FeaturesJune/July 2009 Issue

Time for Tea

Move Over Coffee! This Ancient Beverage Is Steeped in Health Benefits.

From Earl Grey to Japanese sencha, there's a movement brewing in the United States. Tea is hot--and getting hotter, spurred on by the growing availability of delightful varieties and by research confirming wide-ranging health benefits of sipping and cooking with tea. Scroll down this article for delicious recipes featuring tea.

Concerned about caffeine? Tea’s caffeine level depends on a variety of factors, such as growing conditions, the part of the plant used (i.e., buds or leaves) and how it’s processed. Ergo: It’s almost impossible to say exactly how much caffeine a type of tea has.

A recent study conducted by the University of Florida College of Medicine tested 20 different teas and found no trend in caffeine concentration based on the variety of teas tested. Caffeine concentrations in white, green, and black teas ranged from 14 to 61 mg per 6 to 8 ounces. That’s less than what’s in a cup of java, which usually contains 80 mg or more in an 8-ounce cup. The caffeine weary can guzzle all the rooibos tea they want because it’s naturally caffeine free. Yerba mate tea likely contains the upper end of the caffeine range found in this study.

Most tea aficionados scoff at decaffeinated tea, claiming the decaf process mucks around with the flavor. If you go the decaf  route, try a variety to find one that suits your palate. 
Like wine, tea has its own prestigious growing regions—China, Japan and India, to name a few. Here’s more about six of the best teas around.

White Tea

Read the Leaves Less oxidized than green or black tea and predating any other tea manufacture, immature leaves (buds) of the Chinese Camellia sinensis evergreen are picked in early spring at daybreak while still covered in a silvery white “down,” hence the name white tea. They are simply air withered to evaporate natural moisture and then shade dried. It’s estimated that some 10,000 handpicked buds are required to produce just 1 kilogram of authentic Fujian Province silver needle Chinese white tea. Hence, its high, special-occasion-only price tag of $50 or more per pound. Some modern white teas use the first leaves of the tea plant rather than the buds with a slight application of external heat for drying. This intensifies the flavor while increasing supply at a reduced cost. Often, white teas come as a mixture of buds and leaves. 

Taste When steeped, youthful white tea has a golden hue yielding a delicate floral flavor with disappearing sweetness. Those who find green tea too “grassy” will likely find sipping white more agreeable.

A Healthy Sip As the least-processed tea, this paler side of tea likely brews up the most tea polyphenols, called catechins, a group of powerful antioxidant compounds that may protect against chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Oregon State University researchers found white tea more effective than green at halting cell mutation, the early form of cancer. Similarly, scientists reported in the journal Nutrition and Cancer that exposure to white tea may stymie cancerous cell expansion in the colon. One catechin in particular, epicatechin, improved memory retention in a recent animal study. Unlike its green brethren, however, research surrounding white tea is still in its infancy.

Common Types Silver Needle/Tip (just buds), White Peony (Bai Mu Dan), White Cloud, Eyebrow, Snow Bud.

Green Tea

Read the Leaves Young leaves of the Camellia sinensis—the same plant that white, oolong and black tea is gleaned from—are often air dried to prevent oxidative leaf darkening and then heat-treated to further remove moisture. In Japan, green tea is generally steamed rather than pan-fired or oven-dried to lend a more vegetal taste.

Taste Slightly astringent with grassy undertones. The astringency or “bite” can vary greatly among types and brands of green tea.

A Healthy Sip Name the ailment, from sleep apnea and psoriasis to leukemia and breast and lung cancer, there’s research suggesting that green tea might protect against it. Much of green’s rock star status is chalked up to sky-high levels of the antioxidant epigallocatechin-3-gallate, called EGCG. An 11-year study of more than 40,000 Japanese adults found all cause mortality to be 16 percent lower in those with the highest daily green tea intake (5 cups or more).

