Tea for antioxidants?
By Sharon Salomon, M.S., R.D.
I’m no different from you:
day was a black tea. I never
I’m looking for the magic
knew there was any other
potion that will keep me
kind until my Aunt Mary
healthy and strong. I’m
visited us from London,
willing to eat my fruits and
bringing a bag of her own
vegetables and whole grains
tea leaves (as well as her own
but I sure would like a little
teapot, since she knew we
extra insurance to back me
Americans didn’t know how
up on days when French
to brew a proper cup of tea).
fries are the only veggie I eat
Although her tea was also a
and my fruit is covered in
black tea, it didn’t taste at all
like the tea from our
Judging from all the
supermarket tea bags.
products at the supermarket
Most people use the term
touting green tea as an
tea rather loosely. Infusions
ingredient, I was wondering if I should start drinking tea—or
of herbs and flowers are not true teas, rather they are more
at least eating green tea ice cream.
correctly known as tisanes. Chamomile, for instance, is not a
So is it hype or is it true? I guess it depends on how you
tea but a tisane. Rooibos (“red tea”) is not an actual tea, either,
view the evidence. Do you like lots of hard science to back up
although it is labeled as Red Tea.
your dietary changes? Or are you willing to go along with
There isn’t just one kind of tea but there is just one plant
testimonials and some positive information? So far, the
that supplies the leaves for all the varieties of tea. All tea comes
scientific evidence for tea is shaky although growing.
from the Camilla sinensis plant. White tea, green tea, oolong
Even though tea is the oldest and most popular beverage in
tea, black tea—they all start out as leaves from the same plant.
the world, most Americans know very little about tea beyond
How the leaf is treated after it is picked determines what kind
the flavored iced varieties or the tea served at Asian restaurants.
of tea it will become. So the leaves of one plant can end up with
As information about the seemingly remarkable health of
many “flavors” depending on factors like when the leaf is
habitual tea drinkers emerges, more and more Americans are
picked and how it is handled after it is picked. White, green
turning to tea as their preferred beverage. The media have
and oolong produce milder-tasting teas. Black tea is the
linked tea to the promise of stronger teeth, quicker weight loss,
healthier blood vessels and protection from cancer, heart
• White tea is made from immature leaves and buds. The
disease, diabetes and cognitive decline. These potential health
leaves are air dried and lightly steamed. It is slightly
benefits have helped to fuel the double-digit growth of loose
tea sales in the United States.
• Green tea is made by withering the leaves in hot air, then
I grew up thinking that tea was a medicinal drink because
steaming or pan-frying them.
the only time we drank tea at our house was to soothe sore
• Oolong tea is partially oxidized.
throats or upset stomachs. My sister and I so loved the taste
• Black tea is fully oxidized. It goes through several processes
and grown-up feeling of drinking something from a “coffee”
to produce its unique color and flavor.
cup that we often feigned painful swallowing just to get a cup
• Yellow and pu-erh teas are less well known in the
of hot, sweet tea. I guess my mother was ahead of her time
because she regarded tea as a cure-all and it seems that
What is it about tea that has manufacturers adding it to just
nowadays so does everyone else.
about every product from skin cream to ice cream? Teas, when
My mother brewed our get-well tea from the same tea bags
processed and brewed carefully, contain antioxidants.
our local Chinese restaurant used; in those days, there wasn’t
Green tea is a good source of catechins (ECG, EGC and
much variety or choice.
EGCG), a group of antioxidants that are purported to prevent
The tea my mother made from the popular brand of the
damage to cells from both normal body functions and exposure
Edible Phoenix winter 2008
to environmental pollutants. In fact, green tea is the darling of
support health claims from drinking tea comes from epidemi-
the food industry right now with claims that it can rev up
ological data (observing populations and groups of people) or
metabolism so you will lose weight, lower cholesterol and slow
studies done in test tubes or with animals. Human studies have
the cognitive decline that comes with aging. A pretty amazing
often resulted in inconsistent or even negative outcomes.
assortment of benefits!
