After water, tea is the most consumed beverage on the planet. Fifty percent of Australians drink at least one cup per week, according to research by Roy Morgan, so it’s good to know that having a cuppa is more than a pleasant social ritual – it can also be good for you.
Black, green, white or herbal – what’s the difference?
Understanding the various types is helpful for appreciating tea’s health benefits. True teas come from the Camellia sinensis plant – a native of Asia, now cultivated around the world – with differences resulting from growing conditions and processing.
After the leaves are harvested they undergo a process called oxidation, where they are dried out and absorb oxygen. Black teas undergo the most oxidation, giving them their darker colour and stronger flavour. In green tea, the oxidation process is stopped suddenly by the application of heat, giving them a more subtle flavour. White tea is produced from the plant’s youngest buds and is the least processed, giving it a delicate flavour.
Herbal and fruit teas are infusions made from the leaves, seeds, flowers, fruit, berries or other parts of various plants.
Go green for health
Green tea is less processed than black and contains the most antioxidants and polyphenols – compounds which help counter the damaging effects of free radicals in the body. Drinking it has been associated with many health benefits.
According to Cancer Council Australia, lab and animal studies have linked tea intake with a reduced risk of cancer.
Green tea may also have cardiovascular health benefits. The Heart Foundation says in studies of people who drink tea regularly, their blood vessels are healthier and their risk of heart disease lower.
Black tea boost
Black tea is the most commonly consumed variety and may also provide a nutritional boost.
“Black tea has many benefits, aside from the ritual and relaxation associated with preparing a cup of tea,” says Marta Browne, a Brisbane-based integrative naturopath. It contains antioxidants that counter free radicals and encourage good gut bacteria, she explains.
“Black tea has also been associated with decreased LDL cholesterol, lowered blood pressure and improved sugar metabolism,” Browne says.
Herbal teas have been touted to help with a vast array of health complaints. There are hundreds to choose from, but here are the top blends and the attributed benefits.
- For anxiety relief – blend chamomile, licorice, ginseng, lemon balm and passion flower.
- Digestive boost – try peppermint, licorice, fennel and ginger.
- Anti-inflammatory – blend licorice, echinacea, calendula and meadowsweet.
The perfect brew
Getting the most from your tea involves more than dangling a bag in hot water. Loose leaf teas allow you to vary the flavour and strength of your brew.
When making herbal teas, it’s recommended to use a covered vessel when steeping to contain the herbal impact.
Water temperature also makes a difference with some teas – rapidly boiling water can scald the tea and leave it tasting bitter.
Some teas may not be suitable during pregnancy, or may interact with medications, so seek advice from your qualified health care professional if you have any concerns.