Why the positive health benefits of Green Tea outweigh the taste!

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There’s always time for tea

I am very excited to say that I have reached the moment in my career where someone has asked me to sample their range of tea and give feedback! As you can imagine… I am more than happy to drink free and beautiful tea. The various blends within this range are based on green tea, due to its positive effect on health and weight loss.

Many people feel that they should endure the bitter flavour of green tea “because it’s good for me”, but they don’t really know how and why. For example, you might not know that green tea comes from the same plant as black tea, white tea and oolong tea: Camellia sinensis.   

Camellia sinensis is a bush that grows best in high altitudes with foggy mornings, 18°C days and heavy yearly rainfall. It is ready for harvest after 3 years of growth and can produce viable tea leaves for 50 years. Only the bud and first two leaves of each branch are harvested and this is done by hand. When assessing the quality of tea it is important to note that the larger the leaf the better the tea is.

 

So how do we get various types of tea from one plant?

Green tea is almost immediately steamed or pan fried, rolled to squeeze the juices out and then dried in high temperature air. This inhibits the oxidation of polyphenols (we like polyphenols!) and renders green tea as the most health-beneficial of the various teas. It is palest in colour and has a highly bitter taste.

After it has been picked, black tea is left for a longer period of time before it is processed than what green tea is. This extended period of time allows auto-oxidation to occur and the polyphenols are, therefore, destroyed (Boo!). Black tea is brown/red in colour and has an astringent taste.

Oolong tea means “black dragon” in Mandarin. Oolong takes the middle ground between green and black tea with a partial auto-oxidation process. This variety of tea was introduced in the 19th century and is the least drunk of the three.

 

Aside from water, tea is the most drunk beverage in the world, which is great considering its health benefits.

  • Green tea is a diuretic. This means that it increases urine output, and so, it helps the kidneys to flush toxins from the body.
  • It is also a circulatory stimulant. This means that it increases blood flow throughout the body. Which, in turn, lowers blood pressure, stimulates mental clarity and ‘brightens’ eyesight.
  • Due to its ‘bitter principle’ (see my previous blog post on ‘the bitter principle’ for more on this), green tea aids digestion, prevents dental caries/gingivitis and lowers total cholesterol with an improvement on the ratio of HDL to LDL-cholesterol.
  • Green tea acts as a blood thinner and helps to reduce the chances of heart attack and stroke.
  • It contains small amounts (when brewed for the appropriate amount of time) of caffeine that can assist with fatigue and increase metabolism.
  • The constituents ‘Epigallocatechins’ damage the cell membranes of bacteria and can help to prevent infection (see my post on ‘antibiotics‘).
  • Lastly, I would like to address the ‘antioxidant’ claims of green tea. To do this I need to explain what ‘free radicals’ are and how they damage the body.

Free radicals oxidize the fats and proteins of cell membranes and this leads to the death of the cell. In turn, this effects the rate of cell turnover and can have an effect on the potential of cancer. Free radicals also damage mitochondria… the ‘powerhouses’ of the cell. This leads to reduced cellular metabolism and a feeling of ‘sluggishness’ or ‘tiredness’. Free radicals can damage and alter a cell’s DNA, which may cause mutations and contribute to the potential of cancer. Lastly, free radicals also deactivate enzymes and hormones and this effects the rate of repair of cells and the bodies response to stress, both of which cause quicker aging.

Now you can see how nasty these critters are. The antidote to oxidation by Free Radicals is the ‘Antioxidant’. For the hypochondriacs amongst you, don’t fear! All fruit, veg and herbs have antioxidants in varying levels and are keeping our bodies in balance on a daily basis. A particularly strong type of antioxidant is called a polyphenol. Green tea contains polyphenols in abundance, and this is why it is so beneficial to our health.

A little secret…

South Africans will be proud to know that unfermented or ‘green’ Rooibos tea (Redbush, Aspalanthus lineus) has exponentially higher levels of antioxidants and is far superior to green tea.

 

How to brew the perfect cup of tea

The tea pot that you use for green tea should not be used for black tea because the left-over constituents of black tea can effect the flavour of green tea. The tea pot should be rinsed with boiled water to heat it just before brewing the tea. The water should be heated till 70C or just as small bubbles begin to form and not until boiling. It is then added to the tea pot and green tea leaves. Never re-boil water for tea. Allow the green tea to brew for 3 minutes. This will lead to a cup of tea containing 20-40mg of caffeine. Brewing the tea for 1 minute longer leads to 40-120mg of caffeine. This may not be desirable (if it is, by all means brew for longer).

And there you have it… the ultimate tea snobbery!

 

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