Tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world after water and for a lot of people it’s a way of life. Behind every cup of tea there is a story, culture and ritual. Here are some tea treasures for you.

Tea was first discovered in China as a medicine. And it is no surprise that even today it is praised for its health benefits.

Tea is the dried and processed leaves of a plant called Camellia sinensis and all types of tea come from this. The infusion of these leaves in hot water is what makes up tea.

There are four main types of tea.

  • White
  • Green
  • Oolong
  • Black

The difference between these teas is in the harvesting and the drying process. The darker the tea, the more processing it has undergone—which means that some nutrients too have been stripped away.

White tea

White tea is the healthiest of teas and is very time consuming to harvest. It is made from the young leaves that are picked before the buds have fully opened. Hence only small quantities are yielded, which makes it an expensive buy. White tea undergoes minimal processing, as it is simply steamed and dried, maintaining its natural state.

Benefits:

  • Builds up the immune system against viral and bacterial infections
  • Helps prevent tooth decay and cavities
  • Helps to fight cancer cells
  • Has immense anti-ageing properties.

Green tea

Green tea is a milder tea, made from the leaf bud and the top most leaves. The leaves are simply withered and then roasted or dried; they are not fermented like black tea, so it does not become oxidised.

Benefits:

  • Helps to control blood pressure and reduces cholesterol
  • Aids in preventing viral infections such as the flu
  • Helps in weight loss as it encourages the body to burn fat
  • Reduces the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Oolong tea

Oolong is a traditional Chinese variety of tea, somewhere in between green and black in oxidation level. Hence, one could say that it has the best of both worlds.

Benefits:

  • Has anti-oxidant properties
  • Reduces the risk of high blood pressure.

Black tea

The leaves undergo a complex fermentation process that changes their colour from green to copper. Black tea is more oxidised, stronger in flavour and may contain more caffeine.

Benefits:

  • Reduces your chances of a heart attack
  • Prevents dental cavities.

What are herbal teas?

Herbal teas are not actually teas and are referred to as infusions or tisanes. They  are a simple and effective way of extracting the goodness and flavour from the aerial parts of herbs. Tisanes can be made with fresh or dried leaves, soft stems, flowers, seeds or roots. Dried fruits steeped in hot water are called fruit infusions.

Four popular herbal teas and their uses

Chamomile

  • The flowers are used in the treatment of mouth ulcers, diarrhoea, insomnia, eczema, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome and gastrointestinal complaints
  • Is mildly sedative and gently stimulates the digestive system.
  • Ginger
  • Ginger can be used for heart disease, constipation, asthma, vomiting, migraine headaches, morning sickness, motion sickness and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ginger is a warming herb, making it ideal for colds and flu.

Peppermint

  • It is used for calming the digestive system, relieving nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy and travel sickness
  • Traditionally used in the treatment of colds, fevers and influenza.

Fennel

  • Also known as saunf, it has anti-spasmodic properties
  • Particularly good for constipation, colic and flatulence
  • Fennel is also a good detox, it helps to clean the kidneys and rid the body of impurities.

Mix and match

Apples are a nutritious addition to any herbal beverage. Mix equal parts of unsweetened apple juice with green tea and chill to make a delicious and healthy drink

Hibiscus flowers [fresh or dried] and rose petals can be added to herbal teas to complement the taste.

Thin slices or peel of orange and lemon can add a tang and help to bring out the natural flavour of many herbal teas.

Caramel apple tea and vanilla spice chai can be incorporated in ice-creams too. While making ice-cream, add the brewed tea just before final whisk and chill.

Three super uses of tea

  1. Hydrate your skin
    Brew tea, let it cool and then use it in a face pack or as a face mist.
  2. Make plant food
    Don’t throw away the tea leaves after you’ve brewed your cup. Instead toss it into your potted plants over the soil, as it acts as a natural fertilizer.
  3. Relieve tired or sore eyes
    Place chilled tea bags on your eyes, for 10 minutes to relieve puffy eyes. The tannins in tea also help to reduce dark circles.

Snigdha Manchanda, a tea sommelier, guarded her teas from around the world in her dad’s vintage trunk until the day she realised that tea tastes best when shared. Tea Trunk is the home of her teas and their aromatic stories.

What is organic tea?

Many conventional tea plantations are gradually converting to using organic pesticides in lieu of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The conventional way of growing tea is also non-sustainable. It leads to soil erosion and disease, and the pesticides are a health hazard for the workers who pick the leaves. It is a myth though that organic teas taste better than other teas. Choosing organic is a lifestyle choice and may not necessarily indicate the quality of the teas. Taste of tea is based on a variety of factors from plantation to production to packaging.

This was first published in the March 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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