Reading the Mystery Behind Tea Leaves - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Reading the Mystery Behind Tea Leaves

Second to water, tea is the most consumed beverage around the world according to the FDA. © istockphoto.com/GeorgeClerk Second to water, tea is the most consumed beverage around the world according to the FDA. © istockphoto.com/GeorgeClerk

By Lauren Brown
Provided by WorldNow

If you're poised to bring a beverage to your lips and it's not water, chances are, it is tea.  Second to water, tea is the most consumed beverage around the world according to the FDA.  Steaming hot or iced, in winter or summer, tea is soothing, refreshing, fragrant and even healing. 

Almost 5,000 years ago, a Chinese emperor discovered tea leaves steeped in hot water made a delicious drink, and the practice has since caught on.  Originally native to Asia, Camellia sinensis, or the tea plant, now grows in other tropical or subtropical regions at high altitudes.  China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Japan are just a few of the countries known for producing the white-flowered evergreen tea plant.

Often compared to wine, tea picks up its distinctive flavor according to the location, elevation level, soil composition, wind and temperature where it is grown, and the way that the leaves are picked. 

Once the tea leaves have been picked they are sorted by grade which is both a measurement of leaf size and condition.  The tips of the leaves are used for the finest teas.  Two leaves and a bud becomes what is called fannings and dusts; this assortment is used in tea bags. 

Thanks to the ingenuity and capitalist sensibility in the United States, tea bags were invented by a man named Thomas Sullivan in 1908.  Sullivan was a merchant who discovered that sending samples of his tea across the country would be much more efficient if it was contained in silk bags. 

Loose teas contain whole or broken leaves that can be steeped directly in water or a tea infuser.  Tea aficionados consider whole leaf loose tea the best tasting. 

There are four main varieties of tea:  white, green, black and oolong.  Each variety develops into one of the four groups according to the way that the leaves are processed once they are picked.   

White tea is most rare variety which usually comes from China.  These leaves from the tea plant are picked before the buds are fully opened.  The variety is deemed white because of the silver fur covering the buds that eventually turns white when processed.  The buds are simply steamed and then dried, yielding the least processed form of tea. 

Green tea is similar to white tea in that oxidation is not part of the process.  The tea leaves from white and green tea are most similar to that of a fresh tea leaf, which is why green tea often has a grassy or vegetal flavor.  In order to make green tea, the leaves are rolled and then put through a series of dryings or firings.   

Oolong tea falls somewhere in between green and black tea when it comes to processing.  The tea leaves undergo some oxidation or fermentation which yields chemical reactions that change the color and taste of the leaves.   The leaves are rolled, edges are bruised, then withered, fermented for a short period, and then dried.  Oolong tea is often scented with jasmine flowers.  

Black tea goes through the most processing:  leaves are withered, rolled, go through a full period of fermentation, and then are dried.  English Breakfast and Darjeeling are some of the popular forms of black tea.  According to Tea Association of U.S., 80% of tea consumed in 2007 was black tea.

Herbal "teas" are more accurately herbal infusions or tisanes which are made from a combination of dried flowers, barks, fruits, and flowers such as cinnamon, orange peel, and chamomile flowers.  

Blended or flavored teas are made when one of these herbal components is added to tea leaves such the combination of jasmine flowers to black or green tea for jasmine tea. 

Chai is the word for tea in many parts of the world.  In India, Masala chai has been the drink of choice for centuries and can be made by steeping tea leaves and a combination of spices with milk.  It is so popular that chai teas are now bottled and found in convenience stores and are even sold at popular coffee houses.  Further evidence of the increasing popularity of tea can be found on the Starbucks menu in their offerings of black and green teas, iced, in latte form, and paired with juice or lemonade. 

Not only does tea taste good but it is also good for you; it may even b e healthier than drinking water, according to researchers quoted by the BBC.  In recent years, more and more studies have shown  the wide ranging health benefits that tea provides.  Tea does not contain any sodium, fat or sugars, and is naturally low in caffeine-only about 45 milligrams in a cup of tea.   

Tea is thought to have a beneficial role in heart health, a variety of cancers, and preventing tooth and bone deterioration.  Tea leaves contain a class of antioxidants called polyphenols.  These polyphenols are even better than fruit or vegetables at preventing cancer and heart disease.  They keep blood vessels relaxed and inhibit the formation of clots that lead to strokes and heart attacks.  Allow tea to brew for at least three to five minutes in order to bring out the greatest amount of polyphenols. 

Green tea specifically has been proven to have high levels of fluoride which helps to maintain tooth enamel as well as flavanoids which keep bones strong and prevents osteoporosis. 

*DISCLAIMER*: The information contained in or provided through this site section is intended for general consumer understanding and education only and is not intended to be and is not a substitute for professional advice. Use of this site section and any information contained on or provided through this site section is at your own risk and any information contained on or provided through this site section is provided on an "as is" basis without any representations or warranties.
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