I have always liked drinking tea, especially so in the afternoons and evenings. Lately I have been enjoying increasingly the delights of green tea. Its delicate flavour and limpid, light green colour are delightful and refreshing not only for the taste buds but also for the eyes.
As William Gladstone once remarked:
“If you are cold, tea will warm you.If you are too heated, tea will cool you.If you are too depressed, tea will cheer you.If you are too exhausted, tea will calm you!”
Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world today, second only to water. The story of tea traditionally starts in China, at about 2700 B.C. It is recorded that the Chinese emperor Shen Nung, who was a scholar and talented herbalist was travelling with his retinue in the provinces. He was sipping a cup of hot water under a wild tea tree. As he sat in its shade, some leaves floated into his cup from above. He was fascinated by the colour of the tea-tinged water and the graceful shape of the leaves, and in a flash of inspiration sipped the infusion. He was delighted with the flavour and this thereafter ensured that the tea plant was harvested widely.
Tea consumption spread throughout the Chinese culture reaching into every aspect of the society. In 206 B.C. during the Han Dynasty it was ruled that the Chinese character for tea should be pronounced Ch’a not Tu. In 800 A.D. Lu Yu wrote the first definitive book on tea, the Ch’a Ching. From the earliest of times, the health benefits of tea drinking were expounded and this attitude is still prevalent in traditional Chinese medicine.
Scientific research in both Asia and the west is nowadays providing hard evidence for the health benefits long associated with drinking green tea. For example, in 1994 the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published the results of an epidemiological study indicating that drinking green tea reduced the risk of oesophageal cancer in Chinese men and women by nearly sixty percent. University of Purdue researchers recently concluded that a compound in green tea inhibits the growth of cancer cells. There is also research indicating that drinking green tea lowers total cholesterol levels, as well as improving the ratio of good (HDL) cholesterol to bad (LDL) cholesterol. There is also evidence that green tea is helpful in losing weight and also in fighting infections.
The benefits of green tea are related to it being rich in polyphenols, which are powerful anti-oxidants. Links are being made between the effects of drinking green tea and the “French Paradox”. For years, researchers were puzzled by the fact that, despite consuming a diet rich in fat, the French have a lower incidence of heart disease than other Westerners. The answer was in the high consumption of red wine, which contains polyphenols that limit the negative effects of smoking and a fatty diet. In a 1997 study, researchers from the University of Kansas determined that green tea polyphenols are twice as powerful as red wine polyphenols, which may explain why the rate of heart disease among Japanese men is quite low, even though approximately seventy-five percent are smokers.
But what sets apart green tea from other teas? Green, oolong, and black teas all come from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Green tea is processed differently to other teas. Green tea leaves are steamed, which prevents the polyphenols from being destroyed. By contrast, black and oolong tea leaves are made from fermented leaves, which results in the polyphenols being converted into other compounds that are not nearly as effective in preventing and fighting various diseases.
Now, how much should one drink to have all of these benefits? Apparently the more you can drink per day, the better it is for you. A Japanese report states that men who drank ten cups of green tea per day stayed cancer-free for three years longer than men who drank less than three cups a day. However, a University of California study on the cancer-preventative qualities of green tea concluded that you could probably attain the desired level of polyphenols by drinking merely two cups per day. Given all the evidence, I think that drinking four to five cups of green tea daily should give you enough benefits.
Brewing a Good Cup of Green Tea
It’s particularly important not to overbrew green tea as the polyphenols and other compounds are altered chemically and this can make the tea distasteful. Use one tea bag (or 2 - 4 grams of loose leaf tea) per cup.
Boil a kettle of water and allow it to stand for up to 3 minutes. Then, pour the still hot (but not boiling!) water over the tea, and allow it to brew for up to 3 minutes. If using a tea bag, remove the bag. Allow the tea to cool for three more minutes. Traditionally of course, tea is drunk unsweetened. However, some honey can be used to sweeten it for those people who cannot drink it unless it is sweetened.
Various flavourings may be added to the tea during the brewing process: Jasmine flowers, ginger slivers, mandarin or orange peel.
This post is part of the Wordless Wednesday meme,
and also part of the ABC Wednesday meme,
and also part of the Nature Notes meme.