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Green Tea

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Green Tea - Background and History

Green tea is undoubtedly one of the most popular beverages in the world. Generally considered to be the most 'basic' form of the processed tea plant, it is also the earliest type of tea to be widely consumed in several parts of the world. Green tea is basically the first or primary form of the Camellia sinensis plant, quite literally the unprocessed, un-aged, and non-oxidised variety now commonly associated by the majority with traditional Eastern (more specifically Asian) cultures.



Green tea is derived from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, a generally small flowering shrub which can grow into a large tree if left to its own devices. Green tea is categorized as either the youngest buds of the plant, or otherwise the more mature leaves of the harvest. What differentiates green tea from other variants is that it is pretty much left in its natural state, with only very little processing done, depending on the type of tea and the country where it is processed. At its most basic, green tea is a non-oxidised tea, which means it skips the typical wilting and fermentation phase that is generally allotted for more robust teas such as oolong or black (red, in the Chinese tea culture) teas.

Green teas were initially more popular in the Asiatic parts of the globe, and is the historically preferred drink in China, Japan, Korea, and a number of other Asian countries (but with the largest following in Japan). Depending upon the region and the country, green tea is processed and harvested differently. The earliest usage of green tea dates back to Ancient China, where it was reputedly discovered by the legendary emperor Chen Nung in 2, 737 B. C. Several legends are associated with the discovery of green tea, but one of the most popular details how it was discovered by accident when the emperor, during a long sojourn, decided to rest under the shade of a large, verdant tree. Being thirsty, he commanded his servant to boil his drinking water (a common sanitary practice at the time), which, in the servant's carelessness was left uncovered. By accident, some leaves from the tree fell into the boiling water, and the emperor, impatient for a drink, simply poured himself a cup of the strange infusion and was surprised by its refreshing taste. [1]

The practice of tea consumption was said to have sprung from that accidental incident, and it reached unprecedented heights during the Tang Dynasty, where the drink became a staple of the Chinese culture, initially as a medicinal beverage, but later on as a more commonplace drink for both the upper and lower classes. Green tea was originally brewed as is, with freshly picked leaves, until the practice soon evolved to encompass various means of processing the leaves to yield different types of teas, each with its own unique aroma, intensity, and flavour profile. The early processing of green tea soon gave rise to the eventual creation of all other tea variants known today, such as oolong, pu'erh, and black / red tea.



In China alone there are some thirty traditional variants of green tea, with the most popular being longjing (lit. 'Dragon's Well), junshan yinzhen (lit. 'Silver Needle'), and mo li hua (lit. 'Jasmine tea'). Different methods of processing yield green teas with different leaf-shapes, with some being blade-shaped, pellet-shaped (termed 'gunpowder' tea in the tea-drinking world), and others possessing slight curlicues. Because China was initially the seat of the green tea-drinking world, nearly all provinces in China have their own special green tea, with some very notable types being categorized as 'Famous Teas' - a selection of the best, finest, or rarest teas, originally reserved solely as tributes to the emperors. The consumption of green tea (and, subsequently, all of its other variants) soon evolved into an art-form and a major ritualistic practice which became ingrained into the Chinese culture, and was referred to by the name gongfu-cha (lit. 'the Art of Tea'). [2] Unlike Western tea culture, the Chinese do not adulterate their tea with any type of additives, preferring to consume them as-is - a practice shared by Japan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and Korea.

This tea culture soon spread from China to Japan, and, along with it, the practice of Buddhism which was introduced to the islands something during the latter part of the Song Dynasty (circa 1191) by the monk Myoan Eisai. [3] There, it morphed from an initially highly ornate and flamboyant ritual (gonfu-cha), into the more meditative, grounding, and solid art-form called chado (lit. 'the Way of Tea') [4] - a practice which was soon amalgamated into Japan's own variant of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, the practice and aesthetics of which were spearheaded by the monk Sen-noRikyu. Unlike Chinese teas which focus on the aesthetics of the leaf as the aroma of the brew as the primary foci of their processing mastery, the Japanese focused more on the tea's flavour, creating strains of green tea which are by far more vegetal and intense when compared to Chinese teas. Japan also placed much stock on the seasonal virtues of the green tea leaves - the younger ones yielding sweeter brews, the older ones yielding bitterer, but also more robust brews. Japan is famed for its unique take on green tea, as it is considered nowadays to be the 'green tea capital', preferring that specific variety of tea above all others. Among the most popular of Japanese green teas are sencha (young, 'first flush' and 'second flush' leaves noted for its sweetness), gyokuro (high-class tea grown in the shade, specifically for the production of sencha), genmaicha (green tea leaves mixed with roasted brown rice), tencha (low-class tea often employed for general consumption), and matcha (powdered green tea reserved for Japanese tea ceremonies and confectionary purposes).

