An Introductory Guide to Tea
It’s a pretty safe bet that while you read this, someone is drinking tea. Most people (especially those few who don’t really drink tea that often), associate tea drinking with traditional British customs. But people all over the world drink tea, including (and especially) the US.
What Exactly is Tea?
Like soda and coffee, tea is a flavored drink. You start with the leaves of what’s commonly known as the tea plant or tea shrub, though botanists call this species of plant Camellia Sinensis.
The tea plant originated in Asia, mostly in China and in some parts of India. Now you can find plantations in countries like Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, and even in Kenya. It’s a tough plant that can grow in many places, including the US and UK.
There are more than a thousand varieties of tea, even though experts generally categorize tea into 6 different types. The differences are mainly due to how the tea is prepared, as the various tea products all come from the same tea plant species.
Preparing tea is simple enough. You simply steep the leaves in hot water, and then you pour the drink through a strainer to catch the leaves. With tea bags, you don’t even need the strainer.
You can then enjoy it as is, or add some milk and sugar. Some people also add ice, as it makes for a refreshing drink during the summer.
Tea is extremely economical, especially when prepared at home. A single cup can cost only about 3 US cents per serving. Even the more expensive teas may end up costing only 10¢.
The Popularity of Tea
Despite the ubiquity of colas such as Pepsi and Coke, and the proliferation of coffeehouses all over the world, tea remains the second most popular drink next to water itself.
- About 3 billion people in the world drink tea, in more than 160 countries. Tea is grown in 62 countries.
- In 2019, the global tea revenue totaled $214.76 And that’s expected to grow by almost 7% each year.
- China consumes the most tea, but then they have a population of 1.4 billion people.
- On a per-person basis, Turkey is at the top, with each person averaging a little under 7 pounds of tea per year.
- Ireland comes next, topping even the UK. Each person in Ireland consumes an average of 4.8 pounds of tea per year, while in the UK it’s 4.3 pounds.
- More than ⅔ of the UK population drink tea, with more than ⅓ of the people drinking at least 2 or 3 cups a day.
- Despite the general stereotype of Americans as coffee drinkers, more than 159 million Americans actually drink tea each day.
A Short History of Tea
Experts generally agree that tea drinking is quite old. The evidence indicates that people have been drinking tea since 2,700 BCE.
According to one legend, it started with the Chines Emperor Shen-Nung, when he had a cup of boiling water when some tea leaves accidentally dropped in it. The emperor supposedly poisoned himself 85 times, and each time he was cured by drinking tea.
The British came into China and promulgated tea drinking all over Europe and then the Americas. By the 1600s, drinking tea was common in these continents.
Various taxes on tea imported to America led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. That was followed by US independence, years later.
The custom of “afternoon tea” in the UK supposedly started in 1840 with Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. She wanted to ward off what she called a “sinking feeling” during the late afternoon hours, so she started drinking tea with a light snack at around 4PM.
High tea started with the working class and rural Brits. They came home from work at around 6PM in the evening, and refreshed themselves with a pot of strong tea along with some meats, fish, salads, and cheese.
The US invented the tea bag, along with the idea of iced tea in 1904. The US is actually the world leader in marketing ready to drink tea for millions of tea drinkers.
The Health Benefits of Tea
While people in the West started drinking tea mainly because of the taste, in Asia it actually was first recognized as a medicinal brew. There’s more to tea than just the terrific taste—it makes you healthier.
You should know by now that people need to drink lots of water each day to properly hydrate. The taste of tea encourages people to drink more water for better hydration.
Weight Loss and Maintenance
Drinking tea doesn’t saddle you with lots of calories. Tea is basically calorie-free, with just 1kcal of calorie per cup. In contrast, a 12-ounce bottle of Coca Cola comes with 140 calories.
You do have to go easy on the sugar and milk to keep the calories down. When you stick with plain, calorie-free tea, weight management goes easier. And it’s not just the lack of calories, either.
Some preliminary studies indicate that it helps improve the metabolic rate. It may also boost fat oxidation and even improve insulin activity.
Tea and Heart Health
Tea is good for your heart. That’s according to many studies so far, including a long-term (more than 7 years) study that tracked more than 100,000 participants.
The findings of these studies include the following:
- Habitual tea drinkers (at least 3 cups a week for 7 years) have a 56% lower risk of fatal heart disease and stroke.
- A recent 2020 review also found that those who drank 2 to 3 cups of tea a day decreased their risk of death from heart disease by 8% to 12%
- Another 2016 study discovered that drinking more than 1 cup of tea a day reduced the incidence of cardiovascular issues.
- A Harvard study indicated that people who drank at least a cup of black tea lowered their chances of a heart attack by 44%.
- A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that those who drank at least 2 cups of green tea a day decreased the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 22% to 23%.
Several reputable studies (actually more than 3,000 published research studies) have also indicated that tea can help in the fight against cancer.
- In 2015, a study published in the Journal of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research reported that the main antioxidant in green tea helps in killing cancer cells.
- Another study discovered that women who drank 2½ cups of tea a day reduced their risk of rectal cancer by 60%.
- A study also showed that tea drinkers have a 42% lower chance of getting colon cancer. For men who drank at least 1½ cups of tea, the risk of colon cancer decreased by 70%.
- In another study, it was found that drinking tea reduced the risk of skin cancer by 42%.
- Certain clinical trials indicated that drinking green tea can slow down the progression of prostate cancer.
Helping against Mental Decline
Most people know that the caffeine in tea can help them become more alert. That’s why tea is great with breakfast, and when trying to relax after work. Studies have also confirmed that drinking tea reduces anxiety, boosts memory functions, and even improves sports performance.
Tea can actually help against neurological decline:
- Drinking green tea is associated with lower risk of dementia.
- In a study involving 30,000 adults, it was discovered that drinking at least 3 cups of tea a day reduces the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 69%.
- Recent studies have also indicated that drinking tea can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Listing the entire list of health benefits of drinking tea may require a much longer article (especially with cited studies), so here are just some of the other highlights:
- Drinking black tea may have long-term benefits for managing diabetes.
- Higher tea consumption may lower the risk of osteoporosis.
- Drinking tea (specifically black tea) boosts the natural resistance of the immune system to microbial infection.
It does help a lot that if you go with naturally grown organic tea, GMO-free and without the use of pesticides. You’ll also do yourself a favor if you minimize the use of sugar and milk to make sure you enjoy the health benefits.
Tea is so valued that it’s not only in the UK where they have special tea parties. In countries like China and Japan, they have special tea ceremonies that use traditional techniques and complicated protocols for brewing and serving.
But you don’t really have to make a big deal out of drinking tea. For millions, it’s simply a regular part of the day. Drink tea with friends, or take time out to relax with a nice cup of tea!