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 The Health Benefits Of Black Tea

The Health Benefits Of Black Tea

Consumed in Asia for millennia, tea is the second most consumed beverage after water. The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) requires a hot, humid climate and well-drained soil to grow from the Theaceae family. In the plantations, it is pruned regularly to facilitate its picking: it remains a bushy shrub that will give young leaves and buds, which will then be used to make tea.

Black Tea

Tea and its colors

Black, green, red, blue, white… The color of tea varies according to the degree of oxidation of its leaves. It is the different manufacturing processes (withering, rolling, oxidation, desiccation, sieving, sorting according to their caliber, manually or using machines, etc.) that differentiate the teas, and not the species, because all the varieties of teas are produced by the same tree: Camellia sinensis. But also consider the plantation of origin (region, climate, altitude, type of soil, etc.), its cultivation process, the kind of picking practiced, the harvest period, and the importance of the know-how (often ancestral). Its quality and preparation will make it a natural elixir. In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Food Science, researchers reported that tea leaves' temperature and steeping time affect their antioxidant properties and differences between types of teas. For example, “for green tea, the highest antioxidant activity observed was during a prolonged cold brew, while it was a short hot water brew for black tea.”

Green and black tea: what are the differences?

The production of green tea is an actual race against time: once the tea leaves are picked, oxidation (or fermentation) then begins a few hours later. Oxidation is the natural aging process of plants (notably observed on peeled apples) under the action of the oxidases they contain. But these enzymes are susceptible to heat. To prevent the tea leaves from oxidizing, they are heated to around 50°C (in China) in a steam bath (in Japan) or in a round container. The tea leaves are then rolled up and dried.

The main teas and their advantages

Tea, or teas, has many virtues. Here are the main ones, depending on the type of tea.

Black tea

The leaves of black tea are fermented for a few months (up to a year), which gives it its characteristic reddish-brown color and taste. It has a more pronounced flavor due to its integral oxidation, a chemical reaction that occurs when the leaves are left to rest in contact with the oxygen in the air in a hot and humid atmosphere. There are also smoked black teas (obtained with aged leaves).

Black tea health benefits

Like green tea, black tea has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It is an energizing drink but not exciting like coffee: its theine content (approximately 11 mg per 100 g) for a cup of tea is two to three times lower than the caffeine content of a cup of coffee. Equal volume. A study revealed that regular tea drinkers have better-organized brain regions and that drinking tea regularly (at least 4 times a week) prevents cognitive decline and improves academic performance. Thus, all the virtues of black tea explain the enthusiasm of consumers.

Good to know

A dark tea does not mean that it is more potent in theine (the equivalent of caffeine) but richer in tannins. Tannins have known antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and astringent properties.

Black tea

The easiest to make is an unfermented tea with little or no oxidation. The leaves are dried directly after picking, then roasted and rolled, but this varies according to the know-how. It is not the same in Japan as in China. It is not fermented and oxidizes more quickly, and loses its aroma if it is too old: it can be kept between 12 and 18 months.

Green tea is very fashionable, be careful about its origin because its quality and taste vary according to the country of manufacture. For example, Sencha-type green tea is traditionally made in Japan using a conventional method (the leaves are subjected to a steam bath for 30 to 45 seconds to stop oxidation, then rolled and dried). Still, it sometimes comes from China, where it is made differently and sometimes industrially and will not taste the same. In addition, beware of green teas in cheap bags: these are often mixtures of green teas from different origins (Indonesia, China, Africa, etc.) of poor quality.

Black tea health benefits

Although it was removed from the French Pharmacopoeia in 2018, green tea is renowned for its therapeutic properties. Particularly rich in polyphenols, it is traditionally used as an adjuvant in weight-loss diets. It would participate in regulating appetite, reducing the irresistible cravings for snacking between meals.

Its energizing and moisturizing properties make it a good drink in case of fatigue and mild diarrhea (due to its high mineral content). Like white tea, it contains more EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) than black tea. This powerful antioxidant would neutralize free radicals and could have a preventive role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. It also helps regulate cholesterol levels.

