Friday, February 29, 2008

Foodipedia ™ - Tea!

Welcome to what I hope will become one of my regular, monthly, themed-posts! I'm calling it "Foodipedia" (aptly named after Wikipedia), because I'm planning to provide you with something that goes beyond my typical food pictures and recipes.

However, I'll be the first to admit that these entries certainly won't rise to the level of being encyclopedic. My goal is simply to provide you with some interesting facts and in-depth information about whatever food or beverage I've decided to feature.

The reason that I decided to start something like this that I often find myself wondering about the things that we eat/drink every day. I have questions such as: Are there any little-known tricks for determining whether certain kinds of fruit are ripe? What specific health benefits stem from the foods that we eat? How does one variety of a particular fruit/veggie differ from another? What are the truths behind some of the most commonly held myths about foods/beverages? And more...


As a result, I've decided to do a little bit of research on some of these things - and to share my findings here. And although I don't plan to post detailed source lists (I have enough of that to do for law school, thankyouverymuch), if you have any questions about where I've derived my information from, please feel free to ask!

Alright, with that bit of background out of the way, I'd like to introduce the subject of my very first Foodipediapost: tea. As I believe I've mentioned before, I'm a huge tea lover, and you know what they say about following your heart...Hold on, What's So Special About Tea Anyway?While it is difficult to sum up all of tea's amazing qualities in just a few paragraphs, it's probably safe to say that most of them boil down (haha) to a few basic areas: history; cost; and health benefits.

Not only has tea been heralded as a "wonder" drink for hundreds of years, but it continues to be the one beverage associated with rituals and customs around the world. For example, many people in Britain still partake in the tradition of drinking afternoon tea, while it's often used as a way to express respect or gratitude in Chinese cultures. Likewise, Japanese tea ceremonies, which involve a tranquil setting and the preparation and serving of green tea to a small group of guests, still take place today.

In fact, tea is considered to be the second most popular beverage in the world - second only to plain water. This fact can likely be attributed, at least in part, to tea's inexpensive cost. It's estimated that more than 200 cups of tea can be brewed from a single pound of loose tea leaves. (Try comparing that to coffee!) All in all, that works out to be less than 10 cents per cup of home-brewed tea, even when the cost of heating the hot water is considered.

These days, the laundry-list of health benefits associated with drinking tea has brought the beverage back into the limelight. Here in the United States, however, it's estimated that 80% of our tea consumption is in the form of iced tea (which, if not fresh-brewed, is often heavily sweetened and packed with processed ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup). Thus, it's important to note that the health benefits linked to tea consumption are based upon pure tea, which is not what comes out of the soda machine at McDonalds.

All tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant, which forms chemical compounds - flavonoids, which are plant-derived antioxidants - that enable the plant to protect itself from photosynthetic stressors. Antioxidants are important because they are known to counteract free radical molecules in the body, which are naturally produced chemicals that contribute to aging, cancer, and a variety of other diseases. Thus, researchers believe that by drinking tea, we can slow the signs of aging as well as the development or manifestation of certain diseases.

One particularly interesting aspect of tea is that each type is associated with slightly different health benefits. Even though all teas come from the same plant, their chemical contents differ due to the way that each type is processed. (Please see: "That Sounds Great..." below.)

Green and black tea, in particular, have a well-publicized history of containing cancer-preventive qualities. Some studies have even shown a reduced incidence of heart disease among regular drinkers of these teas.

In addition, oolong tea, which is most heavily consumed in China, Taiwan, and Japan, is associated with cleansing and digestive benefits. Similarly, white tea is known as a natural killer of bacteria and viruses, due to its abundant antioxidant content.

And, while it must be noted that studies of tea drinking and health have had somewhat mixed results, many researchers have found an association between tea consumption and a reduced risk for several cancers (including skin, breast, lung, colon, esophageal, and bladder cancers). Likewise, new research suggests that tea can increase bone-mineral density, fight cavities, combat diabetes, boost immunity, and even reduce body fat - so, drink up!That All Sounds Great, but How is Tea Made, Exactly?

