Tea has plenty of health benefits, but find out which type is right for you. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Alexandre Dulaunoy.
Whether you only sip it on dreary sick days or drink it religiously every morning, tea has enjoyed a great reputation throughout human history—and for good reason. It’s been used for thousands of years to treat various illnesses and ailments, and its popularity endures today.
In the past few decades, science and medicine have bolstered a few of the drink’s health claims. Below we’ve broken down some common types of teas and several studies that explored their health benefits. While most of the studies discussed below do not offer definitive proof of tea’s effects on health, they do suggest there’s something special about this ancient brew.
Popular types: Sencha, dragon well, and gunpowder
Benefits: Green tea is perhaps the most widely studied type of tea, thanks to its high concentration of a plant chemical known as EGCG. EGCG acts as a cleanup task force to eliminate the free radicals that wreak havoc, and has been shown to activate the body’s natural detox systems. In one trial, Mayo Clinic researchers tested green tea’s effect on patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and found that most of the individuals' lymph node sizes decreased by 50 percent or more. Another study involving mice and neurological damage saw that green tea not only prevented further brain cell deterioration, but also rejuvenated already damaged cells.
Popular types: Keemun, Darjeeling, and chai (black tea is its base)
Benefits: Black tea also contains EGCG and has the highest caffeine content of all teas. It also contains its own superchemical, which seems to work as a blood thinner the same way aspirin does. This might explain black tea’s involvement in reducing the risk of stroke, as was concluded in this study, published by the stroke division of the American Heart Association.
Popular types: Silver needle and white peony
Benefits: White tea is the least-processed type of tea and has youth-friendly benefits. According to a study at London’s Kingston University, white tea preserves skin’s natural elastin and collagen, while this study, published in the Journal of Nutrition & Metabolism, says it blocks fat cells from forming and speeds up the fat-burning process. As for its antibacterial and antiviral properties, the primary author of a study at Pace University said, “Our research shows white tea extract can actually destroy in vitro the organisms that cause disease. This is not an old wives’ tale, it’s a fact.”
Popular types: Wu-Yi, Red Robe, and cassia
Benefits: Oolong tea is like a hybrid of the previous older teas: It has the second-highest caffeine level (after black tea) and the second-highest antioxidant levels (after green tea). Like black and green tea, it may reduce clot formation and help lower cholesterol. Or, like white tea, it may aid in weight loss by boosting metabolism.
Herbal (or Tisanes)
Popular types: Chamomile, echinacea, mint, and rooibos
Benefits: Okay, so herbal tea isn’t technically tea, since it’s made from herbs, flowers, fruit, and seeds, and not the Camellia sinensis shrub that produces all tea. Still, herbal teas have enjoyed the same reputation, although some claims are up for debate. For example, one study found that hibiscus helps lower blood pressure in people with moderately elevated levels, while this study found that contrary to popular belief, echinacea does nothing for the common cold. Suffice it to say that the benefits of herbal tea are less conclusive than those of traditional tea.