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Drink of good health

Tea is commonly consumed as a stimulant and as a refreshing drink at different times of the day. Besides its immediate benefits, tea provides invaluable long term benefits to the human body, which are a subject of ongoing research. All four varieties of tea – black, green, white and oolong – possess remarkable disease fighting properties.

First of all it is critical to understand these different tea varieties. While all of them come from the same tea plant, the difference between these varieties lies in their processing methods.

For preparation of green tea, the leaves are withered and then steamed or pan fired, before they are rolled and dried. This tea undergoes very little oxidation. Green tea constitutes of catechins (catechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, epigallocatechin gallate) in monomeric form.On the other hand, during black tea manufacturing, both withering and fermentation are carried out. As a result of the oxidation process, the monomeric catechins in green leaves are converted to theaflavins (dimeric form) and thearubigins (oligomeric form) during manufacture of black tea. Flavonoids like kaempferol, quercetin and myricetin glycosides are present in both green and black tea. During the preparation of oolong tea, the leaves are partially fermented. White tea is prepared with the least processing. Immature tea leaves are picked just before their buds open completely. The name comes from the silvery fuzz covering the buds that becomes white after drying.

Scientific research has established a strong connection between black tea consumption and health. The human body creates millions of free radicals (molecule/atom with unpaired electron in its outer orbit) on a continuous basis in order to carry out its metabolic process. They need to be checked by antioxidant enzymes in the body or antioxidants in the food that we eat. Excessive presence of free radicals disturbs this balance and causes cell damage that leads to most chronic diseases like arthritis, emphysema and bronchitis, atherosclerosis or heart disease, peptic ulcer in the stomach, type 2 diabetes, kidney problems, liver problems and also aging, which includes wrinkling of skin.

Black tea polyphenols neutralise the effect of free radicals. It also has fat burning properties that help boost body metabolism and reduce appetite. Polyphenols in black tea help in the prevention of viral, bacterial and inflammatory reactions. Dimeric and oligomeric catechins present in black tea improve insulin signalling and glucose control that is beneficial in protecting the body from damages caused by excess blood sugar after the onset of type 2 diabetes. Black tea is also a vital defence against cancer and cardiovascular diseases. It has L Theanine, which improves alpha brain wave activity, thereby aiding in relaxation and bringing down stress.

Just like black tea, green tea is also rich in antioxidant polyphenols - catechins, flavonols, theaflavins and thearubigins. The most significant departure is the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), which is found in its highest concentration in green tea and has been found to be a powerful antioxidant. In addition, EGCg has the ability to destroy cancer cells without causing any harm to healthy tissue as well as lower LDL cholesterol and controlling the abnormal functioning of blood clots. It’s also been found to be good for bone health, oral health, weight loss and improvement in brain function.

Oolong tea shares common characteristics with both black tea and green tea due to its manufacturing process. It is more suitable for people who prefer a low caffeine option. White tea is considered to be a far greater source of antioxidants than green tea because the leaves undergo minimum processing.


India’s tea market – Refreshed and reenergised

Tea drinking was prevalent in some parts of India since 750 BC. Buddhist monks in the country have been aware of its medicinal value since thousands of years. The British observed that locals in Assam were preparing a vegetable using tea leaves in the 16th century and the same leaves were also used to prepare a medicinal drink.

Today, India happens to be the largest consumer of tea in the world, with consumption reaching 890 million kg in 2012-13. It is now consumed multiple times during the day in millions of Indian homes and also commonly served to guests when they pay a visit. Roadside tea stalls are ubiquitous across the country just as they are a common site on railway stations. To office goers, tea breaks are generally an integral part of their daily routine – offering an opportunity for both refreshment and relaxation. India consumes around 80 per cent of the tea it produces. So it may come as a bit of a surprise that tea drinking was virtually alien to large parts of Indian society for most of the country’s history. By the early part of the 20th century, it began to gain some favour among the aristocracy as well as the upper and middle classes across India. But the drink only started gaining widespread popularity in the country in the 1950s.

Today India is also home to a wide variety of tea preparation practices. Typically, tea in India is brewed with milk and sugar and a variety of herbs and spices are also infused, which include tulsi, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, star anise and/or fennel seeds, peppercorn and cloves. This is referred to by Indians as masala chai (or spicy tea) and it has gained popularity beyond Indian shores as well. American marketers are known to use the term chai tea (chai is Hindi for tea) to refer to tea that is milky and spicy. Gujarati spicy masala tea is most popular among masala teas in India. The masala for this tea is prepared from a combination of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg powder and dry ginger powder. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is famous for the Kashmiri kahwa, which is generally prepared from Kashmiri green tea leaves, in which spices like saffron, cinnamon, cloves and spices are infused. It is served in small cups with a sprinkling of walnuts and almonds and sweetened by honey or sugar. Tea prepared in Ladakh is also known as gurgur tea or butter tea, which is brewed with a mixture of strong green tea, butter and salt. Kulhad tea has recently gained popularity across India, wherein tea is served in terracotta cups called kulhads. They impart an earthy character to the tea, which adds to the appeal of the beverage. In addition, being single use vessels that are fired from a kiln they are sterile and biodegradable.

The market continues to evolve with growing disposable incomes and exposure to global trends. Packaged tea brands have been quick to tap this opportunity and launch a wide variety of flavoured teas to suit individual tastes and preferences like ginger, tulsi, cardamom, lemon, earl grey, mint, lemon, ginseng, aloe vera and honey. Tea bars, lounges, kiosks and quick service restaurants are also coming up at a brisk pace – catering to the conventional market as well as to the connoisseurs who are willing to pay a premium for exquisite tea varieties, blends and new recipes. In a welcome development, India’s legendary tea estates are coming forward to leverage the retail platform to serve their best varieties for the Indian market. Tea sommeliers are playing a critical role in raising awareness of tea varieties, health benefits and even meal pairings through their tea appreciation sessions.

These trends in the out of home consumption space indicate that India’s tea market is undergoing a paradigm shift. Changes in consumer demand patterns are fuelling businesses to invest in new tea varieties and also in offering a differentiated tea drinking experience. The world’s largest tea market looks destined for interesting times ahead.

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