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.
Caffeine levels of green teas were generally much lower (about 14mg to 37 mg per eight-ounce cup) compared to black teas (50 mg per cup) or coffee (140 mg per cup).
Costs of the teas varied widely, but researchers say that unlike wine, even rare teas are an affordable luxury. A pound of the most treasured tea may cost up to $300 a pound, but that amount yields about 200 cups, which is less than $1.50 a cup. The top rated teas in this report ranged from 12 cents to 35 cents per cup.
Researchers say following these six steps can help bring out the best of any green tea:
- Buy a little tea at a time - Tea turns stale within six months to a year.
- Keep air out - Non-clear glass, metal or ceramic containers are best for storage. Tea can absorb other flavors and odors, so keep teas away from other spices and out of plastic containers.
- Use good water - Use cold, good-tasting tap water or bottled water. Hard water can add a mineral taste to delicate green teas, and water left sitting in a kettle overnight will dampen the tea's flavor.
- Don't boil - Green tea should be brewed at a lower temperature than black teas because it's more delicate. Pour the water just before it boils.
- Follow directions - Follow the instructions from the store or package regarding how long to steep and how much tea to use. In general use about one teaspoon of loose leaves or one bag per eight ounces of water and brew for about two to three minutes.
- Let tea breathe - The leaves need enough room to unfurl and swirl in the basket, tea infuser, or filter used. Tea balls usually don't offer enough space and an open-topped infuser is usually a better choice because it lets leaves float freely.
SOURCE: Consumer Reports, March 2003.