Not for All the Tea in China

“Not for all the tea in China” is an idiom extolling the value of Chinese tea. I just returned from a trip to China and I can tell you firsthand there’s tons of tea there!

The trip was wonderful on so many levels (other than the torture of sitting 14 hours in a plane twisted like a pretzel). Experiencing the Asian culture is fascinating, informative and interesting. Not only did we see the sights including The Great Wall, The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, we spent some time at the Hangzhou Dragon Well Tea Farm, an organic tea processing facility.

The Chinese regard green tea as the ultimate beverage. I was amazed at how much I didn’t know about tea. The tea in China is graded like we would grade a fine wine.

Green tea is made from the sweet, young buds and tips plucked from the top of the plant. The best and most expensive varieties are harvested in the spring.

This little girl is all smiles for the camera.

Health Benefits
The health benefits of green tea go back 5,000 years. Green tea is a rich source of catechins, polyphenols and flavonoids (antioxidant compounds). Although tea drinking has been associated with health benefits for centuries, only in recent years have its medicinal properties been scientifically investigated.

Studies have found an association between consuming green tea and a reduced risk for several cancers, including, skin, breast, lung, colon, esophageal and bladder. Additional benefits for regular consumers of green teas include a reduced risk for heart disease. The antioxidants in green tea can help block the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, increase HDL (good) cholesterol and improve artery function. A Chinese study published recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed a 46 to 65 percent reduction in hypertension risk in regular consumers of green tea, compared to non-consumers of tea.

Another study after an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima found the victims, who had been drinking tea long-term, suffered lighter radiation diseases and had healthier white blood cell counts. The tea catechins absorb radioactive isotopes and help to remove them before they damage the body.

In addition, drinking a cup of tea several times a day helps absorb antioxidants and other healthful plant compounds. In green-tea drinking cultures, the average is three cups per day. The best way to get the catechins and other flavonoids in tea is to drink the tea freshly brewed. Allow it to steep for three to five minutes to bring out its catechins. Never pour boiling water on the tea leaves.

Tea Bag or Loose
The Chinese wouldn’t think of using a tea bag. Most tea bags are made from inferior CTC leaves (crush, tear and curl). The CTC process utilizes low-quality tea leaves. In addition, tea bags contain a bleach residue and of course the residue ends up in you.

Young tea shoots contain the highest level of theanine and EGCG (the most abundant catechin in tea). A high quality loose tea may be more expensive, but can be infused a minimum of three times. The tea I purchased in China: 5 times!

The Chinese don’t bother with any kind of strainer, either. They just drop the leaves in the bottom of a tea pot or cup and pour the heated water (not boiling) over the leaves. When they drink the tea it doesn’t matter if you consume a leaf or two (this will help to keep you regular).

We learned a lot about green tea from this demonstration.
I had no idea there were different grades of tea!

According to a 1996 American study, “extraction of caffeine is higher from the tea bags than the loose leaves.” This is because tea bags contain broken pieces of green tea, which causes caffeine to quickly diffuse out. This higher caffeine extraction, together with nutrients loss cause tea from bags to taste bitter.

The average amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee is between 100 and 200 milligrams. Sodas contain between 30 and 80 milligrams of caffeine per cup. Green tea comes in lower at 15 to 40 milligrams of caffeine per cup, with the whole leaf tea at the lower end.

If you want a cup of tea that is calming and relaxing, then you will have to go loose-leaf, not only is it lower in caffeine, but it has more theanine content. No more tea bags for me. I’m convinced that loose green tea is superior.


For a synopsis of Baby Bites: Transforming a Picky Eater into a Healthy Eater, Click Here.