The usage and consumption of green tea did not limit itself to the Japanese and Chinese mainland, as the practice also soon spread to other countries such as Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and even Arabia and Russia thanks to the various trading routes then in effect between Asiatic and European countries. When tea was introduced to Europe, the earliest examples of tea shipped to the West was green tea, and it was only later, through the intervention of the East India Company and the discovery of Indian strains of tea, that the usage of green tea was eclipsed by the European preference for black / red tea.

Nowadays, the Western world is returning to its long-forgotten practice of consuming green tea, chiefly due to health reasons, as it has been found that green tea possesses more beneficial effects than the commonplace black tea. Nowadays, green tea is commonly found both in grocery aisles and in health food stores, in whole, bagged, encapsulated, tablet, and extract-forms (the latter being taken more as a dietary supplement than as a beverage in the truest sense of the word).

Common / Popular Uses

Green tea is employed today in much the same was that it was thousands of years ago - primarily as a beverage drunk prior to, during, and after meals. It is said that green tea helps to whet the appetite, promote digestion, and cleanse the palate. In Asiatic cuisine, some foodstuffs are generally accompanied by a cup or a pot of green tea, as it not only allowed an individual to 'wash' their palate and better appreciate the flavours of the meal, but it also helped to prevent indigestion, dyspepsia, and diarrhea. Green tea is generally prepared as an infusion, although stronger brews can be made by decocting the green tea - a practice that, while possible and doable, is ill-advised by purists as it ruins the flavour of the tea.

It is most commonly consumed outside of the Asian sphere as a health drink, generally added to things like energy drinks (due to its moderate caffeine content) or otherwise employed as a healthier alternative to black tea or coffee. The regular consumption of green tea has been shown to yield a number of amazing health benefits, chiefly due to the fact that green tea possesses potent antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-cancer, anti-hypertensive, cognitive-enhancing, and cardio-protective properties. [5] Green tea also possesses mild mood-altering properties. It was originally consumed as a stress-busting and enervating beverage by Japanese monks, and later, as a remedy for flagging spirits and depression. One of green tea's active compounds, theanine, has been shown to alleviate stress in tandem with the plant's potent antioxidant concentrations. Theanine has also been shown to uplift one's mood as well as to help prevent cognitive diseases like Alzheimer's, Crohn's, and Parkinson's disease. [6] Green tea has also been shown to significantly boost the body's ability to recover from disease (due to the large amounts of antioxidants called catechins, specifically epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG), which is why it was given as a restorative beverage to ailing or convalescent individuals in both Ancient China and Feudal Japan. These same compounds have been found to also protect the body from the ravages of aging, as well as from certain types of cancers and other degenerative diseases. [7]

Because of its antimicrobial and antiseptic properties, green tea or green tea extracts are often incorporated into natural or organic cosmetics. It has even been employed as an antiseptic rinse by most tea-drinking cultures. A very potent decoction of green tea leaves used as an antiseptic rinse generally helped to prevent infection and hasten healing. Green tea extract has even been shown to help combat skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, and fungal infections when applied topically - hence it's now frequent integration into face creams, lotions, and the like. [8] Coupled with its antioxidant properties, such products are generally marketed as 'rejuvenating', although scientific studies are in conflict with regards to its efficiency.

The seeds of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) is also harvested and pressed to extract its oil in Japan. Green tea oil, called tsubaki, has long been employed by the Japanese as a hair oil, skin oil, and healing oil. It is said to not only alleviate the symptoms of dandruff and eczema when employed as a hair oil, but that it also improved hair thickness and texture, as well as hasten hair-growth. Green tea oil was a common beauty staple of oiran and geisha, as well as samurai (who typically wore their hair in a top-knot [chonmage]). Green tea oil was also employed by some Japanese regions as cooking oil. [9] Today, along with the growing surge of interest in green tea, the interest and more widespread employment of tsubaki oil has also significantly risen, as it too is likewise integrated into more Western beauty products, or otherwise touted as a miraculous beauty aid.

