Being a tea lover, walking into Cha Fine Teas is like entering a candy store. I can’t resist the rows of tea canisters with exotic names like Jade Dew and Iron Goddess, and aromas that promise fragrant, steaming brews or refreshing iced teas.
The Truckee tea shop, owned by mother-daughter duo Cindy Shippy and Tina Peek, opened in 2015 to fill a niche in the community.
“There were a lot of options in town for good coffee,” said Shippy, “but not as many for tea drinkers. This is also a health-minded community, so we thought it would be a great addition to the area.”
The shop attracts a variety of customers — some buying bulk teas, other sitting down for a cuppa, and some trying a free sample of the daily featured tea. While a wide assortment of herbal teas is offered (non-caffeinated teas made from various plants), many come in for the impressive selection of true teas — the blacks, greens, oolongs, and whites.
These varieties possess unique and varied flavors described on the canisters as malty, delicate, jasmine-scented, smoky, or buttery. But a lot of connoisseurs buy the true teas (as opposed to herbal teas) for their health benefits — they are known to be potent antioxidants, anxiety soothers, memory enhancers, and even cancer cell inhibitors — traits which, if you’re not already a tea drinker, might convince you to become one.
If you sipped a black Assam next to a Dragonwell green, or a Winter White tea next to an Iron Goddess oolong, you might not believe they came from the same plant. All true teas come from the Asian shrub Camellia sinensis, and it’s only the method of processing that creates the very different end products.
Black tea is oxidized the longest, yielding the boldest flavor, deepest color, and the most caffeine (though still only about half that of a cup of coffee.) Cha’s most popular teas are the blacks, Shippy said, “partly because they’re more traditional and people are used to them.”
Oolong tea is partially oxidized, producing an amber color and less of a buzz than black tea. Green tea is steamed and dried just after picking, allowing no oxidation at all. The resulting brew has a more delicate flavor, less caffeine, and is packed with unique compounds that make it the darling of much of the recent research on tea.
The least common true tea is white, whose leaves are picked when young, then steamed, producing the mildest flavor, palest color, and least caffeine. Because of its mild flavor, white tea is often blended with fragrant herbs like lavender, peony, and lemon. Since it’s the least well-known, white tea is also the least researched.
Though each type of tea is unique, they’re all rich in polyphenols, bioactive plant compounds that exert wide-ranging effects on the body. One class of these is flavonoids, which include theaflavins and thearubigens, abundant in black tea, and catechins, found primarily in green. The bulk of recent research has focused on a particular superstar catechin in green tea called epigallocatechin gallate, better known as EGCG, which is thought to reduce inflammation, aid weight loss, and help prevent heart and brain disease.
Flavonoids give teas their delicious aromas, as well as properties that may lower the risk of some of the hardest-hitting diseases in the U.S. — cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In animal and in-vitro studies, scientists identified more than 60 molecular pathways in which tea polyphenols showed anti-cancer effects in lung, colorectal, skin, prostate, and breast cancer cells. Though more human trials are needed, a study of prostate cancer in Chinese men and another of colorectal cancer in Korean subjects found that green tea reduced the risk of both diseases.
Tea may also sharpen the mind. People who drank black, green, or oolong tea four times per week had neurons with stronger and more efficient connections, leading to improved memory and processing.
More than 20 studies in older people found that tea drinking was associated with a lower risk of dementia, cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, the latter by protecting against beta-amyloid plaques, a hallmark of the disease. Tea also reduces the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease in numerous ways, starting with its ability to protect endothelial cells, the single layer of cells that line the circulatory system from the heart to the tiniest capillaries.
The importance of endothelial cells can’t be overstated. When healthy, the cells keep blood vessels supple, maintain blood pressure, prevent aggregation of platelets (thereby helping prevent atherosclerosis,) and reduce inflammation. Tea shows promise in diabetes, too. Green tea’s EGCG lowered blood sugar spikes after a high carb meal, and improved insulin resistance by regulating mitochondrial function.
All teas contain the amino acid L-theanine, though green tea contains the most. L-theanine provides an alert-but-calm state that lets you enjoy the stimulating effects of caffeine without getting the jitters.
You may have heard that tea promotes weight loss, but if so, the effect is small. Black tea’s theaflavins and thearubigens were found to have some anti-obesity effect on lipid metabolism, storage, and synthesis. And green tea may affect the gut microbiome in ways that promote weight loss. But if people lose weight drinking tea, it may be due in part to replacing sugary sodas and sports drinks with unsweetened tea. Obviously, for weight control, as well as other aspects of health, avoid sweetened bottled teas and concoctions with added sugar.
If you find tea boring, try Cha’s assortment of true teas blended with fruit, cocoa, mint, cinnamon, or fragrant herbs like jasmine and lavender. You’ll get all the benefits of the true tea, plus a kick of additional flavor.
Shippy’s personal favorite? “Truckee Green,” she said. “It’s green tea with spearmint, and it’s great hot or cold.”
Sounds perfect, for any season.