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As consumers, we are spoilt for choice. There are myriads of tea products to choose from. Unfortunately, there are more bad teas than good teas. If we are not careful, we will be sold short.

One question that needs answering is this: Which tea beverage should you drink for maximum health benefits?

In a way, the answer is relatively simple. Scientists have identified catechins (pronounced CAT-akin) as the major compounds that are responsible for most of green tea's health benefits. They also found that the level of catechins correlates directly with its antioxidant benefits. Therefore, the more catechins your tea contains, the more beneficial it is to your health.

About half of catechins are epigallocatechin-gallate (EGCG), tea's most abundant and active antioxidant. In this article, you will learn which tea products contain the highest amounts of catechins and EGCG.

Choice #1: Bottled or Canned Green Tea

Bottled or canned teas have gained great popularity in recent years. Contrary to what beverage companies claim, they are NOT a healthy beverage for three reasons:

  • According to Rod Dashwood of Oregon State University, and to studies from other organizations, they contained only a fraction of the catechins found in regular tea.

  • Most products are heavily sweetened and have a significant number of calories. If you are on a diet program, you are much better off steeping regular tea which has zero calorie.

  • Products may contain a significant numbers of artificial flavorings (including sweeteners), colorings and preservatives. Those who drank large doses over many years were especially vulnerable, as are young children.

Bottled or Canned Tea - Why More Harmful Than Healthy

In addition, energy drinks such as Enviga contain many harmful ingredients that have been known to cause allergies and asthma, weaken bones and teeth, and even cause cancers. Some of these artificial ingredients are calcium lactate, phosphoric acid, potassium sorbate and potassium benzoate, aspartame, and ace-k.

A good bottled tea should taste good without the need for sweetening. It should contain high levels of catechins and EGCG. Until such a product exists, it is time for us to move on to the next type of tea!

Choice #2: Instant Green Tea Mix

Instant tea mix is great for making iced tea, as it doesn't require boiling water. These mixes usually come with added flavoring such as lemon, raspberry or honey. They can be sweetened or unsweetened.

If you read the label of any tea mix, you will find most are vague on their catechins content. The reason is simple. A 2007 report published by the US Department of Agriculture found that these tea powders contain only 10% of the catechins found in regular steeped tea.

To make matter worse, the extra processing steps involved in making tea powders could increase tea's fluoride content way beyond the level specified by US regulations. According to a widely publicized 2005 study, over many years this could result in skeletal fluorosis.

Instant Tea Powder Mix - Antioxidants and Fluoride

Choice #3: Decaffeinated Green Tea

For a tea to be legally labeled "decaffeinated" in the United States, 98% of the caffeine must be removed. This means one cup should contain less than 5 milligram of caffeine. For caffeine sensitive individuals, drinking decaffeinated tea may seem an ideal way to enjoy tea's health benefits without its side effects.

Unfortunately, things do not quite work out this way.

The most commonly available decaffeinated tea is "naturally decaffeinated". These are made using a chemical solvent called ethyl acetate.

A 2003 study conducted by the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition found that it contains only a third of the catechins found in regular tea. Regular tea contains 21 to 103 milligrams of catechins per gram. A decaf tea contains only 5 to 50 milligrams.

Decaffeinated Tea Warnings! Natural Versus CO2

Choice #4, #5: Tea Bag Versus Loose Tea

Tea bags were launched by Tetley in the UK in 1953. They were an immediate success. They are convenient and easy to brew. They are the most popular form of tea beverage in the West.

The population studies showing the many health benefits of green tea are conducted in Asia, where people drink loose tea. There is no evidence that drinking tea made from bags can give you sufficient long term health benefits.

Personally, I drink black tea from bags. But I seldom drink green tea from bags. The problems are manifold. It all boils down to two factors:

  • Low quality leaves. Most tea bags are made from CTC leaves. CTC stands for "crush, tear and curl".  It is a process used primarily on low quality leaves.

  • Rapid deterioration. When making bagged tea, whole leaves are chopped, sliced and diced into small particles ranging from 0.2 to 1.5 millimeters.  These are called fanning and dusts. This process causes catechins to lose freshness quickly.

This is the reason why brand manufacturers are busy adding flavors to make them taste better.

Loose Tea Vs. Tea Bags - 7 Reasons Why It's Better

Want to know which tea bag brands came out top in two separate laboratory tests? Visit Best Green Tea - 4 Studies Reveal Healthiest Brand.

Choice #6: Flavored Tea

A mistake tea newbies often make is assuming that all loose teas are equally healthy. This is far from true.

A 2007 report published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) compares nearly 400 foods for their flavonoid content. They found that flavored green tea contains only 43 milligrams of catechins per gram. This comes out to be a third of the catechins found in a regular unflavored tea.

This is hardly surprising. Every industry insider knows that high quality tea doesn't require any flavoring. If a tea has been flavored, then chances are it is not good enough to be a regular tea.

How a tea tastes is an indicator of its quality, and how much catechin and EGCG it has. When you buy an unflavored tea, you can judge its quality by how it tastes. You can always add your own honey, lemon or ginseng later if you so wish.

For further information about drinking your tea with additives, visit Tea FAQ forum.

Choice #7: Tea Buds Versus Tea Leaves

What is the difference between good and bad loose tea? If you are simply after the health benefits of tea, does it matter how it tastes?

A 2004 study conducted by the UK Institute of Food Research analyzes 191 green teas from 6 different countries to understand what the best teas have in common.

According to lead author Dr. Gwenaelle Le Gall, green tea can be harvested in spring, summer and autumn. The first flush in April or May yields the highest grade tea. The quality of the tea is assessed through its appearance, flavor and aroma. To quote Dr. Gall:

In general, high quality green tea is described as "delicate" or "sweet". The chemical constituents depends on different tea types.

The highest quality tea ... is reported to contain high amino acids. Sweetness is attributed to amino acids, especially theanine, which has the taste described as "unami" or "brothy", while the catechins and caffeine contribute to the astringency.

In other words, high quality tea tastes sweet and rich rather than tannic. You don't need to add any flavoring or sweetener. He went on to explain what distinguishes the high grade from the low grade:

The size (age) of the leaves is actually the main criterion for grading green tea, and unlike black tea, green tea quality is directly related to the grading.

Teas made of the youngest leaves and the bud are the most expensive.

In other words, you want to be drinking tea buds harvested in spring, not tea leaves, which are picked later in the same season.

Scientists in China and Japan have long known that catechin content decreases with leaf age. Young tea buds picked early in the season have the highest concentration of catechins and theanine. For centuries, they have been prized for their healing benefits and soothing effects.

Of course, the timing of harvests (whether the first or subsequent picks in spring) and leaf age (buds or leaves) are not the only two determinants of tea quality. Other factors such as mountain altitude, tea garden age, hand-harvesting and hand-roasting and storage are equally important.

Learn why the scientists single out the Chinese Dragon Well tea for praise in Best Tea Chemical Secrets.

Tribute Dragon Well Tea - Finally! The Best Green Tea Revealed

HQ's tea garden is situated at the top of Lion Peak Mountain and is one of the chosen tea gardens to supply the Chinese White House.

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