Tea Time

By Kristen Hoffman

It seems that coffee is out and tea is in. This healthier alternative to coffee is becoming more and more popular lately, with tearooms opening up throughout the country and coffeehouses beefing up their tea menus. According to Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Council of the USA, “four years ago, we had one-quarter of the tea salons we have today.” This insurgence is happening as more and more research comes out about the health benefits of drinking tea. I primarily took a look at green, black and herbal tea to learn more about the health benefits associated with each. With its health benefits and soothing character, this intriguing drink may be a great addition to your diet.

Green, black, oolong, and white tea are all derived from the same tea plant, camellia sinensis, according to the WebMD website. The difference between the teas is how much they are processed. Green tea leaves are the least processed and thus often contain the greatest health benefits. These health benefits are primarily based on the high content of antioxidants in tea, up to 10 times that that found in fruits and vegetables.

According to a Yale-New Haven Hospital article, these antioxidants protect the body’s cells from damage and fight diseases. Both green and black teas have been linked to cancer prevention, decreased risk of stroke, heart diseases and lower blood cholesterol. Preliminary studies also indicate green and black tea may also aid weight loss, relieve allergies, protect against osteoporosis and even protect against brain degeneration diseases.

Also, it doesn’t matter if you drink the tea hot or cold, although some instant iced teas may have lost antioxidants through their additional processing. While there is an abundance of research to support these claims, the benefits of tea drinking do vary from person to person and should not be seen as a cure all. More research needs to be done about why and how people achieve health benefits from drinking tea. From what I read, it seems like two cups a day is a good place to start if you’d like to achieve the most health benefits from drinking tea. If you are interested in learning more about the health benefits of tea, try books such as Green Tea: The Natural Secret for a Healthier Life by Nadine Taylor, M.S., R.D.

Herbal teas are another family of teas that are made by mixing herbs together and letting them steep in boiling water. Herbal teas are much more complex than drinking standard black or green tea because of the large number of herbs you can choose from. Sometimes, herbs are added to black or green tea. In this case you will get the health benefits associated both with the black or green tea as well as the additional herb. This is not always the case though, as herbal teas are most often brewed without the addition of any tea-leaves. There are countless resources to educate you on the supposed health benefits of different herbs. While herbal teas may make a nice addition to your diet, remember that they should never replace scientific medicine. The book, 20,000 Secrets of Tea by Victoria Zak provides a helpful outline of which herbs to use in different situations. For example, gingko and lemon balm may ease allergies, alfalfa, anise and papaya may aid digestive disorders and chamomile and licorice may help insomnia. Herbal teas can either be purchased or brewed at home. The book 101 Nourishing Blends for Daily Health and Vitality by Kathleen Brown includes the process of making herbal tea at home as well as numerous herbal recipes to try.

Lexington has a few great resources to find whatever kind of tea you are interested in trying. For a variety of green and black teas, go to Lexington Coffee & Tea on Regency Road. Here you will find teas from The Republic of Tea, including the White Tea, Ginger Peach, Daily Green Tea and Organic lines. You will also find Davidson’s, AZO, and a variety of teas by the pound. Be sure to ask an employee about the teas by the pound so you are sure you are getting the type of tea you want. Good Foods Market & Café is also a great place to go for tea. They carry the Celestial Seasonings line, which is made up of green, black and herbal teas. YogiTea is another unique brand that carries products such as weight loss support, brain function support and green tea super antioxidant. Traditional Medicinals is a brand that carries products such as PMS tea and pregnancy tea. Good Foods Market & Café also carries bulk herbs to use while making tea at home.

If you are drinking too much soda or would like an alternative to the bland taste of water, consider incorporating more tea into your life. If you, like me, are buying tea off the shelf, make sure you are buying exactly what you want. If you want to make sure you are getting the health benefits of green or black tea, make sure green or black tea leaves are in the ingredients. Similarly, if you are interested in herbal teas, educated yourself about the functions of as many herbs as possible so you know what you are purchasing at the store. In the midst of our busy lives, drinking tea can be a soothing, healthy part of your day.