There are many types of tea, and it is a ‘hype’ now to drink one or another for its health benefits. Matcha green tea is one of those that became very popular recently in health industry, while Sencha green tea is most widely available at the tea and coffee shops. On the shelves in the supermarkets we can find various types of other teas. Pu-erh and Oolong have also been added to the list of healthy teas promoted by celebrities and health enthusiasts. And even when it comes to traditional black tea, there are many to choose from: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling and Assam – just to name a few.
There seems to be a lot of difference between the black, green, white and other teas – in taste and appearance. But what many of us do not realise is that all of those teas come from the same plant – Camellia Sinensis, a Chinese variety of Camellia tree, also known as Tea Shrub or Tea Tree (not the same as the Tea Tree oil!). Camellia Sinensis tree is used for the Chinese tea, and its other variety Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica is used for Indian teas. But it is essentially the same plant that yields all of our black, white, green, oolong and other teas. Surprised? I was when I first learned it years ago, having stumbled upon the goodness of white tea and Pu-Erh.
But why the difference? All of these teas come from the same plant and the only thing that makes them so different from each other is the processing. The leaves gathered from the Camellia Sinensis are processed in a certain way to allow a certain level of oxidation, and this is exactly why black tea is not green tea, and green tea is not white. To learn more about the teas, read on!
- Is probably the most consumed type of tea in the world; it is certainly so in the West. Over 90% of tea consumed in the West is black tea.
- One of the most oxidised and fermented teas, hence its deep rich colour and strong taste.
- Earl Grey, English and Irish Breakfast, English Afternoon tea, Masala Chai and others are all black tea blends, made from leaves grown in different regions/soil conditions and with addition of spices or oils (bergamot oil in Earl Grey, a spice blend in Masala chai).
- Assam tea is a black tea, grown in Assam region in India. It is often made into ‘breakfast’ blends and has a very strong taste.
- Black tea contains caffeine, polyphenols Thearubigins and Theaflavins, Theobromine, flavonoids, catechins and other compounds.
- Health Benefits: Black tea may reduce the risk of strokes and ischemic heart disease, as well as lower the risks of developing Diabetes, High cholesterol, Kidney stones and Parkinson’s disease. Black tea boosts energy and alertness. More about black tea health benefits is here.
- Considerations: Consumption of black tea after meals inhibits absorption of some vitamins and minerals, such as group B vitamins and Iron. Wait 30 to 60 minutes after meals to ensure optimum absorption. Due to high levels of oxalates, consumption of black tea in large amounts may aggravate existing kidney stones. It may also aggravate anxiety and cause headaches (as well as reduce them, depending on the type). More about side effects here.
- Originated in China, it comes from the same Camellia sinensis tree as black tea, but have not undergone the same withering and oxidation process. It is basically unfermented black tea, or rather black tea is fermented green tea, if that makes sense.
- Sencha is the most popular variety of green tea in Japan. Matcha is a powdered form of green tea, very popular these days among health enthusiasts. Other varieties include Bancha, Gyokuro (Jade dew) and Mao Feng. Mao Feng green tea is one of the most popular teas in China and is grown near Yellow Mountain.
- Green tea contains numerous polyphenols, amongst which are epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), epicatechin gallate, epicatechins and flavonols. These compounds have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and help fight the free radicals.
- Green tea may have anti-cancerous properties, but at the moment the research is still inconclusive. However, it doesn’t mean it won’t benefit in prevention.
- Health Benefits: Studies have shown that green tea may lower cholesterol levels, just like its relative, black tea. A large study in China concluded that green tea consumption is associated with a significantly reduced risk of death from all-cause, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Green tea’s polyphenols may be of benefit in Alzheimer’s disease and its prevention. Other benefits include: stabilising blood sugar in people with diabetes, stimulating the brain, especially the area responsible for memory, promoting healthy blood vessels. Also, Theanine found in green tea may produce relaxing effects. You can find more here.
- Considerations: Essentially the same as with black tea. Caffeine consumption contributes to increased agitation in people prone to anxiety, might cause insomnia and temporary elevate blood pressure. Iron and vitamin B malabsorption may occur if consumed in large amounts or too soon after meals. Green tea should probably be avoided if you have kidney stones or kidney disease.
- Tips on brewing: 1. Never add boiling water to green tea – it will destroy the powerful catechins. Steep your tea in 60-70 C water instead. 2. Add lemon juice for the maximum absorption of antioxidants. Studies show that very little of antioxidants reach the point where they are absorbed because most are destroyed during the early digestive process. Lemon juice caused up to 80% of antioxidants stay undestroyed and available for assimilation. 3. Don’t add any milk or any form of sugar if you don’t want to suppress all of those benefits.
- It is one of the youngest teas, probably created in the last two centuries.
