By Dean Irvine
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Is there anything else as universal as tea? From tea ceremonies in Japan to the simple pleasures of tea breaks at work, the humble cuppa seems to have a place in nearly every culture in the world. And what other food stuff has a connection to health, ancient mysticism and even predicting the future - apples might be rich in antioxidants, but you can't read the future from an apple core, can you?
Spreading from China to Europe in the 16th century, over 165 million cups of tea are now drunk each day in the UK alone, according to figures from the UK Tea Council. Most of it is drunk as the usual blend of black teas found in tea bags, but green tea, with its additional health benefits is becoming increasingly popular.
Green and black tea, while having vastly different flavors come from the same plant, Camellia sinesis, the difference is in the processing. Both are dried, but green tea is not oxidized like black tea, giving it a lighter flavor and retaining more of it healthy properties. There is even white tea, again from the same plant, but the leaves are picked before they even open.
Both green and black tea are rich in flavanoids that generate anti-oxidant activity in the body, which research has suggested have a role to play in preventing heart disease, strokes and some cancer.
You don't need a scientist to tell you that the simple act of taking a regular tea breaks at work, or just a nice cup of tea and a sit down, are great stress-busters, but research has found that tea may actually have a positive effect on lowering the body's stress hormone levels.
A study undertaken at University College London found that people who drank tea were able to de-stress quicker than those who had drunk a tea substitute. The real tea drinkers were found to have lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels, which have been linked to feeling stressed.
The UK Tea Council, where drinking at least four cups of tea is probably an employment requirement, suggest that. tea can play a part in re-hydration, too. Good news for tea drinkers who view a glass of water as a cup of tea waiting to happen, and countering the idea that tea dehydrates. It's all down to the caffeine content.
According to research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year, normal hydration is consistent when the caffeine is below 250 mg per cup- the average caffeine content of a 200 ml cup of tea is between 33 mg and 50 mg.
Tea: Both refreshing and a diplomatic weapon of choice.