strength lies in its weak tea flavor) and Assam on the plains (whose strength lies in its strong tea flavor). Both contain strong caffeine and are drunk for their stimulating effects.

White tea is the least processed. As its leaves are plucked and then sun dried, there is minimal oxidation. An example of white tea is Yinzhen (silver needles)

Read more:   What is a Healthy Diet?...