Green, Black, Red, and Herbal: All Tea All The Time
Drinking the broth of leaves stewed in water is one of humanity’s most revered and enduring traditions. We’re referring to tea, of course. The array of choices is dizzying, and each of them have health benefits in addition to pleasing flavors and, in some cases, caffeine. Put on the kettle and learn more about the world’s favorite (non-alcoholic) beverage.
Black tea – phytochemical powerhouse
Black tea is brewed from the leaves of Camellia sinensis L., and contains more caffeine than other teas—although still far less than coffee. If you order an iced tea, Early Grey (hot), or a cup of Indian chai, you’re usually drinking black tea. In addition to rich flavor, black tea also possesses a wide range of phytochemicals and compounds with therapeutic benefits. Among those are polyphenols and flavonoids, two classes of powerful antioxidants. The anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties of these compounds may be the reason black tea appears to reduce the risk of cancer (source) and heart disease (source 1, source 2). Another phytochemical in black tea, the amino acid L-theanine, has been shown to improve attention and alertness, especially when consumed with caffeine (source).
Green tea – good for the brain, bad for fat
Green tea shares some properties with black tea, such as antioxidants that fight cancer and heart disease. It also contains the amino acid L-theanine along with caffeine, and multiple studies show that green tea specifically is associated with less anxiety, better memory, and improved attention (source). In fact, its brain function benefits are so powerful, multiple studies show a protective effect against age-related neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s (source 1, source 2). Green tea also boosts metabolism (source), burns fat (source), and improves physical performance. Most green tea is brewed in the usual way: from the leaf steeped in very hot water to extract the flavor and phytochemicals. However, matcha is a famously beneficial (and delicious) beverage made from the whole tea leaves, ground into a fine powder so that you consume more of what makes tea good for you—and more caffeine as well. Although the traditional method of drinking matcha is hot, it is popular in green tea lattes, smoothies, and often desserts as well.
Red tea – heart-healthy antioxidants
Rooibos tea, sometimes called red tea or bush tea, is a traditional African herbal tea. The leaves are first fermented, then steeped like regular tea, resulting in a rusty-amber color and sweet, floral aroma. Rooibos is anecdotally associated with better digestion and sleep, but the main benefits supported by research are for the heart. Rooibos both lowers blood pressure (source) and improves cholesterol (down with the bad LDL, up with the good HDL) (source).
Yerba mate is another herbal tea, traditionally consumed in South America but gaining fans around the world. Mate does have caffeine, unlike most herbal teas—more than black tea, but less than coffee. The caffeine and antioxidant content may account for its reputation for enhancing mental and physical performance, but it also shows evidence of anti-bacterial properties. Yerba mate extracts were shown to improve food poisoning symptoms as well as protect against intestinal parasites (source). Its anti-inflammatory properties may also work to improve some chronic conditions, including diabetes (source). Yerba mate is traditionally consumed hot, with burnt sugar and lemon juice, but its increasing popularity around the world invites new ways to enjoy it.
From relaxing chamomile to tummy-taming peppermint, many aromatic herbs and flowers can be steeped as a tea. Some other popular herbal teas include rose-hip tea for a vitamin C boost, echinacea for immune function, ginger for stomach upset, lavender for sleep, and lemon balm for de-stressing. The evidence on many of these claims is variable, but herbal teas have been in use for millennia for their pleasant taste and aroma and as a home remedy for an array of complaints. If you are not seeking specific medicinal properties, any herbal tea with a flavor you like provides an excellent non-caffeinated option.