Health Benefits of Drinking Tea

By Dolores Snyder

Healthy Bones

One of the latest scientific studies in England showed that drinking tea can improve bone density. Researchers examined women over 65 who drank one to six cups of black tea a day. The results showed that the tea drinkers had stronger bones than non-tea drinkers, which is not surprising considering tea contains fluoride -- a necessary mineral for bone development.

What's more, the flavonoids in tea act as antioxidants, which are responsible for promoting bone density mass. In a recent Taiwanese study conducted over 10 years, the bone density of tea drinkers increased by 4 to 6 percent more than those non-tea drinkers. Tea drinkers of 6 to 10 years had higher bone mineral density in the lumbar spine, and those drinking tea more than 10 years had higher bone mineral density in all body sites. These flavonoids may also protect the body from some cancers and heart disease.

Improved Memory

Researchers at Newcastle University recently reported that drinking green and black teas may help boost memory. Both teas inhibited the activity of an enzyme that is found in protein deposits of patients with Alzheimer's. This effect of green tea lasted for one week, whereas black tea's enzyme-inhibiting effect lasted for one day.

Reduced Cancer Risk

A recent study of Asian American women, ages 25 to 74, compared those who had breast cancer to a similar group of healthy women. The women who consumed green tea on a regular basis had a lower risk of breast cancer. Even half a cup of green tea per day was enough to reduce breast cancer incidence by 47 percent.

Growing Tea

Green, white, yellow, oolong, and black teas all come from the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen bush originally grown only in China, where its cultivation and production were closely guarded secrets. More than 3,000 varieties are available. The methods of processing the leaves affect the color of the finished product and result in fermented, semifermented and nonfermented teas.

Rooibos, the red tea from the Southwestern Cape area of South Africa, is fermented like black tea. The fermentation process turns the leaves from green to a deep red color, with a sweet taste. Caffeine-free, rooibos contains comparable amounts of polyphenols to green tea, with the bonus of antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and antimutagenic properties.

Tea is grown in a climate of tropical and sub-tropical sunshine with abundant rain, and flourishes best in an acid soil. China, Formosa, Japan, Ceylon, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Cameroon are the major producers of tea. The only commercial tea plantation in the United States is on Wadmalow Island, near Charleston, South Carolina. This plantation sold in 2005 at auction to The Bigelow Company, which plans to keep cultivating tea at the plantation under the direction of former co-owner William B. Hall, who is retained as an employee. Hall is a third-generation tea taster, trained in London.

Eighty-five percent of all tea drunk in the United States is iced. For the most antioxidants, brew your own, however some green convenience iced teas contain as many antioxidants as blueberries, spinach, and strawberries. Another popular cold tea drink is bubble tea, which originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and contains tapioca pearls. These are added to sweetened cold-infused tea. The pearls may be black -- made of cassava root and brown sugar -- or white, consisting of caramel, starch, and chamomile root extract. A healthy version contains fresh fruits, milk, and crushed ice made into a milkshake.

The Chinese drank green, black, and oolong teas over 1,200 years ago for their medicinal purposes, so it comes as no surprise that tea is now receiving accolades for its health benefits. Drinking tea has been found to improve bone density, reduce stress, lower the risk of stroke, strengthen the cardiovascular system, lower LDL cholesterol levels, increase HDL levels, strengthen the immune system, promote digestion, inhibit growth of bacteria in the mouth, reduce blood pressure, and possibly prevent certain cancers.

A Guide to Teas

Black Teas (fermented, to be drunk plain or with milk or lemon)
Health Benefits: Strengthen immune system, promote digestion, inhibit growth of bacteria in mouth, and strengthen bone density.

  • Darjeeling, a delicate tea with a muscatel flavor, referred to as the champagne of teas.
  • Earl Grey, a scented blend with a delicate fragrance of oil of bergamot.
  • Ceylon, a delicate bright tea with a smooth flavor. Excellent for iced tea.
  • Keemun, a sweet-flavored red liquor, often called the burgundy of teas.
  • Lapsang Souchong, a large-leaf tea with a distinctive smoky flavor produced by smoking the tea over oak or pine chips. Serve hot without milk.

Green, White, and Yellow Teas (nonfermented, to be drunk plain)
Health Benefits: Rich in vitamin C, selenium, and fluoride; lower blood pressure; promote digestion.

  • Gunpowder, a fragrant yellow-green liquor made from pellet shapes of unfermented leaves produced in China. Used to brew mint tea in North Africa and Turkey.
  • Lung Ching, also known as Dragon's Well, a fragrant, jade liquor made up of leaf buds with a sweet taste.
  • Yin Zhen, or Silver Needles, a white liquor of delicate sweetness from Fujian. Plucked two days a year when the leaves resemble silver needles; expensive; contains no caffeine or tannin.
  • Sencha, a clear green liquor rich in vitamin C.

Oolong Teas (Semifermented, to be drunk plain)
Health Benefits: Help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure.

  • Grand Puchong Imperial, a delicate liquor of an amber hue with a smooth, sweet taste.
  • Ti Kuan Yin, an amber liquor with the taste and aroma of ripe peaches.

Brewing the Perfect Cuppa

For the best taste, follow these brewing guidelines regardless of the type of tea.

1. Select a teapot made of porcelain, silver, glass, stainless steel, pewter, or earthenware, but never aluminum, which produces a black, foul-tasting cup.

2. Use cold tap water to rinse the kettle, and fill with fresh water or use bottled spring water. Fill your teapot with hot tap water to warm it. Bring the water in the kettle to a boil.

3. Empty the teapot and add 1 teaspoon of loose tea per cup, plus one for the pot, using an infuser or a special filter paper. Bring the teapot to the kettle and pour on the boiling (212 degrees F) water for black tea. Place the lid on the teapot and steep for three to five minutes, depending on the type of tea for the infusion. Green tea brews at a lower temperature (175 to 185 degrees F) for a minimum of three minutes. Oolong tea takes up to seven minutes to brew, as it is a large-leaf tea. White tea is brewed at 150 degrees F for 15 minutes.

4. Stir the tea before pouring or covering with a tea cozy. If using a tea bag, reduce the brewing time because the tea in the bag is the smallest grade of tea leaf. However, there are now tea sachets available containing full-leaf tea, and these make a better-tasting cuppa.

5. If you have a problem with caffeine in tea, you can decaffeinate your tea by pouring on boiling water to cover the leaves and leaving it to brew for 30 seconds. Then pour off the first water, which will contain 95 percent of the caffeine. Pour fresh water over the leaves and let the tea steep for the required amount of time. A cup of tea contains roughly half the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee.

6. For brewing a perfect pitcher of iced tea, make it double strength with six tea bags, add 4 cups of freshly boiled water, steep for five minutes, strain into a quart pitcher, and add cold water. For a crystal clear liquid, try brewing with loose Ceylon or Darjeeling tea. If your tea becomes cloudy with refrigeration, restore its color by adding a small amount of boiling water.

Today, with such a choice of teas available, you'll likely find more than one that you will enjoy drinking on a regular basis for pleasure as well as health.

Learn more about Dolores Snyder's book Tea Time Entertaining at

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