Green Tea offers a Healthy Brew

HERBS for HEALTH


| December/January 2004



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Green tea has taken the Western world by storm. Once a favorite of Asian peoples alone, this ancient beverage now charms Westerners alike. As a health brew, green tea may inhibit several types of cancers; delay age-related cancer onset; boost immune function; reduce LDL cholesterol, blood sugar and risk of stroke; curb severity of rheumatoid arthritis; alleviate pain; and combat tooth decay.

The key is catechins, a specialized group of polyphenols that gives green tea its astringent flavor and confers many of its health benefits by serving as antioxidants, antiseptics and detoxifiers. Green tea, the best dietary source of catechins, contains at least eight types, mainly epigallocatechin gallate and epigallocatechin. Compared to its fermented sisters, oolong and black tea, green tea retains more catechins — as much as 30 to 42 percent of dried leaf weight versus only 9 percent in black tea.

NOT ALL GREEN TEAS ARE EQUAL

Almost 90 percent of green teas are from China, but types from Japan and elsewhere also are popular. While all green teas are of the species Camellia sinensis, differences in origin and processing create many varieties.

Chinese green teas include renowned names like Lung Ching, Pi Lo Chun, Mao Feng, Yin Zhen, Yun Wu, Mao Jian and Gua Pian. These regional teas are famous culturally for their individual leaf characteristics, color, aroma and flavor. The best known is a tea from China’s Zhejiang province, Lung Ching, whose flat leaf buds yield a pale jade tea with a floral aroma and fruity taste. Chinese teas range considerably in quality, but the most prized are those whose young leaves or leaf buds are plucked very early in spring and hand rolled to final shape. Premium teas can cost more than $10 per ounce, lesser ones about $5.

More common Chinese green teas include Young Hyson, gunpowder and Chun Mee. Gunpowder and Young Hyson varieties consist of leaves rolled into pellets, or twisted in a long thin style, respectively. These everyday teas typically cost less than $2 per ounce and taste harsher and less complex than the more expensive varieties. This is especially true of gunpowder tea.

Flavored teas are a special treat. These teas bear the fragrance and flavor of jasmine, citrus, mint, rosebuds, vanilla and other botanicals. Chinese jasmine tea remains a favorite — the tea leaves are dried with jasmine flowers, which, when removed, leave behind a subtle fragrance and taste.





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