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Do You Know Nutrition: Which tea has least amount of caffeine, most healthful?

March 8, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 7, 2011 at 9:08 p.m.

Phylis Canion

By Phylis Canion

I have come to enjoy drinking tea, but am a bit confused each time I look at the selections that are available. What is the difference between all of the types of teas? Do some have more caffeine than others? Does tea have more caffeine than coffee? And any other information you can share that will make that nice cup of tea even more enjoyable.

All true teas come from the camellia sinensis plant, of which there are reportedly more than 3,000 varieties.

Though different types of the camellia will produce variations in flavor and color, it is the different ways of processing the tea leaves that provide the different types of tea.

What makes each tea have its own flavor is the amount of fermentation that the leaves undergo. It is not fermentation in the sense that grapes are fermented into wine, but the exposure to the air. This process affects the tannins in the tea leaf, giving it a more robust flavor.

Black tea is fully fermented (heavily oxidized); oolong tea is partly fermented; green tea is not fermented at all; and white tea is not fermented because these tea leaves are picked from newer buds, so there is zero oxidation.

Here is a simple cross reference between teas: black teas are orange pekoe, and breakfast teas.

One of the most popular teas, Earl Grey is black tea flavored with bergamont oil, which has a citrus flavor. Bergamont is a small orange, a cross between pear lemon and sour orange.

Oolong teas include the Darjeeling tea.

White tea varieties include white Peony, silver needle, long life eyebrow and tribute eyebrow.

Green tea leaves are steamed, which locks in the antioxidants and gives this tea its reputation for possessing such great healing properties and is a stand alone - green tea is green tea.

Green tea has the least amount of caffeine and is the most abundant in flavanoids and catechins.

For an 8-ounce serving of various teas and coffee, here is the caffeine content: coffee, 100 mg, black tea, 40 to 50 mg; oolong tea, 25 to 35 mg; green tea, 20 to 30 mg; decaffeinated black and green tea, 4 mg per 8-ounce serving.

Teas and coffees are decaffeinated either through a chemical process or a water process. The chemical process destroys about 70 percent of the health benefits, where as the water process is less damaging to the tea leaves.

If you are looking for a tea that is naturally caffeine free, honeybush tea and rooibos tea would be the best choice.

The next free nutrition class is 7 p.m. Monday at Organic Emporium. Call today to book your seat, 361-576-2100.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, e-mail her at doc.phyl@yahoo.com. This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.

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