For me anytime is tea time (part 1)

Irrespective of their cultures and nationalities, people all over the world drink tea. It is as universal a drink as water. Each year, Canadians drink more than 7 billion cups of tea. That includes a few cups of tea I drink each day.

Legend has it that tea was first discovered in 2737 B.C. by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, when a tea leaf accidentally fell into the bowl of hot water he was drinking. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to witness this historical event. But that is what legends are all about – a nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.

Tea is an all-natural beverage, containing no additives, no artificial flavors or colors. Tea is a drink made by infusing leaves of the tea plant in hot water. Tea comes from the plant Camellia sinensis, a warm-weather evergreen. If taken without milk or sugar, tea has no calories. It is a good way to increase fluid intake, with some taste and style.

It has vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Research indicates that naturally-occurring flavonoids found in tea have very effective antioxidant properties. Drinking tea is a natural and pleasant way to increase dietary exposure to antioxidants. Antioxidant-rich foods may play a role in reducing the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and stroke.

We hear about antioxidants all the time. Why do we need antioxidants?

Our body has naturally occurring but cell-damaging free radical molecules. Damage by free radicals over time is believed to contribute to the development of many chronic diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize these cell-damaging free radical molecules.

Tea is grown around the world in estates or tea gardens, resulting in flavourful variations. Like wines, many teas take their names from the district in which they are grown, and each district is known for producing teas with unique flavour and character.

While there are more than 1500 varieties of tea available worldwide, all teas can be divided into four basic types: black, green, oolong and white tea.

The way the fresh tea leaves are processed and their level of contact with oxygen (oxidation) determine the types of tea. During oxidation, the tea leaves experience natural chemical reactions that result in distinctive taste and colour characteristics.

Herbal teas do not come from Camellia sinensis, but are an infusion of leaves, roots, bark, seeds or flowers of other plants.

Black Tea is the most commonly used in North American tea bags. Black tea is made from fully oxidized leaves, which produce a hearty deep rich flavour in a coloured amber brew. A few examples of black teas are: Ceylon, Darjeeling, Earl Grey and English Breakfast.  For teas that require oxidation, the leaves are left on their own in a climate-controlled room where they turn progressively darker.

Green Tea is most popular in Asia. Green tea is not oxidized. It is immediately steamed or heated to prevent oxidation and then rolled and dried. It has a delicate taste, light green colour and is very refreshing. Varieties of green tea include: Jasmine, Spider Leg, Mattcha, and Tencha.

 Oolong Tea combines the taste and colour qualities of black and green teas. It is a very popular tea in China. The name oolong literally translates as “Black Dragon”. Oolong tea leaves are partly oxidized and extremely flavourful and highly aromatic. Oolong teas are consumed without milk and sugar. Varieties of oolong tea include: Formosa Oolong and Black Dragon.

White Tea has mild flavour and natural sweetness. It is made entirely from leaf buds that are covered with whitish hairs. The new buds are plucked before they open, withered and then dried slowly at low temperatures. Unlike other tea processing methods, the leaf buds are not rolled and slightly oxidized

In my next article, we will discuss health benefits of tea. Until then, brew your tea well, put your feet up, smile and enjoy.

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