Which Tea Is the Healthiest? The Benefits of the Most Popular Teas
Whether you prefer a mug of green, oolong, chamomile, rooibos, ginger, turmeric, black, or white tea, sipping just one cup of tea a day gives your immune system a boost, especially important during flu season.
If you're looking to relax, feel a sense of calm, reduce your risk of heart disease, lower your cancer risk, or promote natural weight loss, different types of teas will help you reach specific health and well-being goals. But while all teas are loaded with health benefits, here are exactly the kinds of tea you should be drinking to reach each of the results you seek.
Is Tea Better for You Than Coffee?
First, let's settle the score –– since there has long been a debate over which is healthier for you: Tea or coffee, and most people stand firmly in one of the two groups, coffee lovers or tea drinkers.
While coffee boasts health benefits from its high levels of antioxidants, the amount of caffeine in a cup of joe can be overwhelming for some people and actually cause jitters, contribute to insomnia, and even trigger feelings of anxiety, research shows.
Tea is significantly lower in caffeine and contains other calming compounds that can offer a powerful antidote to a hectic day, while still bestowing health benefits from phytochemicals in the leaves. When questioning whether tea or coffee is best, it comes down to an individual choice: If the high caffeine content of coffee makes you feel anxious, opt instead for a low-caffeine tea or one that's caffeine-free.
Both tea and coffee have been found to have numerous health benefits and are associated with lower levels of disease, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and more. As for caffeine content: An average cup of coffee delivers 95 mg of caffeine, whereas the average cup of tea clocks in at 26 mg, or nearly one-quarter less.
A recent study, published in British Medical Journal, tracked nearly 5,000 people with type 2 diabetes and found that drinking one cup of tea daily lowered the risk of dying by 15 percent, and one cup of coffee a day lowered this risk by 12 percent, so the choice is yours.
Loose-Leaf Tea vs. Teabags
When buying tea, whether you prefer to make it in a tea bag or loose-leaf teas, there is little difference health-wise, so it comes down to personal preference. Most people prefer the convenience of tea that comes in tea bags rather than needing a tea strainer for loose blends. The benefit of loose leaves is that they allow you to customize your cup, and reduce any extra waste, making them a more sustainable option.
What is the Best Water Temperature for Tea?
Over-steeping tea allows more of the beneficial compounds of the leaves to enter the water, and maximizes your tea's health benefits, according to a study published in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Chromatography, but it also can make the tea bitter (and drive up the caffeine). If your whole reason for drinking tea is to gain health benefits, then steep your tea longer, using either loose leaves or a teabag, to allow compounds from the leaves to get released.
The longer you keep the leaves in the water the better for health results unless you overboil the water. When it comes to tea, temperature matters. To maximize the health benefits of your tea, studies say, cold-steep your tea, which requires a longer time to let the leaves sit in the water, known as infusion time, but works to keep the antioxidants active, such as EGCG from green tea. If you want to heat your water, don't scald the tea, which can damage the beneficial compounds; instead heat it to 106 degrees Fahrenheit for green tea and 200 degrees Fahrenheit for black tea, according to experts at Planet Tea.
What Tea Should You Drink for Certain Health Benefits?
1. Black Tea
Bold-tasting black tea comes from the Camellia sinensis shrub, the same plant that produces green tea, but the leaves are oxidized to produce a darker color. You’re likely familiar with Earl Grey Tea, a kind of black tea flavored with bergamot.
Black tea contains powerful antioxidants and other compounds which have the potential to decrease inflammation and reduce the risk for the onset of chronic conditions, including the onset of cardiovascular disorders and high blood pressure.
Recent research has shown that the antioxidants in black tea have anti-cancer properties and "black tea polyphenol theaflavins perform chemoprotective action against hormone-dependent breast tumors." Additionally, drinking black tea helps lower blood sugar levels, making it a particularly good choice for people with pre-diabetes.
2. Green Tea
Green tea is well-known to offer a host of health benefits, from lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease to promoting natural weight loss. The main reason green tea has this reputation is that it is the tea highest in Epigallocatechin gallate, or ECGC, a powerful plant compound that has been found to reduce inflammation, lower your risk of cancer and heart disease, and speed up metabolism.