Good question! As mentioned previously, all types of tea come from the Camellia Sinensis plant; thus, tea processing plays a critical role in producing different kinds of tea. Following is the 5-step process involved with tea manufacturing. Note that the 4th step (oxidation) determines what type of tea will result.

The 5-step Tea Manufacturing Process:
  1. Harvesting: The topmost leaves and buds on the tea plant are picked by hand.
  2. Withering: The leaves are left to wither for up to 24 hours.
    1. Note: White tea is made from immature tea leaves that are picked shortly before the buds have fully opened. The tea takes its name from the silver fuzz that still covers the buds, which turns white when the tea is dried.
  3. Squeezing: The withered leaves are squeezed between metal rollers to blend the naturally occurring chemicals inside.
  4. Oxidation: The rolled leaves are allowed to oxidize in the open air for several hours. This is when the tea develops its color, aroma, and flavor.
    1. Black tea is made by fully oxidizing tea leaves. The action of enzymes inside the leaves darkens the color.
    2. Oolong tea is partially oxidized for approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of the time that black tea is oxidized.
    3. Green tea is made by steaming the tea leaves before they are rolled. The heat destroys the enzymes, causing the leaves to remain green throughout the rest of the process.
  5. Heating: The oxidized leaves are heated to stop further oxidation and remove any remaining moisture.
Alright, How about a Tea Primer?No problem! Here's the low-down on 5 different categories of tea, ranging from the highest in caffeine/most oxidated, to the lowest in caffeine/least oxidated.

Black Tea:
  • Flavor: ranges from bold and smoky to heady and floral
  • Benefits: helps blood circulation; fights cavities and reduces plaque; has the strongest association with reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases; linked with reduction in "bad" LDL cholesterol
  • Caffeine: about 40 grams per cup after steeping for 3-5 mins., which is about half the amount found in drip coffee
  • Process: leaves are completely oxidized (exposed to the air), which turns them black
  • Examples: Earl Grey; English Breakfast; Assam Black
black tea: Darjeeling
Oolong Tea:
  • Flavor: typically falls somewhere between the tastes of black and green teas, with grassy, fruity, and floral notes
  • Benefits: increases resting metabolism; helps treat certain forms of diabetes; has similar health benefits as black and green teas
  • Caffeine: about 30 grams per cup after steeping for 2-4 mins.
  • Process: leaves are partially oxidized
  • Examples: China Oolong; Ti Kuan Yin; Formosa Oolong Bay Jong
Green Tea:
  • Flavor: varies from rich and earthy to sweet and herbaceous
  • Benefits: aids digestion; helps cut risk of high blood pressure; associated with helping fight various types of cancer
  • Caffeine: about 20 grams per cup after steeping for 1-2 mins.
  • Process: leaves are steamed or cooked in a pan to prevent oxidation, which helps maintain its natural green color
  • Examples: Premium Green; Kangra Green Gunpowder; Darjeeling Green
green tea: Green Tea with Mint
White Tea:
  • Flavor: delicate and almost sweet
  • Benefits: is the least processed; thus, believed to have more antioxidants than other teas; high in anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities
  • Caffeine: about 20 grams per cup after steeping for 1-2 mins.
  • Process: leaves are flash-steamed
  • Examples: Ceylon White; Flowery Pekoe White; Darjeeling White
white tea: White Tea with Pomegranate
Red "Tea:"
  • Flavor: this is not a true tea - it's actually a mildly sweet herb from South Africa
  • Benefits: its high antioxidant content may help reduce cell damage that can lead to disease
  • Caffeine: none
  • Process: often flavored or blended with real tea
  • Examples: Rooibos Almond; Botswana Blossom Red; Huckleberry Red
What are Some of My Options for Flavoring Tea?Just as some people prefer their coffee strong and black, others enjoy a milder roast with a lot of sweetener. Of course, however, there's also a huge range of options in between - which is the same with tea.
  • Basic factors that influence the taste of tea include:
    • Growth: the soil, climate, and sunlight where tea is harvested
    • Brewing: the length of brewing time; quality/type of water used
    • Tea leaves: the freshness of the leaves; whether tea is loose-leaf or in a bag
    • Temperature: whether tea is served hot or iced
  • Other "added" factors that influence the flavor of tea include:
    • Soymilk/other non-dairy milks: plain; vanilla
    • Sweeteners: white sugar; brown sugar; honey; agave nectar; artificial sweeteners
    • Juices: lemon; raspberry; pomegranate
    • Herbs/flowers: mint; jasmine; lavender; chamomile
So, Where Can I Find it?
  • Tea, of course, can be found at nearly any grocery or "big box" store. For example, Trader Joe's carries a fair variety of inexpensive teas, while Whole Foods tends to carry more expensive (and more varied) types of tea. However, a surprising variety of tea can also be found at stores such as Wal-Mart, Jewel, and Dominick's.
  • Fresh-brewed tea can be found at specialty shops such as Argo Tea and HiTea, which are both in Chicago (see my reviews of both of them here), and is typically offered at places such as Starbucks, as well.
What if I Have More Questions?For a couple of my tea recipes, click below:
Or, for more info, check out any or all of these fantastic tea resources:
  • To Purchase/Learn about Different Brands of Tea:
    • Tazo - Includes an awesome "Explore Our Teas" page, allowing users to choose their favorite Tazo tea according to mood, flavors, and more
    • Adagio Teas - Links to 100s of teas and lots of cool "teawear"
    • Twinings - Provides info on one of my favorite brands of tea: Twinings of London
      • Bonus: click here to download a fantastic, detailed "Tea Tasting" sheet from Twinings
You might want to try:


