f you order a cup of green tea at a coffeehouse nowadays, you may be surprised to find the waiter asking you which blend you prefer: Gunpowder, Dragon Well, Pi Lo Chun, Sencha. Green tea has become so popular lately across the country that even supermarkets and grocery store chains now regularly carry green tea blends. Even wider selections of high-quality green tea can be found in specialty-food shops and Asian markets, and most health-food stores sell organic varieties.
What's brewing? Simply put, green tea is believed by many to enhance health and longevity. Asians have espoused its virtues for thousands of years and modern research shows that green tea contains some of the most powerful antioxidants we know of. So why not hold off on that double latté and order up a pot of fresh-brewed jasmine-flavored green tea instead? Not only will your body thank you, but your senses will be soothed by its pleasant and seductive fragrance.
Lester A. Mitscher, distinguished professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Kansas and coauthor (with Victoria Dolby) of The Green Tea Book: China's Fountain of Youth (Avery Publishing Group; 1996; $9.95), has spent the past 10 years researching the health benefits of green tea. He became intrigued with green tea during years of travel in the Far East, where he was surprised to find that people had significantly lower rates of cancer than Americans despite high levels of poverty and much higher rates of cigarette smoking. Dr. Mitscher is among those who suspect that green tea plays an active role in contributing to Asia's overall good health.
"Green tea is best documented for its antioxidant powers," Mitscher says. Antioxidants help prevent or block free radicals from forming in the body. Free radicals combine with oxygen in healthy cells and eventually damage them. They have been isolated as causes of cancer, premature aging, and heart disease. Vitamins A, C, and E are well-researched antioxidants, but green tea, Dr. Mitscher asserts, surpasses all three in its exceptional antioxidant powers.
In China, green tea is more than just a drink. Its mild astringent properties make it an excellent face wash. And a batch of very strong green tea used as a hair rinse is said to leave one's hair shiny and soft. Irritated, tired eyes may be soothed with a mild blend of tea, and minor skin abrasions, insect bites, and rashes may be relieved by applying green tea salves. Instead of tossing spent tea leaves, Chinese gardeners spread them around flowering plants -- especially rosebushes -- as a mulch. Dried leftover leaves are sewn into pillows (they are said to offer a great night's sleep). And dried leaves are burned to keep mosquitoes at bay.-- M. H.
|"Vitamin E's antioxidant powers, for example, are about half as strong as green tea's," he says. And resveratrol, the antioxidant compound found in red wine, is also half as effective as green tea. In France you find a society of smokers who eat a diet high in saturated fats yet have a surprisingly low incidence of heart disease -- the famous French Paradox," Mitscher continues. "According to recent research, this may be due to the antioxidant resveratrol in their red wine. The contemporary enthusiasm for green tea is well founded -- it has credible health benefits and it's pleasant tasting."|
The Secret Ingredient
Chemical analysis shows that green tea is rich in phytonutrients -- beneficial health compounds found in plants -- expecially a class of phytonutrients known as polyphenols. Polyphenols are water-soluble antioxidants that have antiviral, antibacterial, and anticarcinogenic properties. The polyphenols found in green tea are also stimulating to the immune system. Last year Hasan Mukhtar, Ph.D., professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, led a study showing green tea's effectiveness in fighting cancer cells in skin, lymph, and prostate samples. His report was published in the December 17, 1997, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Dr. Mukhtar isolated a primary
polyphenol in green tea known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) and
discovered the EGCG significantly inhibited the growth of tumors. Dr. Mukhtar
found his study to be compatible with epidemiological studies in China and
suggests that "green tea consumption may be effective in the prevention of
bladder, prostate, esophageal, and stomach cancers."
actually help slow
the aging process.
Many researchers now believe that free radicals may be the prime reason for why we age. By being able to neutralize free radicals, scientists hope to slow the aging process. Green tea's extraordinary antioxidant powers may actually help to fight aging. For instance, Dr. Mitscher discusses one longevity study of Japanese women who perform the Japanese tea ceremony for a living. These women consume more green tea than the average Japanese woman. This study followed more than 3,000 women for 10 years and concluded that women who drank more green tea enjoyed a longer life compared to Japanese women who drank less green tea.
