Aside from plain water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world. And that’s a good thing. Research suggests that there are many benefits of drinking tea, including lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cognitive decline.
But what’s the healthiest tea to drink?
The simple answer: All of them. Whether it’s black, green, oolong, or white tea, this beverage offers a no-calorie way to up your intake of disease-fighting plant compounds.
“In the U.S., tea drinkers have the highest flavonoid intake,” says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University. Flavonoids are the antioxidants responsible for many of the health benefits of tea.
“We’re talking about a flavorful, aromatic, healthful beverage,” Blumberg says. “Why not choose a different one to go with a different meal or time of day—just like wine?”
True teas are made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Differences in flavor and color depend on how the leaves are rolled, crushed, and exposed to air before drying. Herbal teas, such as chamomile or ginger, are technically tisanes, or infusions of herbs and spices.
How much tea should you drink? There’s no standard recommendation; as with other plant foods, more is generally a good thing, within reason. Some experts recommend having two to three cups per day to get the benefits. Just be sure to balance your intake with your tolerance for caffeine (or favor decaffeinated varieties). Here, we outline what different types of teas are good for.
How it’s made: Tea producers roll or crush leaves, releasing an enzyme that oxidizes the catechins, which are antioxidant plant compounds. The fermentation creates the brew’s rich flavor and dark color. This is the most caffeinated type of tea—about 50 mg in an 8-ounce cup—which is about half of what’s in a cup of coffee.
Beverage benefits: It may help strengthen your skeleton. Postmenopausal women who regularly drank black tea had higher bone mineral density in the lumbar spine and hip, according to a Japanese study that tracked 498 women over five years.
According to a 2018 report in the journal Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, there’s strong evidence that black tea can help protect against heart attacks. This may be because the polyphenols in black tea help to relax blood vessels, which prevents them from constricting.
Reconsider adding that splash of milk, however, at least some of the time. Its proteins can bind with some of the beneficial compounds in black tea, reducing your body’s ability to absorb them, researchers say.
How it’s made: The tea leaves retain their green color because they’re freshly picked and immediately steamed to prevent oxidation. A cup has about 30 mg of caffeine.
Beverage benefits: Green tea is a good source of catechins, the majority of which are epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been found in studies to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. EGCG may also counter inflammation in the body. If you like lemon, squeezing a slice into green tea may help its beneficial compounds survive digestion, according to research from Purdue University.
Green tea’s combo of caffeine and plentiful catechins can boost mental alertness and even raise your metabolic rate so that you burn more calories, though the effect may be too small to help you lose weight.
There has been some concern that a high intake of catechins can cause liver damage. In 2018 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)