Tea has been consumed for centuries to treat a number of ailments. It is lower in caffeine than coffee and boasts a wealth of health benefits. Unsurprisingly, tea is gaining popularity amongst the Western wellness community.
There are five types of tea traditionally recognized amongst enthusiasts that all come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis or the tea plant, in various stages of oxidation. Starting with the least oxidized and ending with the most these include white tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea, and pu-erh tea. There are also herbal, fruit, and floral “tea” varieties available — such as chamomile, mint, and rooibos — that may offer their own unique benefits.
The tea plant contains antioxidants thought to help with heart health, stress, and even cancer prevention. Tea also has antimicrobial properties— fighting harmful microorganisms in the body. Read on to learn more about the health benefits associated with each tea!
Nutrients: White tea undergoes the least oxidation of all teas and is therefore the freshest tea leaf available. The leaves are picked at a younger age and contain a high number of nutrients including heart healthy catechins (the plant-based molecules that act as antioxidants in the body) and L-theanine (an amino acid thought to help you feel focused and relaxed at the same time).
Flavor: As white tea leaves don’t undergo oxidation processes, they are fairly mild in flavor and aroma. Typically white tea is described as floral, sweet, and subtle.
Caffeine: While nutrient dense, white tea generally has the least caffeine of all true teas. Actual caffeine content will vary depending on the specific leaf and amount of buds included in the blend.
Brew: There are a handful of white tea varieties on the market today. Some of the most popular include Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzhen), White Peony (Bai Mudan), and Long Life Eyebrow (Shou Mei). Refer to the unique blend to determine ideal brewing temperatures and times. As with most teas, you will want to purchase loose tea leaves vs. pre-packed tea bags as these will be freshest and most nutrient dense. Brewing your own tea using a tea infuser or reusable tea bag will also reduce unnecessary waste!
Nutrients: Green tea has long been praised for its health benefits! The leaves are steamed and roasted immediately after they are picked, making them lightly oxidized. While containing slightly less catechins than white tea, green tea has been found to have a high concentration of EGCG — an antioxidant studied for its beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system and fighting illnesses.
Flavor: Compared to white tea, green tea is more bitter. It has a greener and grassier taste that can vary depending on the type you are consuming.
Caffeine: Green tea is typically thought to have slightly more caffeine than white tea, but less caffeine than other sorts of tea. Caffeine amounts can range depending on the specific tea type, leaf, and whether you are enjoying green tea leaves steeped or matcha green tea powder.
Brew: There are an assortment of green tea leaves available. Some of the most popular include Sencha, Gyokuro, Hōjicha, and Bancha — though there are many options. Aim to purchase loose leaf tea vs. pre-packaged tea bags for the best quality.
Steeping green tea leaves results in a cup full of healthy nutrients, but matcha green tea powder contains even more! Matcha powder is made by finely grinding up green tea leaves. The result is a green tea powder that dissolves in hot water. Using matcha powder vs. steeping green tea leaves means you will be consuming the actual tea leaf instead of just drinking the water it soaks in. One cup of matcha is thought to equal the nutrients of three cups of green tea. Matcha also contains more caffeine. If making matcha, make sure you use pure matcha powder and not a mix that contains sugar and unnecessary additives! Learn more about matcha and check out this delicious matcha energy bites recipe.
Nutrients: If you continue oxidizing green tea until it starts to browns, you get oolong. This tea combines the health benefits of both green and black teas. Oolong is thought to be beneficial in weight loss, helping to lower bad cholesterol, and potentially control blood sugar levels.
Flavor: Depending on the tea leaf oxidation, oolong can taste similar to green or black teas. Less oxidized leaves will have fresh green flavors and floral notes. Leaves that have been further browned will taste full-bodied and toasty.
Caffeine: There is generally more caffeine in oolong tea than green and white varieties, but less caffeine than black teas. Depending on the leaf oxidation and other growing conditions, caffeine amounts can vary quite a bit.
Brew: Oolong teas are traditionally grown in China and Taiwan. As they have grown in popularity harvesting areas have expanded along with different strains available. Wuyi oolongs, grown in the Wuyi Mountains in China, are the most well-known and expensive. Many are also organic. Try Wuyi teas including Da Hong Pao (“Big Red Robe”), Shui Jin Gui (“Golden Water Turtle”), Tieluohan (“Iron Arhat”), and Rougui (“Cassia”).
