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Is Black The New Green?

For well over a decade now, Green Tea has enjoyed it’s pre-eminent position as the poster boy for health in not just the tea world but the global wellness industry at large. And deservedly so, considering it’s impressive antioxidant profile.

However, a growing body of research points to the fact that pound for pound – Black Tea is as healthy as Green Tea, if not healthier. Let that sink in for a minute.

Before we get into a head-to-head between these two mighty beverages, let’s first understand the basic difference between the two. Both Black and Green teas start their lives as fresh green leaves on the miraculous plant called Camellia Sinensis. In fact, all the four “true teas” (the other two being White and Oolong) start their lives in exactly the same way – as leaves on this bush. What determines the fate of these leaves as Black or Green Tea is a matter of how they’re processed after plucking.

Green Teas go through a process called “fixation” or “kill green” which involves applying heat to the fresh tea leaves so as to deactivate or denature two enzymes – polyphenol oxidase and peroxidase. Once these enzymes are deactivated, the leaves will not oxidize even when exposed to atmospheric oxygen. Imagine an apple – which even after being cut open – doesn’t start turning brown as it’s oxidative enzymes don’t work anymore. This is exactly what is done to make Green Tea and this results in the retention of it’s green color as well as the antioxidant EGCG which gives Green Tea it’s health benefits.

Black Teas, on the other hand, do not go through a “fixation” process. Instead, the leaves are gently “bruised” in a process called as “rolling” which helps gives shape to the leaves and also opens up the cell walls so that natural oxidation may start. After this, the rolled leaves are neatly arranged in squares in temperature and humidity controlled rooms so that complete oxidation may take place. This is the all-important step in black tea which gives it not only it’s characteristic aroma and color but also gives birth to the magical polyphenol Theaflavin.

Theaflavins are unique to Black Teas – and have been linked to a host of health benefits including weight loss, cancer-prevention and most famously, per the recent study released by Indian scientists at the Tocklai Research Assocation – inhibiting COVID-19. This study, published in the ‘Journal of Biomolecular Science & Dynamics’ has helped confirm long-held beliefs among Assam’s native populations that drinking Black Tea daily helps them ward off several diseases.

Another recent impressive finding by researchers at UCLA demonstrated that Black Tea “promotes weight loss and other health benefits by altering bacteria in the gut”. In other words, it is a potent prebiotic that helps feed the good bacteria in your gut resulting in sustained weight loss and well-being.

It is also interesting to note here that adding milk to black tea wipes out it’s significant health benefits as the casein in milk forms complexes with the flavonoids in tea rendering the antioxidants unviable for absorption.

All told, the body of research done on Black Tea is dwarfed by the serious research and promotion dollars spent on Green Tea by China and the global wellness industry over the last two decades. Maybe it’s finally Whole Leaf Black Tea’s time in the sun. It’s certainly heartening to see the renewed interest in Black Tea research and bodes well for the future of Assam – the world’s single-largest tea growing region.

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