The Benefits of Tea
How to pick the healthiest types for you
Aside from plain water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world. And that’s a good thing. Research suggests that there are many benefits of drinking tea, including lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cognitive decline.
But what’s the healthiest tea to drink?
The simple answer: All of them. Whether it’s black, green, oolong, or white tea, this beverage offers a no-calorie way to up your intake of disease-fighting plant compounds.
“In the U.S., tea drinkers have the highest flavonoid intake,” says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University. Flavonoids are the antioxidants responsible for many of the health benefits of tea.
“We’re talking about a flavorful, aromatic, healthful beverage,” Blumberg says. “Why not choose a different one to go with a different meal or time of day—just like wine?”
True teas are made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Differences in flavor and color depend on how the leaves are rolled, crushed, and exposed to air before drying. Herbal teas, such as chamomile or ginger, are technically tisanes, or infusions of herbs and spices.
How much tea should you drink? There’s no standard recommendation; as with other plant foods, more is generally a good thing, within reason. Some experts recommend having two to three cups per day to get the benefits. Just be sure to balance your intake with your tolerance for caffeine (or favor decaffeinated varieties). Here, we outline what different types of teas are good for.
How it’s made: Tea producers roll or crush leaves, releasing an enzyme that oxidizes the catechins, which are antioxidant plant compounds. The fermentation creates the brew’s rich flavor and dark color. This is the most caffeinated type of tea—about 50 mg in an 8-ounce cup—which is about half of what’s in a cup of coffee.
How it’s made: The tea leaves retain their green color because they’re freshly picked and immediately steamed to prevent oxidation. A cup has about 30 mg of caffeine.
Beverage benefits: Green tea is a good source of catechins, the majority of which are epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been found in studies to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. EGCG may also counter inflammation in the body. If you like lemon, squeezing a slice into green tea may help its beneficial compounds survive digestion, according to research from Purdue University.
Green tea’s combo of caffeine and plentiful catechins can boost mental alertness and even raise your metabolic rate so that you burn more calories, though the effect may be too small to help you lose weight.
There has been some concern that a high intake of catechins can cause liver damage. In 2018 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a report that concluded that those from green tea as a beverage are generally safe even if you drink a lot of the beverage.
The same doesn’t apply to green tea extract supplements, however. In studies, supplements have been linked to liver damage. The EFSA report noted that daily doses of EGCG of 800 mg or more can trigger liver problems. Though its experts found no indication of liver injuries for doses below that amount, they stated that there wasn’t enough data to identify a safe dose from supplements.
According to the EFSA report, the average daily intake of EGCG resulting from drinking green tea ranges between 90 and 300 mg.
There’s little evidence that green tea supplements do what they’re purported to do—namely help with weight loss—so given the risks, it’s wise to skip them.
How it’s made: Oolong leaves are partly dried and then rolled gently to allow partial oxidation. This process can give oolong a yellow-green color (some are more brown when rolled harder). It can have slightly more caffeine than green tea.
Beverage benefits: Oolong has a type of antioxidant called theasinensins, which may reduce inflammation and offer some immune system protection.
How it’s made: Young tea leaf buds are rapidly steamed and dried right after picking. This stops the leaves from browning. Because of its mild color and flavor, many people think that white tea contains little caffeine, but a brewed cup can have roughly the same amount as in green tea.
Beverage benefits: White teas contain the most catechins, which may help keep blood vessels open and help the body break down fat.