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A Spot of Tea could lead to Barrel of Health

By Carolyn Poirot
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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Tea for two reasons:

bulletYou may drink tea simply for pleasure, but modern science says there's also a medical value to sipping tea, which has a 5,000-year history as a folk remedy.
bulletRecent research has found the benefits of tea include less tooth decay, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and protection against heart disease and some forms of cancer.

Tea, especially unfermented green tea, has antioxidant properties similar to those of fruits, vegetables and wine. The health benefits are thought to result primarily from a group of plant substances known as flavonoids, which prevent the damaging effects of oxidation.

"All of us baby boomers are concerned about wrinkles and stress and the way coffee makes us lose all our vitamins and minerals - lose all our vitality," says Letha Hadady, author of "Asian Health Secrets" (Crown Publishing, $27.50).

"Some have claimed that tea makes you beautiful, others that it makes you smart," says Hadady. "The greatest benefit is that tea is digestive, and that's no small thing."

Unlike coffee, which stimulates the nerves, tea contains tannic acid, which stimulates digestion and speeds metabolism, Hadady says. All real tea, deriving from the tea plant Camellia sinenssis, also contains small amounts of theophyline, the chemical compound used in I treatment of asthma, points out Pam Wyatt-Aaron of Arlington, the "Texas Tea Queen," who sells and promotes tea through her company, Let's Talk Tea.

Everyone is looking for alternatives to antibiotics to give the immune system a little boost," Wyatt-Aaron says. A medical sales representative who sold cancer care products for 16 years, she became interested in tea three years ago when her doctor told her she had to quit drinking coffee and Mountain Dew because all that caffeine was contributing to severe fibrocystic breast disease.

If it was good enough for Peter Rabbit

We all know that Peter's mother made him a cup of chamomile tea and put him to bed after he snuck into Mr. McGregor's garden and ate too much cabbage. But what she really made to cure his bellyache was an "herbal infusion," according to purists who say that real tea can be made only with real tea leaves. Drinks made by steeping other herbs, fruits or spices in water often are called "tea" in the generic sense of the word. Things like raspberry "tea" first became popular in this country after the Boston Tea Party, when loyal Americans spurned the real stuff, shipped from Britain along with taxation without representation. Now many of the most popular brews are made from real tea leaves flavored with things like mint, cinnamon oil, fruit extracts, ginger and other spices. Herbal "teas" continue to increase in popularity. Tea is probably the first herb any of us were introduced to in this country. Our grandmothers knew how to use tea for pleasure and for healing, but the war generation drifted away from that knowledge after the introduction of powerful antibiotics, Hadady notes.

She brews tea with a little orange peel for excess sinus congestion during the cold season and puts in cloves to stimulate energy. If she has been out in the cold and is feeling stiff with aching joints, she might just stir a half-teaspoon full of cinnamon in a cup of hot water and sweat out the cold. "Cloves are good when we are cold, tired or need to brighten our outlook and lift our energy level," Hadady says. "I like a lighter green tea first thing in the morning a more bitter green to provide lift in afternoons. "I'm guided by aroma. I take a sniff and see if it smells good at the moment, if it's what I want now."

A tea is a tea is a tea

Researchers agree that tea is all pretty much alike as far as chemical properties and health benefits are concerned. The way the leaves are processed accounts for most of the differences among the three main kinds of tea: green, oolong and black. Harvesters take freshly picked tea leaves (most stripped by hand from evergreen tea plantations, where the leaves are put on racks to wither. Tea gives up 40 percent of its moisture and becomes limp in a couple of hours, says Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Council of the USA. It is then put into threshing machines or manipulated by hand to breakup the green leaves. It is then rolled or crushed, then steamed or roasted and put into ovens to dry. Finally it is sorted, graded and packaged for export. The main difference is the amount of time the tea is left in the air to wither and oxidize or ferment, Simrany notes. Green tea is processed for the least amount of time and ends up with the least caffeine and color. Black tea is fermented the longest, causing it to be darkest and have the most caffeine. Oolong, sometimes called red tea, is partially fermented and lies in between. Tea is sorted by sifting the processed leaves through a system of sieves. The biggest pieces generally called full-leaf tea, remain at the top and are more flavorful and fragrant. Most commercial tea sold in this country is made from smaller pieces.

Brewing a proper cuppa' tea

I you've been boiling tea in a pan of water on top of the stove to get all the flavor you can out of those little bleached paper bags, you're missing out on the delicate flavor and aroma of a perfectly brewed cup of tea.

First, forget the bags. Start with a full-leaf, loose tea, not the bottom-of-the-barrel "sweepings" that the British say Americans drink. Run the cold water from the faucet for a couple of seconds to get some oxygen into the water and remove any sediment. Fill a tea kettle about one-third full and bring water to a boil (just up to a boil for green tea). In the meantime, warm your teapot by filling it with hot water. Empty and dry when the tea water begins to boil. Place one teaspoon or one bag of tea into the pot for each cup of water. Pour hot water into the pot and let it steep for three to five minutes. Strain the tea into a cup, and cover the teapot with a cozy or towel to keep warm.

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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is nutritional in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. This notice is required by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

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Last modified: June 28, 2015