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Tea Is Just The Tonic

Aug 20, 2008
There is a well known saying ... 'not for all the tea in China.' Now the world's tea production is spread over some 30 countries, it is about time to modify that old cliche! Not for all the tea in Argentina; doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Argentina currently stands as the largest exporter of tea to the United States of America, and Kenya is the largest producer and supplier in Africa when it comes to worldwide distribution. We must not forget though, that this whole tea drinking business began in China, many moons before anywhere else.

The reason such a beautiful beverage is so popular, (and with the only drink consumed more being water, I assure you it is very popular) is because of a need to sterilise water. Around 10,000 years BC, it was discovered that whilst brewing up a pot of water for purification, the leaves from the Camellia sinensis was a welcome addition. The health giving properties of the plant soon became apparent with a Taoist philosopher stating that its consumption was vital as an elixir for longevity. In the present day it has been said that the antioxidant properties of the plant once brewed is beneficial in cholesterol stability, lowering of blood pressure and strengthens the immune system.

Containing over 700 chemicals, Camellia sinensis is beneficial for a healthy gut and it's fluorine content helps protect teeth. Catechin, a crystalline antioxidant, is also present in tea and is said to be ant carcinogenic, reduce the risk of diabetes, stroke and heart failure. So, a pretty healthy option all round. The quality of the leaves is important, and this health information only applies to drinks brewed from the Camellia sinensis plant commonly known as white, green, oolong and black teas. Herbal varieties do not come from this plant, and so will have other health benefits. Common herbals include redbush, also known as Roobois, Nettle, Dandelion and Mate, a brew which is actually more popular than coffee in South America due to a reputation as a slimming aide.

When it comes to a difference between true teas, the secret lies in way the leaves are processed. White varieties undergo barely any processing at all. The reason this particular variety is called white is because the leaves are picked, or plucked when they are still young and tender with downy white hairs. Black varieties undergo the longest process. The process is about oxidation and fermentation; after being plucked and withered, the leaves are then rolled. This releases enzymes which then break down, or ferment, the leaf. The longer this process is left to go on, the darker the resulting leaf, a bit like an apple being exposed to air and going brown. To stop the process the leaves are heated and dried.

The varieties of Camellia sinensis are graded in this order: White, Green, Oolong and Black. All however come in a huge variety of tastes and types from different parts of the world. White varieties, once plucked are left to dry in the sun for a while and then packed ready for consumption. The Green variety undergoes a bit more processing after plucking, being rolled then heated. Oolong is a semi fermented variety, and considered the best type according to connoisseurs. The longest processed, the black variety is left to ferment until the leaves have turned a dark brown and then the heating and drying takes place. There is also a variety that is post fermented, and is generally a green tea that has been allowed to compost and is a rather uncommon variety, but still as beneficial for the health as all its non composted cousins.
About the Author
Shaun Parker is a leading food and drink expert with many years of experience in the industry. Find out more about Tea at All About Tea
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