Hy-Vee Dietitian: Tea Time

Winter is just not going to let us go for a couple more weeks. How about wrapping around a hot cup of tea? The caffeine in tea might brighten your mood a bit on a cold March day. In the long-run, tea drunk daily is looking like another valuable tool in our nutritional tool kit to help ward off diabetes, assorted cancers, heart disease, and stroke.
And, like eating fruits and vegetables, "Variety in our tea drinking is a good thing," says Johnson Ave. Hy-Vee dietitian, Judy Fitzgibbons. On today's segment we'll look at a variety of ways to buy tea and brew it as well as talk about its benefits.

All tea comes from the same plant, but like roses, there are thousands of varieties. Teas we buy contain blends of dried teas, which gives them their distinctive flavors. Where the plant grows and how it is processed affects both the flavor and the amounts of health-promoting components end up in our tea cup.

Green tea has been researched the most for its health benefits. Some of the benefit may be related to caffeine, which occurs naturally in all teas. Other benefits appear to be related to high amounts of a chemical called EGCG which is highest in green tea. White tea has the highest amount of inflammation-fighting anti-oxidants among teas, but there is no research yet showing if they are unique in their health benefits. Black tea contains anti-oxidants as well, but in lower amounts than the green and white.

Tea is lower in caffeine than coffee, ranging somewhere between 15 to 70 mg per 6 to 8 ounce cup. That's brewed from one tea bag or about one teaspoon of tea leaves. Black tea has the most caffeine.
"We're still waiting for the research to come in, so best advice I can give for now," says Fitzgibbons, "is to drink tea once or twice a day. Any kind of tea, but preferably brewed rather than the bottled teas." And mix them up. If you want to explore teas, several of the area Hy-Vee HealthMarket departments carry bulk teas. You can purchase small amounts to find your favorites. Dust off the tea pot and start sipping!

Tea names tell us the blend and the type of tea. Favorite American blends include Earl Grey and English Breakfast. Tea names also identify regions where the tea was grown such as Darjeeling, Assam and Ceylon. Tea types tell us the processing method:

White tea: leaves from the tips of shoots are allowed to wither and then are dried. The flavor is similar to green tea, but milder. White tea looks very light yellow or slightly green when brewed.

Green tea: tea leaves are steamed or fire-heated to stop natural processes in the leaves. Then they are dried without any fermentation. Tea color will be pale green or gold.

Black tea: after leaves wither, they're bruised, allowed to ferment, then dried. Fermenting gives black tea its coppery color and stronger flavor compared to green and white.

Oolong tea: tea leaves are fermented for a shorter time than black tea and then steamed to stop the process. Flavor and anti-oxidant levels vary greatly depending on how long teas are fermented before steaming.

Tea lovers argue that the only good cup of tea comes from pouring hot water, at the right temperature, over loose tea leaves and steeping it. For those who want to deal with less equipment, tea bags are fine. In all cases, start with boiling water. If you're making black tea, immediately pour the heated water over the tea and steep six to seven minutes for full flavor. For oolong tea, allow the boiling water to cool for two minutes, then steep two to four minutes. Green and white tea are more delicate, so allow water to cool for a full three minutes (to 175°F) before pouring the hot water over tea and steep only two to three minutes.

To learn more about tea as well as to find interesting recipes that include tea, visit tea company's websites: frontiercoop.com (located in Norway, Iowa), NumiTea.com, StashTea.com and many more.

Judy Fitzgibbons represents Hy-Vee as a nutrition expert working throughout the community to promote healthy eating and nutrition. Judy is a Registered Dietitian and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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