Consumer Reports' Tea IQ Quiz Offers Healthy Advice

Green Tea
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The reported benefits of drinking tea are numerous; however, many people have mistaken beliefs concerning tea and are unaware that drinking some teas can actually increase your risk of cancer or having a miscarriage. Test your knowledge of what you know (or think you know) about tea with a tea IQ quiz from Consumer Reports, and also find out what teas and their risks you should be aware of.

Consumer Reports Tea IQ Quiz

1. What is green tea?
A. Tea made from certain varieties of grass grown in mountainous regions of Asia.
B. The first crop of the black tea plant.
C. The top two leaves and bud of the Chinese White Pine tree.
D. Like all true teas, it comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. Green tea, however, is processed immediately to preserve the grassy or vegetal character of the plant.

Answer: D. All true tea originates from the same plant--Camellia sinensis. Differences between teas designated as "black" or "green," for instance, are due to processing, which imparts distinctive flavor characteristics. Herbal teas are not true teas at all, but rather are made from flowers, roots, barks, berries, etc.

2. Aside from water, what is the world's most widely consumed beverage?
A. Wine.
B. Carbonated soft drinks.
C. Tea.
D. Coffee.

Answer: C. Tea.

3. Which of the following products contains the least caffeine?
A. A mug of regular coffee.
B. A bottle of Coca-Cola.
C. A mug of green tea.
D. A mug of black tea.

Answer: C. A mug of green tea, which typically contains about 14 to 37 milligrams (mg) per 8 fluid ounces (a standard-sized mug) vs. around 50 mg for black tea, approximately 140 mg for regular coffee, and about 62 mg for a typical 20-oz. bottle of Coca Cola.

4. Which country is the main supplier of tea to the U.S.?
A. Argentina.
B. China.
C. Japan.
D. India.

Answer: A. Argentina. That nation produces the bulk of the tea consumed in the U.S., which is primarily of the black variety and served iced or chilled. Green tea comes mainly from China and Japan.

5. Antioxidants may help prevent many chronic diseases such as cancer. A single serving of which of the following products typically scores the highest when antioxidant activity is measured?
A. An apple.
B. A carrot.
C. Green tea.
D. White wine.

Answer: C. Green tea. Though antioxidant levels vary, green tea scores higher than many other foods and beverages when antioxidant activity (or potency) is measured.

6. What is the typical shelf life of any loose or bagged tea from the time it's picked until it noticeably loses flavor?
A. Tea will last practically forever as long as it's kept away from moisture.
B. One year.
C. Five years.
D. Forever. Tea is not perishable.

Answer: B. One year. While tea doesn't "spoil," it will lose flavor over time.

7. What are the best storage conditions for tea?
A. In an open or breathable plastic container on the counter.
B. In a dry cupboard such as a spice cabinet.
C. Wrapped well and stored in the freezer.
D. In a sealed glass, ceramic, or metal container away from highly aromatic foods.

Answer: D. A sealed nonplastic container. Plastic can impart its flavor to your tea. Tea is also highly absorbent of other aromas, such as spices and seasonings. Tea should not be stored in the refrigerator or freezer; it is best kept at room temperature.

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8. What is orange pekoe tea?
A. A tea from the Pekoe region of China.
B. The term refers to the size of the leaf.
C. A scented tea imbued with aromatics from having been cultivated alongside orange trees.
D. A tea given by the emperor of Japan to the British Earl of Orange in the 12th century.

Answer: B. Orange pekoe is a grade of tea-leaf size.

9. What is the best method of preparing loose leaf green tea?
A. Start with fresh water and steep until dark in color.
B. Brew tea bag in cold water to avoid bitterness.
C. Use fresh water heated to just below boiling and let steep briefly.
D. Pack a tea ball to capacity for maximum brew strength.

Answer: C. Use fresh water heated to a near boil. Unlike black tea, green tea brews best at a lower temperature. Boiling water can actually cook the leaves, which may increase bitterness and astringency. Tea leaves also need room to expand in order to impart their full flavor, which isn't possible in a tightly packed tea ball. For optimal brewing guidelines, follow package instructions.

10. Which country consumes the most tea per capita?
A. China.
B. Ireland.
C. Japan.
D. U.S.

Answer: B. Ireland. The Irish drink almost four cups of tea per person every day.

Tea Risks You Should Know

Part of the problem of tea is that because tea is considered to be “natural” and is the 2nd most common beverage drank worldwide, people assume that all teas must be safe to drink. However, like the old saw that even water is poisonous in the right doses, some teas are harmful if too much is consumed.

One example is a tea called “Yerba mate.” Yerba mate tea is consumed primarily in South America and is believed to have anti-cancer benefits. However, other studies have associated Yerba mate tea with an increased incidence of oral, oropharyngeal, head and neck, and esophageal cancer. Currently, experts believe its cancer-causing effects are due to its leaves possessing high levels of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Too much Yerba mate tea, scientists believe, increases your risk of cancer.

In a separate, but related instance, Yerba mate tea purchased under the name “Paraguay Tea” by some families at a New York City grocery store that specialized in South American foods, were hospitalized for inadvertent anticholinergic poisoning due to contamination of the tea leaves by Atropa belladonna. Atropa belladonna is also commonly known as Belladonna, Devil's Berries, Death Cherries or Deadly Nightshade, and has a long history as a medicinal tea.

Atropa belladonna has extremely toxic leaves and berries that can cause a delirium and hallucinations. The active component of Atropa belladonna causes disruption of the parasympathetic nervous system involved in regulating involuntary activities such as sweating, breathing and heart rate. The drug atropine is derived from this plant. Since both Yerba mate and Atropa belladonna grow in South America, the NYC poisonings were determined to be due to accidental contamination. Belladonna also has a history as plant used in some medicinal teas.

In South Africa some teas are known for their abilities to control post-partum bleeding by stimulating uterine contractions. However, in the correct dose, these teas can also induce a miscarriage and are sometimes referred to as African Abortion teas.

Other teas are known for their blood thinning properties. One example is the herb black cohosh, or Actaea racemosa. Black cohosh is known under a variety of names in folk medicine such as black snakeroot, rattleroot, rattleweed and squawroot that was used by Native Americans to treat a wide range of menopausal and menstrual-related conditions such as menstrual cramps, hot flashes, bloating, vaginal dryness and mood swings. Taking a tea of this type with some medications could cause serious harm.

The point to all of this is that teas can be both beneficial and harmful to the human body and some are contraindicated under certain medical conditions and with some medications. The take-home message to this is to research any new tea to find out if there are risks, ask where the tea leaves came from, drink in moderation, and talk to your doctor about any alternative medicinal teas you are taking.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

References:
1. Consumer Reports: “Test your tea IQ”

2. CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 44(11);193-195: ’Anticholinergic Poisoning Associated with an Herbal Tea”

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