Tea is one of my favorite things to drink, and it’s not just because it’s delicious. Research suggests that drinking tea comes with all sorts of benefits; most notably, it’s rich in antioxidants and vitamins, and can even help to prevent cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, certain types of tea may help to prevent liver disorders and kidney stones, stabilize blood sugar levels, contain antibacterial/antiviral properties, and can help to combat osteoporosis. Can dried leaves really be all that great? What makes tea so good for you?
First, let’s take a look at where tea even comes from. Tea is only technically considered to be tea if it comes from the leaves of the bush Camellia sinensis. Other varieties, like herbal teas, come from things like flowers or peppermint leaves. Varieties of tea derived from the leaves Camellia sinensis are wider than many would probably expect. White tea, pu-reh, yellow—and the big three—oolong, black, and green, all come from the same place. They only differ because of the way they’re processed.
When processing tea, the final product varies depending upon its oxidation level (fermentation, how much oxygen it is exposed to before it is processed). For example, with green tea, the leaves are steamed and dried immediately after they’re plucked, minimizing/eliminating oxidation. On the other end of the spectrum, black tea is fully oxidized before it is processed. Oolong tea falls somewhere in the middle, with partial oxidation before the steaming/drying phase.
Other than water, hot tea is the most popular beverage in the world. Globally, black tea is the most common, followed by green, and then oolong. The top five tea consumers worldwide include Qatar, UK, Kuwait, Libya, and lastly, Ireland (consuming a whopping 5.97 pounds every year per person).
The bulk of scientific research done on tea pertains to oolong, black, and green, so we’ll be focusing on those three. Green tea is most commonly associated with good health, but all three of the above types contain lots of antioxidants and vitamins that can help to prevent disease. In fact, according to John Weisburger, Ph.D., (a long time researcher and avid lover of tea), green and black tea can contain approximately 10 times the amount of antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. While not as widely consumed, other types of tea derived from Camellia sinensis are also rich in antioxidants, as the oxidation process has not been shown to make too large a difference in levels.
Antioxidants are the biggest benefit that tea brings to the table, as they are responsible for seeking out and destroying things that can damage our cells (which can potentially lead to cardiovascular disease and cancer). Heart disease rates in tea drinkers versus non-tea drinkers have been observed to be lower, as well as strokes. Additionally, antioxidants found in tea have been reported to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and can reduce the risk of liver disease.
- Tea and health, Siro I. Trevisanato, Ph.D., and Young-In Kim, M.D.
- A review of latest research finding on the heath promotion properties of tea, Christiane J. Dufresne, Edward R. Farnworth
- Green tea leads to better health, Australian Nursing Journal
- Steep yourself in better health, Rachel Meltzer Warren