My daughter and I had a tea party this week and it brought back so many wonderful memories from my own childhood. My Mom and I would have tea parties with a beautiful china tea set that my Grandmother had given me. I wanted to share that same tradition with my daughter, so I bought her a real china tea set from The Biltmore House when we visited last week. We’ve had many tea parties before, using a plastic tea set from the Disney Store, but there is something special about using the real thing. I love watching Emily concentrate on delicately pouring the tea from the porcelain teapot into the tiny cups painted with butterflies.
We made Chocolate Chai tea, because that is my favorite, but did you know that all four kinds of nonherbal tea (green, black, white and oolong) come from the same plant known as Camellia sinenis? The leaves of this plant contain many chemicals from a class of compounds called polyphenols.
Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants with anticancer activity. Polyphenols protect cells from “oxidative stress,” which is the process of oxygen incorporating into free radicals. Free radicals damage the cells in our body, leading to heart disease and cancer. Polyphenols come into play in this process because they can actually stop the damage that free radicals do to the cells and neutralize the enzymes essential to tumor growth and even deactivate cancer promoters.
So, if all four types of tea come from the same plant, what gives them their different colors? The color is directly related to the degree of processing of the leaves after they’ve been harvested. The color of the tea gets darker as it processes: Black tea is fully fermented, oolong is partially fermented, green tea is not fermented at all, but pan-fried and dried and white tea is barely processed. White tea is the highest in polyphenols, but green tea contains a very powerful group of polyphenols called catechins. You may have heard of EGCG, which is short for epigallocatechin gallate, and is one of the most powerful catechins in green tea. EGCG has been shown to have anticancer effects.
We’ve been taught that the more processing a food goes through, the worse it is for you, but that is not the case with tea. While the fermentation process that creates black tea deactivates the EGCG, it actually creates an entirely new set of antioxidants. Black tea has a more complex set of polyphenols than green tea, resulting in unique antioxidants called biflavanols, thearubigens and theaflavins.
Research has shown that the theaflavins in black tea actually have an even higher rate of antioxidants than green tea. In fact, a study by the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and the Environment found that black tea reduces the risk of stroke. The flavanoids in black tea also reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), lower the risk of hormone related cancers, helps with depression, anxiety and weight loss. Chai tea falls within this black tea category, so I was super excited to read this research! I had always heard the health benefits of green tea and didn’t realize that black tea was healthy as well!
Now, don’t rule out green tea though. Green tea is also helpful in cancer prevention, especially the type of cancer associated with Barrett’s esophagus, bladder, colon, pancreas, rectum and stomach. Green tea is also helpful to those trying to lose weight! A study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who drank green tea actually burned more calories than those who did not. Green tea stimulates metabolism more than caffeine alone and even can lower blood sugar!
If you are stressed out, listen up! Turns out both tai chi and chai tea both reduce stress!
Green tea can improve your mood and increase relaxation. The theanine triggers the release of dopamine, one of the brain chemicals associated with well-being. Green tea has even been shown to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
I can feel good that I’ve not only started a beautiful new tradition with my daughter that hopefully she will remember forever and pass on to her own daughter, but I’ve filled her with health benefits that will give her a long and healthy life. Now that is one bonding experience that I will treasure for a lifetime.