In the United States, coffee is most people’s hot beverage of choice; a recent study shows that Americans choose coffee over tea by a ratio of three-to-one. In England, however, this statistic is reversed, and prior to the American Revolution, British American colonists still preferred tea.
Tea has an ancient and storied history. According to legend, tea was “discovered” in 2737 BC when Chinese emperor Shen Nung was drinking boiled water beneath a tree. When leaves blew into the water and began to steep, Shen Nung tried the drink and was impressed by its taste and health benefits.
Today, researchers have shown that tea indeed has health benefits—including reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Although results do not yet tie tea directly to better health, long-term studies have found high levels of chemicals called polyphenols in tea, especially green tea. Polyphenols are antioxidants, which reduce levels of harmful oxidants in cells.
All tea contains some level of polyphenols, although levels are highest in green tea. However, just drinking tea isn’t enough to stave off disease; a healthy lifestyle is required for that. And doctors warn that dosing even strong green tea with excessive sugar would probably offset any benefits that the polyphenols would bring.
The following are several of the most common types of tea. With so many varieties, there are plenty to choose from!
- Black Tea: The most common tea, black tea is made from fermented Camellia sinensis leaves. It has the most caffeine of any tea (40 milligrams per cup), but still not as much as coffee (50 to 100 milligrams per cup).
- Green Tea: With green tea, the leaves are not fermented, leading to a less bitter flavor and a higher level of antioxidants. Green tea has about 25 milligrams of caffeine per cup.
- Oolong Tea: Oolong is fermented for less time than black tea. It has about 30 milligrams of caffeine per cup, and it has been linked to weight loss through the activation of an enzyme that dissolves triglycerides.
- Herbal Teas: Technically not teas at all, herbal infusions usually include a blend of fruits, herbs, flowers, and seeds. They are caffeine-free and may have specific health benefits; chamomile, for instance, helps many people fall asleep, while peppermint is linked to aiding digestion.
Many teas are healthful, and drinking them certainly won’t do you any harm, with one big caveat—sweet tea, instant iced tea, and many bottled tea drinks are loaded with sugar and other additives. If you’re drinking tea for your health, make sure to read the ingredients first. But if you’re brewing your own, drink up, and enjoy the benefits.