Tea drinkers in China and Japan have known for centuries that tea not only tastes great, but it is good for you too. Sebastian Beckwith, of fine tea supplier In Pursuit of Tea, discusses the benefits of tea and demonstrates how to brew the perfect cup.

Green and black tea both come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The difference between the two lies in the amount of time the picked leaves are allowed to oxidize. Green teas are minimally oxidized, whereas black teas are fully oxidized. For green tea, the leaves are harvested and then quickly dried before being pan-fried, steamed or fired in an oven. The leaves for black tea are allowed to wilt naturally in open air, broken up to facilitate oxidization, and finally, after eight hours or more, fired in an oven.

Differences in soil, temperature, and the way a tea is cured all affect the taste, but the health advantages are uniform. Studies have found that drinking at least one cup of black tea a day could cut the risk of heart attack by 44 percent. The antioxidant content of green tea is 100 times more effective than vitamin C at protecting cells from damage by cancer, heart disease, and other illness, and it boosts the effectiveness of cancer drugs by 20 times. In fact, green-tea drinkers have four times less the rate of cancer than non-tea drinkers. Green tea also contains compounds called catechins that effectively kill the bacteria responsible for food poisoning, and may help reduce the severity of arthritis pains.

To make the best cup of tea, use spring or filtered water -- tap water can contain chemicals that affect the taste. Heat the water to 170 to 185 degrees, the point just before boiling when wisps of steam emerge from the kettle's spout or, if visible, tiny bubbles appear on the bottom of the kettle. Boiling water will cook the leaves and destroy their flavor. Using a teapot, cup, or glass, place a heaping tablespoon of tea into a strainer; heavier teas may require only a flat tablespoon. Pour in the water, and allow the tea to steep for one minute. Be sure to remove the tea when it reaches the desired strength; leaving the leaves in too long will make it bitter.


Learn more about Sebastian Beckwith and In Pursuit of Tea.


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