The health benefits of tea: cozying up with your favourite teacup
When you think of tea, you might think of tea bags and tea leaves, a warm beverage that you can cozy up to, or that cup of liquid gold that helps you unwind. According to the Tea & Herbal Association of Canada (TAC), the word “tea” actually refers to the mid to late afternoon meal that is synonymous with England. Tea time is often viewed as one of the most quintessential customs of the United Kingdom.
However, the ritual of drinking tea dates to the third millennium BCE when the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung first discovered tea while sitting under a tree. The leaves blew into his boiling pot of water and the rest is history.
Throughout the years, tea grew in popularity as Chinese farmers began to find ways to harvest and process tea leaves. It was also discovered that tea not only could be used as a drink but also had medicinal properties. Tea became an international phenomenon in the late 1600s when it was offered as a gift to Russia from the Chinese and was introduced to Europe by King Charles II along with his wife Queen Catherine de Braganza.
The ceremony of afternoon tea was later popularized in England in the mid 18th century by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who remedied her hunger with a tray of tea, bread, and butter. First seen as a way to mitigate hunger between lunch and dinner, it later became a fashionable social event between Anna and British socialites.
In the 19th century, tea consumption increased dramatically as afternoon tea began being offered to upper-class women at hotels across the world. Today, tea is cultivated in more than 40 countries and is the second most widely consumed beverage in the world, after water.
Fast forward to the present, where teatime allows us to escape from our fast-paced schedules, connect with those around us, take in the wonders and sounds of nature, experience inner calmness, and disconnect from our digital realm. Boiling loose-leaf tea can also provide you with the time that is needed to reconnect and add serenity to the day.
The mindful tea ritual is a time to slow down, unwind, reflect, and appreciate all our surroundings. Mindful tea drinking can help you be truly present in the moment. Set aside time for your mindful tea ritual with these five common types of tea.
- Black Tea: This tea is made from leaves that undergo full oxidation to release the deepest and boldest flavour out of all tea varieties. The result is a brewed liquid that resembles a dark brown to deep red colour. This style of tea is the only variation that is most often consumed with milk and sugar and is a staple ingredient for iced tea. It is for this reason that most tea bags sold in North America are of the black tea style, most specifically in the form of English Breakfast and Early Grey. Black tea is best served with sweet dishes and beef-based meals as it can provide a wide range of complementing bold flavours such as bitter, floral, and chocolate infusions.
- Green Tea: Renowned for its various health properties such as mental alertness and antioxidant protection. Green tea does not undergo any oxidation, rather, the leaves are either steamed or pan-fired immediately after picking to stop the process (like placing cooked vegetables in cold water) and then rolled and dried. Green tea gets its name from the yellowish green liquid that is a result from steeping the tea. The most common varieties include matcha and tencha, whose grassy flavour profiles pair well with savoury shellfish dishes.
- Oolong Tea: Described as a fragrant tea that is between green and black, these tea leaves are some of the most time consuming to prepare. The oxidation process is one, which is done repeatedly, over a course of hours or sometimes days. The result is a complex combination of flavours that range from roasted and nutty to floral and fruity. Due to this tea’s versatile flavour profile, it is most often consumed without milk and sugar and pairs well with roasted/grilled vegetables and poultry, brie, and fruit-based desserts.
- Pu’erh Tea: This tea undergoes a similar preparation style to green tea, with the exception that the leaves are aged, either as loose-leaves or pressed into dense shapes, prior to the drying process. The type of pu’erh being made will determine the length of the aging process, which can last from several months to several years. It can be said that pu’erh tea gets better with age, similar to wine. The earthy aroma and woody taste of this tea pairs well with mushrooms, beets, aged cheddar, and dark chocolate.
- White Tea: Undergoing minimal oxidation, white tea is prized for being the most dainty. The name comes from the white hairs that appear on the buds, which are then plucked and left to air dry. Due to the low level of processing, this tea is rich in antioxidants and is best consumed without honey, milk, or sugar. White tea provides a subtle taste of sweetness, which complements white fish, green vegetables, peach-flavoured desserts, and white chocolate.
All tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, however, just like wine, the various flavour variations and characteristic colours are distinctive of the time and type of processing. Similarly, the nutrients found in tea will also vary based on the different levels of oxidation. Below are some of the nutrients found in tea and milligrams of caffeine per cup.