Gunpowder -- said to resemble gunpowder -- has a strong green tea taste; because of its tightly rolled leaves it has a long storage life.
Dragon Well -- a mellow and light tea -- is one of China's most popular green tea blends.
Pi Lo Chun -- a rare blend with a flowery essence. This tea is often planted near peach or apricot trees, which allows the tea leaves to absorb a fruity aroma.
Sencha -- the most common green tea in Japan and the blend most likely to be found in America.
Green teas to go:
Ten Ren Tea Co. of San Francisco, Ltd., 949 Grant Ave., San Francisco, CA 94108; (415) 362-0656 or (800) 543-2885, www.tenren.com (catalogue available).
Holy Mountain Trading Co., P.O. Box 457, Fairfax, CA 94978; (888) TEA-8008, www.holymtn.com (catalogue available).-- M. H.
Time for Tea
Along with fighting aging and cancer, green tea may help lower overall cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attacks, lessen the likelihood of death from heart attack, decrease the risk of stroke, enhance immune function, and aid digestion. Furthermore, research in Japan has shown that the customary practice of drinking a little green tea after each meal also inhibits the growth of the bacteria associated with plaque. After-meal consumption may also help reduce tooth decay and gingivitis.
Dr. Mitscher and Dr. Mukhtar drink green tea themselves and suggest drinking four to six cups a day to reap its extraordinary health benefits. For those sensitive to caffeine -- including pregnant women and women who suffer from fibrocystic breast disease or premenstrual syndrome (these conditions may be linked to caffeine intake) -- green tea can be bought in a decaffeinated form. For those who find consuming four cups of tea a day improbable, green tea capsules are available at most health-food stores. (Simply follow the directions on the label and look for brands that have a high polyphenol count.)
Choose quality loose-leaf tea. Green tea, like black tea, is commonly sold in loose-leaf form or in filter-paper tea bags, depending upon its grade. Six grades of tea exist, from the unbroken leaf to several grades of broken to fannings and dust. Tea should be a delicate blend of flavor, body, color, stimulation, and pungency. A quality loose-leaf tea will ensure that such characteristics are available if the tea is properly treated.
Brew tea in a glass or ceramic teapot. A metal teapot adversely affects the flavor of the tea and is difficult to handle, as well.
Prep the teapot by pouring one inch of hot water into it, swirling the water around, and dumping it out. This will help to maintain the high temperature of the fresh-boiling water as it hits the leaves and so enable the leaves to infuse properly.
Measure the proper amount of tea into the teapot. Use one teaspoon of tea for every six-ounce cup of tea desired -- and none for the pot.
Always start with fresh, cold water -- spring or filtered water is best. Water that has been sitting in a hot-water heater or has already been boiled or has boiled for too long is de-aerated. De-aerated water will not agitate the tea leaves properly, meaning the leaves will not open sufficiently for proper infusion -- resulting in thin, flavorless tea. The water should be brought just to the boiling point (not to a full boil), and then immediately poured into the teapot. Do not allow the fresh-boiled water to cool down or to boil for too long.
Bring the teapot to the kettle. When pouring the boiling water, hold the spout of the kettle near the mouth of the teapot. This will help prevent the water from cooling.
Brew the tea for the proper amount of time. The tea must be given enough time to infuse. All tea requires at least three minutes but generally should not be steeped more than five minutes. Flat leaf infuses more quickly than twisted leaf; small leaf infuses more quicky than coarse leaf; a Dragon Well (a flat-leaf green tea) will infuse more quicky than Gunpowder (a tightly rolled green tea).
Keep the brewing tea hot while infusion takes place by using a tea cozy or towel.
After steeping the tea, remove the tea leaves promptly. Do not allow them to stew. Stir the infusion before serving. -- Charity Ketz