In Japan, the garden path, or “roji,” that leads from the waiting room to the tearoom signifies the first stage of meditation: the passage into self-illumination. While drinking tea might not take on such layers of meaning for everyone, it is clearly gaining in popularity.
“Tea, please,” is heard more often in Western restaurants, cafes, and local grocery and health food stores. Tea is the world’s second most popular beverage, after water, and Americans are quickly joining a worldwide trend of tea drinkers.
An increased understanding of the role of antioxidants in the prevention of disease has helped position tea as a beneficial beverage. With the ongoing public debate over jumbo-size soft drinks, tea is seen as a healthy alternative that is 100 percent natural, fat-free, calorie-free, untainted by additives and low in caffeine.
Laurel Sterling Prisco, an integrative dietitian and wellness educator, counsels customers on the various health benefits of teas. She recommends blueberry leaf tea to regulate blood sugar, hibiscus tea for lower blood pressure, tulsi tea for adrenal fatigue and improved energy and to regulate blood sugar, green tea for its antioxidant properties, milk thistle tea for liver detoxification, fennel tea for gas and bloating, and chamomile and lavender tea to assist in relaxation and sleep.
“I usually drink a green/pomegranate tea during the day while I am at work,” says Prisco. “I like it for the small amount of caffeine it has in it, which gives a little pick-me-up in the afternoon. It has the benefits of the antioxidants from the green tea, as well as hormonal balancing from the pomegranate. Before bed, I occasionally enjoy a cup of chamomile tea.”
According to the Mayo Clinic Women’s Health Source, clinical research has confirmed potential health benefits of tea, especially the green variety. Tea leaves contain a mix of substances including antioxidant compounds called polyphenols and may offer some protection from the following health issues.
Cancer. Green tea may help prevent gastric, pancreatic, bladder and ovarian cancers. Research indicates that the reason may be catechins, polyphenols that appear to have cancer-fighting and other health-promoting properties. Green tea is especially rich in catechins.
Cardiovascular disease. Green tea may lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Black tea and green tea are linked to a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.
Cavities. Green tea destroys bacteria that can contribute to cavities. It also helps to prevent plaque formation.
Parkinson’s disease. Caffeine present in tea might help prevent Parkinson’s or slow its development, possibly by increasing mental alertness or by increasing the availability of the brain chemical dopamine.
Tea can be prepared from bags or loose leaves. If you opt for bottled or canned teas, health experts suggest you beware of added sugar and high calories.
The preventive benefits of tea receive mixed reviews by the American Cancer Society, which acknowledges that many laboratory studies have shown green tea acts against cancer cells in cell cultures. Test tube studies have suggested that compounds in the tea may help stop new blood vessels from forming, thereby cutting off the supply of blood to cancer cells. Some reports indicate green tea may have the ability to help prevent cancers of the skin, esophagus, stomach, colon, pancreas, lung, bladder, prostate and breast. A few researchers suggest it helps to treat cancer as well.
However, the society reports that results of studies in humans have been inconclusive, pointing out that “most human studies have been epidemiologic studies in East Asia, in which researchers compared tea drinkers with non-tea drinkers while trying to account for other lifestyle differences. It is hard to draw firm conclusions from them unless there are multiple studies in which other factors are ruled out.”
As a healthy alternative to coffee and alcohol, tea is steeped in tradition and multicultural history. The Chinese have been drinking green tea for at least 3,000 years. According to Chinese legend, tea was born in 2727 BC, when the Emperor Shen Nong was purifying water in the shelter of a tea tree, and several leaves blew into the pot. The resulting brew, of superb fragrance, color and taste, made the emperor rejoice. Tea soon became a daily drink in Chinese culture.
Tea came to Japan from China and was first served in the Buddhist temples to monks, priests and the ruling class attending special services. Drinking tea became recognized and valued as a way to transcend the mundane. During the Japanese tea ceremony, all people are considered equal regardless of status or social position.
This feeling is part of the mission of the Roji Tea Lounge, 100 E. Washington St. A Central New York native, Christian Van Luven is co-owner with Tomomi Yoshida. “The idea came from traveling to Japan and living in New York City,” explains Van Luven. “We wanted to bring something that had a traditional sense but also the vibe of a café from the city. Roji is a place to unwind, chat with friends, listen to good music and enjoy tea provided by our amazing staff. We serve green, black, oolong, chai, herbal teas and bubble teas. The bubble tea, from Taiwan, seems to be the most popular.”
Whether you slip it slowly in individual or collective contemplation, enjoy it while meeting up with friend and family, or pick it up as a beverage on the go, one variety of this healthy worldwide drink may be just your cup of tea.
Marnie Blount-Gowan is a member of the Crouse Hospital Integrative
Health Alliance, Mind Body Health instructor and editor of