TEA IS ONE OF THE MOST WIDELY CONSUMED BEVERAGES IN THE WORLD! Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of liquids is important to our overall health. Tea is a great beverage choice as it basically has no carbs, protein or fat. It is tasty, is a natural source of amino acid and antioxidant catechins. It is available in several forms and is tasty both as a hot drink or iced. Note that we are talking about true tea here. Herbal teas usually contain no actual tea leaves but infusions of fruit and/or herbs. Therefore, this article is not about herbal teas. True tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis evergreen plant commonally known as the tea bush. The tea bush grows mainly in tropical and sub-tropical climates. This plant or tree prefers acidic soil and requires an annual rainfall of at least fifty inches. Camellia Sinensis plants can grow into trees but are usually kept cropped to about waist height to make cultivation easier. Only the leaves from the top 1-2 inches are picked. Many of the top-quality teas, such as darjeeling, are picked from plants grown at elevations of about 5,000 feet. This causes the plants to grow slower thus acquiring a better flavor. There are four basic types of true tea common to us today. They are black, green, white and oolong. Each is unique but they all come from the same source. The difference occurs in the processing. Briefly, here is a description of each type and what makes it unique. Green tea leaves are unwilted and unoxidized. White tea leaves are wilted and unoxidized. Oolong tea leaves are wilted, bruised and partially oxidized. Black tea leaves are crushed and fully oxidized. Because of the oxidation process, white and green teas have a higher concentration of the antioxidant catechins. Proper preparation also differs for each of the tea types. For black tea, boiling water should be used. Many of the active substances in black tea won't develop at lower temperatures. This is the most common mistake made when brewing black tea! For optimum results, black tea should be brewed about 4 minutes and never longer than 5 minutes. Longer brewing will cause the tea to taste bitter. Green tea should be brewed at a lower temperature, approximately 180-185 degrees which is below the boiling point. Hotter water will burn the green tea leaves causing a bitter taste. When brewing green tea, it is best to pre-warm the mug or teapot you will brew in. This will keep the tea from cooling immediately before it is fully steeped. Oolong tea should be brewed at about the boiling point in a pre-warmed mug or pot. For oolong tea, it is best to use spring water. The minerals in the water tend to bring out more of the flavor in the tea. High-quality oolong tea leaves can be brewed several times. It actually improves with reuse. Many believe the third brewing actually produces the best tea. To keep your teas fresh and flavorful, store them in a dry, dark, cool place inside an airtight container. The health properties of tea are constantly in debate. Many believe drinking tea will help to prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. One thing we know for sure is that tea contains both antioxidant and amino acid properties. It also doesn't add to our daily carb, protein or fat and calorie count when drank in it's natural state without adding sugar, milk, etc. And it tastes good. If you aren't currently a tea drinker, become one. It sure won't hurt you and it just might be healthy for you.