What Is Black Tea?
Black tea is the oxidized leaf of the tea bush. It is the same plant as green and oolong tea, but is left to oxidize longer than either of these and so has a different, generally stronger flavor and different health benefits. Black tea stores better than other types of tea and can keep its flavor for several years. Whole leaf black tea is considered the best quality, whereas broken leaves are often used in tea bags. Black tea is often mixed with other ingredients such as bergamot (orange) oil to create Earl Grey tea, or cinnamon and other spices to create chai tea. In many cultures, black tea is taken with milk, lemon and/or sugar or sweetener as well.
Black tea contains caffeine. It has very few to no calories or nutrients, although it does contain antioxidants. Black tea should be steeped in just boiled water. While the tea in tea bags usually has a high surface area and should only be steeped for a couple of minutes, whole leaf tea can be steeped for 5 minutes without turning bitter. Many cultures have significant rituals surrounding the brewing and serving of tea.
The Health Benefits of Black Tea
Black tea has many health benefits, most of them stemming from the polyphenols it contains, which are a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants are protective chemicals which prevent free radicals from damaging the body. Black tea has been shown to reduce some symptoms of heart disease and may even help to keep blood cholesterol levels from rising. Some studies have also linked the consumption of black tea to a reduced rate of diabetes, although these have not yet been definitely linked.
Black tea also helps to boost the immune system, as well as lower the chances of dementia in later life. Drinking black tea may give a short mental boost by increasing alpha brain-wave activity, as well as lowering the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol are linked to the eventual development of osteoporosis. Black tea can also help to reduce bad breath and tooth decay.
Cautions About Black Tea
Black tea contains caffeine, which is addictive and can lead to the development of sleep disorders (as well as make it difficult to sleep in the short term). Drinking a large amount of tea may also increase the chances of developing kidney stones. Drinking very hot beverages has recently been linked to mouth and throat cancer, however, this can be prevented by allowing tea to cool slightly after brewing, but before drinking. Adding milk to tea may prevent some of its benefits.
Overall, black tea has many benefits and is also a delicious and familiar beverage. Drinking black tea regularly in moderation is the best way to take advantage of its healthful qualities.