  1. What a great post! Very comprehensive and informative -- thanks for sharing!

  2. Oooh, I love this idea! I love being the know-it-all about whatever I'm eating (like, "did you know that walnuts may increase your sex drive if eaten i large quantities?") And if tea really can prevent cavities then I need to up my daily dosage, big time.

    Thanks so much for all of the travel tips! I agree about the debt- its going to be there forever, so I may as well enjoy myself when I can. I'm being a little obsessive this time about mapping out where I'm going to visit, stay, and eat, but I think it will pay off- especially since I'm going to be the kind of tourist who doesn't speak the language. (The worst kind!)

    I hope to keep my blog super-updated when I get back with plenty of pictures and foodie deatils, so if you do end up going to Buda hopefully I will have some ideas for you!

  3. What a detailed post about tea,
    It's wonderful!

  4. I took CA this last time and then I took OR in july. I might take WA this july but we'll see how I do with CA!

    I live in LA now so I need a CA bar admittance...

    I didn't take any review courses - I bought used books online which I'm glad I did because I've heard barbri is a waste of time and money.

    You'll do fine.

  5. Foodipedia.... what a clever idea!! I never knew there was so much information about tea!! Can't wait to see what you focus on next....

  6. This was a really great post, I learned a lot! I drink fresh brewed iced tea almost exclusively (I even have a restaurant sized tea peculator in my kitchen!) I had always wondered if iced tea had the health benefits of traditional tea, and apparently it does! Whooo!

  7. That's a very well-written post indeed! I think I'll be visiting more of foodipedia in the future:)

  8. Nice compilation of information. For future posts, I'd really enjoy seeing some "if you're still interested check out theses resources . . . " I look forward to more!

  9. Thanks for the great comments, everyone!

    I'm glad that this article seems to be as interesting for you to read as it was for me to write!

    PS Chou - thanks for the suggestion re: adding more resources. I just put 3 more links at the bottom of the post. They're short, but full of some extra info.

  10. thanks for giving me the link to this post JD! I loved it! I'm so glad to see that there are other tea lovers out there! I'll try and post the recipe for my chamomile tea cake as soon as i can repeat it and write down what I did! until then, i had also posted a recipe for green tea cookies...i'm not sure if you saw those. i suggest cooking with tea! it's fun!! :)


Thanks for your comment - I love hearing from you!