Caffeine is naturally occurring in the Camellia sinensis plant so all the most common teas: black, green, oolong, pu’erh, and white are caffeinated. Decaffeinated tea, also referred to as herbal tea, is created by the infusion of leaves, seeds, flowers, fruits, and barks. Black, green, and oolong teas are the most common types of caffeinated tea, each with varying amounts of caffeine. The caffeine content will fluctuate depending on the brewing time. The longer the steep and the hotter the water, the greater the amount of caffeine per cup. With that said, a cup of caffeinated tea typically contains one third to one half less caffeine than a cup of caffeinated coffee. According to Health Canada, caffeine is safe to consume in moderation with a daily recommended limit of 400-450 mg per day, which equates to 10-12 cups of tea.
- An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine
- An 8-ounce cup of black tea contains 48 mg of caffeine
- An 8-ounce cup of green tea contains 29 mg of caffeine
- An 8-ounce cup of oolong tea contains 38 mg of caffeine
Caffeinated and herbal teas will each provide a trace amount of nutrients. Similar to caffeine content, the amount of nutrients can vary depending on the temperature and the amount of water used. Other factors such as the age of the tea plant and environmental conditions can also play a vital role in the amount of nutrients provided by a cup of tea.
Some common nutrients found in tea include: copper, fluoride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Flavonoids are one of the major phytonutrients found in the Camellia sinensis plant. The most protective flavonoids, catechins and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), have antioxidant properties that control the damaging effects from free radicals, which can lead to the development of many chronic diseases. Fun fact: although tea does not replace the additional benefits that fresh produce provides, two cups of tea provide the same amount of antioxidants as seven glasses of orange juice, five onions, or four apples.
While some beverages are more advantageous than others, evidence has shown that incorporating tea as part of your daily routine can enhance overall wellness. Turn on the kettle and enjoy a warm cup of positivi-tea as we share some of the health benefits of black, green, oolong and white tea.
- Cardiovascular Health: The antioxidant properties of tea, specifically black tea, have led to reduced risks of heart disease and stroke when consumed in moderation. Drinking black tea can lower blood pressure and triglycerides, improve cholesterol levels, reduce the levels of oxidative stress damage on blood vessels, and reduce blood clotting.
- Cognitive Health: Oolong tea contains an essential amino acid, l-theanine, which is responsible for reducing nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia and promotes focus, attention, and relaxation. L-theanine has been linked to the prevention of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Dental Health: Tea contains a high source of flavonoids, which is believed to inhibit bacterial growth of plaque. More specifically, white tea contains fluoride, catechins, and tannins which strengthen tooth enamel and protect against deterioration from acid and sugar.
- Immune Health: Flavonoids in black tea optimize immune system functioning by reducing inflammation.
- Skin Health: The mineral zinc, found in rooibos and green tea, two popular herbal teas, can aid with repairing injured skin, supporting collagen production, and reducing inflammation. The flavonoids in this tea also act as a protective barrier against common skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea.
- Wound Healing: Tea doesn’t only provide health benefits when consumed, dried black tea also has healing properties. When steamed, cooled, and then pressed onto minor cuts and scrapes, swelling and bruising are reduced.
Although herbal teas do not contain caffeine and won’t give you that morning and mid afternoon pick-me-up, they do have calming effects. Below are some common herbal teas with their unique health benefits.
- Chamomile Tea: Provides sleep support by improving sleep patterns and reducing muscle spasms. Drinking a cup of this soothing tea can also reduce menstrual pain, stress-related digestive issues, and may aid with reducing symptoms of anxiety disorders. When applied topically, as a main ingredient in skincare products, chamomile can help soothe skin irritations and skin conditions such as eczema.
- Ginger Tea: This calming and mildly spicy tea is beneficial for pregnant women looking to ease nausea as it aids with digestive discomfort. Ginger tea may help to relieve headaches and migraines as it contains pain-preventing properties. The phytonutrients, gingerols, in ginger have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects, which can support gut health.
- Hibiscus Tea: Loaded with antioxidants, hibiscus tea lowers bodily inflammation and blood pressure and strengthens overall immune functioning. But that is not all. Its naturally sweet and fruity flavour can help curb your cravings for an after dinner sweet snack.
- Peppermint Tea: Cooling and refreshing aren’t the only reasons to drink this tea. Peppermint contains three essential oils that are released when steeped: menthol, menthone, and limonene. Menthol is believed to soothe an upset stomach and can aid with motion sickness. It is best known for its ability to relieve digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating. Drinking this tea can’t be seen as a cure for the common cold. However, the smell of menthol, which can be inhaled from the steam of the tea, helps to improve nasal congestion by unblocking the nasal passages.
“Life is like a cup of tea. It’s all in how you make it.” - Unknown