We have all heard, most probably during garbled conversations with our mates, that tea is great for our health. But why do some teas get more attention than others (I’m looking at you, green tea)? The green stuff always seems to get great press – everyone seems to have heard about its wellness capabilities.
But how true is that? Personally, I have no favourite tea, or any specific tea that I drink for its health benefits, the main reason being that all teas have health benefits – it isn’t just green tea. The key thing that seems to dictate the health benefits of tea is the polyphenol content, and that’s what we’re here to chat about today.
Where does tea come from?
First off, it is important to point out that all tea comes from the same plant. That’s right – green, black, oolong and white tea are all from the tea plant known as camellia senesis, found all around the world in regions you would expect to source tea from: China, Japan and Africa to name a few.
However, tea that is herbal – mint, camomile or maybe fruit teas – do not come from camellia senesis, therefore it is not actually tea. The teabag you buy them in is just a cheeky disguise. For that reason, here at Real Kombucha we don’t really count herbal teas as tea. You can’t ferment them in the same way as black, green or oolong teas, for example.
What’s the difference between green tea, black tea and white tea?
The difference between the teas we drink is simply to do with the how the leaves are processed after being picked. The leaves can be rolled, pan roasted, squashed or just left out to dry for weeks on end. Each tea farm will have their own unique method, and each will change the amount of oxygen that the tea leaf is exposed to. The more oxygen, the more oxidised the tea becomes. The drying and rolling techniques introduce more oxygen to the leaf, and on a simple level, this means that the leaf browns as it oxidises. So, a black tea is fully oxidised – the darkest of teas; oolong tea is partially oxidised, resulting in a light brown tea closer to amber in colour; green tea is not oxidised, leaving the leaf with much of its original colour. White teas on the other hand are the fine young leaves at the top of the tea plant which, again, are not oxidised resulting in a very light tea.
The oxidation of tea not only changes the flavour characteristics, but also the composition of the tea leaf itself. What we see is that all the teas contain a specific ingredient known as catechin polyphenol, and this is what the health benefits in teas are attributed to. So it follows that drinking any tea, even if it is not green tea, will get those catechin polyphenols into your body.
So, are certain teas more healthy than others?
The difference lies in the total amount of certain catechins in the tea leaf following different levels of oxidation. There are around 20 compounds in tea that are altered after oxidation. Without getting too technical, it seems that specific catechins (we call them gallated) may be higher in green tea, while black tea contains more theaburgins, and white tea contains more theanine. These ingredients are all linked to benefits in how your metabolism works, your energy levels, how your blood vessels work and how your digestive system processes specific nutrients.
The message, therefore, is drink more tea to get more catechins into your diet. Scientists have show that the more tea you drink, from a variety of tea types, the more likely it is that you’ll decrease the risk of developing specific diseases throughout your life.
The real challenge, as far as I’m concerned, is working out which tea is your favourite. For me, a white tea – a peony – is a great way to start the day, while a bolder, black tea is what I want as the day progresses. Then again, I normally end up drinking our kombucha, which is made from our high-end teas sourced from around the world. I never go without two or three Real Kombuchas throughout the day. I suppose it’s the biggest perk of the job.