Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Athlete's New Brew

Second only to water in global popularity, tea may be the perfect
all-natural energy drink. It's odd to think of a nearly 5,000-year-old beverage as trendy, but in
America tea is becoming exactly that. With sales growing from an estimated
$1.84 billion to more than $6 billion since 1990, it's crossed over from the
Birkenstock set to the rest of us. That's good news for anyone with the
adventure bug, because traditional tea, as opposed to herbals like
chamomile, can provide an all-natural boost that's a lot easier on you than
coffee or, worse, most "energy drinks." Traditional tea comes from Camellia
sinensis, an evergreen plant native to China's tropical Yunnan province. It
shares coffee's pick-me-up appeal but has an amino acid, L-theanine, that
causes its naturally occurring caffeine to have a milder, steadier effect
that peaks after 60 minutes or so and falls to half strength over the next
four to six hours. Tea expert Paul Holmgren describes the effect as a "more
friendly, approachable boost" than coffee's. Tea's powerful antioxidants,
called catechins, may be able to repair certain types of cellular damage
that can lead to cancer. And observational studies in Asia, where folks
drink as many as five cups a day, point to a possible connection between
green tea and reduced cardiovascular disease. Now traditional tea is gaining
traction with the endurance set, as marathoners carry diluted bottles on
long runs. "Recent animal studies suggest that green tea's combination of
caffeine and a polyphenol called EGCG has the potential to improve
endurance," says University of Miami sports nutritionist Lisa Dorfman. Here
are the teas to know.

The Best Energy Teas

Oolong has a fruity, roasted taste and a sweet aroma, and some cultures
believe it lowers cholesterol and blood sugar. It also reputedly speeds
metabolism by 10 percent (

2 | PU-ERH
Pu-erh ("POO-erh"), a robust black brick made in Yunnan province, has a
following as a digestive aid and for allegedly lowering blood alcohol levels
and flushing toxins (

This caffeine-free, antioxidant-packed brew from South Africa isn't
officially tea, but never mind: Its antispasmodic properties can tame
stomach cramps (

Also not strictly tea (it's in the holly family), this caffeinated elixir
was discovered by Paraguay's Guarani Indians as a digestive aid and morning
brew before it caught on abroad (

The stuff of traditional tea bags, its processing and preparation make it
the most caffeinated. Still only half as charged as coffee, it's the ideal
way to kick the bean (

Brewed properly, this rarity, made from young leaves, has a sweet taste,
little caffeine, and antimicrobial properties for oral health. Steep with
hot, not boiling, water (

A pungent jolt of catechins and caffeine (about a third of that in a cup of
joe), green tea, like coffee, is an acquired taste, but you'll soon crave
its summery flavor and clean feel (

By: Ceil Miller Bouchet
Photograph by: Steve Giralt
(November 2006)

How to Brew Loose Tea

STORE IT RIGHT Remove leaves from package and put them in a tightly sealed
opaque container to keep light or any nearby spices from affecting the

NOT TOO HOT Ideal water temp for brewing descends gradually from black
(boiling) to white (steaming). Hotter water can ruin more delicate teas.

CONTROL THE CAFFEINE The first brew is the most caffeinated, so toss it and
resteep for less jolt. Asian drinkers reuse their tea leaves up to four
times a day.

DRINK IT FRESH Down your iced tea within 24 hours, before it loses most of
its mojo. Long-term storage diminishes its antioxidants and flavor.