Green tea naturally contains polyphenols which act as powerful antioxidants in the body.
Some of the most interesting of which are flavonoids, catechins and EGCg (Epigallocatechin Gallate).
Green tea is also the main source of the soothing amino acid L-Theanine now known to provide the
mind calming effects that monks cherish in matcha tea.
Finally green tea can contain a high level of the blood building and cleansing chemical chlorophyll.
In this article we'll delve into how and why green tea should be a part of your everyday routine - because believe me - if you want to live a long and healthy life, green tea has got to be a part it!
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of it all, let's talk about the many forms of tea there are in the world. Did you know that white tea, yellow tea, oolong tea, green tea , matcha tea, pu-erh tea and even black tea all come from the same plant? The world produces all these teas from just two varieties of the Camellia sinensis evergreen shrub. Camellia sinensis var. sinensis is grown to produce Chinese and Japanese teas, and Camellia sinensis var. assamica is grown to produce Indian Assam teas. It's the harvesting and processing techniques that create the different teas we're happily drinking every day. The higher the oxidation of the plant materials, the darker the tea. What's interesting to note is that because the same plant is used to produce all these teas - each tea has the potential to contain all the phytonutrients that green tea's claim to fame are dependent upon. What makes green tea the most nutritious is the process by which the tea is produced. As with many foods - the process is the key!
How are teas produced?
Tea making is actually quite a complex process with several steps. Each step will determine the health benefits of the end product.
The first step is harvesting. The time of year of the harvest will determine the naturally occurring phytonutrients in the end product. A tea plucked at the beginning of the year will produce an end product with more chlorophyll and L-Theanine because these nutrients are produced to help the plant grow. Because the plant is just beginning it's growing for the year, there are also a plethora of other nutrients present that the plant plans to use to grow tall and strong. Think of first harvest teas like you think of sprouts; they are packed full of all the nutrients required to grow a to a full blown plant over the growing season!
First harvest tea plants will be manipulated by growers who are conscious of the medicinal benefits of their teas. A conscientious grower will shade the plants to produce a higher level of both L-Theanine and chlorophyll. Teas that are higher in L-Theanine are better suited to calming the mind. L-Theanine also reduces the effects of caffeine on your liver, producing an energy boost that is sustained and won't end in a crash. Teas that are higher in chlorophyll are awesome blood cleansers as well as blood builders, and generally support body cleansing overall. Chlorophyll is also a fantastic heavy metal cleanser - so if you're thinking about cleansing - green tea is a great coffee alternative while you cleanse!
Sorting and deveining are again accomplished by hand by a reputable medicinal tea company. However, the task may be performed by machinery if the purpose of the tea is not medicinal, and therefore not top of mind to the producer. Some companies may choose to keep the tough fibers intact, reducing man-hours and creating a heavier and bulkier tea (read: a cheaper tea whose weight is inflated. Remember - tea is sold by the gram!) Skipping this step will produce a more bitter flavour.
At this point the processes start to shift depending on the intended end product. A high quality matcha green tea will be slowly ground between granite stones - producing a completely raw, and whole food product (no heat is produced in the grinding process). A true matcha green tea contains all the tender parts of the buds and leaves of the tea plant - thus keeping the fibres, proteins, oils, and all the phytonutrients intact and viable. Matcha green tea is a true whole food!
If the tea producer is creating the better known infused form of a tea - teas enjoyed by soaking the leaves in hot water, thus infusing the water with the health benefits that naturally seep out of the leaves - they will wither the leaves. Withering begins the oxidation process. Oxidation as we know, begins to degrade phytonutrients. Oxidation can also be harmful within the body - which is why antioxidants are so healthful! A tea's health benefits will be connected to the level of oxidation to which is has been exposed.
