Why Green Tea is an Essential Component of a True “Breakfast of Champions”

This article is published as part of Nutri Inspector's scholarship application by Brody Alexander Katka who studies Economic at North Dakota State University.

Introduction

After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, with around 4.7 million metric tons produced worldwide each year. Tea is also an ancient beverage, with treatises on the drink appearing as early as 780 A.D. Tea and its rival, coffee, appeared in Europe during the 17th century, changing the West forever and creating a an age-old debate: Which is better? This short article will show why the answer is tea (specifically green tea), outlining its history, botanical information, how it’s made, and various health benefits that can be reaped from its consumption.

History of Green Tea​

​The history of tea reaches very far back into the annals of history. As I stated previously, treatises on the subject of tea can be found as early as 780 A.D., however that date does not even come close to the purported age of the beverage. An old Chinese legend states that in the year 2737 B.C., the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was reclining beneath a tree while a servant boiled drinking water nearby. It just so happened that that particular tree was a Camellia sinensis, or tea tree. A strong gust of wind blew some of the tree’s leaves into the boiling water and the Emperor, a renowned herbalist, decided to try the resulting concoction. Thus, through an accident of man and nature, tea was born.

While it is impossible to know whether or not this story is true, it is a fact that the Chinese had been drinking tea for centuries before the West had ever even heard of it. It wasn’t until 1606, when Dutch traders in China shipped the first consignment of tea to Holland, that Europeans first tasted the now universal beverage. Capitalizing on the discovery of this new drink, the British East India Company began to ship it into Britain.

As still holds true today, the British took to tea with great enthusiasm. However, this only occurred after the marriage of King Charles II to Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess and avid tea drinker. Prior to this, the British viewed tea as just another continental trend, to which they had historically remained aloof and uncaring. But, with the royalty and upper classes now enjoying the beverage daily, the rest of the country’s population soon held fast to the drink as well, becoming an integral part of British culture, with enough power to spark a revolution, i.e. the Boston Tea Party.

Today, tea is still one of the world’s dominant beverages. The tea bag was invented in the United States during the early 20th century and now serves as the principal means by which tea is made. In the United Kingdom alone, around 60.2 billion cups of tea are consumed each year, and as continued research into tea consumption reveals more and more of its health benefits, we can be certain that tea won’t be fading from people’s tables any time soon.

What is Green Tea?​

​There are three main types of tea: green, black, and oolong. These different types are a result of various processing and cultivation methods. However, all types come from the same plant: Camellia sinensis. Camellia sinensis, despite being called a “tea tree,” typically appears as more of a shrub than a tree, with the exception of the Assam variety. There are three varieties of Camellia sinensis: China, Assam, and Cambodia. There are also several less common hybrids in between. China can grow as high as nine feet tall and has an economic life of about 100 years. Assam lives up to the name of “tea tree” as it usually grows to about 60 feet tall, with an economic life of about 40 years. Cambodia is a cross between other varieties, growing up to 16 feet tall. Note that the various varieties’ economic lives are estimates, subject to change based on the frequency of pruning and plucking. All three varieties stay green year round and are native to China, India, and other parts of East Asia. Camellia sinensis is a rather hardy plant, able to grow in a wide range of temperatures and altitudes, surviving between the equator and the 45th latitude and up to 7,218.2 ft.! However, this is not to say that Camellia sinensis grows best in all places. The plant’s optimal climate must have a minimum annual rainfall of around 45-50 inches. It also must have fairly acidic soil, with a suitable pH level of about 5.8-5.4 or less. Aside from Camellia sinensis’ leaves, other ingredients such as jasmine, flowers, or fruits can be added during green tea’s production process to create different flavors, scents, and colors.

Green tea itself comes in several varieties, some of which are considered to be of “higher grade” than others. As with green, black, and oolong tea, the various types of green tea differ based on their processing and cultivation methods. For example, Sencha, the most widely produced variety of green tea, accounting for more than 80% of all green tea production, is available in three quality levels: high, medium, and low. Sencha’s high and medium grade are manufactured using Camellia sinensis’ top two leaves and its shoots. The low grade uses the leaves third from the top. One of the lowest quality tea varieties is called Bancha. Bancha is a derivative of Sencha, but is made from older leaves. It is usually divided into two categories: large leaf and small leaf. Bancha can also be used to create a unique variety of green tea called Houjicha, which is roasted to reduce fermentation. This roasting causes the tea to have a light gold color when it is made.The highest quality tea variety available is called Matcha. While all varieties of green tea have incredible health benefits, Matcha appears to have not only these benefits on a larger scale, but also several other key components that make it absolutely superior. These benefits will be discussed in-depth in the Health Benefits of Green Tea section. The production process of Matcha is quite different from that of other green teas. Matcha utilizes the the most tender leaves grown under 90% shade provided by bamboo blinds. Matcha is then converted into powder form in a long and complicated process, after which it is packaged up and shipped off to be enjoyed all over the world. The next section will dig deeper into how green tea is produced.

How is Green Tea Made?​

The production of green tea varies across companies, regions, and types of green tea. However, no matter where green tea is produced, one thing stays constant: the harvest. In Japan, tea is usually harvested from late April through September and is accomplished by either hand or machine. During this process, the plant’s buds and leaves are plucked and stored in large, temperature controlled bins until they are ready to be shipped off to the factory to be processed.

