It's true that, unlike the rest of the world, Americans more often drink our tea instant and iced. But a revolution is brewing.
We're warming up to the beneficial qualities of tea, the second most popular drink on the planet behind water. Tea sales in the U.S. are expected to double over the next five years, bolstered by a growing interest in its potential health benefits, according to market research firm Packaged Facts.
Starbucks, meanwhile, has introduced syrupy-sweet concoctions known as Tea Lattes and Tea Infusions.
"People come to tea as an alternative to coffee," said Bill Todd, owner of Todd & Holland Tea Merchants in suburban Chicago. "They like that it has caffeine but doesn't slam you. And they're looking for health benefits."
Think you know what you're sipping in that teacup? Read on.
MYTH: Tea comes in many varieties.
False. Only one plant gives us tea leaves — the Camellia sinensis. The differences in color and flavor among the three basic types — black, green and oolong— depend on how the leaves are processed. For black tea, the most popular type of tea in the U.S., the tea leaves are exposed to air, or allowed to oxidize. Green teas are less processed, to preserve the green color and delicate flavor. Oolong tea is between black and green.
MYTH: Herbal tea is tea.
False. Even more shocking is that Rooibos isn't tea either. Technically, tea must come from the Camillia sinensis plant. Herbal teas such as Celestial Seasonings' popular Sleepytime product are made from other plants and called "tisanes." Rooibos or "red tea" is not a leaf; it's a seed from a bush that grows in South Africa. Though herbal beverages can have health benefits, most of the research has been done on tea, not tisanes.
MYTH: Tea can help fight cancer.
True. if you're a rat. Studies show tea has a powerful cancer-fighting effect in rodents, said nutrition professor Jeffrey Blumberg, who runs the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts University. For humans, the data are less clear. But tea can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Catechins, a type of flavonoid, are what make tea healthy. Tea is one of the most highly concentrated food sources of catechins.
MYTH: Black tea contains more caffeine than green tea.
False. Even though some black teas have names like "Awake" and green teas are called "Zen," the difference between green and black tea is in the processing, something that doesn't affect caffeine content. Because they're derived from the same plant, they contain similar amounts unless you brew your green tea for short periods. By the same token, green tea isn't healthier than black tea.
MYTH: You can decaffeinate regular tea.
False. You can certainly try, by brewing a cup for 30 seconds, tossing out the water, and starting again. But this popular technique isn't backed by any evidence. If it does work, you're not just tossing out caffeine, you're also throwing out catechins and flavonoids, which tend to be released in the first 30 seconds.
MYTH: green tea will make you skinny.
False. Some scientists speculate that caffeine and EGCG — a highly active catechin in tea — may act together to increase fat oxidation. But study results are mixed, and the effects, if any, are so modest that they'll be wiped out by half an Oreo, said Blumberg. Still, tea has zero calories if you don't add milk, honey or sugar. (A 12-ounce Tazo Berry Chai Tea Infusion from Starbucks has about 190 calories.) So even if tea doesn't boost your metabolism, as some say, it can have a good substitution effect.