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Tea is cool again. Walk into any modern teashop (many are cropping up around the country) and you’ll likely find an elegantly-lined wall of beautiful earth-toned tea leaves, all waiting to be steeped and savored. The image of well-to-dos sitting upright, pinkie finger curled, is a thing of the past (at least for most of us), and these hip hangouts are here to stay.

The Bud or the Bean?

When it comes to variety, these walls of tea put many a coffee shop to shame. But it’s not just the assortment of flavors and choices that is drawing many coffee lovers to experiment with “the other hot drink.” With the health benefits of tea broadcast far and wide in the recent years, it’s difficult to have missed all of the fuss it has garnered. Because of these benefits, many people have turned to tea as a nourishing alternative to coffee. Whether you’re reducing caffeine intake, or still need your morning buzz, tea is a delicious and refreshing change of routine.

Tea is grown and processed on large plantations throughout China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. According to tea expert Sebastian Beckwith, “All tea comes from one plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences in the many teas we have – whites, greens, oolongs, blacks, and pu-erhs – is in the specific varietal that was used, the local environment the tea was grown in, and the way it was processed.”

People have been drinking tea for as long as they’ve known how to heat water and recent scientific studies are proving what ancient cultures have known since before recorded history – drinking tea is really good for you. The benefits are quite remarkable:

  • Enhances immune function
  • Lowers LDL cholesterol levels
  • Increases HDL cholesterol levels
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Thins the blood, reducing the risk of a heart attack
  • Lowers the risk of stroke
  • Reduces the risk of cancer
  • Boosts longevity
  • Aids digestion
  • Prevents dental cavities and gingivitis

Of the four types listed above, green tea has attracted the brightest spotlight due to having the richest polyphenol content, the antioxidant compounds that tackle free radicals and keep degenerative disease at bay. What many folks don’t realize is that while they’re getting this mighty dose of antioxidants (also found in other teas), what they’re drinking is also providing them with a healthy host of vitamins and minerals. Tea contains carotene, vitamin C, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B6, panothenic acid, folic acid, manganese, and potassium.

Herb Friendly

Although herbal “teas,” such as mint, chamomile, lemon verbena, and jasmine often look like tea, are packaged like tea, and are steeped like tea, they are actually herbal infusions, or tisanes. These caffeine-free versions are made from other plants and flowers and derive their health-giving benefits not from the antioxidant-rich polyphenol compounds found in true tea, but in properties indigenous to the plant or flower, such as calming and relaxing effects. One newcomer to the spotlight is rooibos (roy-boss) “tea.” Rooibos means “red bush” in Afrikaans and originates from a shrub native to South Africa. Unlike herbal tea, rooibos contains antioxidants and has been shown to treat insomnia, headaches, allergies, and hypertension.

So forget Lipton; there is a whole world of teas (and “teas”) out there for you to get lost in. With more varieties than you can shake a stick at, you owe it to yourself to quiz your local teashop expert on what they have to offer.

This article has been updated and originally appeared at “Teas Me” in April 2015.

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