What does science teach us about how we benefit from Chinese teas?
The modern science of tea is still evolving, but what are the basic ways we know we can benefit from drinking quality teas?
Time for Tea Plays to get a bit science-y...
Five main types of tea make up almost classic Chinese tea, all of it taken from the Camellia sinensis plant: White, Green, Oolong, Black and 'Dark' (post-fermented tea). These styles derive from how and when the leaves are picked and preserved: exposure to humidity and oxygen allows fermentation of the leaves, and these processes, together with the properties that the plants contain before they are picked, make for different health giving properties. Oxidization is strongest for oolong and black teas and dark teas, and green and white teas are closer to the condition of the freshly picked leaves.
As scientific study of tea has progressed, more has become clear about how the tea-types work to make us feel and operate better. Many of the most powerful effects are related to preventing the damage to our cells in complex systems like the heart and brain – these may be harder for us to actually register from day to day, while benefits like alertness and relaxation (yes, tea can actually trigger both responses at once) may be more palpable to us.
Amino Acids: The amino acid theanine is present in similar quantities in the four tea types, and has been connected to a greatly reduced risk (perhaps 50%) of early-onset dementia in those who drink quite a lot: around 3 cups a day.
Caffeine: Levels of caffeine can be lower or higher depending on the particular tea strain and method of conservation, but black tea tends to have the highest amounts. This is the most famous way tea raises our alertness. While tea has more caffeine than coffee in terms of weight, a cup will tend to contain less.
Anti-oxidants: Catechins (a type of anti-oxidant) are present in greatest amounts in green and white teas; these are thought to help the body burn fat as fuel, and to improve muscle performance during exercise.
General levels of anti-oxidants are highest in white tea, as this has usually been exposed to the least amount of oxidization. This means that white teas (and extracts from them) can help to prevent breakdown in that most over-worked organ, our skin. Collagen and elastin are both strengthened by it, thus reducing the formation of dreaded wrinkles.
- These are just some of the things to think about when choosing a tea to promote health, beauty – or mental focus!