Getting back to my customer’s question about which green tea I would recommend for its superior anti-inflammatory properties, I would have to say the freshest, best quality whole leaf green tea you can find. This, however, is not only limited to tea's anti-inflammatory properties, but to all of its health benefits from its ability to fight cancer and cardiovascular disease to alzheimer's and obesity. In today’s market not all tea is created equal! There is a tremendous difference in the flavonoid content of a mass market tea and a specialty whole leaf tea. Catechins such as EGCG are very unstable. Their chemical composition can be easily altered by exposure to environmental elements such as light, humidity and temperature. Every time a leaf is broken its nutrients are degraded. In finer tea production the top two leaves and a bud constitute a “pluck.” This is the newest, youngest growth that is plucked by hand. A 2003 Taiwan study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry has determined that this pluck has a catechin content of 43.3mg down to 38mg. The farther down the stalk you go the lower the catechin content—the 3rd leaf has 28mg while the 4th has only 19mg. This translates to approximately 1900 to 2150mg of flavonoids per 100ml tea liquid (about ½ cup.) There will be some loss when the fresh leaves go through production but still, up to 90% of tea catechins can be dissolved during normal tea making. This contrasts sharply with mass produced tea—that is, the vast majority of your supermarket tea, both loose and bagged, as well as other large tea conglomerates—that rely on machine harvesting and production. In the latter the top two to three inches of the leaf stalk is uniformly chopped off (stem, leaf, flowers & fruits) only to be shredded into collection bags. Little care is taken in the handling of the leaf post harvest. It can be left piled high waiting in line for processing in the factory. The finished product is standardized. In fine tea production great care is given to every detail from the weather, to the time of day the tea is plucked and how the leaf is handled in every stage of production. The individual tea master must be able to adapt to any change in environmental conditions and be adept at interpreting subtle nuances in aroma and the touch and feel of the leaf throughout the entire process, including packaging and distribution. The best tea production is limited primarily to small tea gardens, and most often the tea never actually makes it to auction. It is frequently sold before it is even plucked, as is the case with our Arya Darjeeling teas and many of our China and Africa teas. We placed our order for all of our 2014 Darjeeling teas (first flush, second flush and autumn flush) back in February. First flush plucking won't start until April.
In the 2007 USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods it states that while some selections of loose leaf tea can provide over 200 mg of EGCG alone in every 100 ml of tea liquor (made with 1 g of leaves to 100 ml of water,) some others only have 2.3 mg. Some instant tea mixes provide 0 mg. An interesting thing to note in this study is that they used "8 varieties of commercially available brands of tea." One can only deduce that these "commerically available brands of tea" were products of mass production rather than quality teas. Compare this to the above mentioned results of the Taiwan study that "... translates to approximately 1900 to 2150mg of flavonoids per 100ml tea liquid (about ½ cup.)" Quite a difference! The teas used in the Taiwan study were quality teas plucked by hand. (Tea production in Taiwan today is almost entirely top quality and hand plucked.)
Anyone who is in the habit of drinking freshly plucked, quality whole leaf tea will attest to the fact that there is no comparison in flavor and aroma to standard mass market tea. Is quality whole leaf tea more expensive? Of course! Is a fine wine more expensive than your average supermarket wine? It goes without saying! Nevertheless, more often than not your good quality whole leaf tea is still less expensive than your average canned or bottled beverage. And when you take into consideration the superior health benefits....well, let's just say it pays for itself! One ounce of tea leaves will provide you with ten brewed cups of tea. In the case of green and white tea triple that, because you can always get three infusions from those same leaves. With oolong and puerh you get even more. So, the next time you find yourself waivering over whether you should really invest that much of your hard earned money on tea, DO THE MATH!