Green Tea

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Who discovered tea?

The tea plants originated in Southeast Asia circa 2700 BC, but it appears no documented record exists to show who discovered tea. The most popular folklore relates that Chinese Emperor Shen Neng, while boiling water one day, found that a leaf from a tea plant in his garden wafted into his open pot. He brewed it and drank the concoction and loved it. Four millennia since then, tea, especially green tea, has developed the reputation as a healthful tonic. In the 13th century, the founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan, Eisai Myo-an, wrote a book entitled Tea Drinking is Good for Health, citing the many benefits from drinking tea.

What are the variety of teas?

The common varieties include black tea, oolong tea and green tea. The most popular, especially in the United States and Europe, is black tea, which accounts for about 80% of teas consumed worldwide. Asia consumes more oolong tea and green tea. But the popularity of green tea has tremendously increased even in the western world because of some studies that suggest the superior "medicinal powers" green tea over the others.

Why is green tea superior?

While black and green teas both come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, a shrubby tree native to Southeast Asia, the difference is in the processing technique. Tea leaves normally contain an enzyme which leads to oxidation of the leaves after they are harvested. Green tea leaves are gently heated and steamed to abort the oxidative process. Black tea leaves are permitted to undergo full oxidation and fermentation to achieve its distinctive taste and dark brown or even reddish color. But this process destroys polyphenol normally found in freshly harvested tea leaves. Thus, green tea, which is processed without oxidation, has significantly much higher amount of polyphenols among all varieties of teas.

What are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are natural phytochemicals (plant chemicals with antioxidant properties) that are found in tea leaves, most fruits and vegetables, and in vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants neutralize or deactivate free radicals in our body. Free radicals are super reactive molecules or fragments of molecules that damage the body at the cellular level, setting the stage for the development of degeneration and aging of our organs and tissues and/or occurrences of diseases. The four primary polyphenols in green tea are epicathechin, epicathechin gallate, epigallocathechin and epigallocathechin gallate. They are collectively called cathechins.

Do other varieties contain polyphenols?

Yes, but green tea has the highest level followed by oolong tea, and black tea has the lowest. Green tea is six times more powerful as an antioxidant, compared to black tea.

Does tea contain caffeine?

Like chocolate, coffee and cola drinks, tea contains caffeine. A cup of tea contains between 20 to 90 mg of caffeine, depending on the variety. Black tea has the highest amount, oolong tea about half, and green tea, a third. A cup of coffee provides between 60 to 160 mg, a can of cola drink about 50, and an ounce of chocolate bar gives 1-15 mg. Tea also contain small amounts of Vitamin C, B2, D, K, beta carotene, magnesium, selenium, and fluoride (especially in green tea).

Can green tea prevent cancer?

There are observations that suggest that drinking green tea daily lowers the incidence of cancer. Epidemiologists noted that the Shizouka Prefecture of Japan, a coastal region southwest of Tokyo, had much lower death rate from cancer in men and women compared to that of the country as a whole. They found that the people in this area drank green tea as their staple beverage and to a much greater extent than the Japanese in the other parts of the country. Obviously, this interesting discovery needs more scientific research before the medical community accepts it as factually and statistically valid.

What is the Iowa Green Tea Study?

This was an informational gathering research conducted among 35,368 women in Iowa, U.S.A., over an 8-year period, which, among others, showed that 40% of these women drank tea at least once a week, 20% ingested it daily. The incidence of cancer among those who drank tea was 10% lower compared to those who did not. The frequent tea-drinkers had almost 70% fewer cancers of the digestive tract and 40% fewer urinary tract cancers. Although the data is impressive on the surface, we need more scientific studies and proofs than this to conclude without doubt that tea is a cancer-preventing concoction. Nonetheless, since tea is a safe beverage to consume, I am more inclined than ever to continue my choice of tea over coffee as my drink. Socially, many experts in etiquette feel that drinking tea is more sophisticated (not to mention wiser) than drinking coffee or pop.

How does tea reduce the risk of cancer?

Besides acting as an antioxidant that deactivates the free radicals in our body, tea, especially green tea, prevents the destruction of the strands of DNA, inhibits abnormal cell reproduction, blocking the formation of cancer cells, and decreases the contact of cancer-causing agents with the cells, according to a study at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Does tea reduce cholesterol level?

A study in Japan among 1374 forty-year-old male subjects reports that those who drank green tea regularly had lower Total Cholesterol, lower Low Density Lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) and higher level of High Density Lipoprotein (good cholesterol). A larger study on 20,000 Norwegian men and women showed that Total Cholesterol level went down as the tea consumption increased. Since high cholesterol causes coronary heart disease, and tea, to a degree, blocks the absorption of dietary cholesterol, it is postulated that tea-drinkers have lower incidence of coronary heart disease. Tea, especially the green variety, has been reported to relax blood vessel walls, and thus, helps in lowering blood pressure also. The polyphenols in green tea have also been theorized to boost the immune system, giving the individuals drinking it a higher resistance to diseases in general.

How much tea does one have to drink to get the benefits?

The average green tea consumption in Asian countries is about 3 cups a day. This yields about 240 to 320 mg of polyphenols, which is said to confer the health benefits mentioned earlier, including less tooth decays and cavities. There is no question that drinking green tea is healthier than drinking coffee or cola beverages.

Does drinking tea worsen PMS?

There seems to be a correlation between drinking tea and initiation and/or aggravation of pre menstrual syndrome.

Any tricks to preparing tea?

The quality of water is essential. Filtered water is good. The shorter the brewing time, the lower the caffeine level in tea. Temperature is important in preparing tea. To derive the best in tea concoctions, bring the water to a near-boil, but NOT to a boil. Lemon may be added but we do not recommend sugar or cream.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.