Once the tea reaches the factory, the drying stage of its production begins. Drying is done to prevent fermentation of the leaves, and the methods of doing so vary from place to place. In China, tea leaves are usually pan-fired in gigantic woks, heated by either fire or electricity. Another method used is simple withering, in which the leaves are spread out in direct sunlight or in the passage of warm air. In both pan-firing and withering, the leaves must be constantly moved about so as to ensure uniform drying. In Japan, the drying method most commonly used is steaming. Prior to steaming, leaves must be sorted and cleaned. Then, the leaves are placed in a bamboo tray suspended over water. The amount of time that the tea spends steaming determines which variety it will be. After steaming is over, the leaves go into a cooling machine and have excess water blown off.

Next, the tea is rolled into a variety of different shapes, including curly, pointed, twisted, round, and many more. The shape that the tea is rolled into all depends on the quality level. Each shape regulates the release of natural substances and flavor when the tea is steeped for consumption later on. The rolling process is done in several steps, the first of which is to stir the leaves in heated air (around 93.2-96.8° F) using a complex machine consisting of many finger-like spindles. Despite already having had the leaves dried, some moisture usually remains in them, bringing us to step two. This step ensures that any leftover moisture gets evenly distributed throughout the leaves by compressing them under a rotating disc. This causes moisture gathered at the leaves’ centers to be brought to the surface. Following this, the leaves are placed into a large rotating drum that gradually converts the leaves into a round shape. In the final factory steps, the leaves are removed from the drum, collected into smaller portions, and rolled into the various shapes mentioned earlier. The leaves then undergo a final drying process during which the leaves moisture content is reduced to about 5%. After this, they are shipped off to wholesalers for final processing.

Tea typically comes in three forms: loose leaves, teabag, and powdered. It is during this final processing that the leaves are converted into one of them. When the tea leaves reach the wholesaler, they are put through a special machine that grades and cuts the leaves, separating them by particle size, shape, and cleanliness, depending on the final form desired. After this, there is one more drying step done to produce aromatic flavor followed by blending to customer specifications. Ending the process, the tea is packaged and sent off to retailers all over the world.

Health Benefits of Green Tea​

The health benefits of green tea are many and varied. As was said earlier, green tea is an ancient beverage, and as such has been studied for many centuries. Whether it was in ancient Chinese and Indian courts or modern-day laboratories, literature on the wonders of green tea are widely available. Drawing on these many sources, this section will irrefutably prove that green tea is an essential part of a breakfast of champions. Before we begin, I’d like to note that this section will be giving a general view of green tea across all its varieties and, as such, all health benefits listed are to be taken with a grain of salt, as they may differ from variety to variety. With that out of the way, let’s begin!

The physical benefits of green tea alone should be enough to convince you to go to your local supermarket and buy a box in bulk. Green tea has been shown to produce vibrantly healthy hair and skin, freshen breath, promote healthy weight loss and muscle growth, and increase general longevity. However, this is just a taste of what’s to come...

The first instances of green tea being used medicinally are recorded in ancient Chinese and Indian manuscripts. These manuscripts state that green tea was commonly used as a stimulant (due to its caffeine content), a diuretic (used to drain excess bodily fluid), an astringent (helpful in controlling bleeding and the healing of various wounds), and in aiding heart function. Green tea has also been used to regulate body temperature and blood sugar, treat gas, improve mental processes, and promote digestion. Today, with modern scientific instruments, we can see that, in addition to these benefits, there are even more to be found under the microscope.

Free radicals are very dangerous molecules present in the human body that change cell structure, damage DNA, and induce cell death. Free radicals are some of the largest contributors to the aging process and the development of many diseases including cancer and heart disease.In opposition to free radicals, polyphenols, a powerful type of antioxidant, are substances that completely neutralize free radicals and reduce or even prevent altogether the effects caused by them. The highest known concentration of polyphenols anywhere is found in green tea. But that’s not all...

In extensive studies done with humans and animals under strict laboratory conditions, green tea has been shown to help treat, prevent, or reduce the effects of the following health conditions: atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, bladder cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, stomach cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, stroke, leukemia, certain allergic responses, asthma, influenza, the common cold, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and certain neurological disorders. If that’s not enough to convince you, I don’t know what will. But that’s still not all…

I’ve already mentioned Matcha earlier in this paper, but it’s worth mentioning again. Matcha has all of the aforementioned health benefits of green tea on a higher scale and more. Per cup, Matcha has 140 times the amount of polyphenols contained in a glass of regular green tea and also contains superior levels of Vitamins A, C, and E, fiber, Calcium, Iron, Potassium, protein, Amino Acids, and the highest concentration of catechins, a cancer-fighting agent. Matcha also increases Dopamine production in the brain. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is responsible for the regulation of emotions and ability to sense pleasure among other things. In addition, low levels of Dopamine have been shown to lead to addictions and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.

At this point, if you’re not going to the grocery store right now to get a box of Matcha, I don’t know what else to tell you. These are about all of the health benefits of green tea that we’ve found so far. I cannot even begin to imagine what future research of this incredible plant will bring.

Conclusion​

The purpose of this article was show you why green tea is an essential part of a breakfast of champions, outlining its history, botanical information, how it’s made, and various health benefits that can be reaped from its consumption. We learned how from its humble beginnings as an accidental creation of a Chinese emperor, tea went on to become the second most popular beverage worldwide, with billions enjoying a cup every morning. We also learned about where and how tea is actually grown and how it is brought from the field to your cup. Finally, the vast array of health benefits tea has to offer were put on full display. So, now that I’ve given you this information, what are you going to do with it? If you knew that there existed an easily-acquired beverage that could essentially make you superhuman, would you drink it or not? That is the choice and challenge that I lay before you. Go to your local grocery store and buy a box, it just might change your life for the better.

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