Camellia Sinensis is the plant whose leaf buds and leaves are used to produce many types of Chinese tea.
Native to mainland China and South Asia, it is an evergreen shrub, usually trimmed below two meters when cultivated for its leaves.
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These leaves are 4 to 15 cm long and 2-5 cm broad. The fresh, light green leaves are usually harvested for processing; the older leaves, which are deeper green, are also used for making tea, but different leaf ages produce teas of different qualities as the chemical composition of the leaf varies with age.
The same leaves, but processed differently, to attain different levels of oxidation, are used to make white tea, green tea, black tea and oolong.
White tea is a lightly oxidized tea coming from the buds and younger leaves of Camellia Sinensis. Its name comes from the silvery-white hairs on the buds and young leaves that give the plant a silvery-white appearance. These are left to wither in natural sunlight before being slightly processed in order to prevent oxidation and further fermentation. The manufacture of white tea is simpler compared to that of other teas since it does not require panning, shaking or rolling.
However, the selection of the raw material is more stringent since only the youngest tea leaves, with much fine white hairs will produce high quality white tea. This brew has a delicate, light, sweet flavor that sharpens the senses. Some say that white tea lacks the “grassy” aftertaste sometimes associated with green tea.
The privilege of the rich, this type of tea is really special since its minimal processing helps it preserve more nutrients than its darker cousins, thus making it the ultimate health tea. Its low caffeine content makes it ideal for those wishing to benefit from its miraculous properties while reducing their caffeine content.
Used as a medicine by Asians for centuries, its properties have recently been proven by science. Like its cousins, the other types of tea derived from the same plant, white tea has a high level of antioxidants (the highest level, since it’s the least processed). These antioxidants protect the body from the damages caused by the free radicals, with an anti-aging effect for the skin and organs.
White tea has also shown promising results in cancer prevention. It contains flavonoids that inhibit the growth of cancerous cells and prevent the development of new ones. At the same time white tea is good for the heart as it lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. Studies have already proven that people who drink 2 cups a day are 50% less likely to suffer a heart attack.
Like all types of tea coming from Camellia Sinensis, white tea has a very wide range of positive effects preventing and protecting against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, strengthening the immune and circulatory system, the bones and teeth, building healthy skin.
Like white teas, green teas taste more like fresh leaves or grass than the more processed types the black, oolong and pu-erh. They are made out of the same miraculous plant, but undergo minimal oxidation during processing.
In terms of health benefits, the antioxidants (catechnis, polyphenols, and flavonoids ) – play an important role. Just as with white tea, these attack the free radicals in the body and don’t allow them to harm healthy cells. Green tea is great in disease prevention, acting much in the same way as white tea does.
The name comes from the black color of the leaves it is made of; in fact, the color of black tea is red and this is why in China and the neighboring countries this type of tea is known as “red tea”.
Black tea is more oxidized than oolong, green and white tea. The tea leaves are dried and fermented which gives the tea a darker color. The black variety is stronger in flavor and has a higher caffeine level than the other three. While green tea generally loses its flavor within a year, black tea retains it for several years.
Plain black tea contains negligible quantities of calories, protein and sodium. Like all teas from Camellia, it is rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant, which explain its health benefits. Black tea improves cardiovascular health, drinking three cups of black tea on a daily basis reduces the risk of stroke by 21%. It has also been proven that black tea compounds are quite efficient when it comes to slowing down the absorption of blood sugar, more so than that in green or oolong tea.
Black tea is also known to relieve diarrhea and protect the health of the digestive tract, due to its tannin content. Steeping black tea for 15 minutes and then drinking it without any sugar is a popular diarrhea remedy. A cup of black tea a day has been proven efficient in countering the everyday stress of live, since this brew lowers the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in the blood stream. Last, but certainly not least, black tea helps in weight loss as it boosts the metabolism and blocks the fattening effects of carbohydrates.
In order to make oolong tea, the Camellia Sinesis leaves undergo a unique process including withering in the strong sun and oxidation, curling and twisting. Considered the most complicated tea produced, it requires great skills and experience in order to craft its range of flavors, colors and fragrance. It relates to green and black tea and is seen as a compromise in processing. Its unique taste can be quite strong in the beginning, with a lighter, sweeter aftertaste. It is a sophisticated tea, indeed, with many tastes, aftertastes and smells.
Very popular in Asia for centuries, oolong has become interesting to the West relatively recently, due to current research being done to study its effect on obesity and weight loss. Acting much like its cousins, it increases the metabolism and encourages thermogenesis – the burning of fat for energy. Oolongs with heavier oxidation are famous for aiding digestion. Try drinking a cup after a heavy meal and you will instantly see the difference: it will soothe the stomach and counter balance the greasy food.
Another benefit of oolong varieties is they cure headaches and cleanse the system from the negatives effects of alcohol and smoking. The lightly oxidized teas are viewed by Chinese medicine as beneficial to the respiratory system. The minerals in it promote healthier and stronger bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fighting against tooth decay.
So basically, white, green, black and oolong teas offer the same health benefits, all going back to the miracle plant Camellia Sinensis and its high antioxidants content.
The difference between them is in the processing of the tea leaves, which leads to different colors, flavors and aftertastes.
No matter which one you prefer, they all guarantee you improve your overall health while you enjoy your cup of Chinese tea.