It is said that in 2732 BC, Shen Nung, the second emperor of China was drinking a cup of hot water. Accidently some tea leaves blew into his cup of hot water. The emperor sipped the water seeped with tea leaves and the rest is history. By 400 AD Tea had become an important aspect of Chinese culture. The detailed recipes of Tea and methods to enhance its flavour by adding spices and citrus concentrates were documented. Chinese traditional physicians had discovered the health benefits of drinking tea and promoted its consumption. Gradually, as Chinese trade developed with other countries the culture of drinking tea also began to spread. Today Tea is the most widely consumed beverage all over the world next only to water. Tea is a health drink that boosts our immune system, prevents cancer and heart ailments, regulates cholesterol, combats harmful bacteria and viruses and suppresses appetite.
Tea plants are propagated from seeds or cuttings and it takes 3 years before a plant is ready for harvest. Only 1-2 inches of the top of a mature plant called flushes are plucked. New flushes appear every 7-15 days during growing season. Leaves that develop slowly always produce better flavor and taste. For the ease of plucking a Tea plant is pruned to waist height. Basically two varieties are popularly cultivated, the Chinese plant (C. sinensis sinensis) and the Assam variety (C. sinensis assamica).
Different Types of Tea
There are various types of Tea ranging from strong black Tea to the healthy green tea all originating from the same plant –Camellia Sinensis. They are differentiated on the basis of processing and geographical conditions of cultivation.
Black Tea: It is highly oxidized form of Tea. In the process of oxidation the water in the leaves is evaporated and the leaves absorb more oxygen. Black Tea is relatively stronger and has highest caffeine content.
Green Tea: Green Tea is the least oxidized Tea with caffeine content seldom exceeding 30%. It is known to possess several health benefits such as reduction in the risk of heart disease and prevents certain cancers.
Oolong Tea: Oolong Tea is the most popular Tea in China and is one of the finest and most expensive Tea in the world. The oxidation level of this Tea falls between Black Tea and Green Tea. Its flavor is less strong than Black Tea and stronger than the subtle Green Tea.
White Tea: White Tea is minimal oxidized just like Green Tea but is prepared from young buds. It has the most subtle flavor with a natural sweetness associated with it. It is known to possess better anti bacterial properties as compared to Green Tea.
Yellow Tea: Yellow Tea is processed in a fashion similar to Green Tea but with a slower drying phase which gives it a characteristic Yellow appearance. It smells very different from white Tea and Green Tea.
Post Fermented Tea (Pu-erh) : It is a type of Black Tea which has been oxidized twice and is therefore stronger than Black Tea. It is crimson in color and hence Chinese refer to this variety as Crimson Tea. Post Fermented Tea should not be confused with Black Tea.
Nutritional value of Tea
Pure Tea without milk and sugar is devoid of calories. A cup of brewed Tea is a rich source of minerals such as magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium fluoride and folate. Other nutrients present in Tea are vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin B6. Tea also contains potent oxidants such as catechins, polyphenols and flavonoids.
Side effects associated with over consumption of Tea
The adverse effects associated with excessive consumption of Tea are due to over dose and addiction of caffeine. In addition the intake of folate in large quantities may damage kidneys. Even excess fluoride can cause several health problems. Therefore Tea should be taken in moderation in order to enjoy its amazing health benefits and avoid the harmful side effects.
Health Benefits of Tea
Regular consumption of Tea keep helps in keeping us fit and healthy due to the following properties:
Powerful antioxidant: Tea contains antioxidants that scavenge free radicals and prevents their formation. Antioxidants help in purifying our body by removing toxins thereby protecting us from pollutants.
Anti-cancer: The polyphenols present in Tea are known to possess anti-cancer properties. Green Tea contains anti-oxidant epigallocatechin gallate, that prevents various types of cancers such as lung, breast, prostate, ovarian, stomach, colon etc.
Prevention of heart disease: 3-4 cups of Tea supplies sufficient flavonoids, that decrease lipid oxidation thereby reducing the chances of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Tea helps in keeping our blood vessels clear ensuring smooth and unrestricted blood flow.
Improved Immune system: Consumption of Tea regularly builds body’s resistance to infections. By inhibiting free radicals it strengthens the immune system providing protection against infection.
Dental Health: The fluorides and Tannins present in Tea help to keep plaque at bay. The anti bacterial properties of Tea reduce the incidence of tooth and gum decay. Addition of sugar to Tea is harmful to teeth and hence adding honey to our cup of Tea is a healthier alternative.