Tea is the most common drink, after water, found all over the world and it has
a slightly bitter taste but is very enjoyable. Tea comes from the leaves of a
particular plant called ‘Camelia Sinensis’, an evergreen, branchy shrub that can grow up to 2m in height. The leaves of
this shrub, which are collected twice a year, are crushed and left to dry and
cultivation is mainly in China, India, Japan and Kenya. Using tea dates back to
the 3rd century: the first uses of tea were amongst Buddhist monks and then Chinese
people. Over centuries this drink then became very popular in Europe and it eventually
developed into an English tradition and was originally considered the drink of
the ‘rich’ as it was served in precious, porcelain cups.
Tea boasts many benefits, which will be mentioned in due course, but to enjoy it to the full, it must be made properly: if the tea bag is immersed for 2 minutes, the effect is definitely more stimulating because, during the first minute, tea leaves release caffeine. Leaving the tea bag to soak for only 5-6 seconds however, creates a more ‘calming’ drink since tannic acid takes over the caffeine, deactivating it and changing the drink.
Types of tea
The 5 most common types of tea are: black tea, red tea, oolong tea (blue-green in colour), yellow tea and white tea. Of course all of these teas come from the leaves of the same plant but they are treated in different ways after harvesting and are distinguished by their fermentation process, which for red and black tea is comprehensive, for oolong and yellow tea is partial and for white tea is almost nonexistent.
- Black tea: this is extracted from the leaves of Camelia sinensis and they are left to dry for about 10 hours. After this the leaves are crushed and fermented. The biggest leaves are sold separately, whilst the smaller ones are put into tea bags.
- Red tea: some antique documents report that red tea, once compressed into slabs, was the first currency to be used by nomads beyond the great wall of China. It is native to Yunnan, on the border of Tibet, and the red leaves are sometimes sold singularly, whilst on the slabs it is possible to see little drawings of well-wishers. How to drink it? Cut the desired amount from the block and set aside the leaves to mature.
- Blue-green tea: the most common name for this tea is oolong and it is characterised by the blue-green colour of the leaves that are semi-fermented (from 12-65% fermented). The flavour changes according to the amount of fermentation the leaves undergo.
- Yellow tea: this is semi-fermented and the preparation process is similar to that of green tea and only differs because of the strange process the leaves are subject to, to turn the yellow.
- White tea: this is hardly fermented and is characterised by the ‘drying’ of the leaves in ventilated and shaded areas. The name comes from the fact that, in preparation, sprouts are used (before opening) and are covered in a white ‘fluff’, which has a delicate flavour and a rare quality.
Properties of tea
Tea is considered a healthy drink, rich in beneficial properties. Firstly, it acts very well as an antioxidant since it contains polyphenolic substances, which have been noted since Ancient times for their antioxidant abilities that work against free radicals, the molecules that cause aging and degeneration of the body. Secondly, the antioxidants, also called flavonoids, can be found in both green and black teas and are considered to be very effective against ischaemic heart disease. Some American studies have shown connections between tea, above all green tea, and cardiovascular benefits and a 6% decrease in cardiovascular illnesses was noted in those who consumed green tea daily. Furthermore, in the fight against smoking, obesity and cholesterol, tea has been revealed as a great ally for our well-being. The hydrating properties of tea are also well known: it is the perfect drink to replace lost liquids but experts recommend drinking it in small amounts to get the best results. Tea is good when calorie counting too because it ‘weighs’ almost nothing since it contains 0 calories and 0 fat. If it is consumed with a drop of milk, it can reach a maximum of 14 kcal. Tea is therefore a great snack to have during the day, especially if it is paired with a couple of biscuits.
Tea, our ally
Doctors recommend drinking lots of tea to reduce the risks of cancer because this drink has properties that can prevent the formation of carcinogenic cells thanks to the high number of polyphenols it contains. Polyphenols are also useful for preventing cholesterol from being absorbed into the blood, preventing the formation of blood clots, gathering and deactivating the free radicals responsible for aging of the body, that can cause cardiovascular problems, tumours, inflammation, arthritis, as well as the terminal illnesses Alzheimer’s and Parkinson disease. Green tea is known to effectively get rid of cellulite because it limits the amount of fat absorbed and drinking it regularly for 10 years seems to be able to increase bone density and protect you from osteoporosis. It has also be shown that green tea is very good at combating leukaemia, due to a component it includes known as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). EGCG has an oxidising power that is 20 times more powerful, with respect to vitamin E, at protecting the lipids of the brain. Furthermore, those who drink tea regularly have a reduced risk of developing hypertension.
Beneficial effects of black tea
Black tea is the ideal ally for combating physical and mental fatigue because it can accelerate the speed of the brain and improve concentration. This is all due to theine, which, in this type of tea, is easily absorbed. One cup of black tea actually contains more theine than a cup of green tea, but it is therefore not good to drink too much of it as it could cause undesirable side effects like shaking and nervousness: the maximum, recommended amount is no more than 4 cups a day. In addition, black tea also has cosmetic effects: if it is used as an under-spray before going out in the sun and immediately after being in the sun, it can ‘take care’ of damaging UV rays and prevent skin tumours.
How to make a good cup of tea
To make a good cup of tea, the first rule to keep in mind is that the more precious the tea, the colder the water must be otherwise the leaves get burnt and the drink looses its beneficial effects. The infusion times of tea differ from 2-3 minutes for green teas and even 5 minutes for black teas. Black tea should be drunk as soon as it is made, whilst green tea should be enjoyed a few minutes after. Tea bags are definitely more practical than leaves, however, if you want to try a more ‘exotic’ drink, use leaves as they will have been less exposed to the air and have a richer aroma. Many people tend to consume tea with a drop of milk and in this case it is best to pour it into the cup first so as to prevent the casein from curdling.