We’ve all heard about the many health benefits of tea. Stress, sleep, weight loss, digestion—the list of tea health benefits could go on for days.
But is tea actually that healthy?
Rather, is it healthy enough to motivate us to exchange our beloved afternoon cappuccino for a black tea or matcha?
As it turns out, substantial research has been done on the health benefits of all different types of teas—black, green, oolong, rooibos, and herbal tea all included.
Read on to learn all the science-backed benefits of drinking one of the world’s favorite calorie-free beverages.
Before we dive into the potential health benefits of tea, let’s first cover a seemingly obvious, but actually very important, question: What is tea?
The first definition of tea, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a widely cultivated shrub (Camellia sinensis of the family Theaceae, the tea family) native to China, northern India, and southeastern Asia…” (1)
Many people don’t know this, but black tea, oolong, white and green teas are all made from the leaves of the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis bush.
That said, you can make tea out of just about anything—including berries, dried fruit, and the root, leaves, and flowers of any number of plants—so the alternate definition, “an aromatic beverage prepared from tea leaves by soaking them in boiling water,” is more inclusive of teas that don’t come from the C. sinensis bush and is probably more accurate in today’s world, where we’re making tea out of just about anything.
The short answer to the question “Is tea good for you?” is “Yes.” The long answer? There are so many different types of tea—which all seem to have their own individual health benefits—that it can be difficult to keep track of them all.
As a general rule, tea made from the Camellia sinensis is healthy because it’s chock full of antioxidants. As explained in the November 2013 Mayo Clinic Health Letter, “Tea leaves from C. sinensis are loaded with flavonoids and other polyphenols, which work as antioxidants.” (2)
What are antioxidants, you ask? Essentially, they’re substances that work to mitigate free radical damage in the body, which has been linked to atherosclerosis, cancer, vision loss, and other chronic health issues. (3)
Antioxidants are found in high amounts in fruits and vegetables, especially the colorful ones, and according to the National Institutes of Health, “examples of antioxidants include vitamins C and E, selenium, and carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.” (4)
A large group of specific polyphenols, called catechins, are also credited for acting as antioxidants and providing many of the beneficial effects of tea. (5)
As we learned earlier, there are a lot of different types of tea, many of which you’ve probably heard of before and some of which might be new.
Here are the main types of tea and what you should know about the benefits of each.
Green tea might be the most famous of all teas—and earns the spot for the most popular tea in Japan and China—so it makes sense it would come first on our list. (6)
There are many different types of green tea, including sencha, jasmine, bancha, and matcha. Matcha is a form of powdered green tea that’s been a centerpiece of Japanese culture for centuries and has just recently become popular in the Western world.
It’s very high in antioxidants, especially one specific catechin called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). One study even showed that the EGCG levels in matcha are three times greater than regular green tea. (7)
Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea that’s made from the same plant as black and green tea but processed a little differently. It’s actually the perfect middle-ground between black and green teas, with slightly more oxidation than green and less than black.
Just like green tea or black tea, the taste of oolong tea can vary greatly but it’s typically an amber color. The Chinese have always believed that it’s beneficial for helping to control body weight, and modern science seems to agree with them!
Studies have shown that oolong tea can help to support a healthy metabolic rate. (8)
Black tea is typically consumed with milk or sugar—or a squeeze of lemon if you’re so inclined—and is the type of tea in English breakfast and earl grey blends.
Green tea might steal the spotlight, but black tea actually accounts for about 75% of the world’s tea consumption. (9)
Black tea has numerous health benefits, including supporting heart health. In fact, one study showed that consuming black tea could contribute to decreased triglyceride levels by 36%. (10)
White tea, like green, black, and oolong tea, is made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Yet white tea is the least processed of the tea varieties, and it’s picked early, just before its leaves and buds are fully open.
White tea has many of the same health benefits of green tea and black tea, though, because it is less processed, tends to actually contain higher quantities of polyphenols, particularly catechins.
It also typically contains lower levels of caffeine than green or black tea.
Herbal tea is a very broad category of teas that includes any infusion of fruits, herbs, roots, or flowers that are not from the C. sinensis plant. In fact, some will argue that herbal teas aren’t true teas, but in our mind, their health benefits have at least earned them a seat at the table.
You’ve probably heard of peppermint, ginger, licorice, or the bright pink tea that’s made from hibiscus; these are all herbal teas and each one has its own set of health benefits depending on the ingredients it’s made with.
For example, many studies have shown that ginger is a safe and effective treatment for nausea and vomiting, especially in the context of pregnancy and chemotherapy. (11)
Rooibos tea, also known as red tea or red bush tea, is made from a shrub called Aspalathus linearis, which is native to South Africa’s western coast. This nutty, amber-colored tea actually falls under the herbal tea category and is naturally caffeine-free.
Rooibos contains an array of antioxidants—including dihydrochalcones, flavonols, flavanones, flavones, and flavanols—which can benefit our health in various ways. (12)
According to a study published in Public Health Nutrition, it’s possible that drinking rooibos tea could benefit cardiovascular health through inhibition of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which plays an important role in the health of your blood vessels. (13)
Is there anything better than a chai latte on a blustery fall day? Maybe not.
