Health Benefits of Tea

I was a mess last week with being sick.

I had a fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat and was terribly lethargic to the point where the only thing I did in the first 24 hours after getting home after my fifth 12 hour shift in a row was sleep. I woke up briefly from time to time only to sleep again. I didn’t eat anything for over 24 hours, and I barely drank anything because I was so fatigued. I did, however, manage to drink water and tea. The combination of Tylenol Cold & Sinus, my fever finally breaking at 5am, and tea were the hallmarks of an extended long weekend – along with binge watching Netflix’s You (which I highly recommend watching while slightly delirious with a fever because it makes all of Dan Humphrey’s Joe’s stalker antics hilarious instead of creepy).

Obviously I’m feeling a little bit better now as I’m able to put together sentences coherently.

The thing that I did think about when I was awake and taking in a psychological thriller is that I haven’t written about the health benefits of tea here. Now, I know we all know that tea tastes great. Of course it does, because why would we continue to grow it, produce it, lovingly store it, and drink tea if it didn’t taste great. I think I can safely say we would all drink something else if tea was disgusting (which is it not).

Tea, green tea in particular, contains polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants, which helps to neutralize oxidants (high levels of oxidants in the blood are generally considered bad, they can cause blood vessel damage and contribute to cardiovascular disease). You’ve probably heard about antioxidants in the media in the last few years in reference to “superfoods” – blueberries, acai berries, and dark chocolate are all high in antioxidants, although I don’t know anyone but me who refers to chocolate as a superfood. Polyphenols can also help with regulating blood sugar, so if you’re someone who is predisposed to developing diabetes this can be a good thing.¹

Drinking tea has also been associated with decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease – heart disease and stroke in particular, and also by improving blood cholesterol levels.¹ I think a lot of it also has to do with the fact that tea drinkers often try to have a healthier lifestyle – either by eating well or exercising. People who drink tea are often more hydrated than those who drink coffee because tea generally contains left caffeine in comparison.² For those who do not know, caffeine is a diuretic which means that it will make you lose water – but taking in more water and less caffeine as it is in tea vs. coffee means that tea drinkers are more hydrated. This also result in better weight management because you’re taking in a drink that is high in water, lower in caffeine, and with no calories (unless you’re having a tea latte).

So while you may not get that jolt of caffeine in the morning like a cup of joe might do for you, tea can be a healthy drink choice. Whatever tea you’re looking to drink – the healthiest choice is a straight tea with no added sugars. Keep it calorie free, keep yourself hydrated while lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke. But at the same time, life is all about moderation – it isn’t to say that I’m not going to have a London Fog from time to time (because that would be a lie, I love London Fogs), but it isn’t an every day sort of drink because it’s an indulgence (and a tasty one at that!).


The Basics of Preparing Matcha

Matcha is Japanese green tea that has been ground to a fine powder. There are a lot of different places to get matcha – I’ve bought some very inexpensive matcha, and I’ve also gotten my hands on some very expensive matcha. The general rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for – meaning that the higher the quality, the higher the price is likely going to be. I tend to reserve the less expensive (read: lower quality) matcha for baking purposes, and I’ve also bought flavoured matcha blends before, which are great for drinking straight, or as a latte.

But how do you prepare it? I have tried preparing matcha without a bamboo whisk before – and let me tell you, the result was less than desirable. Ideally, the traditional tools you’ll have are as follows:

Fine sifter
Bamboo whisk (chasen)

Sifting the matcha is important. It helps break up any clumps in the powder and makes the whisking part of your matcha preparation a lot easier. Even if you are preparing matcha in a blender bottle (and let’s face it, if you’re adding matcha to a smoothie or making a matcha latte on-the-go, this is a viable option), sifting the matcha powder will help it blend a lot easier.

I start by spooning the matcha powder into the sifter that’s sitting in my bowl. Then I use the spoon to push the powder through the sifter, getting rid of any unsightly clumps that may exist. I find with ‘older’ matcha powder or flavoured matcha powders (that have sugar), they’re more likely to be clumped. Sifting it helps a lot in getting a smoother drink.

Once the matcha has been sifted, I add a small amount of warm water. Then the whisking begins! For those who do not have a bamboo whisk, I found that using a fork or a regular (small) whisk can sometimes work, but takes a longer time to get the powder well suspended. I’ve heard from many people that you should whisk in either a M motion (M for matcha) or W motion (W for whisk). Whichever letter you decide on, just keep doing it repeatedly in the bowl. The more vigorous you whisk, the faster the matcha powder is suspended in the water. It becomes a thick green (smooth!) paste in the bowl – I generally wind up with something that reminds of a syrup consistency.

Then I add more water so it’s closer to the top of my bowl, and continue whisking in an M or W motion. Once I’m satisfied with my whisking, which happens when there’s some foam on the top, I will either drink directly from the bowl, or pour into a larger cup if I’m making a matcha latte.

Take care of your whisk! I rinse out my bowl with warm water, and whisk the water to help clean off the whisk. There are whisk holders that you can purchase which help keep the whisk’s shape and you can pop the whisk onto the holder to dry.

Lastly, practice makes perfect! The first time I tried to whisk matcha, it was pretty terrible. But I also did not sift the powder beforehand because I didn’t think it was necessary (not-a-spoiler: it was and it is important to sift your matcha!). I have gotten a lot better with my whisking skills now, although I don’t always get a crazy amount of foam on top – which is okay too!

Steeping Times for Different Teas

20151210-teavanapeachmomotaro3Photo from my review of Teavana’s Peach Momotaro.

The majority of tea companies are very good about including steeping instructions for the teas that they sell. A full set of instructions should include, at minimum, the temperature of water to use and the time that the tea should be steeped for.

If I come across a tea that doesn’t include instructions (or I have trouble finding the instructions), I fall back onto the following water temperatures and length of time:

  • White – 76-85°C (170-185°F), steep for 2-5 min
  • Green – 60-85°C (140-185°F), steep for 30 seconds-2 min
  • Oolong – 85-90°C (185-195°F), steep for 2-3 min
  • Black – 93-100°C (200-212°F), steep for 3-5 min
  • Herbal/Fruit Tisanes – 93-100°C (200-212°F), steep for 3-5 min


You may notice that these times or temperatures may vary a bit from what various tea companies recommend for their own tea. As a general rule of thumb, I find all steeping instructions to be more guidelines rather than hard or fast rules. For instance, if I get a very bitter cup of green tea after following the steeping instructions to the letter, I will do a second cup (with new leaves) at a lower temperature of water at a lower steeping time. You can always play around with water temperature and steeping time until you get a cup that you enjoy because there’s no sense in having a cup of tea that isn’t any good.