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Tea for Me, Please

Article and audio introduction by Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences

For me, there is nothing better than a hot cup of tea on a chilly morning – or any morning, really.  The rich flavor and fragrant steam work together to perk me up and help me get ready to take on the day.  And in the evening, a nice, warm cup of tea can also help me relax before settling down to sleep. The key is finding the right kind of tea for the task.

There are five major types of tea: green, black, white, red, and herbal.  All non-herbal teas are produced from the leaves of the warm-weather evergreen tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The degree of processing or oxidation of the leaves determines which type of tea is produced.

Types of Tea
cup of tea

A delicious cup of hot tea is a great way to start the day and can provide a daily dose of health-promoting antioxidants. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy, UF/IFAS Extension)

Green tea is very minimally processed and the leaves are not oxidized, which results in its light green color and delicate taste. It is very low in caffeine. Green tea is very popular in Asian cultures, but has gained increased popularity around the world.

Black tea has a very rich flavor and the highest caffeine levels of all types of tea due to its long processing time.  The leaves are fully oxidized, resulting in its rich amber color and robust flavor. Some of the most popular and common types of black tea are Early Grey, English Breakfast, and Darjeeling.

Red tea is oxidized for less time than black tea, resulting in a milder flavor and lighter color. The flavor intensity and caffeine levels of red tea fall somewhere between green and black tea. The most common type of red tea is Oolong, which is very popular in Asia.

White tea is produced from young tea leaves and unopened buds. The resulting brew has a velvety, delicate flavor and very light, “white” color.  Since it is so minimally processed, it has very little caffeine.

Herbal tea is not produced from the leaves of the tea plant.  Instead, herbal teas are created through a combination of herbs and other plants, often utilizing the leaves, stems, and roots.  Herbal tea does not have caffeine and is often used medicinally to treat a variety of ailments.

Potential Health Benefits

The health benefits of tea, especially green tea, have long been touted. The fermentation process involved in green tea production increases the levels of a type of antioxidants called polyphenols, which can help reduce cell damage caused by the byproducts of regular cell production in the body.

According to two Harvard School of Public Health studies, those who drank tea regularly showed a decreased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to non-tea drinkers. The substances in tea, such as polyphenols, have also been linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke and have been shown to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Does iced tea provide the same benefits? The short answer is yes. Since most teas can be served either hot or cold, drinking a cup of either can provide the same potential health benefits.  Keep in mind, however, that traditional Southern sweet tea is very high in sugar, so keep that in mind.

One note of caution: Some chemicals in tea are known to bind to iron, thereby decreasing its absorption in the body. Those who suffer from iron-deficiency anemia may want to consult a physician before increasing their tea consumption.

Tea drinking is not a cure-all.  However, drinking tea as part of an overall healthy diet may provide added health benefits that can help promote healthy cells and blood vessels.

So take the time to smell (and sip and savor) the tea while toasting to better health. Happy brewing!

Additional Resources

Health benefits linked to drinking tea (Harvard Medical School)
Tea: A cup of good health? (Harvard Medical School)
Take Time for Tea: For Health and Well-being (North Dakota State Extension)

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