The first thing to know about chai tea is that you actually shouldn’t call it that. That’s because “chai” actually means “tea,” so when you say chai tea it literally translates to “tea tea.” (14)
Instead, it’s probably more accurate to use “masala chai” to describe your favorite flavorful beverage made with black tea and spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, saffron, fennel, peppercorn, clove, and star anise.
Masala chai is a beautiful mix of beneficial compounds and provides the health benefits of both black tea and the herbs mentioned above. Just to give you a taste of what chai has to offer, nutmeg has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties and fennel has long been used as an herbal galactagogue, which means it’s thought to increase breast milk production in breastfeeding women. (15, 16)
Clearly, each type of tea has its own unique set of health benefits. But there’s substantial overlap as well!
If you’re wondering how, exactly, you might use tea to improve your health, look no further.
Here’s a list of some of the most common health woes and how tea might be able to help, according to science.
Out of all the benefits of tea, weight loss might be the most sought-after. So can tea really help you lose weight?
It’s thought that the catechins and caffeine can work together to boost energy metabolism, which is a contributing factor to healthy weight management. (17)
A lot of research has been done on this topic, with some studies showing strong benefits and others less so.
For example, one double-blind study on Japanese men and women published in 2007 showed that drinking high-catechin green tea could lead to a reduction in body fat, SBP, and LDL cholesterol. (18)
That said, a large review of the current research on green tea and weight loss found that “Green tea preparations appear to induce a small, statistically non-significant weight loss in overweight or obese adults.” (19)
The take home? Green tea is likely a great addition to a healthy weight loss or maintenance plan—but it’s no magic bullet. And if you are drinking tea for its metabolism-supporting benefits or as part of an intermittent fasting diet plan, make sure you look for one that’s high in catechins.
According to the CDC, more than 100 million U.S. adults are currently living with diabetes or prediabetes. (20)
So while it’s clearly going to take more than a few cups of tea to fend off this growing epidemic, tea does have some promising benefits for blood sugar health. It appears that the polyphenols in black, green, and oolong tea may increase insulin activity, according to The Diabetes Forum. (21)
Research backs up this thinking, demonstrating black tea’s ability to improve glycemic controlin people with pre-diabetes, green tea’s ability to reduce the risk of developing diabetes when consumed in high enough amounts, and oolong’s potential as an adjunct therapy in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. (22, 23)
Certain herbal teas can also promote healthy blood sugar balance, especially those with cinnamon, which has known blood-sugar-balancing properties. (24)
The obvious choice to maximize blood sugar benefits would be masala chai—since it combines black tea and cinnamon—but there’s a catch: Most chai lattes are made with a sugar-filled powder or syrup, which is pretty counterproductive if you’re trying to balance blood sugar.
If you’ve fallen victim to the common cold, you’re almost certainly open to the idea of an all-natural remedy that will provide relief from pesky symptoms like a sore, scratchy throat and a hoarse voice. If this is you, you’re going to want to head straight to a group of herbs called demulcents, also known as “soothing agents.”
In a study published in the British Medical Journal, a blend of demulcents like licorice root, marshmallow root, and elm inner bark led to statistically significant improvements in symptoms of acute pharyngitis (AKA: a sore, inflamed throat). In other words, a hot herbal tea might be just what the doctor ordered. (25, 26)
Ready for an added bonus? Studies have also shown that honey is an effective remedy for the common cold, which means you have full permission to add a little bit of this sweetener to your tea when you’re feeling under the weather.
As the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine puts it: “Honey’s traditional reputation as a cough remedy has some science to back it up. A small amount of research suggests that honey may help to decrease nighttime coughing in children.” (27)
Wheezing, coughing, and other symptoms of general respiratory distress are also characteristic of the common cold, which brings us to…
If your lungs are taking a beating from the cold or flu, one of the most promising ingredients to turn to is eucalyptus, which you can find hiding inside various teas blended specifically for respiratory health. And although the research is very preliminary, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, eucalyptus oil could help break up mucus in people with asthma and reduce symptoms of flare-ups in people with bronchitis. (28)
Other types of tea to consider for respiratory health are peppermint—which has known antibacterial and antiviral properties and may help relieve a cough—and oregano because it contains the compound carvacrol, which has displayed some bronchodilating effects. (29, 30, 31)
For those of us with a sensitive stomach, or who just ate a little too much at that family holiday party, tea can be a helpful remedy. This is especially true for ginger tea; with its anti-nausea properties, ginger has long been used to soothe digestive health woes and is currently being studied as a potential gastroprotective agent. (32)
If you have a sensitive stomach, you might want to proceed with some caution when it comes to green tea. When brewed strongly or consumed on an empty stomach, green tea can cause stomach irritation. (33)
Excessive caffeine intake has also been linked to gastrointestinal disturbances, so that’s something to watch out for as well if you’re drinking a lot of black, green, or oolong tea. (34)
The good news for those with sleep troubles is that herbal teas, like those containing the herbs chamomile and valerian, have shown promise for treating occasional insomnia. One clinical trial from 2017 showed that the use of chamomile extracts significantly improved sleep quality among elderly people. (35)
And according to Brent Baur, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, “Results from multiple studies indicate that valerian—a tall, flowering grassland plant—may reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and help you sleep better.” (36)
Both chamomile and valerian are good options to try if you’re having trouble with sleep, especially before turning to pharmaceutical drugs for sleep (which can be addictive) and over-the-counter sleep aids (which come with a surprisingly long list of side effects). (37, 38)
Ask any room of people to answer the question “Are you stressed?” and you’ll almost positively recieve a resounding “Yes.”