Oolong tea

This blue-green tea (due to the particular color of its leaves when infused) is semi-fermented. After about ten days, the fermentation is voluntarily stopped at a degree of fermentation varying from 15 to 60 %, then the leaves are dried. This traditional tea represents only 2% of world tea, hence its rarity and higher price (like white tea). Sweet on the palate, it has a woody, nutty taste.

Benefits of black tea

In Chinese medicine, it is called “middle ground tea.” It combines the qualities of black tea and green tea. It contains minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. It would be helpful as a part of a diet in preventing cardiovascular diseases and would have an effect on blood sugar.

White tea

It is mainly produced in China, India, Sri Lanka, and Reunion. Slightly oxidized (about 10%), it is the tea that undergoes the most minor transformation after picking. It is characterized by thick and long leaves and large fluffy buds harvested in the spring. According to the traditional method, it undergoes two stages: withering and drying (but no roasting, rolling, or fermentation). It is a rarer and often expensive tea with a light and sweet taste. It contains less theine than other teas (between 15 mg and 20 mg per cup, compared to 30 mg for green tea and 50 mg for black tea) and must be steeped longer (5 to 10 minutes) between 75 and 85 °C.

Black tea health benefits

It is renowned for its diuretic properties and as a fat burner. It is rich in polyphenols, antioxidants, and vitamins. However, a study has shown that its antioxidant action decreases depending on the duration of storage: it is, therefore, preferable to consume it quickly after buying it (within six to eight months maximum).

Rooibos is not tea!

It is nicknamed "red tea" because of the reddish-brown color it gives off when steeped. However, contrary to popular belief, rooibos is not tea: it comes from a South African shrub of the Fabaceae family, Aspalathus linearis, and does not contain theine.

What you need to know before buying your tea

It is difficult to find your way among the multitude of brands, tastes, and types of teas on the market. Here are the main criteria you should pay attention to:

A quality tea must be made from 100% tea leaves, without any additions: avoid teas that contain colorings, flavorings, or preservatives. Whole leaves that are well swollen once wet are a guarantee of quality.

The origin of the leaves and the altitude at which they were grown have their importance in tea taste. For example, a Darjeeling black tea, which is grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, will be more delicate than an Assam black tea, growing at low altitudes, with more powerful aromas. Teas from Japan and China are more subtle on the palate, with some bitterness for green teas. Still, you might be surprised by a tea from Africa like Kenya's Marinyn GFOP, which is full-bodied, aromatic, and without irritation. So choose your tea according to your taste preferences.

Beware of flavored teas.

These fruits or flavored teas are very fashionable. They contain aromas that can be of natural origin (flower petals, spices such as cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, etc.) but are most often of synthetic origin. Less expensive than natural flavors, these artificial flavors have invaded the shelves of our supermarkets.

Decode the labels carefully: if you see “blackcurrant or strawberry taste aroma,” it is an aroma identical to natural but made in the laboratory from synthetic molecules (often derived from petroleum products). Your tea will, therefore, not be flavored with the natural fruit! Another example is that a so-called “vanilla” tea may contain vanillin, a synthetic vanilla flavor that costs much less than that derived from the vanilla pod. If you are looking for a quality tea with a subtle taste, avoid these supermarket teas with synthetic flavors, which often have a chemical taste.

Check the price per pound.

If you compare the price per kilo, you will realize that tea bought in the supermarket is not so advantageous: around 65 to 70$/Pound, or even more, like "Lipton organic green tea" in sachets, sold for more than 100$ per Pound! Also, beware of the packaging because the price does not necessarily reflect the quality. A lovely box with the name of the brand can increase the cost of your tea, but not its quality. While a quality tea in bulk costs between 70 to 120 $/Pound.

Whole leaves or sachets: which to choose?

The tea leaves are crushed in the bags and reduced to a powder state: these teas are cheaper but lower quality. Take the test: open a tea bag and see what it is made of. If you find only broken leaves and a kind of "tea dust," know that the tea will be of poor quality. Because the more the plant is crushed, the less its medicinal properties and aromas are preserved. The same is true with herbal teas. You may also find microbeads: this is the encapsulated synthetic aroma.

If you care about sachets because you find them more practical, know that they can be of different materials (gauze, muslin, or paper), not always biodegradable. For paper bags, choose 100% recycled ones and avoid chlorine-bleached paper and those closed with staples or glue (the best bags are closed by being heated).

