A look at the health benefits of a cup of tea, and which type is the best.
Is a cup of tea the cure for what ails you? If you happened to see the recent video clip for (RED) with Julia Roberts and U2 frontman Bono about the “healing, transformative powers” of the cup o’ tea, you’ll know that not only is peace in Ireland apparently due to tea, but that, in sufficient quantities, tea may be the cure for both misogyny and erectile dysfunction.
All whimsical notions aside, research suggests tea may offer real health benefits.
With the recent chill that descended over Seattle as it grapples with cold-and-flu season, the timing is perfect to enjoy a cup of tea for its ability to warm us up, quell coughs and soothe stuffy noses. But if you are seeking more significant health benefits, it’s important to note there’s a difference between “true” tea and what would more properly be called a tisane or infusion.
The true teas are black, green, oolong and white teas, all of which are leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant. The biggest distinction between these tea types is whether, and for how long, they are fermented.
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Tisanes are basically anything else you can steep, or infuse, in hot water, such as herbs and flowers. True teas contain several catechins, the most notable of which is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Catechins belong to the class of antioxidant phytonutrients known as polyphenols.
EGCG appears to be a particularly strong natural antioxidant, with anti-inflammatory and possibly anti-cancer properties. Green tea is highest in EGCG, followed by white tea, both of which are not fermented. Oolong tea, which is semi-fermented, has more EGCG than black tea, which is fully fermented. Some EGCG is oxidized during tea fermentation.
Research suggests that green tea helps to reduce total cholesterol, and that both green and black teas help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure. There’s also some evidence that adults who drink at least two cups of tea daily have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes than adults who don’t drink tea at all, possibly because ECGC and other catechins may lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.
A cup of tea feels like a balm for the soul, and it’s actually associated with a reduced risk of depression. A 2015 meta-analysis found that for every 3 cups of tea drunk daily, risk of depression dropped by 37 percent.
Of course, tea’s not a magic bullet, and it’s smart to remember that when a study finds an association between two things, that doesn’t guarantee one thing is causing the other. The effects of ECGC have been better studied in animals than in humans, so far, and tea research would benefit from more long-term studies in non-Asian countries, which have different tea-drinking patterns than Asian countries. But as beverages go, tea — especially unsweetened — is a much better option than most.
If you’ve tried — and failed — to enjoy green tea, consider two things. One, green tea can become bitter if overbrewed, and different types of green tea have different brewing times.
Two, not all green teas have the same flavor profile. Where the tea is grown, when it’s harvested and how it’s processed all affect flavor. Some green teas are very delicate in flavor, while others are more robust.
Visit a specialty tea store that offers expert advice — and maybe tastings. You could also buy small amounts of a few different bulk teas and try them at home before committing to more.