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Sure, it's good for you, but is it good? Rating the best and not-so-best

Feb. 10, 2003 -- The buzz over the health benefits of green tea still hasn't converted most die-hard coffee fans, but experts say that tide may be turning. A new taste-test shows people don't have to sacrifice flavor in order to reap the rewards of green teas, and a few simple steps can help make tea time a pleasure for all the senses.

Sales of bottled and gourmet teas have doubled since 1990, and a variety of studies have suggested that tea --especially green teas-- may provide a range of healthy benefits. Although most of these studies are observational, which means they can't prove the exact cause and effect of the tea, many experts now say tea is a good part of a healthy diet.

Tea leaves contain high levels of disease-fighting antioxidants called polyphenols that are thought to fight some types of cancer. Tea might also protect the heart by relaxing blood vessels and preventing blood clots. Finally, at least two studies have suggested that the fluoride and phytoestrogens in tea may increase bone density and reduce the risk of fractures from osteoporosis.

But now let's get down to the real nitty-gritty: the taste. In a new report in the March issue of Consumer Reports, researchers rated the flavor and aroma of 19 green teas, and laboratory tests evaluated the caffeine content of each of the brews. None of the teas scored an "excellent" rating by the taste-testers, but three were rated very good, including Tazo China Green Tips, Varietal Full Leaf (loose); TenRen Dragon Well; and Tazo China Green Tips, Varietal.

Supermarket teas such as Bigelow decaffeinated, Celestial Seasonings, Lipton and Salada were rated good, not great, and Bigelow caffeinated and Twinings Original were just fair.

Researchers say the best green teas should offer a balance of fresh tasting floral, grassy or vegetable-like "green" notes and slightly bitter or astringent qualities that can add bite and freshness. Green teas are the least processed type of tea leaves, which means they tend to be lighter in color and more delicate in taste than black teas.

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