Epidemiological studies have indicated that EGCG carries "metabolic health benefits." Essentially, the more you drink green tea the better since the consumption of five or more cups of green tea per day appears to have the greatest benefit.
Most diseases can be linked back to chronic inflammation in the body on a cellular level, and green tea has been shown to lower this type of disease-promoting inflammation. Even your immune system is strengthened by drinking green tea since inflammation hampers the immune cells' ability to fight off infection.
"Green tea has been shown to have beneficial effects against a variety of diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. Through cellular, animal, and human experiments, green tea, and its major component, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) have been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory effects," according to a study on green tea's anti-inflammation properties.
The authors concluded: "Our previous findings have indicated that green tea and EGCG suppress the gene and/or protein expression of inflammatory cytokines and inflammation-related enzymes."
As if that weren't reason enough to start pouring your cup of green tea, EGCG has also been shown to boost fat burning, both at rest and during exercise, in lab studies. Meaning just sitting in your chair and drinking green tea all day long will help your body burn fat faster.
Green tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that can boost brain health. “Drinking two to three cups of tea per day provides levels of theanine and caffeine that may improve attention and feelings of alertness,” says Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., head of nutrition at Lipton in an interview with Karen Asp, who concludes that “another study in The FASEB Journal found that the EGCG in green tea may counteract the cognitive damage from a diet high in sugars and fat.”
Is Matcha Green Tea Better Than Regular Green Tea?
Matcha is derived from the same plant as green tea but appears in a more concentrated, bright green powder form of green tea, which creates a rich, earthy taste. While both drinks come from the Camellia sinensis shrub, green tea contains around 25 to 50 mg of caffeine, whereas matcha rings in anywhere between 45 and 60 mg of caffeine, making it a great option for those who want a little more caffeine without reaching for a coffee.
Matcha shares all of the same benefits of green tea: Cancer-fighting, heart disease prevention, and metabolism-boosting, but most matcha drinks are made with sugary sweeteners and full-fat dairy or other additives to make the earthy taste more palatable, which can defeat the purpose of drinking healthy tea in the first place. If you want all the benefits and none of the added calories or fat, drink your green tea straight and unsweetened.
Green tea has been shown to lower the recurrence of breast cancer
Studies in both the lab and humans suggest that polyphenols in green tea inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells. In one study of 472 women with various stages of breast cancer, researchers found that women who drank the most green tea had the least spread of cancer.
In a separate study, matcha green tea has been shown to "inhibit the propagation of cancer stem cells, by targeting mitochondrial metabolism, glycolysis, and multiple cell signaling pathways."
3. Tulsi Tea
Sometimes referred to as "Liquid Yoga" because of the peaceful feeling you get after drinking it, tulsi tea is a potent adaptogen, a proven detoxifier that can rid your system of heavy metals. Tulsi tea also contains eugenol which is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to help fight cancer.
One review study found that the Holy Basil herb, also known as tulsi, when brewed as tea has stress-relieving traits due to its antioxidants that can protect your body against some of the most uncontrollable stressors, like environmental pollution.
"Modern research has revealed that tulsi has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal activity, that includes activity against many pathogens responsible for human infections," researchers have found.
Additionally, there is experimental evidence that tulsi may help in the treatment of various human bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections, skin infections, acne, herpes simplex, pneumonia, and fungal infections, as well as mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and malaria.
4. Ginger Tea
Ginger tea harnesses all of the benefits of ginger root, which is known to help reduce inflammation in the body, turning it into an easy-to-drink beverage that can also help ease nausea and menstrual cramps, aid digestion, prevent chronic disease, and more. The phytochemical ‘gingerol’ gives ginger tea its potent properties and allows you to reap the many health benefits without having to consume large quantities.
“While you would have to eat large amounts of kale or berries to gain nutritional benefits, these small components in ginger are effective in very small amounts,” says Charlotte Traas, board-certified master herbalist and director of education for New Chapter, Inc., in Brattleboro, Vermont in an interview with Karen Asp.
5. Oolong Tea
Oolong is a traditional Chinese blend of tea that falls between green and black tea. Loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, oolong can be a great choice to help promote weight loss.