Those who struggle to maintain a healthy weight should take heed of recent studies demonstrating the ability of green tea and its EGCG to promote body fat loss and prevent its accumulation, especially when combined with exercise. Other data suggests green tea’s antioxidants reduce harmful LDL cholesterol levels and improve blood vessel functioning, providing protection against heart disease. Where else can you find a food that tackles so many maladies, all for zero calories?

Common Types Gunpowder, Sencha, Jasmine, Dragon Well, Pi Lo Chun, Green Pekoe.

Worth a Try Traditionally served to emperors, Japanese green matcha tea is produced when green tea leaves are ground into a powder. Because the whole leaf is consumed, it delivers more EGCG than an infusion brewed from the leaves using water. Add it to smoothies, frozen desserts and gluten-free baked goods. Available at matchasource.com.

Oolong Tea

Read the Leaves Produced predominantly in China and Taiwan and the most challenging tea to manufacture, oolongs come from larger Camellia sinensis leaves. Using the sun, they’re semi-oxidized to varying degrees, falling between green and black in this respect. There are taste and color nuances, as well. Oolongs are always whole-leaf teas—twisted, ball-rolled or loosely folded but never broken.

Taste Lightly floral to brisk and heavy, depending on how long the leaves are allowed to oxidize in the sun. Multiple steeping is encouraged.

A Healthy Sip Oolong is rich in theanine, an amino acid that crosses the blood-brain barrier where it exhibits psychoactive properties, including a calming and an improvement in focus and memory. In addition, theanine lessens caffeine’s stimulatory effect on the central nervous system. Studies suggest that oolong and its healthful compounds boost metabolism and reduce cognitive decline, blood pressure, harmful bacterial, blood triglycerides, blood sugar and dangerous LDL cholesterol levels. In the battle of the bulge, Japanese researchers found drinking three cups with a meal limited the absorption of fat from food.

Common Types Pouchong, Tung Ting, Formosa, Jade, Black Dragon.

Black Tea

Read the Leaves Largely the Western tea du jour, black tea is produced from withering, rolling, crushing, fully oxidizing and heat-drying the Camellia sinensis leaves. This process changes the leaves from green to coppery-red.

Taste An amber brew with bold, rich flavor.

A Healthy Sip While oxidation lays waste to most catechins present in black’s green and white kin, two new sets of flavonoid antioxidants, called thearubigins and theflavins, are created. These compounds may be responsible for the fact that black tea consumption may slash the risk of Parkinson’s disease by up to 71 percent. It is also the most effective tea at keeping blood sugar in check by limiting alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme responsible for bringing sugars from food into the bloodstream. Thearubigins and theflavins may further cut diabetes risk by mimicking the action of insulin, a hormone that helps blood sugar enter cells.

In fact, enjoying just a single cup of black tea daily can reduce diabetes risk by 14 percent, according to a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Harvard researchers add that daily indulgence may keep the sniffles at bay by stimulating immune cells to release interferon, a chemical that protects against infection. What’s more, a 2009 study in the International Journal of Cancer suggests drinking more than two cups of black tea every day cuts endometrial cancer risk in women.

Common Types Early Grey (infused with bergamont oil), Assam, Darjeeling, Lapsang Souchong, Ceylon.

Rooibos Tea

Read the Leaves This newfangled tea comes from the fine, needle-like leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant, an indigenous South African herb that’s part of the legume family. This tea is naturally decaf: 0 mg caffeine per cup.

Taste Ruby-hued rooibos (pronounced roy-boss) is smooth and sweet. Low in tannins, rooibos, also called “red tea,” does not become bitter with prolonged steeping.

A Healthy Sip Rooibos is not produced from the Camellia plant and thus, it’s not tea in the purest sense. But this hasn’t stopped some tea zealots from guzzling rooibos, edged on by the absence of caffeine and the fact that it’s teeming with antioxidant flavonoids—aspalathin, rutin, isoorientin and orientin. Recently, Japanese researchers found that aspalathin has beneficial effects on blood sugar levels. The preferred beverage of Africa’s indigenous Khoi-Khoi tribe, rooibos contains an anti-spasmodic, which helps relieve gastrointestinal disorders like diarrhea and nausea. African women enjoy rooibos during pregnancy, believing that it relieves heartburn and nausea.

