Gill South: Infused with health

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Gill South meets an expert to learn the A to Z of tea-drinking.

The misperception is that green tea contains more antioxidants than black when the opposite is true says Matt Greenwood. Photo / Thinkstock
The misperception is that green tea contains more antioxidants than black when the opposite is true says Matt Greenwood. Photo / Thinkstock

As I sit here with my fourth cup of tea for the day - it's only 11am - there is no doubt in my mind, that my life would be blighted if I didn't have my next cup of cha to look forward to.

In order to reassure myself that I'm not damaging my health with all this tea consumption, I've been to see New Zealand's only tea master - allegedly - Matt Greenwood. He works at the Bell Tea Company, where he does his own blending and tea mastery things.

What a fun way to spend an hour. Matt lines up 12 cups of tea for me to try - all kinds of varieties from Darjeeling (the champagne of teas, apparently) to NZ Earl Grey and a Twinings pink grapefruit, mandarin and lime infusion.

He tells he when he was training at Tetley in Britain, he was trying between 500 and 1000 teas a day. My consumption pales in comparison.

Matt recommends I go to tea.co.uk, the UK Tea Council's website. There's some interesting news of research there that black-tea drinkers are shrinking cancer tumours with their consumption.

But, first, some basic information. Green, white and black teas are from the same tree - camellia sinensis - but are just harvested at different times and from different parts of the tree. Green tea is younger than black and an authentic white tea should be taken from very fresh, new buds.

The processing of black and green tea differs - the leaves of black tea are fully oxidised, while the green tea leaves are lightly steamed before being dried.

Tea has high levels of antioxidants called flavanoids. Green teas contain more of the simple flavanoids called catechins, while black tea has more complex flavanoids, theaflavins and thearubigins. Research has found that flavonoids, particularly the catechins, may reduce the risk of major health problems.

I have been told by various alternative health practitioners that black tea stops the absorption of vitamins and minerals, and to wait an hour and a half after a meal before drinking black tea. However, Matt tells me this sounds like baloney. You get more antioxidants from black tea than green, he says, because of the density of black tea.

He gives me some good tips on how to get the most antioxidants out of my black tea. It needs to brew for three minutes. The water needs to infuse the tea leaves and it takes a while for the antioxidants to come out.

And you can still muck things up. If you are having tea from the pot you should put your milk in first but if you are using a teabag in the cup, the milk is added after. If you put the milk in with the teabag, it reduces the temperature of the boiled water and the tea won't brew correctly.

Blimey, I've been making it wrong all these years!

I tell Matt I find green tea a bit disgusting unless I'm having it with sushi. I prefer green tea with jasmine. The best jasmine green tea should be infused with jasmine flowers, he says.

To my surprise, I really like the pink grapefruit, mandarin and lime infusion. Normally I can't stand fruit teas, they remind me of ghastly raspberry stuff I had when I was pregnant.

The ever-resourceful Matt says I could make a concentrate of it, or use it in a cocktail. That's what he does with some of the fruit infused teas. Inspired.

Next week:

My girlfriends are extremely important to my wellbeing. I talk to Auckland counsellor Dorothea Lewis about what these relationships do for my health.

- NZ Herald

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