In the “tea vs. coffee” debate, die-hard tea lovers will argue that their drink is healthier and therefore better. While this isn’t totally true (as a lifelong member of #TeamCoffee, I’ve spent plenty of time reading about the health benefits of my beloved), it’s undeniable that tea is an incredibly healthful drink.
Believe it or not, every variety of tea comes from the same Camellia sinensis plant. The differences in taste, appearance, caffeine content, and health benefits all come down to how these tea leaves are processed. So today, we’re going to talk about each type and how they can benefit your health.
Every variety of tea comes from the same Camellia sinensis plant. The differences in taste, caffeine content, and health benefits come down to how these leaves are processed.
Black tea is probably the most popular variety. This is the family of teas that English breakfast, Darjeeling, chai, and Earl Grey belong to. These are the ones that we usually think of when someone says they like “strong tea” because they generally brew up bold and flavorful.
The color comes from how these teas are processed, and this is also where their health benefits originate. Black tea is fermented and heavily oxidized, which gives it the dark reddish-brown color. It is also the most caffeinated, with 45 to 60mg of caffeine per cup. (For reference, the same amount of Coke has about 30mg, and the same amount of coffee has 70 to 140mg!)
Each cup of black tea that you drink is packed with powerful polyphenols, flavonoids, and the amino acid l-theanine. L-theanine plays an important role in mood regulation, energy levels, and sleep, so this is a very beneficial addition.
The other compounds work in your body to lower inflammation and bad cholesterol levels, and they can also potentially reduce the risk of heart disease. Some studies even pointed to black tea as an important tool in maintaining a healthy body weight! (If you’d like to read more, this scientific journal goes into more detail.)
So, to recap:
- Black tea is the most caffeinated as well as the most bold and flavorful.
- Black tea can potentially help to improve your mood, heart health, and overall body weight.
- Some studies suggest it may lower risk of stroke and lung damage from cigarette smoke.
White tea is the least processed and most delicate variety. You might see that it’s made from “baby” tea leaves, which just means that the leaves are harvested before they’re fully mature. This, combined with the very minimal processing, gives the teas a subtle and delicate flavor.
Because white teas are not heavily oxidized, they have high levels of antioxidants that can help your body ward off chronic diseases. One interesting possible benefit of drinking white tea is that it can be good for your teeth! It contains a lot of fluoride, and it also has other catechins that can make your teeth stronger and more resistant to the effects of acid and sugar.
Other possible benefits to drinking white tea include lowering insulin resistance and combating skin aging.
- White teas are minimally processed and have a delicate flavor.
- They can help strengthen teeth, lower insulin resistance, and keep skin looking fresh.
Green tea is probably the most “famous” for being healthy. While it’s true that green tea is great for you, it’s not necessarily healthier than other tea varieties. To make green tea, the leaves are either roasted or steamed, and each method gives the tea a different flavor.
This processing method makes green teas exceptionally high in compounds called flavonoids. Flavonoids have antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, all of which help you to look and feel better. Studies like this one have found that green tea can also help to lower your blood pressure, protect your liver, and improve your cholesterol.
Matcha is also a green tea, but it is made by grinding the entire green tea leaf into a fine powder. This means that it contains even more potent doses of antioxidants.
A quick recap:
- Green tea is made by roasting, steaming, or grinding processed tea leaves.
- It has very high levels of beneficial flavonoids and antioxidants.
- It can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Green tea can also potentially protect your liver, lower inflammation, and reduce risk of neurological diseases.
Oolong is generally considered to be halfway between black and green tea. It is only partially oxidized (more than green tea but less than black), and this gives it a unique taste.
The partial oxidation of oolong is also what gives this tea its health benefits. It contains a hefty dose of the amino acid l-theanine that I mentioned earlier. L-theanine helps to lower anxiety, improve mood, and increase focus. It can also help to regulate your appetite. In addition, some research suggests that boosted l-theanine levels can lower your risk for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Oolong contains polyphenols as well, and these important micronutrients play a role in weight management and lowering insulin resistance.
- Oolong is a kind of “halfway point” between green and black teas.
- Partial oxidation packs oolong with the beneficial amino acid l-theanine.
- Oolong can improve your mood, focus, appetite, and overall insulin resistance.
True tea lovers are shouting at me right now about how herbal teas “aren’t really tea!”
Technically, they’re correct. True teas are made with leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant (yes, all of the ones I just mentioned come from the same plant!), while herbal teas are just infusions of various flowers, leaves, fruits, spices, and stems. They offer their own sets of health benefits, but they are not caffeinated and they don’t contain actual tea leaves. Depending on where you shop, you might see these referred to as “tisanes.”
The healthy properties of herbal teas are numerous, and they can vary depending on which tea you’re drinking. In general, most herbal teas are considered calming, and many can help to curb sugar cravings. Herbal teas can also help with digestive issues, chronic pain, and stress relief.
Some of the most popular herbal teas include chamomile, rooibos, ginger, hibiscus, oat straw, and peppermint.
So, to recap:
- Herbal teas do not contain tea leaves, so they are caffeine-free.
- Herbal teas are infusions of herbs, fruits, spices, and flowers.
- These infusions can provide tons of benefits depending on which you drink.
- Popular varieties include rooibos, peppermint, chamomile, ginger, and oat straw.
Tea Isn’t Medicine, But It’s Great For Your Health
I know that this article makes tea sound like nature’s cure-all, but please remember that it will never be a substitute for real medicine! Tea can definitely boost your overall well-being though, and there are so many delicious varieties to try. So, whether you like it hot or iced, bold or delicate, green or black, go forth with the knowledge that you’re doing something great for your health every time you sip your favorite tea.