LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Worldwide, tea is the second-most-popular drink,
after water. But in this coffee-crazed nation, it's long been a
Tea's popularity is growing
across America as scientists and the public learn more about its
bountiful health benefits. An ever-growing body of research that
includes more than 5,000 studies says tea can help block cholesterol,
prevents cardiovascular disease and cancer and burns calories.
are more and more conscious that they should be drinking more tea,"
said Hazel Forsythe, associate professor in the Department of Dietetics
and Human Nutrition at the University of Kentucky. "The word is out, and
According to the Tea Association of the USA, a
New York-based industry group, consumer tea purchases have increased for
20 consecutive years; retail supermarket sales have surpassed $2.2
billion; and away-from-home tea consumption has grown by at least 10
percent a year over the past decade.
On any given day, the group says, 160 million Americans drink tea. Tea shops such as Teavana are popping up all over.
a recent day, longtime tea drinker Peggy Buchanan made her daily visit
to the Louisville Tea Co. in Jefferson County. The 47-year-old
Louisvillian has high blood pressure and multiple sclerosis and said she
drinks tea partly for its healing properties.
"I'll have a
stomachache or a headache, and they'll brew something up and it helps,"
said Buchanan. "I have a friend with breast cancer. She said tea helps
her feel better. ... The health benefits are wonderful."
other parts of the world - such as India, China and Japan, where much
of the world's tea is grown - have been aware of its benefits for
In India's Darjeeling region, tea plants dot the
rolling foothills of the Himalayas, and tea shops and stalls are
everywhere. Darjeerling tea is famous across the globe; Nick Spears,
co-owner of Louisville Tea, called it "the champagne of tea."
Mukherjee, principal adviser to the Darjeeling Tea Association, said
three-quarters of the tea from the region is exported, with up to 10
percent going to the United States - a portion that's been rising as
health benefits become more widely known.
It modulates your (blood) pressure. It's good for your heart. It has
antioxidants," he said. "The qualities of nature are retained through
Steeped in research
Tea is classified into five
types - black, white, green, oolong and puerh. All are created from
leaves of the same warm-weather evergreen, and all contain polyphenol
antioxidants, which work to neutralize damaging free radicals.
Many studies have examined tea's role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
pretty good evidence that tea decreases absorption of cholesterol in
the system," said Todd Porter, associate professor of pharmaceutical
sciences at the University of Kentucky and a tea researcher. "This is
more true with black tea than green tea. That is counter to common
Some recent cardiovascular research was presented at
the Fifth International Scientific Symposium on Tea & Human Health,
held in September at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington,
One Italian study, for example, found that black tea reduced
blood pressure in all subjects and counteracted the detrimental effects
of high-fat meals in people with high blood pressure. That study
bolstered findings of a 2001 analysis of several studies showing an 11
percent lower risk of heart attack among those drinking three cups of
tea a day.
Scientists also presented research on other health
conditions. One study said caffeine and the amino acid L-theanine in tea
may improve mental cognition and clarity, as well as work performance.
review of studies, published in the Journal of Cancer Research and
Clinical Oncology this year, suggested that consuming five cups of green
tea each day helps prevent several cancers and protect against the
recurrence of colorectal cancer.
Recent studies have also found benefits for the elderly and the weight-conscious.
Japanese study published this year in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition found that elderly subjects who drank more tea had a
significantly lower risk of functional disability such as stroke,
osteoporosis and cognitive impairment.
A 2004 Japanese study found
that caffeine, theanine and perhaps other components in green tea
powder suppressed weight gain and fat accumulation. Other research
concluded that people drinking green tea and caffeine lost an average of
almost three pounds in 12 weeks while eating their regular diet.
Forsythe said the list goes on and on. "Tea drinkers are likely to age
much slower than other beverage drinkers," she said. "Tea reduces
inflammation. It increases bone strength."
Still, experts said it's not a cure-all, and isn't the only beneficial beverage.
study this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example,
found those who drank coffee, compared with those who did not, had lower
death rates from heart and respiratory diseases, injuries and
accidents, diabetes and infections, but not cancer.
Other studies suggest coffee helps protect against Parkinson's disease and Type 2 diabetes.
are some benefits to coffee, surprisingly, but tea and coffee are very
different," Porter said. "Coffee doesn't have any of the lipid-lowering
benefits tea does."
Art of tea
relatively low caffeine levels in tea make it possible to drink large
amounts; black tea, which has more caffeine than green, oolong or white,
still has about half the caffeine of coffee.
drinking at least two cups of tea a day, while Porter said five or more
cups of black tea daily would be best to lower cholesterol.
Boese, who co-owns Louisville Tea Co. with Spears, her fiance, said she
drinks 10 or more cups every day, and has loved the beverage since she
was a little girl holding tea parties with her stuffed animals.
who holds classes on tea, said there's an art to it. For one thing, she
said, loose-leaf teas allow for a wide array of tastes, compared with
the supermarket tea bags to which most people are accustomed.
ideal water temperatures and steeping times vary for different types
of tea. Black tea requires the hottest water, for instance, and certain
types of Chinese green tea should be steeped about two minutes.
Boese and Spears said tea can be enjoyed like fine wine and is a similarly social beverage.
"I've seen people talk over tea for three hours," Boese said.
social aspect of tea has long been part of other cultures. There are
tea ceremonies in Japan and "high tea" in England, and Indians share tea
several times a day at home, during get-togethers and even during
business meetings. At an outdoor tea stall near a sprawling tea garden
in Darjeerling, India, recently, customers lingered on benches, sipping
small cups of tea and chatting.
Forsythe said a widening "culture
of tea" would be good for America, too. Besides making us healthier, she
said, it would connect us, since "we make friends over tea."
Comparison of benefits
Two cups of tea have the same antioxidant activity as:
- 1 1/2 glasses of red wine.
- 12 glasses of white wine.
- 7 glasses of orange juice.
- 12 glasses of beer.
Making the perfect cup of tea
- Warm the teapot with boiling water.
- Pour that water out.
- Using one teaspoon of tea for each cup, place the tea leaves in the warmed pot.
- Pour fresh boiling water on the tea.
- Let it infuse for 3 to 5 minutes (for most types).
- Use a tea cozy to cover and keep the tea warm.
- Strain the tea into the cup.
Sources: Hazel Forsythe and Jessica Coffie, Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, University of Kentucky
Laura Ungar, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal