If you know anything at all about Yorkshire, you will certainly know two things: it is the largest county in the UK and its inhabitants are renowned tea drinkers. So naturally, whenever I tell people I don't drink tea, as a 'Yorkshire lass', I am usually met with disbelief! But it happens to be true, or should I say, it used to be, until recently. What happened to convert me had nothing at all to do with Yorkshire, nor the typical teas which are consumed in vast quantities in England, but with a friendly Chinese lady who was passionate about tea and very anxious to share her knowledge.

En Jie in a tea fieldCredit: Image provided by Valley Green TeaI had, of course, tasted green tea in the past, having been introduced to it in Chinese restaurants and, because I knew about its healthy antioxidant properties, had even bought supplies in Chinatown to make at home occasionally. But these concoctions bore very little relation to the green tea to which my new friend introduced me. Her name is En Jie and she is a qualified doctor who emigrated to Australia and seems to have made it her mission to educate people about the numerous benefits of green tea.

Like many people, I had found green tea to be a palatable accompaniment to Chinese meals: it was pleasant and refreshing and I liked the chummy way it was served in blue and white ceramic teapots and tiny porcelain cups. That was one aspect of tea drinking that always fascinated me in England – the ceremony of producing a teapot, cups and saucers and sharing a beverage everyone (except me) seemed to thoroughly appreciate. I always felt completely let down by the taste and never could understand why it was called 'the cup that cheers'.

glass teapotCredit: Image provided by Valley Green TeaWith green tea, however, it all made sense. For one thing, Chinese teapots and teacups are beautiful objects to look at, whether made from porcelain or glass. In fact glass teapots are not only better at retaining the purity of the flavour, they also enhance the tea-making experience; as watching those green tea leaves unfurl and dance around in the teapot is a very satisfying experience. En Jie told me that the Chinese describe this phenomenon as 'green rolling clouds' and I can assure you the display makes a delightful prelude to the taste experience which follows.

Good quality green tea bears absolutely no relation to the type of tea we used to brew in Yorkshire. That's partly because green tea is unfermented, which accounts for its pleasant fresh but delicate flavour but probably more because the best Chinese teas use whole fresh leaves rather than the broken, damaged older leaves and dusty remnants that go into tea bags. When it comes to tea, you get what you pay for, but after seeing what proper fresh tea looks like, and experiences the difference in taste, I shall never again allow tea bags into my kitchen!

tea leavesCredit: Image provided by Valley Green TeaA quick search on the Internet will reveal about a million health benefits of green tea and, of course, not all of them are to be believed; but a more thorough search can yield some interesting and well documented results, especially in relation to those scourges of our modern lifestyles. The powerful antioxidant content (in particular polyphenols) makes it useful in counteracting cardiovascular problems, diabetes, inflammatory diseases and even cancer. These polyphenols work by neutralising the free radicals in the body which are so damaging to our cells.

Our modern lifestyles encourage free radicals to proliferate. Pollutants in the air from things like smoke, dust and even u.v. rays and some of the foodstuffs we consume give rise to these toxic particles and as they build up in the body, the effects are not only visible on our skin but can also affect internal organs, producing a number of health problems. Helpful antioxidants can be found in many other sources, but green tea has a very high concentration of them and a few pleasant and soothing cups daily can neutralise the free radicals and repair some of the damage they cause.

Claims are being made from all quarters of the globe that green tea is beneficial for a host of health disorders including:

  • High cholesterol: green tea is said to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels by helping to block its absorption and speed up the excretion process, while at the same time increasing HDL or "good" cholesterol.
  • Diabetes: some studies claim green tea is helpful in regulating blood sugar levels and aiding in the production of insulin.
  • Atherosclerosis: this is the hardening of the arteries which is a major cause of heart attacks. Researchers claim that three cups of tea daily can reduce the risk of heart disease by more than 10%.
  • Liver disease: green tea is said to help promote a healthy liver by protecting it from the toxic abuse of substances like alcohol.
  • Cancer: a huge range of cancers have been said to have been helped by helped by green tea, including bladder, bowel, breast, ovarian, stomach, lung and prostate cancer. The main proof of this is the lower incidence of cancer in countries where green tea is consumed regularly. The polyphenols in green tea are also believed to help target cancer cells and prevent their progression.
  • Colds and flu: green tea boosts the immune system and presents viral and bacterial infections as well as fighting off the toxins generated by microbes. As well as coughs, colds and flu-like illnesses, indigestion, stomach upsets, diarrhoea and even bad breath can be helped by regular consumption of green tea.
  • Anti-aging: because green tea repairs damaged cells, the aging process can be slowed down with regular consumption.
  • Hangover cure: the detoxifying and rehydrating effects of green tea make it a refreshing restorative for the morning after.
  • Weight loss: it is thought that the catechins in the polyphenols present in green tea can boost the metabolism and make it more effective at burning fat. Oolong tea, which is partially fermented, is most effective in weight reduction.

Knowing all these potential benefits somehow seems to improve the flavour of green tea even more! But if that doesn't work for you, the delightful names surely must. How can you resist refreshing green tea with names like Dragon Well or Misty Green; fragrant mellow white tea with names like Silver Needle or White Peony; beautifully aromatic jasmine tea called Snow White Bouquet or Fairy Cloud or the totally delightful Oolong tea, which is so mild and smooth yet sports ironically robust and unusual names like Big Red Robe and Iron Buddha? There is an abundance of stories and anecdotes about these teas and their names, which I find completely enthralling.

Chinese teas are all that these strange and wonderful names promise. The taste is refreshing, light and clean and the aroma is infinitely more pleasant than ordinary teas. It would be anathema to add milk to green tea, or even sugar or lemon as these are not only unnecessary but would taint the delicate flavour and aroma. I would never consider green tea to be a 'medicine' but the simple truth is, you can almost feel it cleansing your system and doing you good – and that is not just the convert speaking. My family and friends agree with me completely.

It's not for me to tell you which of these teas you will prefer (though my personal preferences are Jasmine Pearls and Oolong) but for you to discover the numerous benefits of green tea for yourself. And that is where wealth and wisdom come in. Once you get interested in the different Chinese teas you will not fail to develop your own tastes and desire to find out more and I promise you, the experience will enrich your life.

tea set(46409)Credit: Image provided by Valley Green Tea

Images provided by Valley Green Tea