In a study in the journal Nutrients, researchers found that oolong helped promote natural weight loss and sped up fat burning, separate and apart from the impact of caffeine. Senior author Professor Kumpei Tokuyama concluded that "like all teas, oolong contains caffeine, which impacts energy metabolism by increasing our heart rate, however, studies suggest that tea consumption may also increase the breakdown of fat, independent of the effects of caffeine. We wanted to examine the effects of oolong consumption versus caffeine alone on energy and fat metabolism among a group of healthy volunteers."
The study had participants sip either pure caffeine, oolong tea, or a placebo, and those who sipped on two cups of oolong per day were found to burn fat even while they slept.
6. Rooibos Tea
Rooibos or ‘redbush’ tea is native to South Africa and contains no caffeine. While this tea has naturally green leaves, the leaves are subsequently fermented to produce the reddish color they are named for. Unfermented rooibos leaves are called green rooibos. Rooibos has been studied for numerous health benefits, especially its anti-inflammatory properties.
Both rooibos and green rooibos were studied to find their impact on liver function, with the authors concluding that “daily intake of unfermented rooibos herbal tea or a derived commercial rooibos supplement may benefit human health by providing the liver with an enhanced antioxidant capacity to reduce damage induced by toxicants.”
7. Chamomile Tea
Chamomile tea is a classic for a reason: This caffeine-free herbal tea derived from the chamomile flower has been shown to boost immune function, making it an ideal hot beverage to drink before bed or while sick.
“Chamomile has been used as an herbal medication since ancient times, is still popular today, and probably will continue to be used in the future because it contains various bioactive phytochemicals that could provide therapeutic effects. Chamomile can help in improving cardiovascular conditions, stimulating the immune system, and providing some protection against cancer,” concluded a study published in Molecular Medicine Reports.
8. Turmeric Tea
The vibrant marigold-colored root is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties thanks to its high content of the compound curcumin. Turmeric tea harnesses these same benefits to help strengthen your immune system and aid your cells in repairing damage in the body. Look for a turmeric tea that contains piperine, an agent that increases the bioavailability of curcumin and promotes absorption.
According to a 2017 study published in the journal Foods, “Research suggests that curcumin can help in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia. It may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, thus enhancing recovery and subsequent performance in athletic or active people."
9. White Tea
White tea refers to a group of teas that are the most minimally processed and have young leaves, making it one of the healthiest teas to drink. White tea has all the benefits of EGCG and more, and one study showed that it helped burn fat cells and prevent the creation of new ones.
To harvest white tea, the tiny leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant are picked by hand when the plant is still young and covered with fine white hairs, which gives this drink its name. Each leaf is then withered for 72 hours either in direct sunlight or in a room with a carefully controlled climate.
White tea is actually one of the most potent teas because of the fact that its compounds are left largely intact and not destroyed in heating and processing. White tea is known to protect your oral hygiene, promote weight loss, reduce the risk of heart disease, and lower bad cholesterol in the body.
One study from 2009 found that white tea extract induces fat burning and inhibits the creation of new fat cells. The author, Marc Winnefeld, leading a team of researchers from Beiersdorf AG, Germany, found: "The extract solution induced a decrease in the expression of genes associated with the growth of new fat cells, while also prompting existing adipocytes to break down the fat they contain."
10. Jasmine Tea
Jasmine tea commonly refers to a drink with a base of combined leaves of green or black tea and notes of jasmine blossoms. If you like sweeter drinks, Jasmine tea is naturally sweet and can be a great option in contrast with more bitter teas.
The health benefits of jasmine tea are mainly derived from the base of green or black tea, but fragrant jasmine blossoms are thought to aid in digestion, promote sleep, and act as an aphrodisiac.
11. Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea, also known as sour tea, is beloved by many as a go-to Starbucks drink, but the bold red tea offers more than just refreshment and vibrant color.
Hibiscus tea has been shown to help lower blood pressure. In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology and Research that looked at the benefits of hibiscus, the authors concluded that “Consumption of sour tea (H. sabdariffa) could effectively lower blood pressure in patients with stage 1 hypertension. So if lowering your blood pressure is the goal, add hibiscus herbal tea to your usual treatments."
Bottom Line: Drink Tea to Prevent Disease and Boost Health
There are so many different kinds of teas that all contain a host of health benefits, so choose tea according to your personal health goals, whether they include better immunity, disease prevention, or weight loss. For better health, any tea is a great addition to your diet.
For more research-backed health content, check out The Beet's Health & Nutrition articles.