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TEA time

Citizen Staff

It’s daily if you want full health benefits to prevent cancer and osteoporosis, researchers say. Green may have more antioxidants, but black’s good, too, and oolong and jasmine …



It aids in digestion and is rich in antioxidants. It promotes cardiovascular health. Research indicates it can prevent cancer and osteoporosis. It’s inexpensive.

And no, this magical substance does not taste like dirt.

It’s tea, and an increasing number of Americans are drinking it.

“I never used to drink tea,” says Dr. Victoria Maizes, executive director for the University of Arizona’s Program in Integrative Medicine. But after reading the growing amount of research on the positive effects of tea, she has not only added it to her diet but recommends that it be consumed daily, “absolutely.”

“It’s important to mention that the herb teas are not true teas,” Maizes adds, as they do not contain such benefits as antioxidants.

The varieties of tea are numerous, but they can be broken down into six main categories, says Zhuping Hodge, a certified tea master and co-owner of Seven Cups teahouse with her husband, Austin Hodge. The categories are white (or yellow), black, green, oolong, aged tea called puer (pronounced poo-air) and scented teas, such as jasmine. Green tea varieties alone number 138, Zhuping Hodge says. Seven Cups features 40 varieties.

Each category has its own benefits. Green teas are much higher in antioxidants than black teas, for example, because of the way in which each is processed.

“Green tea is the tea that’s chemically closest to the fresh tea leaves because people collect the tea leaves and dry them right away,” says Sherry Chow, a research associate professor with the Arizona Cancer Center. Chow, who says the center has been researching links between cancer prevention and tea since 1996, is head of a research project that, in part, is looking at the interactions between green tea capsules and other medications.

“Black tea has been fermented. It smells good – that’s why people like to drink it. It’s still being debated whether or not black tea is effective against cancer,” Chow says. (For more information on the Cancer Center’s research, log on to www.arizonacancercenter.org, click on the search icon and then enter the search word “tea”).

Black tea does contain antioxidants, just to a lesser degree than green tea.

“Antioxidants help us in a lot of ways. They neutralize free radicals, which are created by metabolic reactions in our bodies,” Maizes says. Antioxidants are helpful if one gets too much sun exposure or undergoes chemotherapy or radiation, she says.

Research on black tea has shown that it can increase bone density, especially for women, Maizes says.

None of this surprises Zhuping Hodge. She points out that tea was originally a medicine in China, dating back some 4,000 years.

So at Seven Cups, 2516 E. Sixth St., she says, “We choose tea by what you need.”

When a Tucson Citizen reporter recovering from food poisoning wandered in, for instance, she and her husband recommended oolong or puer tea, which are good for digestion.

“After something rich or greasy, I will pick an oolong tea that will help break that up,” says Don Kimon Lightner, an acupuncturist with the Providence Institute.

Though Lightner drinks tea after every meal, he views it less in terms of particular health benefits than the overall way the beverage makes him feel.

“The making and drinking of it automatically makes you want to slow down and be more meditative and reflective, contemplative. That itself will contribute to health and well-being,” Lightner says.

The atmosphere at Seven Cups certainly assists in the pursuit of serenity. Warmed by Chinese redwood furniture and red lanterns, the teahouse promotes lingering over teapots and conversation.

“It’s calming here. It’s nice to come in and talk with my friends,” says architect Todd Mion, 35, who drinks tea both for health and relaxation. His favorite tea is the fragrant Jasmine Pearl. “I like the flavor and scent.”

Jon Ryan, 58, was drawn to Seven Cups with his wife, Beth Ryan, last weekend for the first time in an attempt to learn more about tea.

“We’re novices,” John Ryan says, standing near the register with bags of Imperial Oolong and Sweet Dew Green Organic teas. “I always seem to get wholly into something, like with wine.”

Thinking of t ea in terms of wine is appropriate, Austin Hodge says, as both are complex.

“Tea is more akin to a fine wine than, say, coffee,” he says.

