So many teas, so little time. This age-old beverage has a myriad of health benefits, but the dizzying array available—white, black, green, earl grey, rooibos, chai, chamomile, matcha, you name it—can be confusing, to say the least.
First of all, some of the teas mentioned above aren’t “real" tea at all—chamomile, chai, peppermint, and rooibos are all herbal “tea,” or more accurately, tisane (from the Greek word meaning ‘not tea’). They’re a different category of drink all together. However, the fact that they’re comprised of herbs means you’ll still see quite a few benefits from drinking them.
But there are only four true types of teas—white, green, oolong, and black—and they all come from one plant: Camellia sinensis. However, once the tea leaf is picked from this bush, it starts to oxidize, so farmers (or producers) stop this process by heating the leaves to disable the enzymes. In white and green tea, this process is cut off early on to preserve the mild flavor of the leaves. Oolong is allowed to oxidize for a longer amount of time, and black tea is fully oxidized.
So what health benefits do you get from drinking tea? A lot! It’s hydrating despite the caffeine due to its potassium content. It helps destroy DNA-damaging free radicals. Drinking tea has even been linked to a lower body mass index. And each tea has its special powers—here’s a guide on to how "true teas" can help improve your everyday health.
This is the purest, mildest, and some say healthiest tea of all. White tea is made from baby tea leaves, so it is as delicate as it sounds. The bud from the tip of the plant, where white tea comes from, is rich in nutrients, making this tea the highest in antioxidants and theanine. This means it’s anti-aging, can help prevent disease, improve mood, reduce anxiety, and increase concentration. According to a study published in the journal Phytomedicine, white tea can also facilitate glucose tolerance and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol.
The idea of sipping green tea evokes an image of zen for good reason—it’s rooted in ancient Chinese traditions as well as Japanese. Chinese Zen Buddhist monks developed matcha, which is just green tea leaves ground into a very fine powder, and brought it to Japan, where that culture adopted it for the Japanese tea ceremony.
Green tea is rich in a certain antioxidant called catechins, which have shown to increase fat burning and improve muscle endurance, as well as potentially fight cancer and heart disease. Green tea’s polyphenols can maintain the brain’s memory and capacity to learn. A word of caution, though: Green tea leaves, especially from China, may contain trace amounts of lead absorbed from industrial pollution. It’s not a cause for concern as long as you’re not ingesting the actual leaves. If you love matcha though, limit yourself to one cup per day, and don't give it to children.
This tea cultivated exclusively in Southeast Asia and Taiwan has the richest flavor of all. Oolong falls somewhere in between green and black tea in taste, making it popular among connoisseurs. The oxidation process of oolong tea activates an enzyme that dissolves triglycerides—a process that keeps your heart healthy. It can also lower LDL cholesterol levels and blood sugar.
Sometimes known as English breakfast or Earl Grey (black tea infused with bergamot) black tea is the boldest and has the highest caffeine content—about 40 milligrams per cup. That's nearly as much as coffee. The long oxidation may dilute some of its health benefits, but it still contains important antioxidants like theaflavins and thearubigins—also good for the heart. A study by the Tea Trade Health Research Association also discovered that drinking lots of black tea can help control bacteria in the mouth, reducing plaque and cavities.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont