A Cup of Holiday Cheer

Southport Tea House (611 N. Howe St.) offers two pages of tea varieties, all with varying health benefits. Photo by Kris Beasley

Southport Tea House (611 N. Howe St.) offers two pages of tea varieties, all with varying health benefits. Photo by Kris Beasley

One recent blustery, cold and wet Saturday found me among a group of women sipping hot tea at Southport Tea House, located at 611 N. Howe St. in Southport. An avid coffee consumer, I was amazed at the two pages of tea varieties from which to choose with exotic and enticing names such as Amber Dragon, Mango Mist, and Blood Orange Chocolate. Sherri French, owner, and her staff are experts at helping you choose the perfect blend for your needs.

Sherri’s love for all things tea and her descriptions provided us with four varying types to taste. She also was quick to note that she offers other varieties for specific ailments, such as Tummy Tamer. Feeling relaxed and refreshed after my individual pot of Southport Spice, I decided to research the varieties offered for differences and health benefits.

True teas or “real tea” comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, which has origins in China and India. It is estimated tea has been brewed in China for over 4,700 years. Tea contains natural antioxidants called flavonoids which are believed to act on free radicals in our bodies which can cause damage to cells leading to disease and aging. In addition, tea has been linked to mental relaxation, cardiovascular benefits and weight loss.

True tea is divided into four different types which vary in amount of processing until the end product is achieved.

1. White Tea: This tea is made from the first leaves of the plant, typically hand-harvested and uncured and unfermented. It is believed this tea contains the most potent anti-cancer benefits. Southport Tea House offers several types of white tea, including the rare Silver Needle, which is brewed and sold at premium prices compared to the other varieties.

2. Green Tea: This variety has minimal processing with steaming of the leaves. This type of tea has been the most studied and written about recently. It contains EGCG, which is a very potent flavonoid antioxidant thought to interfere with the growth of certain cancers and increase fat burning, leading to weight loss. Research is also being done on the possible effect on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

3. Oolong Tea: This is a semi-oxidized and blended tea also professed to aid in weight loss and decrease levels of bad LDL cholesterol.

4. Black Tea: This is the most widely known tea and also contains the highest caffeine levels. Types such as Earl Grey and English Breakfast fall in this category.

Herbal tea represents a separate category from the above types of tea. Herbal tea is made from the leaf, root, fruit, seed or flower of a plant other than a tea plant. Common types of Herbal tea include Rooibos (red tea) and Chamomile. Herbal tea typically has less levels of antioxidants than the true teas, yet many are believers in the effects they experience when they consume herbal teas. For example, Chamomile tea is thought to aid in digestion, improve anxiety and insomnia, and alleviate headache symptoms.

As with many other substances, more research is needed to clearly define the health benefits of tea. It is known that it is an alternative to coffee as there is less caffeine providing a warm substitute to those who have had to make dietary changes to limit caffeine.

In addition, the absence of fat and carbohydrates in tea make it an ideal beverage for those counting calories. Caution must be given to the use of sweeteners in tea—I know, sweet tea is the only tea in North Carolina! While I cannot fight with tradition, added sugar, artificial sweeteners and particularly bottled commercial teas provide large amounts of calories to an otherwise healthy drink. If you must, consider lemon and honey.

Nutritionists continue to debate how long various brands should steep in order to get the best benefit as well as how many cups are recommended daily. If you like tea, find your favorite flavor and sip in moderation!

Southport Tea House is sure to provide the novice tea drinker with a wonderful experience and the connoisseur with the perfect cup. Find your favorite, and you can even purchase it by the ounce for gift giving. Need an escape during the hectic holiday season? Stop by the Southport Tea House or call for delivery via their golf cart within Southport city limits! Oh—and if you’re feeling like a big splurge—add Victorian Sponge Cake!

Merry Christmas and happy, healthy new year!

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