What are the health benefits of tea?
Just to be clear: “Tea is food, not medicine,” says Leah Boalt Richardson, the director of World Tea Academy. In other words, it has not been proven that tea can cure or heal any disease or ailment. Nor is there any solid evidence of tea being able to speed up your weight loss journey, she adds. So don’t bother shelling any cash on those so-called “fat-busting” detox teas.
Types of healthy “true” tea
All teas are “healthy” teas, says Richardson — there’s no type that’s better than the other. But, to give you an idea of how they differ, here are the six types of true teas and what makes them taste and look so unique:
Green tea leaves are picked from the camellia sinensis plant then are sometimes withered a bit but are always cooked (either pan-fired or steamed) to prevent as much oxidization as possible, says Richardson. Stopping the oxidation process in its tracks helps to preserve their rich green color and the grassier taste. Because the green tea leaves aren’t as processed as other darker teas, they tend to have higher levels of catechin, one of those polyphenols that fights off those pesky free radicals.
Flavor: grassy, vegetal, herbaceous
What makes black tea black is the oxidation process. When the leaves are rolled then exposed to oxygen-rich air, they begin to produce theaflavin and thearubigin — antioxidant polyphenols that give the leaves their dark red/brown pigment. Eventually, they appear black. Oxidation is also what helps to give black tea its bold flavor profile.
Flavor: sharp, bitter, full-bodied, malty, floral
Examples of black tea: Earl Grey, Assam, English Breakfast, Darjeeling
This may be one of the least known teas in the West since “it is difficult to source because the harvest time is short, the processing is complex and time-consuming, and, until recently, China was the only producer,” Richardson writes in her book Modern Tea. Yellow tea is made with leaf buds plucked in early spring. They are then processed like green teas through pan-firing or treated with a gentle heating method called men huan (sealing yellow). Next they are wrapped in paper or a dampened cloth and left to cool before potentially being pan-fired again. How many times they are pan-fired and how long they are wrapped depends on the tea maker, but this process can last three to four days, says Richardson.
Flavor: sweet honeysuckle and apple notes
Examples of yellow tea: Gentleman Mountain Silver Needles, Mengding Yellow Sprout, Huo Mountain Yellow Sprout
Oolong tea leaves are partially oxidized so many of them don’t quite reach that dark, full-bodied taste of black teas, but this brew has its own kind of yummy. The taste of oolong varies greatly depending on how long the tea maker decides to oxidize the leaves. “The levels of oxidation can range anywhere from as little as 10 percent, making it similar in appearance to green tea, to as much as 80 percent, resulting in what looks like black tea,” writes Richardson.
Flavor: toasty, slightly sweet, potentially grassy, sometimes floral or fruity
Examples of oolong tea: Baozhong, Tung Ting, Tie Guanyin, Da Hong Pao, Bai Hao
Dark tea (Pu ‘erh)
Pu ‘erh — which originated in Yunnan Province in China and now is popularly called “dark tea” in the West — goes through an extra step that other teas skip: a fermentation process that is often kept secret by tea makers, says Richardson. Though our lips are sealed regarding the details (really, we couldn’t tell you if we wanted to), in general, “fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, typically involving effervescence and the giving off of heat,” says Richardson. Next the leaves are aged for a while — sometimes for years, according to experts from Reishi Tea and Botanicals. This all gives dark tea its uniquely robust flavor.
Flavor: earthy, smooth, woodsy, slightly sweet
Examples of dark tea: Shen Pu ‘erh, Shou Pu ‘erh
Choose your brew
In short, if you ever get curious, there’s a whole world of tea to explore. Each brand and each variety have their own distinct flavor profiles — and some would suggest that they also have their own unique health benefits, but remember: there’s not enough research to declare that any tea will have a significant impact on anyone’s physical health. But routinely taking some time to sit, breathe and sip on your favorite brew may do wonders for your mental well-being in the long run.
Article by Adele Jackson-Gibson for Good Housekeeping©