Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Spot Of Tea

The British have the best tea, right?


It's the Irish, just ask Geno.


Brewing the Best Cup of Tea for Taste and Health
From EatingWell,com
The Irish are fond of saying that a proper cup of tea should be "strong enough for a mouse to trot on." No wonder they favor the robust flavor of Irish Breakfast and Orange Pekoe tea. The Japanese and Chinese drink green tea, of course, sometimes steeped for only a minute or two, creating a beverage as pale and delicate as morning mist. Iced tea is a peculiarly American invention, born at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. A tea merchant had planned on giving out free cups of his tea—until a heat wave came along, dampening enthusiasm for a hot cup of anything, free or not. Not to be deterred, he added ice to the brewed tea. "Iced" tea quickly became the hit of the fair, and has since won hearts around the world.
Hot or cold, black or green, strong or weak—what’s the best choice to get the health benefits associated with tea? Recent findings are just beginning to answer the questions.
Both green and black tea begin the same way, with leaves from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Green tea is made by steaming the leaves, then drying them. Black tea is produced by first drying, then fermenting, and finally drying the leaves again, creating the characteristic dark color and strong flavor. (Oolong tea is also made by fermenting the leaves of Camellia sinensis, but only about half as long as for black tea, creating a milder flavor.)
For years, green tea was assumed by some to be the healthier choice. One reason is simply that green tea has been the most extensively studied. Another is that green tea leaves contain higher levels of certain flavonoids, especially a form called catechins, which have been shown to be potent antioxidants. But black tea leaves brim with their own forms of antioxidant substances, some of which may be even more potent than those in green.
"For now, we really don’t know which form offers the biggest benefit," says tea researcher Mukhtar, who acknowledges the ongoing debate by brewing a combination of green tea (the subject of most of his research) and black tea (which he prefers).
Black or green, it’s important to let tea leaves brew long enough to release all of their disease-fighting substances. Testing steeping times at the University of Arizona, Iman Hakim found that one minute isn’t enough. It took about three minutes for the tea leaves to release most of their flavonoids into the hot water, whether she tested green or black tea. Steeping tea longer than that didn’t significantly increase levels of the substances in the cup—although it did create a cup strong enough to allow a mouse to do a jig.
Iced tea is a fine way to get the benefits of flavonoids, as long as you brew it yourself, pour it over ice and drink it on the spot. Iced tea is generally prepared much weaker than hot tea and is further diluted by ice—creating a lower flavonoid concentration. The antioxidants in tea tend to break down quickly, so iced tea left on the refrigerator shelf for long may not offer much protection. Nor do the bottled iced teas and powdered iced tea mixes that have crowded onto supermarket shelves recently confer the benefits of the home-brewed variety. The processing used to create bottled teas removes most of the good stuff.
Unfortunately, the process of decaffeinating tea also removes between 10 and 15 percent of the flavonoid content. If you’re trying to go easy on the stimulant, choose green tea, which typically contains only about 30 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce cup. Black tea weighs in at about 40 milligrams. That’s still far less than the 120 milligrams in a typical cup of coffee.
If you like adding milk or cream to your tea, go right ahead. Contrary to a few recent news reports, adding milk doesn’t lessen the power of flavonoids.
How many cups of tea you’ll need to drink to get the optimum benefits remains a matter of debate. Two cups a day seems to be enough to get the cardiovascular benefits. If it’s cancer you hope to thwart, remember the research is preliminary. Hasan Mukhtar’s research showed a protective effect when mice slurped up the equivalent of four to six cups of tea a day.
For true tea lovers, the consensus is an appetizing one: The more you drink, the more protection you’re likely to get.


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