- There is currently no agreed definition for the white tea processing, but as varied as it is, white tea is the least processed of all teas and often features the young leaves of Camellia sinensis. Some white teas are made from buds and immature leaves withered naturally in the sun, while others involve just a bit of processing, like steaming before drying. Unlike black and green teas, white tea is not rolled and oxidised. It is lighter and more delicate in taste and pale yellow in colour.
- It contains the same polyphenols and catechins as the green tea, but due to variation in processing and growing conditions, the content varies.
- Health Benefits: probably the same as in green tea. There is relatively little research on white teas as of now, but those that have all ready been done agree that white tea white tea shows a lot of potential. This review of studies suggests that antioxidants in white tea could prevent cancer and heart disease. It also produces anti-ageing effects on the body and protect the proteins found in skin, specifically elastin and collagen, which are essential for youthful and healthy skin. Other studies have shown that white tea may reduce the risk of inflammation, which is of benefit in rheumatoid arthritis as well as cancer and ageing prevention. In these studies white tea outperformed its closest relative green tea. White tea also stimulates brain and boosts energy.
- Considerations: White tea contains caffeine, so keep that in mind if you suffer from headaches, insomnia or anxiety. It is though much gentler on the system than black or green teas.
- Tips: White tea may contain higher levels of antioxidants than green tea, but they mostly get destroyed during the early stages of digestion. It makes sense to add lemon juice to get the most of the antioxidants to stay until they can be assimilated.
- Traditional Chinese tea, has many varieties and flavours.
- The processing involves withering in the strong sun and oxidising before rolling. In the end it is baked or roasted – no other teas have this step in preparation. Oolong tea is partially fermented, whereas black tea is fully fermented and green tea is unfermented, thus oolong tea falls somewhere between black and green teas.
- Contains caffeine and theophylline and theobromine, which all have similar action.
- Health Benefits: not much research is available on Oolong tea, but the data suggests that oolong tea improves mental alertness due to caffeine, which effects the central nervous system (CNS), as well as heart and muscles. Just like black and green teas, oolong tea may reduce the risks of death cardiovascular disease (CVD). This research suggests that consuming oolong tea as a source of caffeine may decrease the risk of developing diabetes. As a fermented tea, it may also improve glucose tolerance, at least in mice it did. A study on 20 Taiwanese people also showed the hypoglycaemic effects of oolong tea. More information on Oolong tea can be found here.
- Considerations: Just like with other teas, beware if you’re prone to anxiety, insomnia, irregular heartbeat and kidney problems. Drinking oolong tea may not be a good idea if you suffer from any vitamin B or Iron deficiency. More about side effects here.
- Mostly found in China.
- Processed similarly to green tea, and since it comes from the same Camellia sinensis plant, they share the same properties.
- At the last step of processing it is steamed under a damp cloth after oxidation. This gives the tea its yellow colour and mellower taste.
- Produced from unoxidised green tea from the large-leaved plant Camellia sinensis assamica, grown in Yunnan province.
- During the processing the leaves are stopped from oxidation and either directly packaged (raw) or fermented (ripe, or aged raw).
- Pu-erh is a truly fermented tea; it is fermented by moulds, bacteria and yeasts naturally present on the tea plant, but don’t let that scare you away!
- Health Benefits: Pu-erh tea may lower cholesterol levels due to its lovastatin content. It is central nervous system and brain stimulant, it boosts energy. Polysaccharides in pu-erh may lower blood sugar in diabetics. As a fermented tea it may also improve glucose tolerance. Some claim pu-erh tea aids weight loss, but the evidence is currently insufficient to support those claims.
- Considerations: Caffeine in pu-erh may aggravate bleeding disorders, anxiety, headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia and kidney problems. It also may inhibit absorption of group B vitamins and Iron. Read more about pu-erh tea here.
- Comes from Darjeeling district in West Bengal, India.
- It is lightly coloured and has a floral aroma, the taste may be slightly astringent with musky spiciness. It is also called ‘The Champagne of Teas’.
- Can be found in black, green, white and oolong varieties, but it is mostly made as black. White Darjeeling is delicate in taste, mellow and with a hint of sweetness. It is rare and expensive. Oolong is semi-oxidised and quite expensive, too. Darjeeling green tea is not fermented and stopped from oxidising, which preserves the polyphenols in the tea. The potency of those polyphenols are similar to vitamins C and E.
- Health Benefits: The antioxidant polyphenols in Darjeeling (esp. Green tea) protect our body cells from free radicals, thus possibly preventing cancer, as well as other diseases and ageing. It may also lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Considerations: The same as with the other teas. You may want to skip the tea if you suffer from anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, kidney problems and Iron and vitamin B deficiency.
Other note of precaution:
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not consume more than 200-300 mg caffeine a day, which is about 2-3 cups of tea.
Consult with your doctor if you suffer from any conditions or are on medication and concerned whether you should be drinking tea.
This post is intended to provide information only. For any health concerns and treatments seek help from a qualified medical professional.