Nutrients: Black tea is fully oxidized until leaves have turned brown. It contains a number of vitamins and antioxidants. Health benefits range from mood and energy boosts to heart and immunity support. This may be part of the reason that black tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world.
Flavor: Black tea is often described as bold and rich. Flavors are diverse and there are many blends that use additional spices.
Caffeine: Black tea has more caffeine than white, green, and oolong. It is known for raising energy levels and stimulating mental alertness. Although caffeine amounts can vary, it is thought that black tea has about half the caffeine of coffee.
Brew: Some popular black teas include: Darjeeling, Assam, Ceylon, Kenyan, and blends like Chai, Earl Grey, and English Breakfast. Black tea is commonly used in iced tea or tea blends like chai tea concentrate.
Nutrients: Often considered a type of black tea, pu-erh or pu’er is fully oxidized and post-fermented. The special preparation of the leaves encourages microbial fermentation and requires an aging period longer than other teas. Pu-erh tea may potentially lower bad cholesterol as aged ripe leaves contain lovastatin — used in modern medication. In China, pu-erh is consumed to detoxify the body and help with digestion. Many drink it as a hangover cure.
Flavor: The taste of pu-erh will change as it ages. Flavor can range from bitter and sour when raw to mellow and sweet as time goes on. If you try a pu-erh and dislike the taste, don’t write off all pu-erhs!
Caffeine: Similar to flavor, the caffeine content in pu-erh can diminish as it ages. Raw or young pu-erh will have caffeine content similar to other black teas while ripe pu-erh that has been aged for extended periods may contain less caffeine.
Brew: Pu-erh tea has both raw and ripe options. Ripe pu-erh has been aged for an extended period of time and tends to have a mellow taste. Refer to your unique blend for brewing instructions!
Floral, Herbal, and Other Teas
Alongside the traditional teas from the tea plant are a number of other floral, herbal, and fruit blends that can be steeped and treated as tea. This is where you find caffeine-free options and a large range of health benefits depending on the “tea” you steep. Some of the most popular include:
Chamomile is a flower in the daisy family that is caffeine-free. It is typically steeped like tea and drank to aid with sleep and relaxation. Chamomile is light in flavor with subtle sweet floral notes.
Peppermint and spearmint leaves have been used for ages to aid in digestion. Mint is also thought to help reduce nausea and pain from headaches. Furthermore, breathing in the steam from mint tea can help clear blocked nasal passages. Steep mint tea anytime of day as it is naturally caffeine-free.
Butterfly Pea Flower
Growing in popularity, butterfly pea flowers are known for their stunning natural blue color and unique ability to change color when mixed with citrus. High in antioxidants, butterfly pea flower is great to drink on its own or add to dishes for a fun twist. Try this super fun color changing Butterfly Pea Flower Lemonade made with steeped butterfly pea flowers! Butterfly pea flowers are caffeine-free, but please note that they should be avoided by pregnant and nursing women.
Rooibos, or red bush tea, comes from an herb indigenous to South Africa. It has a complex flavor often described as nutty, fruity, spicy, and sweet. Rooibos is caffeine-free and associated with decreased stress, anti-aging, and cancer prevention, although there is not much research available to support claims.
Yerba mate was originally harvested in South America from a plant related to the holly plant. Traditionally this drink is used to increase energy and mental clarity. With caffeine levels similar to green tea, yerba mate has a deep earthy taste.
Made from dried petals of the roselle flower, hibiscus tea is known for its bright red color and tart, cranberry-like flavor. It is a good source of vitamin C and iron while being caffeine-free. You can enjoy hibiscus tea hot or iced. If the taste is too tangy for your tastebuds, you can add a little sweetener like maple syrup or agave nectar.
Stinging nettles may be a hassle when encountered in the wild, but they are actually full of healthy nutrients! People drink nettle tea to help with inflammation, urinary issues, allergies, and other common ailments. Nettle tea has a subtle earthy flavor. Plus it is caffeine-free.
However you decide to enjoy tea, make sure you purchase a quality blend. Generally, loose leaf options are preferable over pre-packaged tea bags and purchasing organic will ensure your tea is grown without the use of harmful pesticides.
As with all dietary changes, you should consult a doctor or nutritionist before adding new foods to your life. Especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or taking medications.
Looking for more healthy tips? Follow @rainbowlfoods on Instagram for clean eating recipes and more!
That’s all for now from the Tea-Rex!
I am not a medical professional. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, dietary changes, or well-being.