Yerba Mate

Read the Leaves Not a true tea in the botanical sense, mate is produced from leaves of the South American holly shrub Ilex paraguariensis that are blanched, dried and aged.

Taste A stout flavor that may remind you of green tea but with even more grassy undertones.

A Healthy Sip Mate contains three stimulants—caffeine, theobromine (the “happy” chemical in chocolate) and theophylline—giving you a pleasant morning jolt without coffee’s jitters. Traditionally used as a digestive aid, it’s also awash in vitamins, minerals and active antioxidant phytochemicals, such as chlorogenic acid, not found in other teas. Coined the “liquid vegetable,” mate has been reported to slow tumor growth in animal studies. Heart-healthy saponin compounds in this national drink of Argentina are thought to help reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and inflammation. A 2009 animal study reported in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that mate’s phytochemicals can squelch oxidative damage to organs, such as the liver.

Tea in the Kitchen

Why just drink tea when you can cook with it? Tea leaves can be added to rubs, soups, stews and even dessert for wonderful flavor and an added health boost. Here are a few gluten-free, dairy-free tea-infused recipes to get you started.


Rooibos Granita

SERVES 6

A slushy frozen dessert originating in Sicily, granita is a light, refreshing end to any summer meal.

3  cups water
2  tablespoons rooibos loose-leaf tea or 2
    rooibos tea bags
1  tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
½  cup honey
3  tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. In a saucepan, bring water to a boil and add tea and ginger. Remove pan from heat, cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the honey and lemon juice and mix.

2. Strain tea mixture through a sieve into a bowl and discard the solids. Cool completely.

3. Pour mixture into a shallow glass baking dish. Freeze until mixture begins to get icy around the edges, about an hour. Rake through mixture with a fork to break up the ice. Return to the freezer and repeat the raking until the mixture is completely frozen and grainy, about 4 to 6 hours.

Each serving contains 88 calories, 0g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 24g carbohydrate, 1mg sodium, 0g fiber, 0g protein.

Tea Poached Fruit

SERVES 4

Recent data suggests cinnamon may help control blood sugar levels while apricots are loaded with vision-protecting vitamin A. This recipe combines the warm goodness of cinnamon and cloves with the natural sweetness of fruit.

1½  cups water
2  teaspoons loose-leaf black tea or 1 black
    tea bag    
1  tablespoon rice wine vinegar
⅛  teaspoon cinnamon
⅛  teaspoon ground cloves
1-1½  tablespoons honey or sugar
1  teaspoon vanilla
4  ripe apricots, halved, pits discarded

1. Bring water to a boil in a pan and set aside for a couple minutes. Add tea and steep for 3 minutes. Strain liquid tea into a large saucepan.

2. Add vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, sugar and vanilla to the tea.

3. Add the fruit and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

4. Carefully remove the fruit from the liquid and take off the skins. Place the fruit and liquid in a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Serve cold with a dab of poaching liquid.

Each serving contains 35 calories, 0g total fat,0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 8g carbohydrate, 3mg sodium, 1g fiber, 1g protein.

Adapted from The Ultimate Tea Diet (Harper Collins) by Mark Ukra.


Catfish with Black Tea Rub

SERVES 4

Mild catfish takes brilliantly to this fiery tea rub. Low in mercury, catfish is brimming with selenium, an antioxidant that helps protect against cancer. Serve with brown and wild rice.

1  tablespoon green tea leaves
½  teaspoon sea salt
2  cups water
1  cup combination brown and wild rice
2  teaspoons black tea leaves
1  teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
½  teaspoon chili powder
2  teaspoon dried thyme or sage    
- Pinch sea salt
4  (5-ounce) catfish fillets
2  tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
-  Lemon
-  Chopped chives, for garnish

1. With a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a large chef’s knife, grind green tea leaves and salt to make a powder.

