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Description: Tea is a beverage made by steeping plant leaves, buds or twigs in hot water. The main types of tea are herbal, green, white, and black. Green, white, and black teas are all produced from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a white-flowered evergreen. The method of processing the leaves is what distinguishes the type of tea.

The traditional method for producing black tea begins with withering. The plucked leaves are placed on racks that facilitate the removal of excess moisture, then rolled and placed in special machines that release enzymes and juices from the leaves. This gives the tea its rich aroma and taste. The leaves are then fermented in a room with controlled temperature and humidity, and further dried in an oven. Of all the teas, black tea contains the highest quantity of caffeine. The caffeine content varies depending upon crop, production, and steeping time, but is approximately half the amount as in the same quantity of coffee.

Green tea is made through the process of steaming and/or firing the leaves immediately after plucking in order to prevent the fermentation that makes black tea. These leaves are rolled and dried. Because green tea is not fermented, it is a potent source for antioxidants as well as polyphenols such as catechins, flavonoids, and phenolic acids, which are all health-enhancing elements. Green tea contains less caffeine then black tea.

White tea has a light and fluffy appearance and is so named because of the white hairs that appear on the leaf buds. White tea is the least processed of the caffeinated teas and is only plucked, withered, and dried. For this reason, white teas contain the largest amount of antioxidants and polyphenols and the smallest amount of caffeine.

Herbal teas have absolutely no caffeine. Herbal teas are not produced from the Camellia plant. Rather, these teas are comprised of various herbs and plants such as chamomile, rose hips, or rooibos. Herbal teas are used medicinally and enjoyed for flavor.

What to look for: Look for organic and Fair Trade teas. This insures the benefit of high quality teas devoid of pesticides and toxins, and assures the workers who brought you the tea fair and safe working conditions.

Uses: Tea is mainly utilized for enjoyment of flavor and relaxation; caffeinated teas provide the additional benefit of mental clarity and sharp focus. Folk medicine has long valued herbal and caffeinated teas as remedies for sore throats, upset stomachs, and insomnia among other ailments. The chemicals in tea called polyphenols may help reduce the risk of serious illnesses such as atherosclerosis and some cancers.

Where to find: Find high quality organic and Fair Trade teas at local natural food stores, coffee & tea shops, and through online resources.

Avoid: Avoid non-organic teas, and be aware of caffeine consumption.