Green Tea: Catechins and Its Health Benefits

What’s in your cup? Not all green teas are the same, or even similar for that matter. The popular green tea (catechins being responsible for its many health benefits) is more then a drink. It is an immune booster and helps with arthritis, cancer and tooth decay. What more could you ask for in a cup of tea?

| March/April 2004

  • Green tea offers a satisfying array of delicious choices, but are they all equal in catechin content?
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  • Join the celebration April 24th at the 2004 Herbs Galore festival, held at the Maymont Foundation in Richmond, Virginia.
  • Tina Marie Wilcox of the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas.

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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.

It’s all about catechins, a specialized group of polyphenols. Catechins give green tea its astringent flavor and likely confer many of its health benefits by serving as antioxidants, antiseptics and detoxifiers. Green tea is the best dietary source of catechins and contains at least eight types, the major ones being epigallocatechin gallate and epigallocatechin. And unlike 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.

Different Kinds of Green Tea

Almost 90 percent of green teas are from China, but many from Japan and elsewhere also are popular. While all green teas are from the species Camellia sinensis, diverse types are available, depending on where they are grown and how they’re processed.

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. Best-known is lung ching (or Dragon Well), from Zhejiang Province, 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 grades 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 they are less complex and harsher in taste, especially gunpowder.

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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