Reader Donna suggested that we share information on the benefits of tea. Good idea, Donna! Tea is incredibly healthy and is an easy way to get a daily dose of beneficial antioxidants. While we’re at it, let’s discuss the types of tea, too.
There is only one tea species. White tea, black tea, green tea, oolong – they all come from a single plant (camellia sinensis for you Latin nerds). The basic difference boils down (get it?) to how processed the leaves are and the level of fermenting involved. White tea is the least processed and the “freshest”, so it is highest in antioxidants. Yes, there is something better than green tea!
The differences are really not as extreme as is believed. All tea is healthy for you. However, the more processed teas are lower in antioxidants and much higher in caffeine. A hierarchy:
3. Oolong (Really difficult to make – not for you, for the artisans. You boil it like any other tea leaf.)
Top: white tea
Lower: jasmine pearls green tea – yum!
Top: green tea
Lower: oolong tea
Lower: the ultra-rare (and uber-snobby) pureh
Pureh is pretty special stuff. Though popular in China, it’s rare here – we haven’t tried it yet. Have you?
Of course, boiled water poured immediately over the leaves, and 3 to 5 minutes of steeping time, will yield the best-tasting and most nutritious pot. Microwave is sacrilege and will invoke the wrath of the tea gods, so don’t even think about it!
We had a lot of fun trying out many different types of tea from a local purveyor of some pretty fancy drinkable foliage. If you’re looking for flavor and health, white tea is even more delightful than green, but it’s very grassy and greeny, and definitely leaves a pucker. Black is nice in that “I grew up on it” way, but since coffee offers more caffeine for you addicts and other teas offer more antioxidants, black seems like sort of a sad little compromise. Still, many people prefer it, and there’s arguably nothing tastier than black tea with a little cream and honey.
Green teas are more varied than you might think. Our favorite was a special hand-rolled blend of green tea and lavender and jasmine similar to jasmine pearls. It was soothing, herbaceous, floral, and tasted like drinkable perfume. That is, if you could drink perfume (please don’t do this). This was a handcrafted tea, so it isn’t available everywhere, but jasmine pearls are a popular and high-quality offering available in many stores.
We also had a blast (and bounced off the walls) with a chocolate and mint infused black and green tea mix . It tasted like a peppermint patty! This was pretty strongly caffeinated and very flavorful. It would make a great after-dinner tea if you are entertaining and you and your guests plan to stay up late talking or watching a movie. It tastes like dessert!
Herbal teas are not really teas at all, of course, but dried herbs and flowers. They offer their own unique digestive, immune-enhancing and stress-relieving health benefits (just to name a few). Herbal teas are really more like natural medicinal treatments. Hey, that would make another great shopping expedition! (Looks like we just gave ourselves an assignment.)
Despite being a single species, teas are incredibly varied by region and processing technique. Try them all!
What’s your favorite tea beverage?
Imperial Tea  (photos and information)