Health Benefits and Varieties of Tea

Author: Courtney Conner MS, RD, LD 

Posted: May 20, 2022 

Nearly half of the US population enjoys a tea beverage every day. In Asia, tea consumption is even higher, with nearly 40% of the world’s tea being consumed by China. So, what is the appeal with tea? In addition to tasting great with a variety of flavors and essence, tea offers a variety of health benefits including natural caffeine and antioxidants responsible for weight management, heart health, diabetes, and cancer. 

Types of Tea 

All tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, an evergreen shrub that can grow up to sixty feet in the wild, but when harvested is kept around 3 feet tall. There are over 3000 varieties of tea, each with its own specific characteristics. Where the tea is grown, the climate, soil conditions, and how it is processed all account for its flavor characteristics. With all these varieties, experts have put them all into 6 main types of tea. 

  1. Black tea – black tea is oxidized to produce black leaves. Some of the most popular types of black teas are bold breakfast teas like English Breakfast, Irish breakfast and Darjeelings. Contains caffeine. 
  2. Pu-erh (pu’er) tea –  is a variety of fermented tea traditionally produced in Yunnan Province, China. And is famous for its distinctive earthy flavor. As the tea undergoes controlled microbial fermentation, it also continues to oxidize, which is also controlled, until the desired flavors are reached. This tea is usually fermented and often stored underground for several years.
  3. Oolong tea – produced mainly in China and Taiwan and is only partially oxidized. The flavor can vary greatly, depending on where the tea leaves are grown and how the tea is made. Contains caffeine. 
  4. White tea – originally from China, white tea is simply withered and dried, so the flavor is most similar to green tea, but is usually creamier and sweeter. 
  5. Green tea – green tea doesn’t allow for oxidation of the leaves, preserving the green color and fresh flavor. The flavor is more delicate than black tea. Contains caffeine. 
  6. Yellow tea – the rarest type of tea and is processed similarly to green tea, but the leaves are more slowly dried to make the leaves take on a yellow color. It has a mild taste and is described as somewhere between green and white tea. 

These 6 main types of tea should not be confused with herbal teas, which are simply the combination of boiling water and botanicals like fruits, flowers, barks, herbs, spices, roots, berries, and seeds. These do not contain any tea leaves and are easily mistaken for tea because of how it is prepared. 

Health Benefits of Tea

Natural substances, called polyphenols, are found in all types of teas. Polyphenols are antioxidants and can help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. During processing, some of the polyphenols are destroyed in products like tea powders, decaffeinated teas, and bottled tea drinks. Therefore, these products do not offer the same health benefits as unprocessed tea leaves and direct sources of tea leaves, like supplements. The following health benefits are due to the antioxidant power of tea leaves.  

  • Weight management – some studies have suggested that the caffeine and catechins (a specific type of polyphenol) in tea may help with weight loss. Although these studies show that drinking tea can only help lose an additional 1-2 pounds of weight, the tea is providing other health benefits on top of weight loss. 
  • Heart health – research has shown a reduced risk of heart disease in people who drink green or black tea regularly 
  • Diabetes – some studies suggest that the catechins in green tea may help to keep blood sugar in check, reducing the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers are also evaluating if spearmint and chamomile herbal teas have a role to play in preventing diabetes 
  • Cancer – some studies suggest that tea drinkers have a lower risk for developing certain types of cancer, but more research is needed. 
  • Liver health – research shows that pu’er tea is linked to improved liver health due to its ability to enter the liver and reduce fat cells that cause damage in the liver. In addition, there has been evidence showing that pu’er tea improves lipid profiles and body composition, helping with overall heart and liver health. 
A Caution with Tea 

Although more research is needed for the specific benefits in various tea varieties, tea is a good part of a healthy eating pattern and can provide a natural boost of energy from caffeine. In order to get the most out of your tea, seep yourself and avoid the pre-made tea products. In addition, be mindful of the amount of sweeteners you are adding to your tea. A tablespoon of sugar is equal to 50 calories and those calories can add up quickly, causing weight gain. It is also important to monitor the amount of caffeinated tea you are drinking daily. The average cup of caffeine tea contains about 50 mg of caffeine. The recommendation is to keep caffeine intake under 400mg from all sources throughout the day. 

The Takeaway 

Overall, tea is part of a healthy diet, but seeping it and making it at home will ensure that you are getting the health benefits you want from tea. In addition, monitor the amount of sugar you are adding and the amount of caffeine you are drinking on a daily basis to ensure that tea is part of your healthy lifestyle. 

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