Tea varieties

Tea health benefits, caffeine levels and preparation.

Tea is a refreshing drink that has been around for thousands of year. Tea leaves were first picked in China; it was then discovered that by dropping them into boiling water, the leaves made a tasty beverage. Early teas were most likely brewed as medicinal drinks. Now, thousands of years later, modern research proves that these earliest uses of tea did indeed have positive benefits for our health.

Tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub that is native to Asia. As a plant, tea has many antioxidants, phytochemicals and flavonoids that help keep our immune system strong. Studies have shown that drinking tea may help with heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Tea does have caffeine, but its caffeine amounts are lower than caffeine in coffee and some soft drinks.

Tea comes in black, green and white varieties. White tea is unfermented and contains the largest percentage of antioxidants and the least amount of caffeine. Green tea is made with steamed tea leaves and contains a high percentage of antioxidants along with a lower percentage of caffeine. Black tea is the most fermented and contains the highest level of caffeine and a lower percentage of phytochemicals. However, black tea is still lower in caffeine than coffee and many other caffeinated drinks and contains enough antioxidants and other plant chemicals to positively impact health.

Tea can be consumed as a hot or cold beverage. Whichever form you choose, these tips from Michigan State University Extension will ensure a healthy cup of tea.

Brewed tea:

  • For hot tea, use boiling water and pour over one tea bag, per cup of tea. Allow to steep for 3-5 minutes. Loose tea can be used in either a tea infuser, which helps keep the tea leaves out of the beverage, or by straining after the tea is brewed.

For iced tea there are several methods to try. One food safety rule to follow is to not allow your brewing tea for iced tea to sit out all day in the sun or on a countertop at room temperature. Both of these methods allow for bacteria to grow in the beverage.

Iced tea:

  • The shortest way to make iced tea is to brew tea following the directions above and then pour over a pitcher of ice.
  • The method I prefer that makes an iced tea with the flavor of sun tea, without being a food safety concern is to put three or four tea bags into a pitcher of water; cover and refrigerate overnight. By morning your tea is ready to drink. I’ve also made tea this way in the morning and depending on how strong you like your tea, it should be ready by dinner time. You can also adjust the strength of your tea by increasing the number of tea bags used or by using less.

For more information about lowering your risk for chronic health conditions through healthy eating, contact your local MSU Extension.

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