Steep. Sip. Savor. Repeat.
In today’s nonstop world, few things are more relaxing and refreshing than the ritual of making and drinking tea. Breathing in the aroma. Tasting the body of the brew. Feeling the silkiness of each sip in your throat. Savoring the sweet aftertaste.
Second only to water, tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world. Green tea in particular has long been a staple in China, Japan, and other countries in the Eastern Hemisphere, while black tea has been more widely consumed in the United States—until now.
An increasing number of Americans are making the switch to green and white tea after realizing the greater health benefits, which have been widely touted by wellness professionals in recent years. With so many positives, there’s never been a better time to vary up your tea collection with more than one color.
Like black tea, green tea is derived from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub also known as the “tea tree.” What differentiates black and green tea (and the reason why they have different colors) is the amount of oxidation the leaves undergo. The longer the leaves are exposed to the elements, the darker in color they become—and the bolder the flavor.
Unlike black tea, green tea leaves are not withered or darkened in color. Rather, they are immediately oven-roasted, steamed, or pan-fried to limit the oxidation time and preserve the fresh, grassy flavor. Because of that, the taste of green tea is generally more moderate. The exact taste of the tea, however, depends on the environment where the leaves are grown and how they are eventually processed.
Types of green tea
Green tea does not refer to one specific kind of beverage, but is a category that includes a variety of palate-pleasing types, including:
- Sencha – savory, sweet flavor with subtle bitterness
- Dragon (a.k.a. Longjing) – rich, nutty flavor
- Genmaicha – similar to Sencha, but with a corn- or rice-infused body
- Matcha - powder tea whisked and frothed for a creamy consistency with a bittersweet flavor
Many green teas are flavored or scented to enhance the aromatic experience; Jasmine is the most popular additive.
Regardless of which type best suits your preference for taste and smell, the flavor of any green tea is better when you use filtered or bottled water heated between 160 and 170° F, and steeped for about 30 to 60 seconds. Doing so yields a less bitter beverage. Plus, the more tea leaves you use, the stronger the flavor and fuller the body.
Nutrition of green tea
The concentration of nutrients found in green tea vary, but common vitamins and minerals include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B2
- Folic acid
- Vitamin E
High-end brands typically contain greater levels of nutrients than budget brands, and low-quality options may also include excessive amounts of fluoride. Still, any kind of green tea is loaded with flavonoids and catechins, powerful antioxidants boasting many health benefits. Antioxidants protect cells from free radicals that cause damage and disease, possibly even cancer.
WebMD reports that drinking green tea also:
- Improves blood flow
- Reduces cholesterol
- Lowers blood pressure
- Prevents heart-related issues
- Keeps blood sugar levels stable
To take full advantage of everything catechins have to offer, try adding a squeeze of lemon to your tea. Vitamin C makes it easier for the body to absorb catechins (as opposed to adding milk or cream, which actually impedes nutrient absorption). An added bonus: Infusing more vitamin C in your diet can also help prevent UTIs in women.
Women with a history of osteoporosis may also benefit from drinking green tea, as the natural polyphenols improve bone density. Just be sure to drink tea in moderation, as too much caffeine can interfere with the absorption of vitamin D, calcium, and other minerals essential to building strong bones.
Caffeine in green tea
A cup of green tea contains approximately 35-70 milligrams of caffeine, less than a cup of black tea or coffee. This mild stimulant gives your brain a boost without the jitters commonly associated with drinking too much coffee. Rather, green tea’s buzz is consistent and steady, without a climb or a crash. Green tea also contains an amino acid that works synergistically with caffeine to improve brain function and long-term cognitive abilities as well as protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Even though the stimulating effects of green tea give you an energy boost, there will inevitably be days when you still look tired. When this happens, try this beauty trick: Place two tea bags that have been soaked in warm water over closed eyes. After 20 minutes, the puffiness will be gone and your eyes will feel alert and awake thanks to tea’s health-boosting flavor compounds called tannins.
Best foods for pairing with green tea
When considering which foods to eat with green tea, turn to the same dishes you would pair with white wine. The natural vegetative flavor of green tea enhances the flavor of a variety of common dishes, including:
Another great reason to drink green tea with a meal, or directly after, is the presence of chlorophyll. This nutrient has deodorizing properties and effectively freshens your breath. For this reason, chlorophyll is a common ingredient in chewing gum.
White tea is made from even younger Camellia sinensis leaves. They are harvested before being fully opened, when the green parts are still hidden by fine white hairs. Some leaves are simply dried using sunlight, while others are steamed or fried in a manner similar to green tea leaves, although the processing time is much shorter and yields a sweeter, more delicate flavor. In fact, white tea might seem tasteless at first. Over time, though, you will recognize its refined sweetness.
Types of white tea
A few of the most popular types of white tea include:
- White Peony (a.k.a. Bai Mudan)
- Silver Needle (a.k.a. Bai Hao Yin Zhen)
The overall flavor profile of each type of tea in this category can be described as floral, fruity, mild, subtle, and sweet. The delicate essence lends itself nicely to added ingredients such as chamomile citrus or white orchard since peaches and other fruits enhance the already fragrant flavor.
Certain types of white tea can be brewed hotter than green tea, typically around 190° F. More sensitive types should be steeped in water heated between 160 and 170°F, however. White tea can be steeped a little longer than green tea as well, although steeping for longer than three minutes could cause bitterness to encroach on the sweet, delicate flavor. Similarly, additives such as lemon, milk, and sugar tend to overpower the subtleties of white tea.
Nutrition of white tea
Because white tea is less processed than green tea, it contains even more vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and catechins. The one nutrient it has less of is chlorophyll (because the leaves are so young). The greater concentration of antioxidants may make it more effective at preventing certain types of cancer according to a study conducted at Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute.
Like green tea, white tea not only protects cells from cancer, but is also proven to prevent cardiovascular disease and strokes. It also strengthens the immune and circulatory systems, while the high concentration of antioxidants promotes healthy, youthful-looking skin.
Another benefit of drinking white tea is improved oral health. Polyphenols and tannins inhibit the growth of bacteria and the formation of plaque, while trace amounts of fluoride help prevent cavities. You can also use a cool, wet tea bag to stop gums from bleeding or relieve toothaches since tannins are a natural pain reliever.
Caffeine of white tea
White tea contains even less caffeine than green tea, with just 30-55 milligrams per cup. Even so, this smaller amount still works to improve short-term mental function and long-term cognitive abilities. It may be preferable to those prone to insomnia or headaches who like smaller doses of caffeine.
Best foods for pairing with white tea
Match white tea with light dishes that complement its subtle nuances. That list includes:
Which is better: green tea or white tea?
Any kind of green or white tea is a healthy choice. Both are derived from the leaves of the same Camelia sinensis plant. Both are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Both are fat-free, sugar-free, and preservative-free.
The type of tea you drink ultimately depends on your personal preferences. If you are drinking tea with a meal, the kind of food you are eating also plays a role since strong foods can overwhelm the subtle flavors. But nothing compares to the relaxing ritual of drinking a cup of tea by itself. Then and only then can you truly appreciate the unique flavor embodied in each brew.
Experiment with different types to prevent boredom, and use tea bags for creative purposes like ridding shoes of gym stink or an affordable skin toner. White or green, you’ll love sipping a cup of tea for its taste as well as its health benefits. And your body will look and feel better when your drink tea regularly, especially if consumed in the place of a sugary beverage or a cup of coffee.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho