Legend has it that the Chinese sage Shen Nong, who’s name means “Divine Farmer”, discovered tea a few thousand years ago when leaves from a near by shrub blew into his hot water. Enticed by the aroma of the leaves steeping in his water, the Emperor took a taste and voila, tea was born.
This interesting legend may or may not be the whole story but nevertheless the Chinese have been producing and drinking tea for thousands of years. However, contrary to all the attention green tea gets on the internet, Chinese people don’t just drink green tea all day. In fact, green tea is typically consumed only in the Spring and Summer and during the heat of the day than any other time. You have to understand that in China tea is considered part of the system of Chinese Herbal Medicine and is thus is a medicinal beverage and different types of teas are prescribed for specific conditions. For instance, according to traditional Chinese medicine green tea is considered a “cooling” beverage (even though it is consumed hot) and thus prescribed for “hot” conditions…….
The concept of foods, herbs, and beverages having a thermal nature is unique to Chinese medicine. The temperature nature of a substance doesn’t have so much to do with its physical temperature but refers to how it affects the body when consumed. It could be said that the “temperature” relates more to how the substance regulates the metabolism of a specific organ system. The ancient Chinese perceived that in order for all of the systems of the body to work in harmony with each other we need an internal balance between warming and cooling. Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that too much “heat” can lead to symptoms of fever, constipation, dry skin, and acne. The good news is that the cooling effect of green tea can help to negate the heat and restore balance to the system.
So it might seem like green tea has wonderful curative properties and should be consumed all the time! But, like Goldi Locks, your body is happiest when things are not too hot and not too cold. One of the primary axioms of Chinese medicine is that balance is essential to health. In the case of green tea, its cooling nature reflects its ability to diminish what we might today call “inflammation”. But though getting rid of inflammation is all the rage these days the processes we collectively call “Inflammation” are essential to proper function, regulation and healing of the body. So we don’t want to get rid of it completely, we just want it regulated in the proper amount. And that’s where the choice of what type of tea to drink comes in…..
You may be surprised to learn that all tea, green, oolong and black come from the same plant, Camelia Sinensis (which is still used as an ornamental shrub all over the Southeast). Teas get their character from a process that exposes the leaf to oxygen, which oxidizes chemicals in the leaf, causing it to turn brown, much like a cut apple left on the counter. In short, the more oxidation, the more warming effect the tea has on human metabolism. Green tea, on the other hand, has very little oxidation and thus has a greater cooling effect on the body than darker teas. This is an important concept to consider when selecting a tea to drink because too much “cooling” can decrease the metabolism of the body, which is not necessarily a good thing. For example, if you are overweight, your metabolism is lower than needed to offset the calories you consume. This is why highly fermented teas, such as Pu Erh tea, are used for weight loss in China; they strongly increase metabolism.
In general, more people in China drink Oolong tea than green tea. Oolong is a “mid fermentation” tea which is balanced between cooling and warming. This is often an optimum choice for most people since it has metabolism stimulating properties while helping control inflammatory issues. The partial fermentation also imparts a less grassy, more aromatic taste while not having the stimulation many people feel when drinking black tea. However, even black tea, while stimulating, also contains phyto-chemicals (L Theanine) which help balance the stronger stimulation with some calming effects on the nervous system. Thus these darker teas can be used by people who need more metabolic stimulation but for whom regular coffee can overstimulate the adrenals.
Obviously there is more to tea than meets the eye so the current “fad” of only drinking green tea may not be right for you. As you can see the choice to consume green tea versus black or oolong tea should be based on considerations of your existing state of internal balance/imbalance and what your particular body needs. So how do you know which tea you should drink? The best guidance comes from someone who can read your body and know what it needs and can make the proper “prescription”. A doctor of Oriental medicine is trained in such things and the best source to advise and guide you in exploring tea. Call today and make a consultation appointment to start your body on the road to balance.