Despite the coffee boom, we still drink way more tea than coffee in Britain: 165 million cups a day compared with 70 million. It’s not just a moment’s respite from the day: a recent study revealed that drinking black and green tea could put you at lower risk of mortality from heart disease and cancer.
Health benefits of tea
Of course, tea does contain caffeine – a reason some people stop drinking it – but it contains much less than coffee. And you may recall stories in recent years of people developing brittle bones or skeletal fluorosis (a bone and joint disease) because of drinking too much tea. But they were drinking extraordinary amounts: a litre or more (in some cases much more) every day.
A scare story about tea causing prostrate cancer was just that; a scare, without foundation. But the one about drinking very hot tea causing cancer? That was true, as this research into tea and oesophogeal cancer showed. Drinking tea of more than 70° is harmful, so let it cool a little first.
As for those benefits: a British Journal of Nutrition meta-analysis of tea research found that the biggest drinkers of green tea have a 33 per cent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and black tea, 12 per cent lower.
One extra cup of black tea a day is associated with an eight per cent lower risk of CVD mortality, and one cup of green tea with five per cent lower risk. In fact, both black and green tea were found to give a “significantly” reduced risk of death from all causes.
Just the ritual of making a brew can de-stress us; ‘I’ll put the kettle on’ has long been Brits’ first reaction to bad news. It can boost our energy and help us age better. The antioxidants in white tea can reduce chronic inflammation, involved in several skin conditions, the visible signs of skin ageing, and more serious lifestyle diseases.
Benefits of green tea and matcha
Green tea contains half the caffeine of black tea, is rich is two antioxidants (catechins and polyphenols) that help to combat signs of ageing, and several studies have shown the role of the catechins in green tea in cancer prevention. Clinical study has also shown that green tea can increase thermogenesis (the rate at which the body burns calories).
Matcha helps to lower blood sugar and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and increase HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, and contains more antioxidants than blueberries, spinach, goji berries and dark chocolate.
It is richer than other teas in L-theanine, an amino acid that helps with neurological functions, and releases neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin) that help to stabilise our mood and prevent depression. Its high chlorophyll content is thought to help clear traces of metals and other toxins from the body.
All this applies to a properly brewed cup of matcha tea, by the way, and not to the cakes, snacks and blended drinks that come with added matcha these days.
How much caffeine does tea contain?
Tea contains caffeine, but way less than coffee. One teacup of white tea contains around 10mg of caffeine, green tea 20mg, oolong 30 mg and black tea 40mg. Regular coffee contains 135mg per cup. The double shot of espresso used in lattes and cappuccinos can be 68 to 168mg. (These figures vary depending on the leaf’s growing, picking and processing conditions.)
Hotter water and longer steeping, for example, equals more caffeine content in your cup.
Difference between white, green, black and matcha
The difference between teas is in how the leaves from the plant are picked and processed. White tea is made from the buds, picked just before the blossom opens, and not allowed to oxidise, giving the lightest and most delicate flavour. It’s considered the Champagne of tea.
Young leaves for green tea are steamed and quickly dried as soon as they are picked, so are only slightly oxidised, and taste subtler than black or oolong.
Matcha is an ancient Japanese tea made from a finely ground powder of green tea leaves. It’s taken off as a health drink because of its high antioxidant content.
Oolong leaves are semi-oxidised, so have more depth but still a fresh taste. Leaves for black tea are oxidised for two to three days, which turns them black and gives the strongest, richest taste.
If you’ve tried green tea and didn’t like it, it’s probably because boiling water was used, which makes it bitter. The optimum temperature for making green or white tea is 70 to 82°, and for black tea or herbal and fruit infusions it’s 96°, brewed for two to three minutes. For Rooibos tea use water at 90-100° and brew for three to four minutes.
Contemporary tea bars in London
The tea bar revolution has been under way for a while, with tea houses such as Yumchaa, Yauatcha, Teanamu and Urban Tea Rooms taking them to the cool/geekily-obsessed status of coffee shops. Tea pub Brew, which will serve tea by day and alcoholic tea cocktails by night, has just been crowdfunded and is seeking a location in south London.
But if you really love tea, go out of your way to visit Amanzi. If you don’t love tea, still go to Amanzi: its 60 black, green and white teas, frappes, lattes, bubbles teas and cocktails are a whole world of delicious drinks as far removed as you can get from builder’s brew. It has 60 teas on the menu in its Marylebone branch and 100 in Soho.
You might even bump into Ralph Fiennes, Kelly Brook, Sinitta or one of the other well-known faces who regularly pop in. There’s so much choice at Amanzi that some local residents and office workers come in twice a day or more.
The 10 most unusual teas at Amanzi
Marina Krstic, Amanzi’s tea expert and connoisseur, sources quality teas from around the globe and creates the unique tea menu. There are many single teas, such as white silver needle, a connoisseur’s favourite that can only be grown in China’s Fujian Provence. They excel at custom blends, herbal and fruit tisanes, and beneficial blends such as sleep tea and detox tea.
So, to help you out with choice paralysis, we went for a tasting with Marina and have picked our top ten – whether you have a palette honed for tea or are a PG Tips-only type.
Best winter tea: Roasted Almond, with a cinnamon fragrance that evokes Christmas. It’s best simply as an infusion, but can be brewed with almond milk for a richer drink.
Best summer tea: Cucumber Cooler, a refreshing cocktail of Tangy Cherry Pineapple Green tea shaken with fresh cucumber and a dash of lemon.
Best matcha tea: matcha alone is, shall we say, an acquired taste so go for the yummy Green Matcha Latte – though its milk and sugar rather dilutes the health effect! – or the lighter Matcha Lemonade. This is an iced cocktail shaken with fresh lemon, ginger and agave, and has an interesting grassy/seaweedy flavour, good for those who like unusual flavours.
Best tea latte: the Vanilla Chai Latte is blended with cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla, and steamed with milk, and has an indulgent, almost chocolate-y flavour. The Matcha Latte is also an indulgent treat, and variations include Nutella Matcha Latte, and a cold-blended version (frappe).
Bubble teas: Some of these contain chewy tapioca bubbles, cooked fresh every morning, and some contain fruit bubbles filled with juice that burst in your mouth. Opt for Taro, a Taiwanese tea with tapioca bubbles, or refreshing Melon and Mango.
Best virgin tea cocktails: the Green Tea Mojito is Sencha green tea with fresh mint and lime; Lychee Mar-Tea-Ni is pomegranate green tea and lychee, with a fun twist: lychee popping bubbles; Elderflower Rose Mar-Tea-Ni (bespoke Rose Green Tea, shaken with elderflower and decorated with rosebuds) is pretty and fragrant.
Amanzi Tea is at 24 New Cavendish Street, Marylebone, and 52 Brewer Street, Soho
Jacqui Gibbons is an editor at High50, looking after health, lifestyle and beauty content and reporting on health trends. Follow her on Twitter: @Jacqui_Gibbons