What Is Green Tea Good For?

Several of the benefits of green tea, a healthy Asian faorite.

Over the past few years anyone walking into their local coffee shop or into their grocery store might have noticed a major change in the choice of teas offered - Green Tea has now become a popular alternative to the usual orange pekoe on many lists. But why should you consider changing from your usual hot drink to green tea? You'd be helping yourself to a longer and healthier life, according to many health experts.

The actual origins of tea itself are lost in history, but one popular myth is that the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong started it quite by accident, over four thousand years ago. One day while sitting in his garden and preparing to drink hot water, as was his custom at the time, a leaf broke free from a nearby plant and fell into the hot water. Intrigued, he tasted the mixture and found it to his liking. He immediately began the search for different varieties and tastes and the world of tea was created.

Over the years the health bonuses of green tea were extolled to anyone who would listen; the drink growing in popularity in the East with claims of extending your lifespan, curing you of many diseases and basically improving your general health. Faced with suspicion in the West, it took many years and scientific analysis for this common tea to come into its own and become the common drink of many North Americans and Europeans.

The basic difference between green tea and black tea (the more commonly seen variety) is in the fermentation. Green tea leaves are preserved by various techniques such as steaming and baking right after being picked; whereas black tea leaves are exposed to the air for a length of time and then processed. This method gives green tea its unique color and also helps retain one vital resource - the polyphenol.

Polyphenols are a group of naturally occurring plant chemicals with very high antioxidant potential. Antioxidants are substances that protect the body from free radicals, which are special molecules and fragments of molecules that can damage your body from a cellular level. Free radicals hurt the body by making you more vulnerable to degenerative diseases like cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants help by deactivating the free radicals and minimizing the amount of damage they've done or will do.

While antioxidants can be found in many different foods like apples and onions, green tea delivers a great amount of these disease fighters to your system in a single serving. Vitamins C and E are also great sources of antioxidants.

Almost half of this antioxidant is lost in the processing of black teas, dropping the health benefits greatly. But in green teas, the processing keeps most of the polyphenol from being lost, making this hot drink a health benefit for any and everyone.

As far as caffeine goes, green tea has about the same or less caffeine as the average cup of tea - and that's still less than the average cup of coffee. Still, producers have come up with decaffeinated green tea for the discriminating drinker who worries about their nerves and wish to control their intake.

There are many varieties of green tea out there for you to try and sample; almost as many as there are types of coffee at your local store. Many major coffee and tea makers have now decided to package and sell green tea alongside their usual brands, offering the consumer a choice for their daily commute. The different types include flavored green teas such as plum and cherry, catering to your different tastes and likes.

There are three types of green tea commonly found either in your local store or at one of the many online stores that have sprung up to cater to the consumer. The first is "matcha"; ground to a fine powder from young gyokuro green tea leaves, this is not usually available to the average person. It is primarily used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony where it is scooped into a teacup and hot water added in the centuries-old ceremony. It is then whisked up into a bitter tasting foamy drink and then sipped by the guest.

Second is "sencha"; a very common creation reaped from the tea bushes grown in the wild fields. The leaves are broken up but still very solid as it mixes with the hot water and creates a yellowy-green drink that borders on the line between sweet and bitter. This is one of the most popular types in Japan.

The last is "bancha" made not from the tea leaf, but from the tea stalk itself - roasted and then broken down into small pieces, it gives the drink a smoky and robust taste. Usually roasted brown rice is added, making it look like popcorn has slipped into the brewmaster's creation. The result is a wonderfully crisp taste that shocks the senses and a delight to tasters everywhere.

One major mistake many people make when trying their first cup of green tea is to prepare it like they would their usual hot drink; pouring hot boiling water over the mixture and then letting it sit for a length of time. Many new drinkers have been put off green tea by a single experience like this, missing out on a new taste thrill.

You must pour hot water over the green tea; but not boiling. The best method is to boil your water like you would for regular tea, but let it sit for a minute or two before pouring it into your teapot. Boiling water tends to make the green tea quite bitter and will shock the average drinking.

After letting it stew for only two or three minutes, remove the leaves and let the drink settle for another minute before drinking it. You might want to add a bit of honey or sweetener, but no milk - this destroys the tea's natural taste and will result in a mixture that you might not find very enticing for a second try. The transparent green/yellow hues of the tea are meant to be enjoyed and savored by the drinker, even as you reap the health benefits.

As well as a hot drink, many people are now experimenting with green tea as an addition to their regular cooking. In the East you can find green tea cheesecake or green tea ice cream being offered alongside the usual choices, offering a unique method of getting your health fix.

While many large tea brands are offering green tea and flavored varieties to their customers, it's best to actually read the label before purchasing any packages. Many mix other leaves in with the green tea, making it a hybrid of many tastes and most likely cutting down on the health benefits as you only get a smaller portion of true green tea. Read the labels carefully before purchasing any box that brags "green tea" to make sure that you are getting the most worth for your money. If possible, go to a health food store and/or purchase brands that you know are reliable and truthful about their content.

Green tea has grown from a delicacy known only in the East to a healthy alternative drink in the West, enlightening us to its potential as a cancer-fighter and a health boost to everyone - why not take the challenge at your local store and buy a box? You can only win in the long run!

© High Speed Ventures 2011