By Leia Sharma
“It is better to be deprived of food for three days than of tea for one,” says a proverb from the world’s biggest consumer and producer of tea leaves, China.
No matter what the weather, a cup of tea is always welcome. And with the multiple health benefits of tea, what’s not to love? Keep reading to find out about the four main varieties and types of Asian teas.
The leaves used to make all types of Chinese tea come from the same plant species –Camellia sinensis, which is native to Southeast China. Indian tea leaves are harvested from Camellia assamica, which is a sub-species of the same Camellia plant. The variety of the beverage comes from different ways of processing the leaves after they are harvested.
White tea is made by harvesting the immature buds over a two- or three-day period in springtime, and warming them in the sun or lightly steaming them. Because they are picked early in the season, the leaves retain the most flavonoids, catechins, and polyphenols of any tea, giving white tea the highest health benefits. Drinking white tea can help reduce the risk of cancer, can lower blood pressure and cholesterol and fight off some strains of bacteria and viruses. White tea has a mild, sweet flavour.
How to prepare: Boil water, then let it cool for 5-8 minutes. The water should not be too hot, or it can burn the tea, causing a bitter flavour. Use two teaspoons of white tea per cup, and steep for 7-10 minutes. Given its subtle flavour, white tea is typically served without milk or sugar.
After the white tea is picked, the youngest buds are plucked from the top of the plant. Green tea leaves picked on the first day of the season can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars! To create green tea, leaves are steamed, then pan-fried in a wok or dried. Not only does green tea offer all the antioxidant powers of white tea, but it also registers a high level of an antioxidant called EGCG, which can lesson the risk of blood clots. Green tea has a sweet, astringent flavour; if it tastes bitter, it has been improperly brewed or is low quality.
How to prepare: Heat water, but do not let it boil. Add one cup of hot water to one teaspoon of green tea. Steep for 2-3 minutes. You can also add ginger or dry ginger, honey and lemon, for a flavour boost.
Originating in the Fujian province of China, oolong is considered a “blue” tea. This tea is partially oxidised, then heated in a tumbler of hot air. Oolong tea increases fat metabolism and helps in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Consuming oolong tea on a regular basis can also help those who suffer from dry skin, plus, it can help strengthen teeth and bones, as well as promote stress relief. The flavour ranges from vegetal to floral, depending on its oxidation level.
How to prepare: Boil water, then let it rest for 2 minutes. Add 1-2 teaspoons of tea to one cup of water and steep for 1-5 minutes. You can also reuse oolong tea leaves 2 to 3 times.
This tea originates in the Yunnan province and has the strongest flavour of all teas. Black tea – known as red tea in China – retains its taste for decades, unlike green and white teas, which should be consumed a year after picking. As for the health benefits, black tea is considered a hangover cure; it also improves digestion, and helps cut fat. Black tea has the strongest taste, bolder and richer than green tea.
How to prepare: Let water come to a rolling boil. Steep 1-2 teaspoons of tea per cup for 3-5 minutes. You can add warm milk or lemon and sweetener