Once withering has reached the desired state a tea leaf is then rolled. This is really where the variety of tea begins! Rolling is an ancient technique that can produce a range of flavours and scents. The rolling, crushing and twisting of the leaf will crush the cell walls of the leaf, exposing the essential oils and enzymes to oxygen - furthering the oxidation process, and bringing the desired flavours to the forefront. The technique will also remove much of the leave's juices. The length of oxidation will determine the tea's colour, flavour, and health benefits. A tea may be laid out for only a few hours or it may actually go through several rolling and oxidizing phases. The longer the oxidation the darker the tea. A gentler oxidation provides a common green tea. A longer oxidation results in a black tea. The tea may even be left to ferment - creating a pu-erh tea.
So which tea is the best to drink?
Well let's be honest - no tea is the best tea for every body! We all have our own goals and challenges which may make one tea better for a particular person. Here's a list of teas made from the Camellia sinensis evergreen shrub along with some highlights of their benefits.
White tea has undergone the least processing, and so may retain many of its raw qualities, therefore preserving higher levels of healthful phytonutrients. It has a pleasant and gentle flavour.
Yellow tea can help you lose weight by improving your metabolism due to its catechin and polyphenol content. It also improves glucose metabolism, thus regulating blood sugar and therefore reducing fat storage. The polyphenols in yellow tea also have the ability to reduce inflammation in the body. Due to its high antioxidant content, yellow tea helps to reduce oxidative damage that causes plague build up in the arteries (read: it reduces cholesterol too!). And of course we all know that antioxidants prevent cancer and some say even help to heal many forms of cancers.
Matcha green tea is produced via a very specific and traditional process of hand picking the buds of the tea shrub at certain times of the year, under specific conditions to produce specific medicinal qualities. You'll find Ceremonial matcha green tea (awesome for the brain benefits and cleansing aspects of green tea) and Second Harvest, or Summer Harvest matcha green tea (fantastic for the body benefits of green tea). Matcha green tea is my favourite green tea of all because it contains the highest concentration of phytonutrients compared to any other green tea!
Matcha is another tea that has a lot of imitators! True matcha is handpicked, de-stemmed by hand, carefully dried to preserve the all the phytonutrients, and then powdered with traditional machinery. Imitators will take the naturally produced dust from infusing green tea production, package that by-product and call it matcha! Unfortunately these companies are not actually being untruthful because the direct translation of 'matcha' is 'powder', and strictly speaking, this by-product of producing green tea is in fact a powder. *sigh*
If it's cheap matcha - it's cheap for a reason! Treat yourself to a quality matcha tea and you'll notice the profound difference in the first sip! I'll also share some recipes with you in my next article to help you enjoy the benefits of matcha green tea every day.
Seriously - just for the chlorophyll alone - matcha green tea is your best option! When searching for a quality matcha - colour is the key. Look for a brilliantly bright green powder. But here's the kicker - all these healthful nutrients in green tea are both light and air sensitive - so a quality matcha tea will be sealed in a dark, airtight container! Talk to your local health store representative and ask the hard questions about their tea before you invest!
Note the vast difference in colour in matcha powders:
The Ceremonial grade of Matcha Green Tea is produced specifically to contain high levels of both chlorophyll and L-Theanine. That's why it's called "ceremonial" - it was created to assist the monks in their meditations. Ceremonial matcha is fantastic for study period - or if you've got a big project you need to knuckle down on. L-Theanine enhances memory and learning while reducing the spike and crash effects of the caffeine that naturally occurs in all teas. L-Theanine alongside the naturally occurring caffeine in matcha green tea provides you with about 4 hours of sustained mental clarity, alertness, focus and energy.
Green tea is also packed full of antioxidants including the powerful EGCg. We already mentioned EGCg at the top of this article - however, let's delve a bit more deeply into the powerhouse that is EGCg!
Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCg) will increase your metabolism by preventing a specific enzyme from breaking down norepinephrine. Norepinephrine increases the rate of lipolysis (the process of converting fat into nutrients that our muscles and tissues use as fuel). When our body breaks down fat cells we lose weight. Studies also show that caffeine assists in the weight loss process because it also inhibits enzymes that reduce norepinephrine production.
