What Makes Tea a Powerful Healing Drink?

What Makes Tea a Powerful Healing Drink?

When tea was first consumed it was used medicinally. The origins of this second most popular beverage in the world is China (water being #1), where, in very early dynasties, fresh tea leaves were pan-fried, rolled, and dried. The process kept the tea leaves dark green, inhibiting them from oxidizing.

Oxidation is important in the health of the drinks and foods we eat. Free radicals form in our bodies when what we consume oxidizes. A natural and inevitable occurrence as we age, these are none-the-less damaging agents that can encourage illness and chronic disease. Tea happens to be one of the food sources that is rich in antioxidants, a substance that protects our bodies from that potentially harmful oxidation process. That’s why tea is so healthy and restorative. It keeps free radicals at bay – at least when it’s harvested and prepared carefully so as to reduce oxidation of the leaves. That way, it can act as a more powerful antioxidant for our bodies.

Certain types of tea are particularly known to help prevent cancer and maintain cardiovascular health. They contain polyphenol compounds, an antioxidant property that could indeed prevent cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. The famous and respected Mehmet Oz, known to many as Dr. Oz, once commented that green tea (which comes from younger tea leaves) contains up to 40 percent polyphenols, “chemicals with potent antioxidant properties believed to be greater than even Vitamin C.”

Tea is harvested and prepared in so many forms, entire websites can easily be (and are) devoted just to describing them. Green, white, oolong, black, herbal, and spicy chai (a favorite in India) are some of the basic types. Teas can be energy-inducing, relaxing, soothing, and therapeutic. In terms of flavor, they can be nutty, floral, bitter, grassy and satisfyingly sweet. Tea contains essential oils and diverse, distinct aromas, yet all teas come from the same source, Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to Asia.

Many terms exist that describe tea based on the quality, origin, how early or late the leaves are picked, size of the leaf, flavor, strength, if it’s blended, and so on. There’s tea designed for breakfast, afternoon and evening. Tea can be full-bodied as black tea often is, and light, as white and green teas are. There’s the popular all-purpose Orange Pekoe, exotic darjeeling from the Himalayas, even gunpowder tea (not made from gunpowder, of course, but a name given to a young green tea that’s rolled into little balls).

Which is better for you: loose or bagged? Green or black?

The argument for loose tea is that it retains the full leaf of the tea rather than the “scraps” of broken tea leaves that bagged tea are normally composed of. But high-quality teas can also be found in the form of sachets where the full leaf is used. The concept behind the sachets is that the loosely packed leaves increase water flow and, therefore, affect taste, aroma, and the amount of antioxidants released.

Most tea experts point to the minimal processing that goes into white and green teas while black tea has gone through the full oxidation process. The continuum of less to more processing – and thus oxidation – is thought to be this order: white, green, oolong, then black.

The way tea is prepared can also impact other healing benefits. Pu’erh, a traditional aged Chinese tea, is fermented, giving it an earthy taste. Pu’erh is thought to reduce cholesterol, aid digestion, help with weight loss, even relieve hangovers.

The exploration of tea’s health qualities is exhaustive. For you, it may simply boil down to what ails you and what flavors and aromas you prefer. Or… it may not be “your cup of tea” at all.