While America remains largely a coffee-drinking country, there are signs of change. An indicator on the corporate level came in 1999, when Starbucks Coffee bought the Portland-based Tazo Tea Company.

While Starbucks does not have figures for tea sales versus coffee sales, “we are very pleased with Tazo Tea’s success within Starbucks,” Tazo Tea marketing specialist Kristin Brothers wrote in an e-mail. “Tazo Chai is tremendously popular throughout the year, and the summer’s Shaken Iced Tea promotion has been exceeding expectations,”

Manish Shah, the 34-year-old owner of the Tucson-based Maya Tea Company, sees proof of tea’s ascension on the local level.

“Just go into a decent restaurant and see how many people are drinking iced tea. And five years ago, it would have been mostly Coke,” Shah says. “Americans are definitely turning more to tea.”

A great misconception about tea, Shah notes, is that it has more caffeine than coffee. “It does by the pound, but not by the cup,” he says, explaining that, proportionally, less tea is used to make a cup of tea than its equivalent in coffee.

“There’s much less caffeine in tea than in coffee,” Maizes concurs.

Shah started his company seven years ago by just selling chai. In many countries “chai” simply means tea, while in the United States it connotes a spiced black tea, often served with milk and sugar. Shah, responding to demand, now sells a variety of teas.

In addition to the health benefits from the black tea in chai, Shah says, the combination of spices is “good for your stomach and internal health.”

As all teas are not created equal, the best first steps are education and sampling teas. Zhuping Hodge teaches a weekly class on tea culture at Seven Cups, and Lightner suggests the Web sites of two tea importers, www.imperialtea.com and www.silkroadtea.com.

And tea-bag tea, while better than nothing, is generally thought of by tea experts as the hot dogs of the tea world.

“Those are the kind of things the tea makers throw away,” Lightner says.

“Leftovers go into tea bags,” Austin Hodge says. While tea bags are promoted as convenient, he says, “You can’t get simpler than throwing leaves in water.”


“Tea, after water, is the most commonly drunk beverage in the world,” says Dr. Victoria Maizes, executive director for the UA’s Program in Integrative Medicine.

Here are some places to find loose teas and learn more about this popular beverage.

In Tucson:

• Maya Tea Co. (918-9811); www.mayatea.net

- Maya Tea imports teas primarily from India and China

- Maya teas are sold at the Oro Valley Farmers Market, 11000 N. Oracle Road (Saturdays, 8 a.m.-noon) and the St. Philip’s Farmers Market at Campbell Avenue and River Road (Sundays, 8 a.m.-noon)

- Epic Cafe, 745 N. Fourth Ave. serves Maya Tea’s chai and other varieties.

- Cafe Diva, 2965 N. Campbell Ave., serves Maya Tea chai.

• Seven Cups, 2516 E. Sixth St. (881-4072); www.sevencups.com

- Seven Cups imports teas from China, directly from farmers

- Teahouse hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays.

- Seven Cups teas are also sold at the St. Philip’s Farmers Market

- Co-owner Zhuping Hodge teaches a tea culture class at 7 p.m. Tuesdays; $150 for the series (six classes); each session covers a different category of tea (black, green, white, puer, scented, oolong), each of which has its own tea ceremony, history and health benefits; you can jump in any week

On the Internet:

• Imperial Tea Court, www.imperialtea.com

• Silk Road Tea, www.silkroadtea.com


CUTLINE: ABOVE: Jasmine Ball Tea is made by placing the jasmine ball in the glass where it unfolds into a flower when it touches the hot water.

CUTLINE: TOP, BOTTOM RIGHT: Loose Da Hong Pao Tea is a very exclusive 400-year-old tea from China.

CUTLINE: Deborah McMillan (left, in white shirt) and Shelley Bergen enjoy tea and conversation at Seven Cups.

CUTLINE: Austin and Zhuping Hodge, owners of Seven Cups teahouse, enjoy a cup of tea.

CUTLINE: Tea for sale lines a wall at the Seven Cups teahouse.

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