Green Tea Scientific Studies and Research

There is a good amount of evidence confirming the cancer preventive effects of green tea from Camellia sinensis, a flowering plant species. Several observational studies of high methodological quality - even one randomized controlled trial - associate green tea consumption with a lowered risk of prostate cancer in men. [10]

Green tea possesses outstanding antioxidative and antimutagenic biological properties and has been specifically observed to offer favorable effects in inflammatory allergy. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is an antibody that plays a very essential role in the immune defense against parasitic worms and certain protozoan parasites and in type I hypersensitivity (e.g., asthma, rhinitis) and allergic conditions. [11] Green tea extract given either in single dose or in repeated daily doses has been determined to remarkably suppress the production of IgE in U266 cells. Such suppression is dose-dependent and increases over time (up to 90%). [12] Therefore, as green tea has immunoregulatory effects on human IgE responses, it can be used to provide relief to allergic and hypersensitivity reactions.

A variety of components in green tea, particularly catechins, which are powerful antioxidants, have been noted to display anticariogenic (i.e., anticaries) activity in vitro. Green tea suppresses caries production by directly eliminating Streptococcus mutans and S. sobrinus; by preventing the adherence of bacteria to the teeth; by inhibiting glucosyl transferase, which consequently limits the biosynthesis of sticky glucan; and by inhibiting human and bacterial amylases. [13]

The consumption of green tea has also been found to positively contribute to the maintenance of a healthy cardiovascular system. In one prospective double-blind crossover study involving 33 patients aged between 21 and 71 years on a low-fat diet, a 3.9% reduction (p = 0.006) in total cholesterol concentrations and a 4.5% reduction (p = 0.026) in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (or the "bad" cholesterol) were noted after green tea intake for eight weeks. [14] In 2007, a Japanese study had recruited women and men with visceral fat-type obesity for a trial exploring the fat-reducing effect of green tea extract. The study participants were asked to ingest green tea containing 583 mg of catechins for the "catechin group" or 96 mg of catechins for the control group per day. Those subjects belonging to the catechin group manifested decreases in body weight, body mass index, body fat ratio, body fat mass, waist circumference, hip circumference, visceral fat area, and subcutaneous fat area. A substantial decrease in systolic blood pressure and LDL cholesterol was also observed in the catechin group. [15] The catechins in green tea have been linked as well to a reduction in atherogenesis (formation of abnormal fatty deposits in arteries) and cardiovascular disease risk, possibly by keeping the endothelial function and vascular homeostasis in good condition. [16] All of these findings represent evidence about the beneficial effects of green tea ingestion in decreasing obesity and cardiovascular disease risks.

Molecular Components and Chemistry

Green tea contains large amounts of polyphenols known as catechins, which include (-)-epicatechin, 3 (-)-epigallocatechin, (-)-epicatechin-3-gallate, and (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate. In fact, three to five cups of green tea daily (up to 1200 mL/day) can already supply a minimum of 250 mg of catechins. [10] Green tea catechins act as effective scavengers of reactive oxygen species in vitro. They may also function indirectly as antioxidants through their effects on transcription factors and enzyme activities. Consuming green tea, and hence an intake of healthy amounts of catechins, had been found to produce modest transient increases in plasma antioxidant capacity. [17]

Green Tea, Other Names - Past and Present

Chinese: cha / lungching / long jing
Japanese: ryokucha / cha / ocha / gyokuro / sencha / matcha / nihoncha
Arabic: shai / kahwah
Hindi: chai
French: the vert / the de camillia / the vert sensha
Spanish / Italian: te verde
Filipino: tsaang Instik / berdeng tsaa
Latin (esoteric): thea viridis
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Camellia sinensis

