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The traditionalists say that the best cuppa is made by giving tea leaves a lengthy soak in a pot.

And now scientists have had to agree.

Research suggests that tea left to steep for five minutes releases more health-giving properties than tea bags briefly dipped in a mug of hot water.

The old-fashioned brew has a higher concentration of antioxidants, disease-fighting molecules that help to neutralise the free radicals that damage cells and play a role in everything from ageing to cancer.

The antioxidants reach their peak after five minutes' brewing.

It does not matter whether the tea is loose or in bags, so a tea bag left in a mug of hot water for five minutes would have the same beneficial effect.

Like fruit and vegetables, tea is a natural source of antioxidants known as polyphenols.

Researchers at the Aberdeen-based Rowett Research Institute tested levels of polyphenols in the blood of volunteers who drank black tea brewed for up to 10 minutes.

Those who drank the five-minute brew had 60 per cent more antioxidants in their blood than those with a one-minute infusion.

The difference between a three and five-minute brew was 30 per cent.

Leaving the tea to brew for longer than five minutes did not provide any extra health benefits.

Previous studies have suggested that chemicals found in tea can also help to protect against heart disease.

Tea is also a source of manganese, essential for bone growth and body development, and potassium, vital for maintaining body fluid levels.

Research published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention last month claimed that two cups of tea a day could slash the risk of developing skin cancer by up to 65 per cent.

Early this year, tests carried out in Germany showed that while tea helps improve blood flow to the heart by increasing the ability of arteries to relax and expand, milk completely counteracts the effect.