Making Friends With Tea
There once was a famous English actor of the last century, Arthur Wing Pinero, who was often heard saying, “Where there’s tea, there’s hope.”
Like taking in a smooth cup of your favorite steeped brew, let’s infuse our minds with an introduction to tea.
Legend has it that tea was discovered by the Emperor of China in 2737 B.C., quite by accident when leaves from a nearby tree fell into his cup of boiling water. Being an herbalist, he was intrigued by the change of color in the water and decided to try it. As this infused liquid made him feel both refreshed and invigorated, the concept of tea was born. Further research led him to the discovery of its ancillary medicinal properties, which to this day we still know to be true.
There are six main types of genuine tea grown worldwide and all of them are derived from the evergreen plant Camellia sinensis, or one of its cultivars. Common names for these teas include: black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea, and the somewhat rare yellow tea. Their taste and other profile differences are brought about by variations in the harvesting and manufacturing processes, the polyphenols contained within tea leaves, and regional factors of weather, temperature, and soil conditions. Subtle nuances as these make it easy for us to see how tea has remained a centuries long worldwide favorite.
Steeped or infused beverages referred to as tea that do not contain actual tea leaves can be made from a broad spectrum of ingredients including select herbs, fruits, flowers, or even vegetables and other non-tea plants. Common names for this sort of drink include herbal teas, tisanes, or herbal infusions. Blends of this nature can still be quite enjoyable and many bestow therapeutic qualities.
Primary components of tea leaves are the essential plant oils, a class of phytonutrients known as polyphenols, plus small amounts of caffeine. Within the context of tea as a beverage, the term essential oil refers to its function of carrying the essence of the plant’s scent and flavor. This is that wonderful fragrance and taste we experience when enjoying a freshly brewed cup of tea. The essential oils from our tea plant should not be confused with something called tea tree oil, which is a substance derived from the flowering Melaleuca tree native to Australia and has nothing to do with the Camellia sinensis evergreen shrub.
Polyphenols found in tea are antioxidants, which means they can be valuable to help rid the body of harmful toxins, oxidative stress and inflammation; thereby potentially leading to improved cardiovascular and nervous system health. These same polyphenols may also aid in suppressing the growth of unwanted harmful bacteria, while at the same time promoting beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. These are just some of the practical reasons why numerous cultures are faithful to keeping tea as a staple in their diets.
As we all know, caffeine is a stimulant present in varying amounts in all forms of true teas. Its elemental purpose in tea plants is to aid in protecting them from harmful insects during their growth process. For some individuals the amount of caffeine in tea provides a pleasant and energizing feeling, while others may find themselves feeling a bit anxious if they consume too much. In regard to persons without overt health issues, modest quantities of caffeine should not impact their wellbeing. With the highest normal range of caffeine content in tea around 70 mg. per 8 oz. serving, and an average cup of brewed coffee having between 95 and 200 mg. of caffeine per 8 oz. cup, it’s easy to see why tea is a much healthier choice. So gather up a few friends, spend some quality time together and enjoy a cup of your favorite tea.
(S)oolong for now…
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