In a study where men were given an extract of green tea plus
Black tea, the kind most commonly found in tea bags, is a
caffeine equivalent to three cups of green tea, the men burned
source of different antioxidants formed during the fermenting
80 more calories per day. Theoretically, all things being equal,
process—theaflavins and thearubigens. These antioxidants are
that might translate into a loss of about eight pounds in one
supposed to help fight infection as well as reduce cholesterol.
year. Not exactly an exciting weight loss on its own but
Less is known about white tea and its effects on health,
combined with dietary changes and exercise, green tea may
although it is believed that white tea has antiviral and antibiot-
indeed offer an edge.
ic properties. There is speculation that white tea, because it is
In a study in which subjects took a daily capsule of
the least processed, may offer the most benefits.
concentrated theaflavins, the antioxidant in black tea, there
How does tea compare to other beverages that claim to be
was a marked reduction in LDL (the “bad” kind) cholesterol
good sources of antioxidants? Per cup, green tea contains about
and an increase in HDL (the “good” kind) cholesterol. Studies
965 mg of antioxidants; black tea about 840 mg; red wine
with drinking actual tea have not been as successful in showing
about 434 mg; red grape juice about 363 mg. That makes
significant changes in cholesterol.
green tea the winner in the antioxidant category, which is why
Why do some studies show good results while others show
there is so much interest in green tea.
inconsistent results? Confounding issues like how many cups
The flavor of a tea as well its degree of healthy properties
of tea it takes to promote good health and/or alleviate
depends not only on how the tea leaves were processed but also
symptoms of disease, the variability of intake across
in what part of the world the plant grew, the time of year the
populations (from one to 10 cups of tea per day) and the effects
leaves were harvested, the soil conditions, the altitude as well as
of the brewing method on the concentration of healthful
climactic variables like wind, rain and temperature. So the
substances in the tea may all affect the outcome of a human
leaves from a plant grown in China may have a different health
intervention study. To add to the confusion, some researchers
profile and flavor qualities than the leaves from a Japanese
don’t use tea at all—to ensure that each subject gets a
plant even though they are from the same kind of plant.
consistent dose of antioxidants they use a concentrated form of
Cultivation, harvesting and processing as well as storing also
the antioxidant administered by a pill.
affect the health attributes of the leaves and resulting teas.
How does all of this translate to drinking tea? That’s one of
This may be explain why researchers have had so much
the issues—no one knows exactly.
trouble devising studies that duplicate the health benefits of tea
As with all foods, the substance isolated and being studied
drinking that they see in populations where tea, especially
may not be the only one responsible for the health attributes.
green tea, is the usual beverage. Much of the evidence to
Antioxidants are probably not the only active ingredient in tea.
HOW TO BREW A GOOD CUP OF TEA THAT PRESERVES THE
1. Use fresh water. Boil water just one time. Avoid tap water if it is chlorinated.
2. Remove water from the heat. Wait until bubbles subside.
3. Pour a small amount of water into the teapot or teacup. Swirl to heat it. Discard the water.
4. Pour water over tea leaves:
Green tea: Steep 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon per cup for 3–5 minutes
Oolong tea: Steep 1 teaspoon for ball-rolled or 1 tablespoon for strip-style for 3–5 minutes
Black tea: Steep 1 teaspoon for 3–4 minutes
White tea: Steep 1 tablespoon for 2–4 minutes
Don’t judge brew by color because some teas brew light while others brew dark. Taste to
make sure the tea has brewed enough. Tea expert Mary Lou Hess recommends starting with
a 2 minute steep and then tasting every 30 seconds until you reach the desired strength. As a rule, green and white teas are
steeped in water that is less than 180° Fahrenheit.
