HFG guide to teas
Stores have plenty on offer if you’re after a hot cuppa. Rose Carr takes a look at some of the tastier tea options.
Four teas – one plant
Black, oolong, green and white teas all come from the same plant – Camellia sinensis – and each tea type is processed differently to produce a distinct tea.
- Black tea is fully fermented: the leaves are exposed to air so they are oxidised (to a dark brown colour) and develop a full flavour.
- Oolong tea is partially fermented: the leaves are oxidised for a shorter time than for black tea.
- Green tea is unfermented and is made by quickly steaming the leaves so they retain their green colour.
- White tea is made from the new buds and young leaves of the plant and it is minimally processed.
Herbal teas are made from the leaves, flowers or roots of other plants, sometimes with added spices, fruit flavours and sweeteners such as stevia. Some herbal teas may have health benefits, which vary depending on the plants used. Peppermint or ginger teas, for example, may help digestion, and chamomile tea is thought to be calming. Always check the pack so you know whether you have any contraindications. While many teas are innocuous, it is good to know that Alpine tea is a laxative, liquorice tea is not advised with high blood pressure, and St John’s Wort tea can interact with certain medications. Herbal teas are generally caffeine-free and full of flavour, so they are a great way to add to your daily water intake.
Tea and health
Teas from the Camellia sinensis plant contain powerful antioxidant compounds. Drinking these teas may improve bone density, assist with weight management and blood glucose control, and help prevent certain cancers and cardiovascular disease. Get more antioxidants from your tea by ensuring you steep it for at least three minutes, preferably five.
These beneficial compounds can, however, inhibit absorption of non-haem iron (the iron from plant sources), so it’s best not to drink tea with meals and for up to an hour afterwards. This is especially important for those at risk of having low iron: infants and toddlers, teenage girls, pre-menopausal women and men over 75.
Teas contain caffeine – although a lesser amount than coffee. Around five to six cups of tea each day provides about 300mg caffeine (a moderate amount).
How to choose
Whether you want to boost your antioxidants with the teas from the Camellia sinensis plant, boost your fluids with herbal teas or just quench your thirst, we think the best way to choose tea is by choosing flavours you like. Download the PDF for some of our favourites.
Iced teas and infusions
Iced tea includes beneficial antioxidants and may be a refreshing drink for a change, but check the nutrition information before you take the plunge: drinking iced tea is not the same as having a cuppa – unless it’s usual for you to add a heap of sugar.
We looked at Dilmah, Lipton and Pokka iced teas and found they were all high in sugars, from 6-7.5g per 100g. In a 500ml bottle, that’s 30-37mg sugars or the equivalent of seven to nine teaspoons of sugar and 500-700kJ.
Native Infusions, a new sparkling water drink infused with green tea, won’t provide the antioxidants but it is a little lower in sugars with 5.8g per 100ml, or 15.8g (3¾ teaspoons) in a 275ml bottle providing 264kJ.
Fact: Tea contains fluoride which is good for bone health and helps protect teeth from decay.
The milk question: Researchers don’t seem to be able to agree whether the addition of milk is helpful or harmful to the antioxidant activity of tea. Until they can come up with some consistent findings, we may as well enjoy our tea – however it’s served.