Prefer muslin sachets (silk or cotton): they are more resistant and better preserve the aromas. In addition, since they are transparent, you can better see the inside of the bag and check if there are indeed whole leaves! Only downside: they are more expensive. As for the shape, I prefer the pyramid shape to the flat bag because the tea leaves circulate better in a larger space, thus preserving their aromatic richness.

Herbal teas with medicinal properties

Warming, hydrating, or consumed for pleasure, herbal tea can also help you digest, relax, detoxify or sleep better. Composed of one or more fresh or dried plants, you can make it in three ways: as an infusion (pour simmering water over the flowers or leaves, leave to infuse for 5 to 10 minutes, then filter), as a decoction (put the plant(s) in cold water, heat until boiling, remove from the heat then leave to infuse before filtering the mixture) or in maceration (soak the plants in cold water for 10 to 12 hours covered, then filter. A method suitable for plants rich in mucilages such as marshmallow or licorice).

Digestion, difficulty falling asleep, anti-stress, lack of appetite, detox, slimming, heavy legs... Each herbal tea has its specificities and benefits, depending on the plants it contains.

For example, a rosemary infusion will be a backer for your liver, thyme soothes a sore throat, verbena helps to calm down, fennel is indicated in case of bloating, a lemon balm against flatulence and for better sleep, peppermint relieves digestive spasms, chamomile facilitates good digestion, burdock helps detoxify the body, valerian promotes sleep...

The essential criteria to know before buying a herbal tea

The plants must belong to the monograph of plants for herbal teas and medicinal plants. You will find the list of the most common herbal teas on the Ansm website.

Do not overdo it: no more than two to three cups a day because some plants can cause side effects (digestive disorders, skin reactions, etc.), especially at high doses. In addition, the benefits of an herbal tea can end up fading if you consume the same plant continuously: it is better to alternate the plants or take them in the form of cures.

The supermarkets are also full of cheap herbal teas, but the quality is rarely there. Prefer herbal teas purchased from herbalists, organic shops, certain pharmacies, or small producers. In addition, it is better to buy your herbal tea plants in bulk rather than in bags because the quality will be better. If you prefer sachets, choose ones made from 100% plants, with no added flavors, colorings, or preservatives. You should not find any glue, string, or staples in your bags.

Opt for herbal tea with plants from organic farming (AB label). It is not uncommon to find traces of pesticides or substances unhealthy (dyes, synthetic preservatives, or other chemical additives) in non-organic herbal teas. Beware in particular “herbal detox teas,” which have become very fashionable. 

Foodwatch, the consumer defense and information NGO, denounces a scam on labeling certain herbal teas supposed to be "detox": the promise of fruits and plants with medicinal properties is not kept for certain herbal teas, which contain more synthetic aromas than natural plants or fruits.

The packaging often shows you a fruit when in fact, the infusion contains only a “flavor” of the fruit with a synthetic aroma. So check that the herbal tea has only natural plants, without artificial flavors.

Beware of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

These toxins are produced naturally by several species of plants. They can be harvested unintentionally when certain wild herbs (known for their high levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids) are collected simultaneously as selected plants for teas and herbal teas.

While brands attempt to remedy this by being careful in growing and harvesting plants for teas and infusions, they are not immune to error. In 2017, the Kusmi Tea brand had to withdraw its chamomile tea from sale after a German consumer protection association revealed the presence of these PAs in tested sachets. One more reason to turn to trusted brands that ensure the quality of their plants.

The 3 golden rules for successful tea at home

To properly prepare your tea at home, here are the essentials!

  • Do not brew herbal tea or tea in a metal container.

Some plants (such as fumitory) oxidize on contact with metal. Opt for glass, porcelain, or earthenware.

  • Prefer spring water or mineral water

It is weakly mineralized in tap water unless you have a device to filter it (see our file for March 2021). The water should be simmering.

(90°C is ideal), but not boiling hot.

  • Respect the dosage, temperature, and infusion time indicated on the container

Count o.n an infusion time of 5 to 15 minutes depending on the plants before filtering or removing the sachet. Do not put too much for tea: a pinch is enough for a cup.