My daughter and I were having some (hot, black) tea with milk to fend off the fatigue of the heat and now I feel like writing about it (and so I will!).
Most of the naturally occurring caffeine in tea leaves steeps into the water during the first 30 (give or take) seconds. So to make my daughter’s decaf brew, I steep the bag in my cup for about a minute and then steep hers. All the good stuff, none of the hyper. Teas marketed as decaf undergo one of two methods (ethyl acetate or CO2 for you tech nuts), it’s just as easy (and a bit tastier, actually) to do it my way. It’s always easier to do it my way, as my entire family will tell you.
Tea leaves that are picked and immediately dried, or steamed and then dried, are green tea. Because the leaves are undisturbed during the steaming/drying process, they retain many beneficial phytochemicals (phyto=plant), including those that contribute to green tea’s much-heralded antioxidant properties.
Tea leaves that are picked and then cut, bruised by beating or running them over (!) and then aged for a time before steaming and drying are black teas. The process is called “fermenting,” though the tea is not fermented in the true sense. In the true sense, the tea is oxidized, which depletes the naturally occurring antioxidants that protect the plant. This is why black teas do not contain as many antioxidants as green tea.
Though they do contain some. And that’s bully for me, because I really like mine with soy milk — a lactose-intolerant nod to my British heritage. Americans usually think milk in tea is vile (a fact lost on me during my apparently insular, otherwise American childhood). But here’s a tip, fellow Americans: British people will look at you as though you’ve ordered a fresh cup of vomit if you order iced tea. Up to you.
So what about other teas? Oolong is tea that’s partially oxidized. White tea has a lot of antioxidants because it is brewed from very young tea leaves (but still from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis). Ceylon and Darjeeling teas refer to a tea derived from one place, all the same type, while English Breakfast is usually from a mixture of tea leaves that may not be grown in the same place to create a unique blend of flavors. Again, all the same type of plant.
Herbal teas are not from the Camellia sinensis plant. They do not contain caffeine, but some, like Rooibos (red) tea, contain an abundance of antioxidants. Herbal teas are usually referred to as infusions or tisanes.
What of these antioxidants? It’s very likely they’re there to protect the plant from oxidation produced by all that sunbathing they do. We need antioxidants because our bodies have a love/hate relationship with oxygen, as well as a hate-hate relationship with all that pollution, cigarette smoke, overeating, etc. We make some antioxidants in our bodies, but often we need more. And that’s another story for another time, to quote my spouse.