Finding your Cup of Tea

tea cupSecond only to water, tea is the world’s most consumed drink, and Canadians enjoy almost 9 billion cups a year. It’s no wonder. Besides allowing us to slow down and take a break, your cuppa tea is chock-full of health benefits.

One tea, many colours

True tea all comes from the leaves of just one plant, an evergreen bush called Camillia sinensis. White teas are least processed, with leaves being gently dried. Green teas are slightly more processed: leaves are briefly steamed or heated then dried. Oolong teas are partially oxidized, giving them a flavour between a green and black tea. Black teas are the most processed: leaves are rolled, fully oxidized to develop a deeper flavour, then dried. Scented or flavoured teas combine other plants with the tea. Earl Grey, for example, is a combination of black tea with bergamot.

Tea is a source of natural fluoride, manganese, potassium, calcium and vitamins B1, B2, B6 and folic acid. Among other benefits, flavonoids in tea help to protect the heart by reducing blood clotting, and lowering both blood pressure and cholesterol.

For best flavour when preparing your tea, use fresh, pure water that hasn’t previously been boiled. For black and oolong teas, use water immediately after it comes to a rolling boil. Don’t continue the boil, however, as water will lose oxygen and tea will taste flat. For green and white teas, bring water to a boil, then wait about a minute before starting to steep your tea. Steep according to package directions.

Bagged or loose?

Aficionados agree that loose leaf tea provides superior flavour, but tea-in-a-bag is a time saving convenience. Fortunately, advances in tea bag technology can give you better flavour with less hassle. Here’s what to look for:

Many of the cheaper brands of tea use tea detritus or “dust” from many different sources, packed tightly into a paper pouch. These brands tend to release tannins more quickly, leading to a more bitter brew. For a better cuppa, choose brands containing tea leaf fragments with bags that leave room for leaves to unfurl during steeping. New larger pouches and pyramidal bag shapes are often made of silk, muslin or nylon mesh. While the fabric used for the bag doesn’t affect flavour, some people prefer silk to nylon due to health and biodegradability concerns.

Tea chest or medicine chest?

Beverages made with anything other than the leaves of the tea bush are technically considered tisanes or herbal infusions – but don’t let that stop you from enjoying their delicious health benefits!

Rooibos (pronounced “roy-boss”)
This sweet beverage comes from the Aspalathus linearis plant, a red bush native to South Africa. Traditional medicinal uses of rooibos include soothing colic and alleviation of allergies, asthma and dermatological problems – but the best thing about this tisane is that it’s caffeine-free, making it a perfect bedtime beverage.

Peppermint
With a deceptively strong aroma, this herbal tea has a sweet and refreshing flavour that can be enjoyed hot or cold. A 2008 review of a few randomised controlled clinical trials suggest that peppermint essential oil is effective in reducing abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhea in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Bring natural spring water to a boil, cool slightly, and pour over fresh peppermint leaves in an infuser. Steep for 7 minutes.

Yerba Mate
An infusion made from Ilex paraguariensis leaves, yerba mate has been used for centuries in South America as a social and medicinal drink. Yerba Mate is stimulating but without the nervousness and jitters associated with coffee. Studies show that this antioxidant-rich beverage has liver protective qualities and provides benefits to the cardiovascular system.

Chamomile (pronounced “cham-o-mile” or “cham-o-meel”)
A relative of the daisy grown in Europe and western Asia, sweet-tasting chamomile has traditionally been used for digestive disorders, menstrual cramps and as a natural sedative. Results of a 2008 study suggest that drinking chamomile tea daily with meals could help prevent progress of hyperglycemia and diabetic complications.

Fennel

For centuries, this perennial herb with a mild, licorice-like flavour has been used as traditional medicine in Europe and China for relief of flatulence, infant colic and other digestive disorders. To make tea, use one to two teaspoons crushed seeds per cup of boiling water and steep for 10 minutes.

Taheebo
This tea of many names is also known as Pau D’arco, ipe roxo and lapacho. Made from the inner bark of the South American lapacho tree, this herbal tea provides immunostimulating action that rivals Echinacea and ginger, and is known for its potent antimicrobial effects. Taheebo is often used for Candida or yeast infections.

Any time is tea time!

By Lisa Petty
Originally published in Canadian Health & Lifestyle

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