By Sheryl Kraft
I'm a coffee drinker. But if you looked in my kitchen cabinet to the left of my refrigerator you'd think I was a tea addict. The shelves are bursting with every variety of tea imaginable, some popular brews like chamomile and jasmine and some others you may not have heard of, like Yerba Mate and Matcha.
And there they sit, virtually undisturbed, unless a tea drinker comes to visit.
For years I've tried to "like" tea, given what I know about its superior health benefits. And come winter, when the weather outside is waaay to cold for my liking – I'm always looking for ways to warm my shivering self. But try as I might, I've yet to become a tea drinker. (By the way, I'm always impressed by the way tea drinkers look when they're sitting with a steaming cup of the brew. Maybe it's my imagination, but a person drinking a cup of tea vs. a person drinking coffee looks so much calmer and somehow more savvy, like they know a thing or two about health. They just exude purity and a certain amount of…je ne sais quoi.)
This past summer when my older son and I were visiting Boulder, Colorado, he, an avid tea-drinker, dragged me to the headquarters of Celestial Tea for a tour. I was a good sport about it – after all, he's indulged my cravings for museums and other adventures he'd rather not partake in from time to time - so it was payback time from me.
What I discovered surprised me. I learned that all tea comes from one plant, a warm-weather evergreen tree called Camellia sinensis. The difference in black, green and white being in simply in the way it's processed. The more it's processed, the darker the leaves become: black tea is the most processed and white and green are less. And then I was reminded about something I had long known but often forget: that herbal tea is not tea at all, but instead a blend of herbs.
Teas do contain caffeine, but much less than coffee does. A cup of black tea has about 60 mg., white tea has 50 mg and green tea has about 30 mg. And herbal teas have none. In comparison, a cup of (drip) coffee contains about 90 mg of caffeine, and regular cola has about 45 mg.
I'm further trying to convince myself to embrace tea because of all its health benefits. Teas are high in antioxidants called Polyphenols; they have anti-carcinogenic properties and may even lower cholesterol levels. Green tea has been touted for its ability to speed up your metabolism and fight belly fat, as well as stimulate the immune system to fight disease; white tea extract has been shown in studies to retard the growth of bacteria that cause Staphylococcus infections, pneumonia and dental caries and even stall the activity of enzymes that wear down the skin's proteins elastin and collagen. And black tea is thought to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes due to its ability to expand the arteries and increase blood flow to the heart.
A few years ago, when I was doing research for an article I wrote about herbal teas, I learned about teas that can do everything from increasing a lagging libido to helping your gallbladder produce bile. (In case you're wondering, oat seed tea is often used as an aphrodisiac, and dandelion root tea is recommended by many herbalists for people with high cholesterol, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or gallbladder disease.)
I did have a cup of tea late this afternoon. Too late for coffee (I try to cut my caffeine off after 2:00 PM or so), I found it hard to warm up after my dog decided she was in the mood to explore the neighborhood - despite the temperature being in the teens with the wind chill - when all I wanted to do was take her for a quick walk. And you know what? It really wasn't so bad. I picked out an Indian Chai, and I added some soy creamer to it.
I can't say it took the place of coffee, exactly, but it was almost....my cup of tea.