Now that summer has faded away into fall, and the air outside is taking on a bit more of chill, you are probably finding yourself skipping the lemonade and reaching for a warm drink instead. While coffee is one of the world’s most popular drinks, a soothing hot-brewed tea still ranks among favorites across continents and cultures. The feeling of warmth cupped within your hands, the fragrant aroma that drifts up to your nose and the just-right flavor notes that dance on your tongue are all part of the tea experience that we enjoy and treasure.
Lucky for us, tea isn’t just a drink of good taste, it is a drink of good health. Plenty of research has been conducted on the health benefits of tea, with many studies focusing primarily on green tea. However, all types of tea own bragging rights to their own unique set of benefits. Across the board, there are certain health benefits that apply to tea in all varieties, while others are more specific to type. If you have ever been curious as to how tea measures up, especially when compared to coffee, read on to discover more about your favorite drink and the ways that the soothing brew in your cup is a potent, healthy elixir.
Herbal Vs Non-Herbal
Before diving into detail about the benefits of tea, let’s take a minute to discuss the difference between herbal and non-herbal varieties of teas.
Many people are surprised to learn that all non-herbal teas, regardless of color, come from the same camellia sinensis plant. The difference in color and flavor between say green and black tea, has nothing to do with the type of plant, but everything to do with environment and processing.
Herbal teas on the other hand, might be mixed with leaves from the camellia sinensis plant, however they are generally created using dried herbs such as mint, lemongrass, chamomile, rose hips or lavender for example. Herbal teas can be brewed using many parts of an herb, including leaves, roots, stems, and flowers.
What’s in a Color?
Environmental factors such as climate and soil quality affect the flavor components that come forward after the tea is processed and brewed. The color of the tea itself is a result of processing. Here is a list of the most common non-herbal teas along with the differences in flavor and process between each.
- Green Tea: When you think of the tea with the most health benefits, your mind probably lands right on a gently steaming cup of green tea. Green tea is minimally processed, and therefore unoxidized, so it can maintain the natural green color of the leaves. The tea leaves are picked from the plant, gently steamed, rolled and dried. The flavor of green tea itself is generally very mild with delicate floral or grassy notes. Because green tea does not undergo oxidation during processing, it naturally has less caffeine than most other varieties of non-herbal tea.
- Black Tea: On the exact opposite end of the spectrum from green tea is black tea. Where green tea is minimally processed, black tea undergoes the greatest amount of processing and becomes fully oxidized as a result. To process black tea, the leaves are picked from the plant, left out in the natural sunlight to dry slightly before rolling. The drying process means that the leaves will break a bit when rolled, and the chemical components inside the leave will ferment because of exposure to the air. This fermentation is what turns the leaves black and produces a stronger, slightly bitter and earthier tasting brew. Black teas are slightly higher in caffeine content than green tea.
- White Tea: White tea is the most delicate and least processed of all the teas. To create white tea, the tea leaves are picked early in the season before the tea bud has fully opened. Once picked, they are dried naturally in the sun and are not subject to any steaming during processing. The result is a very light flavored tea with delicate and subtle characteristics. White tea contains the least amount of caffeine, coming in at a little less than green tea.
- Rooibos or Red Tea: To create a Rooibos tea, leaves from the plant are harvested during the summer and then oxidized which turns the tea leaves from a deeper green to a dark, garnet red. Some red teas contain so much pigment that when you brew it the color closely resembles cranberry juice. The pigments in red tea mean that it is high in antioxidants and minerals. You can expect a mildly fruity, but smooth brew in your cup of high quality rooibos tea.
Ten Health Benefits of Tea
Now with our tea primer out of the way, we can concentrate on the information that we are really interested in, and that is how drinking tea can improve our lives. Here are ten ways that tea is beneficial for your mind, body and soul.
- Fight Stress and Emotional Fatigue with Theanine. Have you ever wondered what it is about sitting back with a cup of tea that makes you feel calm and relaxed? The answer is due, at least in part, to a little known psychoactive amino acid called Theanine. Theanine has been shown to increase the amount of alpha brain waves, which represent brain activity in its relaxed state. Drink a cup of tea after a hectic or stressful day and you will soon feel relaxed, restored and maybe even gain new perspective.
- Keep your Mind Clear and Sharp: Green tea contains polyphenols which were shown in a study to improve mental performance. In the study, a group of people in their early to mid-seventies were given tea to drink. After drinking their tea, brain wave test showed a marked improvement in cognitive performance. In another study, people who drank tea were shown to have better memory function. In addition to the compounds in the tea that influence mental function directly, the calming affect mentioned above could also play a role. Memory and cognitive ability tend to be higher when we are in a relaxed, non-stressed state, and tea can help you get there.