2. Bring two cups water to a boil in a pan on the stovetop. Stir in rice and tea powder. Lower heat, cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until all liquid has been absorbed.

3. Meanwhile, grind black tea leaves into a coarse powder. Place in a small bowl and add 5-spice, chili powder, thyme and salt. Mix well.

4. Pat fish dry with paper towel and gently coat both sides with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Generously season catfish with spice mixture and let rest for 10 minutes.

5. Warm a sauté pan and remaining oil over medium heat. Place catfish fillets in pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until fish is opaque throughout. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on each fillet and garnish with chives. Serve with tea rice.

Each serving contains 423 calories, 19g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 66mg cholesterol, 37g carbohydrate, 370mg sodium, 2g fiber, 25g protein. 

Turkey Noodle Soup

SERVES 4

Why just drink tea when you can cook with it? Tea leaves, which are teeming with disease-fighting antioxidants, can be sprinkled into rubs, soups, stews and even desserts for wonderful flavor and an added health boost. The delicate nature of white tea stock allows the robust flavor of kale, lemongrass and sesame oil to shine in this gluten-free, dairy-free recipe for Turkey Noodle Soup.

2  (6-ounce) boneless turkey breasts, cut into strips
4  ounces rice noodles
6  cups water
3  teaspoons loose-leaf white tea (or 2 white tea bags)
1  inch ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1  stalk lemongrass, outside leaves removed and finely chopped
1  cup frozen peas or shelled edamame (green soybeans), frozen, optional
1  cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
2  cups kale, chopped
½  teaspoon sea salt
1  teaspoon sesame oil
-  Black pepper, for garnish
-  Fresh cilantro, for garnish

1. Cook turkey over medium heat in a sauté pan until no longer pink. Remove from heat and let stand.

2. Prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

3. In a large pot, combine 6 cups water with white tea and ginger. Heat until water is just about to reach a boil. Remove from heat and let steep for about 5 minutes.

4. Strain liquid tea to remove leaves. Return ginger pieces to liquid. Add lemongrass and heat until mixture returns to a boil.

5. Drop in frozen peas or edamame, if desired, and cover pot. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes.

6. Add mushrooms, kale and salt and cook an additional 2 minutes.

7. Add rice noodles, turkey pieces and sesame oil. Stir well.

8. Place soup in serving bowls. Top with ground pepper and cilantro. Serve hot.

Each serving contains 307 calories, 6g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 36mg cholesterol, 39g carbohydrate, 1220mg sodium, 4g fiber, 25g protein.

Gluten-Free Oolong Tea Gazpacho

SERVES 4

This no-fuss, no-cook soup is perfect for a sultry summer day. It’s packed with nutrients, thanks to all the vegetables and, of course, the tea. Serve chilled.

1  medium red bell pepper, chopped
1  medium green bell pepper, chopped
1  large cucumber, peeled and chopped
1  teaspoon oolong loose-leaf tea
1  (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
1  medium onion, chopped
2  garlic cloves, minced
3  tablespoons red wine vinegar
1  tablespoon olive oil
4  drops hot sauce, optional
-  Salt and ground pepper, to taste

1. Set aside a quarter of the peppers and cucumber for garnish.

2. With a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a large chef’s knife, grind tea leaves to make a powder.

3. Place tomatoes, onion, remaining peppers and cucumbers, garlic, vinegar, oil, tea and hot sauce (if using), salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and blend until mixture is the consistency of gazpacho.

4. Transfer the soup to a bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours. If desired, thin soup by adding some brewed oolong tea.

Each serving contains 133 calories, 4g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 22g carbohydrate, 265mg sodium, 6g fiber, 5g protein.

Reprinted with permission from The Ultimate Tea Diet (Harper Collins) by Mark Ukra.

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