You’re thirsty, but drinking soda can make you fat, and coffee aggravates your tummy. If you’re in need of a beverage, pour yourself a cup of tea—it can be refreshing and soothing, and it just might save your life (hello, antioxidants!). And you won’t be alone. At 5,000 years old, tea is the most popular beverage in the world (after water), with 6 billion pounds harvested annually. Simple to make, affordable and with zero calories, it’s easy to see why tea is the beverage of champions. There are just a few things you should know before you imbibe—the Weekly gives you the crib notes.
Tea is generally divided into black, oolong, white, green and tisanes (herbal). All true teas come from the same plant, camellia sinensis, but they’re harvested differently. Black teas are picked, and then allowed to oxidize for a few hours before they’re dried. Oolong teas oxidize part-way. White teas are harvested before the leaves open fully, when the buds are still covered by a fine, white hair, but aren’t allowed to oxidize. Green tea leaves are picked at the same time as black tea leaves, but rather than oxidize, they’re steamed, and then dried. Although studies are finding that all teas have health benefits, green tea is the powerhouse. The secret is its high levels of catechin polyphenols, specifically epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), a powerful antioxidant, which may explain why the rate of heart disease in Japanese men is very low despite the fact that approximately 75 percent are smokers. Numerous studies have concluded that the antioxidant compounds in green tea can treat rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and infection, help prevent cancer and lower bad cholesterol while raising the good kind.
More hep to herbals? Not actually true teas, tisanes are made from flowers, leaves, seeds, roots and herbs. These brews may not have the same antioxidant content as real tea, but the many varieties are thought to have various medicinal effects, such as chamomile, which is used as a sedative, or peppermint, which aids in digestion. Rooibos (or red tea) is also not true tea; it’s actually a South African plant and a member of the legume family. With a sweeter and slightly nutty flavor, this naturally caffeine-free option does contain antioxidants, but far less research has been done on it than green and black tea.
Need some help with your boiled water? Don’t think that leaving the tea bag in longer will render more antioxidants—steeping too long will make the tea bitter. Most small-leaf black teas, including bagged tea, need only two or three minutes. Most large-leaf black teas and oolongs need three to five minutes. White teas need seven minutes with cooler than boiling water. Green teas need two minutes with cooler than boiling water. And most tisanes need four to seven minutes.
Not a fan of green tea’s grassy flavor? Try a variety that’s blended with fruit, such as pomegranate, raspberry or blueberry. Now there’s no excuse to be a tea-totaler!