Longer brewing times may result in an astringent, bitter tea. Tea leaves and tea bags may be reused but each steep will
result in fewer antioxidants in the resulting beverage.
winter 2008 Edible Phoenix
Tea is also a source of caffeine and caffeine has been shown to
potential health benefits. According to Cindy Hartman, RD, a
offer health benefits as well. So researchers are trying to
holistic chef/nutritionist in San Antonio, the antioxidants in
separate the effects of caffeine from tea antioxidants, which is
tea are most easily absorbed when the tea is at 104° Fahrenheit.
why some of the studies use a purified pill instead of the drink.
As the tea cools, the healthful properties are less well absorbed
For people who are trying to avoid caffeine, however, tea
by the body so it’s best to drink the tea as soon after brewing
may be a safer beverage than coffee. Tea as a source of caffeine
averages 40 mg per 5-ounce cup. Coffee averages 80 mg
Tea has been imbued by many with almost magical
per 5-ounce cup. How the tea is brewed affects the caffeine
medicinal properties. Drinking tea may clear your arteries or
as well as the antioxidant
prevent cancer or reduce
contents of the beverage.
the pain of arthritis or
To reduce the caffeine,
PREPARATION OF ICED TEA FOR BEST FLAVOR
protect the liver from
brew the tea for about
toxins or ward off cavities
• For 1 gallon of iced tea, place 15 tea bags in a clean 1-gallon container
30 seconds, discard the
or strengthen bones or
• Pour 2 quarts of boiling water over the tea bags.
brew and steep again.
make you more alert or
• Steep 3–5 minutes.
Most of the caffeine (up
reduce the risk of cancer
• Remove teabags. Add 2 additional quarts of cold water.
to 80 percent) is leached
or fight infection or help
with the first steeping
you lose weight. Or
but the short steeping
maybe not. It may just be
time shouldn’t remove too many antioxidants. Unfortunately,
that tea drinkers have healthier lifestyles.
the commercial process of decaffeinating tea using ethyl acetate
One thing we know for sure: Drinking a cup of well-brewed
destroys about 70 percent of the tea’s antioxidant power. A
tea is a pleasurable experience and that’s enough for most
method utilizing carbon dioxide is gentler, leaving most of the
people. Mary Lou Hess, tea expert and co-author of The Story
of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide, says, “Whatever
Despite its caffeine content, tea seems to calm and relax
healthful benefits tea has should be considered a bonus for tea
most people. In fact, tea can have both a calming and an
drinkers, not the reason that the drink is being consumed in
energizing effect. There are substances in tea, nonprotein
the first place.”
amino acids, which relax people while the small amount of
caffeine can make them more alert.
Sharon Salomon, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, freelance
What about bottled varieties of prepared tea? The consen-
writer and dedicated eater who hopes that someday she can meet
sus is that there are far fewer antioxidants in bottled brewed
the challenge of balancing all the calories she consumes in the
tea. In fact, one study showed that bottled green teas contained
interest of research with enough exercise to keep her weight stable.
from 10 to 100 times less antioxidants than freshly brewed tea.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Green tea ice cream? Eat it because you like it, not for the
WHERE TO DRINK AND BUY TEA
According to Hess, the best place to buy tea depends on what kind of tea the buyer wants. “Buying tea is a lot like buying
distinctive wines: The more a shop specializes in certain styles of wine, the more selective and
distinctive the choices in that shop will be. The world’s best teas do not come in teabags.”
Abbey Gardens: 1837 West Guadalupe Rd., Mesa
Christine Moss & Allison Barta: 1090 S. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert
English Rose: 201 East St., Carefree
Gooseberries Tea Room: 13216 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
Mandala Tea Room: 7025 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale
Souvia Tea: 4320 N. Miller Rd., Scottsdale and 15414 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
Tea Court at The Phoenician: 6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale
Tea Infusion: 2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe
Tesa’s Tea and Treasures: 4700 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
The Tea Shoppe: 7005 N. 58th Ave., Glendale
The Teeter House Tea Room: 622 E. Adams St., Phoenix
The Urban Tea Loft: 11 W. Boston St., Chandler
Edible Phoenix winter 2008