Esoteric Uses Of Green Tea

While not generally employed for magickal purposes, green tea has been used for ceremonial purposes since its inception. While the ceremonies itself vary depending upon the tea culture, it is generally viewed as being an introspective, grounding, and meditative practice, especially when associated with the Japanese form of tea rituals. Its applications in ceremonial magick, is, however, largely absent in Asiatic folklore, as its magickal benefits were closely interlinked with its medicinal effects. Within the Western context of ceremonial magick however, green tea is considered a cleansing herb, and is generally employed as a rinse to counteract hexes or fixing spells. It is also closely associated with courage and fortune, and may be burnt as an incense to incite courage, enhance the power of spellworking, or elicit a change of fortunes for the better. Green tea has also been employed in Western magick as a primary base for potions, as it is believed to enhance whatever properties were imbued into the potion. As it is, it's most common applications are as a base for fixing potions or lust potions. [18] Considered a protective herb, it has even been employed in lieu of rosemary in the creation of anti-hexing sachets and protective charms, although its practice and employment as such is not widespread in the Western sphere of magick.

While the general consumption of green tea is considered safe, drinking copious amounts of green tea, especially the Japanese variety can be dangerous especially for hypertensive individuals due to the concentration of caffeine found in the beverage which may quicken their heart-rate, cause jitters, tremors, or palpitations. Individuals who are insomniac are also strongly advised to limit their consumption of green tea due to similar reasons. Furthermore, care should be taken when drinking overly hot tea, as studies have shown that consuming very hot tea increased the risk of developing esophageal or oral cancer, specifically due to the heat and not due to any carcinogenic compounds found in the tea. While health food stores and alternative medicine apothecaries abound in capsules or concentrated extracts, the regular consumption of such foodstuffs is ill-advised due to the possible adverse effects which result from the super-concentrated amounts of green tea's active compounds. It is best to consume green tea in its natural form, under moderation. Furthermore, individuals who are anaemic should limit their consumption of green tea and all other variants of the beverage, as the catechins found in the drink may impair the body's ability to absorb iron. As a general rule of thumb, pregnant and nursing women should refrain from consuming very large amounts of green tea, although moderate intake is generally regarded as safe.

References:

[1] http://teaguardian.com/what-is-tea/green-tea-history.html

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gongfu_tea_ceremony

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisai

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_tea_ceremony

[5] http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/benefit_of_drinking_green_tea

[6] http://www.thirdage.com/cholesterol/25-benefits-to-drinking-green-tea

[7] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-960-GREEN%20TEA.aspx?activeIngredientId=960&activeIngredientName=GREEN%20TEA

[8] http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/11-benefits-of-green-tea-that-you-didnt-knowabout.html

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_seed_oil

[10] Boehm K. et al. (2009). Green tea (Camellia sinensis) for the prevention of cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3:CD005004. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005004.pub2. Retrieved 27 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19588362

[11] Immunoglobulin E. Wikipedia. Retrieved 27 May 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immunoglobulin_E

[12] Hassanain E. et al. (2010). Green tea (Camellia sinensis) suppresses B cell production of IgE without inducing apoptosis. Annals of Clinical & Laboratory Science, 40(2): 135-143. Retrieved 27 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20421624

[13] Hamilton-Miller J. M. (2001). Anti-cariogenic properties of tea (Camellia sinensis). Journal of Medical Microbiology, 50(4): 299-302. Retrieved 27 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11289514

[14] Batista Gde A. et al. (2009). Prospective double-blind crossover study of Camellia sinensis (green tea) in dyslipidemias. Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia, 93(2): 128-134. Retrieved 27 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19838489

[15] Nagao T., Hase T., & Tokimitsu I. (2007). A green tea extract high in catechins reduces body fat and cardiovascular risks in humans. Obesity (Silver Spring), 15(6): 1473-1483. Retrieved 27 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17557985

[16] Moore R. J., Jackson K. G., & Minihane A. M. (2009). Green tea (Camellia sinensis) catechins and vascular function. British Journal of Nutrition, 102(12): 1790-1802. doi: 10.1017/S0007114509991218. Retrieved 27 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19751534

[17] Higdon J. V. & Frei B. (2003). Tea catechins and polyphenols: health effects, metabolism, and antioxidant functions. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 43(1): 89-143. Retrieved 27 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12587987

[18] http://www.paganspace.net/forum/topics/green-tea-properties

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2013

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