As an antioxidant, EGCg will deactivate free radicals in our body thus protecting our cells from DNA damage caused by these free radicals. By preventing this free radical damage, we are also preventing the build of plague in our arteries, putting a stop to problems with cholesterol levels. Researchers have found that the EGCg in tea also inhibits the growth of, and promotes the natural destruction of cancer cells in animals. The EGCg in green tea prevents clotting of blood in our circulatory system and allows our blood to flow freely into our heart.
EGCg also has anti-inflammatory properties that block pro-inflammatory cells, interleukin-1, from damaging cartilage in our bodies. Thus green tea can slow down the development and progression of arthritis.
Catechins are the next powerful nutrient found in green teas. In fact, catechins are found most abundantly in the tea plant. Catechins are the antioxidants that give green tea its ability to promote longevity. They are part of the flavonoid family which are plant metabolites that are not essential to promote life, but instead enhance an organisms health and well being - which is why they're so healthful for us to consume. Studies are currently underway to confirm the anti-cancer actions of catechins - so far we are seeing the ability to halt cancer growth and to prevent free radical damage! The data are promising. The catechins in green tea have also been shown to inhibit influenza virus thus lowering a person's risk of catching a flu, and we know that catechins inhibit the growth of streptococcus mutans in the mouth, reducing the risk of cavities, and of the build up of plaque on our teeth. Did you know that the plaque that builds up on your teeth, and the related bacteria are directly connected to the build up of arterial plaque? We also know that catechins help prevent arterial build up and cholesterol related problems in the body.
Matcha Green Tea is high in fibre because it is the whole leaf ground down, rather than simply an infusion from the leaves. Fibre feeds the good bacteria in our guts, and also assists in detoxification and proper bowel function.
Finally green teas contain various levels of vitamins and minerals depending again upon the level of oxidation, fermentation, and the quality of the handling practices of the manufacturer.
Wow! Why even both learning about the other teas?
Well, here's the deal - they have healing powers too!
Oolong tea is considered to be between green and black in terms of health benefits because of its oxidation level. Black tea is completely oxidized while Oolong tea is partially oxidized, but more oxidized than green tea. As we know, oxidation decreases the Catechins and EGCG in your tea, and increases the level of Caffeine. Despite its oxidation levels, Oolong tea still contains vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K as well as folic acid and niacin amide) and minerals (calcium, manganese, copper, carotin, selenium, and potassium) as well as detoxifying alkaloids.
Black Teas are fully oxidized and even toasted to create the dark colour and rich flavours with which we associate them. However they still contain less caffeine than coffee, and maintain their oral and arterial health benefits (mention above in the green tea section - remember they're the same plant!) You'll also find L-Theanine, catechins, and polyphenols in small amounts in black tea. Did you know that caffeine can be beneficial in both small and large doses? There are some fascinating studies happening right now with Parkinson's disease and caffeine. I've seen some pretty exciting anecdotal results as well as the health food store that I work with. If you know someone with Parkinson's disease, perhaps they'd like to do a little research of their own!
Pu-erh tea is black tea that has been fermented. The fermentation length, location and process changes both the flavours and the health benefits of the tea. Pronounced "POO-air", the tea mellows and improves with age like fine a wine. Some pu-erh teas are more than 50 years old, and rare pu-erh teas sell for many thousands of dollars in specialty stores. Pu-erh tea originates in China and the Chinese people credit it with many health benefits, most especially weight loss, reduction of serum cholesterol, and cardiovascular protection. Unfortunately there hasn't been much study done on pu-erh tea, so the jury is still out on this one!
I hope that you've learned that not all teas are created equally today - and that you will shop with a more discerning eye when looking for a tea to help you stay healthy and strong. Remember, a medicinal tea company will be proud of the efforts they've put into bringing you a quality product. If the company doesn't advertise their efforts to bring you a medicinal product, or baulk at your discerning questions - they're not the tea company for you! Be choosey! Vote with your dollar and support those businesses that create amazingly healthy natural products!
Want to learn about consuming green tea everyday for all its health benefits?
Check out my next article here.