World wide, tea is the most widely drunk beverage, after water.
Real tea enthusiasts agree that tea bags are just not acceptable. It is believed that the aromatic oils floating on the tea get absorbed in the paper and never reach your taste buds. So loose leaf tea is the way to go!
Camellia Sinensis is the plant that bears tea. China teas use the smaller leaf varieties and Indian or Assam teas the larger leaved kind.
The plant grows in a zone 8 climate, or warmer. This means that the mercury never drops below –12deg C, so it cannot survive colder, but it can condone hotter weather. Higher altitudes, up to 1,500m, are preferred for slower growth and consequently better flavour. The tree is kept pruned to waist height for easier harvesting, but if left alone it will grow into a huge tree of more than 15m in height.
Four main varieties are most commonly used: black, green, oolong and white
The top leaves and buds, called ‘top flushes’ are normally harvested and then cured for use. Before the leaves are dried, they are allowed to wilt and darken. This process is called ‘enzymatic oxidation’ or ‘fermentation’. Care has to be taken that fungal fermentation does not occur, as this produces toxins. When the right degree of fermentation has been reached, the leaves are heated to stop the process, and then dried. This is the process for black tea. Green tea is unwilted and unfermented. White tea is wilted, but unfermented, and Oolong tea is wilted and partially fermented.
Herbal teas may or may not include tea, but they normally contain infusions of herbs, spices, fruits or flowers. Some are, strictly speaking, not teas at all, such as South African ‘Rooibos’ [Sapalathus Linearis] or ‘Honey bush’ [Cyclopia] which are indigenous medicinal herbs.
These and most other herbal teas are extremely beneficial to the health as well as very pleasant tasting and refreshing.
Is ordinary black tea harmful to your health? This question arises because of the caffeine content and the fermentation process. As long as the fermentation process is conducted under strict humidity and hygiene controls, it is believed to be safe. Green tea bypasses the fermentation process and many believe the health benefits are preserved while the fermentation risks are bypassed. The consumption of small amounts of caffeine are believed to be far outweighed by the amazing benefits of the tea’s medicinal properties as long as too much is not consumed daily. Here are a few of these:
- It is mainly known for its antioxidant properties, polyphenols, which help neutralise the dangerous free radicals that cause so much damage in our bodies. This is particularly important in assisting cancer prevention.
- It is thought that it helps prevent blood clots and keeps the blood vessels smooth. This is a big plus against heart attack and stroke.
- The phytochemicals it contains are believed to help prevent calcium loss in the bones.
- It has been found that elderly people with a history of tea drinking may be less prone to Alzheimers.
Cheap teas made with lots of stems and stalks and may contain higher levels of aluminium and fluoride due to pollution. The top, new leaves are safer.