- Tea is an Antioxidant Powerhouse. You probably already know that green tea has a reputation of being high in antioxidants, however it is not the only tea that can claim such greatness. In fact, all non-herbal teas contain impressive amounts of antioxidants such as flavonoids and catechins. Antioxidants are important because they can fight oxidative stress and damage. Oxidative damage can compromise the structure and integrity of each cell, leading to premature ageing and disease.
- Tea as an Epigenetic for Women. A recent study at Uppsala University has shown that tea appears to have epigenetic qualities. An epigenetic is a mechanism by which a gene changes its gene expression, without any change to the genetic material itself. In simpler terms, certain genes can be turned off or turned on. Some of these genes can lead to serious diseases, such as cancer. The catechins found in tea have been shown to induce epigenetic changes in certain cancer cells, meaning tea could help to turn off the activation signals in the gene. There seems to be more evidence of this effect in women, possibly since tea also affects estrogen metabolism in a positive way.
- Tea Soothes a Distressed Gut. Tea is a natural antispasmodic. If you suffer from intestinal distress that includes cramping, a warm cup of tea can reduce your discomfort and immediately work to ease your symptoms. These antispasmodic compounds are found in non-herbal teas, however, adding a bit of dried herbs such as peppermint or ginger to your brew can further soothe an upset stomach and indigestion.
- Build a Strong Immune System. We already know that tea contains antioxidants that are important for staying healthy. Some tea, especially Rooibos tea, can be naturally high in vitamin C, which also supports the immune system. In addition to this, tea contains alkylamines, which are also found in certain bacteria, cancer cells and other pathogenic agents. At first glance, it might seem like the alkylamines in tea could weaken your immunity, but the opposite is true. The amount of alkylamines in tea is just enough to introduce them to your body, so that your immune system builds up a natural defense. Tea is nature’s own vaccine.
- Brighter Smiles and Fresher Breath. Dental and oral health depend on certain factors remaining constant in the environment of your mouth. One of those factors is the pH level. When this level becomes unbalanced, cavities, tooth decay and gum disease can result. Tea helps to balance the pH level in your mouth, keeping your mouth healthy and your smile nice and bright. Green and white teas are also natural palate cleansers and adding a little bit of mint to your tea can freshen your breath just as effectively as mouthwash, but naturally.
- Take Heart. Tea is Good for your Cardiovascular Health. Tea, especially green tea, has been shown to have a protective effect on cardiovascular health. In one study, people who drank up to three cups of green tea per day were shown to have a nearly twenty percent reduction in their risk of heart attack and a thirty-five percent reduction in their risk for strokes. What happens when you exceed three cups of green tea per day? Instead of reducing your risk of a heart attack by twenty percent, you reduce it by over thirty percent. You also benefit from lower bad cholesterol levels. Green tea is a win-win for heart health.
- Tea is a Natural Anti-inflammatory. Some inflammation in the body is normal and good. Unfortunately, many of us today suffer from chronic inflammation that can cause major havoc for our bodies. Chronic inflammation can manifest itself in many ways, from acne and other inflammatory skin disorders, to general achiness, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Inflammation is present in almost all chronic health conditions, and in many cases, is the underlying cause. Tea contains compounds that fight inflammation naturally. Drinking tea on a regular basis can help you to both look and feel healthier.
- Tea is Beautifying. There are many qualities to tea that make it the perfect beauty tonic. Tea naturally contains antioxidants and compounds that are anti-inflammatory which help to keep your skin healthy by reducing inflammation, detoxifying, preventing and repairing sun damage, and preventing the breakdown of the collagen structures that keep your skin smooth and firm. Tea is great for your skin, whether you drink it or spritz it. Here are the top five teas to include in your healthy diet and beauty routine.
- Green Tea
- Chamomile Tea
- Jasmine Tea
- White Tea
When you wake up tomorrow, instead of reaching for your standard cup of coffee, try reaching for a restorative cup of tea instead. Even if you don’t like hot beverages, you can still get all the benefits by drinking tea or iced or even adding it to your breakfast smoothie. Aim for three cups a day, and remember it isn’t just what is in your cup, but also the experience. Sit back, relax and savor the simple, easy moments and delicious fragrance of a perfectly brewed cup of tea.