I could say it’s because green tea helps fight cancer and cardiovascular disease, lowers blood pressure and bad cholesterol, fights tooth decay, and reduces weight. But is that why I drink it?...Well, no…
The Chinese knew about the medicinal benefits of green tea since ancient times. They used it to treat everything from headaches to depression. In her book Green Tea: The Natural Secret for a Healthier Life, Nadine Taylor tells us that green tea has been used as a medicine in China for at least 4,000 years.
Today, scientific research in both Asia and the west is providing hard evidence for the health benefits long associated with drinking green tea. For example, in 1994 the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published the results of an epidemiological study indicating that drinking green tea reduced the risk of esophageal cancer in Chinese men and women by nearly sixty percent. University of Purdue researchers recently concluded that a compound in green tea inhibits the growth of cancer cells. There is also research indicating that drinking green tea lowers total cholesterol levels, as well as improving the ratio of good (HDL) cholesterol to bad (LDL) cholesterol.
What makes green tea so special?
So why is green tea so good for you? For one thing, it’s rich in catechin polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a powerful anti-oxidant. It not only inhibits the growth of cancer cells; it kills cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. Green tea also lowers LDL cholesterol levels and inhibits the abnormal formation of blood clots. The latter takes on added importance when you consider that thrombosis (the formation of abnormal blood clots) is the leading cause of heart attacks and stroke.
Links are being made between the effects of drinking green tea and the "French Paradox." For years, researchers were puzzled by the fact that, despite consuming a diet rich in fat, the French have a lower incidence of heart disease than Americans. The answer was found to lie in red wine, which contains resveratrol, a polyphenol that limits the negative effects of smoking and a fatty diet. In a 1997 study, researchers from the University of Kansas determined that EGCG is twice as powerful as resveratrol, which may explain why the rate of heart disease among Japanese men is quite low, even though approximately seventy-five percent are smokers.
Why don't other Chinese teas have similar health-giving properties? Green, oolong, and black teas all come from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. What sets green tea apart is the way it is processed. Green tea leaves are steamed, which prevents the EGCG compound from being oxidized. By contrast, black and oolong tea leaves are made from fermented leaves, which results in the EGCG being converted into other compounds that are not nearly as effective in preventing and fighting various diseases.
New evidence is emerging that green tea can even help dieters. In November, 1999, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the results of a study at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Researchers found that men who were given a combination of caffeine and green tea extract burned more calories than those given only caffeine or a placebo. Skin preparations containing green tea, from deodorants to creams, are also starting to appear on the market.
What About Matcha Tea?
I’ve been told that the health benefits of matcha tea exceed those of green tea because you ingest the whole leaf, not just the brewed water. One glass of matcha, I’m told, is equivalent to 10 glasses of green tea in nutritional value and antioxidant content.
An unexpected benefit matcha drinkers experience a boost of energy that is not, as formerly thought, from the caffeine in matcha but from a combination of its natural properties. Another recent study found improved physical endurance in matcha drinkers. An extra bonus is that matcha is nearly calorie free and additionally boosts metabolism. So, matcha also burns fat. While it’s doing that matcha is calming and helps to reduce stress. It doesn’t’ raise blood pressure or heart rate, which makes it a safe alternative to questionable quick fixes.
A recent favorite for mine is the matcha latte. My good friend Nina Munteanu, barista par excellence, tells me that it’s easy to make a matcha latte at home. You just need the matcha powder, which you can get at any good tea shop, milk, sugar (optional) and a whisk or frother. For one cup, all you need is a teaspoon of matcha powder. Add a little hot water and mix thoroughly into a wonderful deep green froth. Add sugar (Nina uses honey or agave) to taste. Heat the milk without boiling and add. You can use a whisk or frother to create foam before adding to the matcha slurry. And, voila! Matcha Latte!
Green Tea & Chocolate
Truth be told, I love the taste of green tea. Particularly in chocolate. It’s good in ice cream but chocolate brings out the grassy, bamboo notes of green tea. Now, here’s the thing: the chocolate must be of the very best quality. Don’t go buying green tea chocolate in a grocery store—unless you’re in Switzerland, of course. But in North America, you must look for superior chocolate, found in specialty stores.
An example of excellent quality chocolate is Vosges Haut Chocolate, a Chicago-based chocolate maker that offers quality chocolate with exotic ingredients like spices and bacon. Based on ethical sourcing, and green initiatives, the chocolatier offers delicious chocolate-stories of incredible imagination and originality.
Katrina, founder of Vosges Haut Chocolat, describes eating a Japanese Matcha Green Tea deep milk chocolate bar as a complex six-stage experience. It starts with breathing and smelling: “Engage your senses,” says Katrina. “Take three deep ujjayi breaths, quiet the chattering mind, and be in the present moment.” Rubbing your thumb—or paw—on the chocolate helps release its aromas. Then there is something she calls the snap: “Break the bar into two pieces,” says Katrina. The crisp ringing pop indicates a well-tempered chocolate bar. Dark chocolate produces the loudest snap, milk a soft break, and white a faint whisper. Then there is taste: “Place a small piece of chocolate on your tongue and press it to the roof of your mouth,” says Katrina. The chocolate will slowly melt and as it does you will breathe in the grassy, bamboo notes of the green tea followed by a nutty astringent finish.
Now, go enjoy one of life’s deepest most delicious pleasures and be healthy. Meow!