Green Tea Benefits
by Dr. Robert Kienitz, D.Ac., DTCM
Most people assume that “green” means herbal. The fact is that there is actually a tea plant, Camellia sinensis, which is related to the ornamental shrub known for its beautiful and fragrant flowers. Legends in Asia harking back to 3000 B.C., relate the use of C. sinensis as a beverage plant. Its real popularity did not begin until around the second century A.D., and up until the 18th century all tea was green tea.
There are hundreds of distinct varieties of green tea and one can become as much a connoisseur of green tea as of fine wine. The top producers of tea in the world are China, Japan and India. Depending on the region and elevation in which it is grown, the time of year it is harvested, its processing and environmental conditions such as rainfall and days of sun all combine to produce differences in flavor and quality.
The “green” of green tea indicates that it is processed to retain it’s fresh color, black tea is usually dried and fermented which gives it the black color. Green tea is processed very little and the best types are processed by hand and either sun dried or pan fried. A great deal of art goes into the processing of green tea and shaping the leaves and the processing often contributes to the name given the tea. “Gunpowder tea” is rolled into tight balls resembling gunpowder pellets, “eyebrow” tea is shaped into crescents and “silver needle tea” is a thin rolled leaf with a silver color. The shaping and processing of tea also controls the release of flavor as the tea is brewed.
The beneficial properties of green tea are due to antioxidant polyphenols. Researchers believe that drinking 4-5 cups of green tea a day may help reduce cholesterol and lower high blood pressure. In addition studies have shown that cardiovascular disease, blood sugar disorders and the body’s resistance to infection can all be helped by daily ingestion of green tea.
Caffeine content of tea is a concern to a lot of people but green tea contains 1/3 to 1/2 the caffeine of an equal amount of coffee. There is also growing evidence that the caffeine itself is not the responsible component of “coffee jitters”, rather it is the tannins in coffee that are virtually absent in green tea.
The Chinese and Japanese cultures have refined tea brewing into a high art that can take years to master, but if you want a cup quicker than that you can start with a cup (Glass or ceramic), of water that has been brought close but not quite to a boil. If there are tiny bubble just forming from the heat, the water temperature is just right. Then take a small amount of green tea, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon should be about right, and gently drop the leaves right into the water.
When I was in medical school, my professors (all Chinese), would always come back from breaks with a mason jar filled with hot water and tea floating at the top. They let the tea soak till it sank to the bottom of the jar, then the tea was ready.
My Japanese martial arts instructors on the other hand, only let the tea steep for one to two minutes depending on the desired potency and then they dipped out the leaves. The length of brewing will obviously affect the taste and character of the tea so you have to experiment a little but the rule of thumb is; longer steeping will produce more bitter tea.
Whether you try Japanese or Chinese styles of brewing, adding tea to your diet is considered by all to be highly beneficial to your overall health. Bottoms up!