Stress is part of our lives; it’s by way of a little stress that we meet deadlines, ace a test, and generally succeed at tackling life’s many challenges. That said, chronic stress can damage our health in more ways than one. In fact, chronic stress has been connected to all of the six leading causes of death. It would behoove us to find a way to mitigate the effects of stress on our bodies and minds. (39)
So can tea help? Common tea ingredients, like lavender, have shown promise for reducing stress.
Lavender has long been used as an all-natural relaxation remedy and is thought to benefit the nervous system. Just make sure to take plenty of deep breaths through your nose while you drink, as lavender has been studied particularly in the context of aromatherapy. (40, 41)
Additionally, there’s a bioactive compound in tea called l-theanine that helps regulate neurotransmitter and brain activities. (42)
It’s found in particularly high amounts in green tea and has shown anti-stress effects. It does this by blocking certain receptors in your brain and inhibiting cortical neuron excitation. (43)
Basically, it helps your brain chill out.
One study found that combining L-theanine and caffeine found in green tea can lead to a state of calm awareness and alertness without the jittery feeling sometimes associated with caffeine intake. (44)
Tackling anxiety and other mental health conditions requires the help of a medical professional, so it’s best to always work closely with your doctor instead of making decisions by yourself.
That said, many doctors recommend reducing your caffeine intake—or eliminating caffeine entirely—if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder; in fact, some might even recommend replacing caffeine-containing teas with herbal teas, like those made with holy basil or lemon balm. (45)
There isn’t a ton of research on these two herbs but what does exist is promising. One study concluded that holy basil may be useful in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Lemon balm, a member of the mint family that makes a delicious tea, has shown promise for stress, anxiety, and sleep. (46, 47)
If you’re struggling with anxiety, making the simple swap from caffeinated tea to herbal tea could be a helpful part of your treatment plan.
Speaking of caffeine, it’s helpful to know exactly how much caffeine your tea contains—especially if you plan to drink it in the afternoon. (48)
- Black tea has the highest caffeine content, containing as much as 61 mg per serving (about 8 ounces).
- Green tea contains about 31 mg and the caffeine content of oolong tea can vary, but the average appears to be about 37 mg.
- To compare, a single shot of espresso typically contains around 64mg of caffeine. (49)
Ready for an expert hack? Companies making high-quality tea products will know the exact caffeine content of their tea and list it on the packaging. For example, Pique’s Sacred Lily Oolong tea contains 39 to 45 mg of caffeine per serving. Convenient, isn’t it?
There are so many different types of tea and that means a lot of options to choose from. Green tea is often touted as the healthiest type of tea and it does, in fact, have higher levels of catechins than other types of tea. (50)
That said, all the teas mentioned above are healthy in their own way and it’s impossible to pick just one.
When you’re buying tea, it’s important to remember one thing: Not all teas are created equal. Quality can vary greatly depending on where the tea is grown and who’s manufacturing and selling it.
If you want to get the most out of your tea, do some research on the company and ask questions like: Is the tea grown organically? Is it sourced ethically? A good company will test its products for toxins and contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, and microbes (Yes, these can all find their way into your tea!). (51)
Ready to join the legion of tea drinkers? Great! When it comes to when and how to drink tea, that’s really up to you!
Tea, whether black, white, green, oolong, or herbal, can be prepared and consumed with organic unsweetened nut milks (though try to avoid dairy), or they can be prepared without anything added. Many people prepare black tea in particular with almond or coconut milk (and sometimes with lemon), and green tea and matcha tea lattes are very popular as well.
There are many options for preparation, really (and tons of recipes available to spark your creativity). If you want to get the full benefits of whatever tea you’re drinking, though, resist the urge to add sweeteners.
This is particularly true if you’re drinking tea for its blood-sugar-balancing properties or to support your weight loss goals.
If you want to take your tea drinking to a whole new level, familiarize yourself with the temperature at which each type and blend of tea should be brewed. Similar to wine, there’s an amazing level of detail here—and different blends from different regions will have distinct flavors and health benefits.
According to the National Cancer Institute, “The polyphenol concentration of any particular tea beverage depends on the type of tea, the amount used, the brew time, and the temperature.” (52)
You can even research the exact antioxidant content of your tea and how to prepare it to get the most bang for your buck.
So there you have it! You’re now an expert on all the science-backed health benefits of making tea part of your daily routine.
If you’re still not convinced to trade your morning cold brew for a cup of tea, you should know that one study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association—one of the top scientific journals in the world—showed that green tea consumption in Japanese adults is associated with reduced mortality due to all causes and due to cardiovascular disease in Japan. (53)
The study followed a group of over 40,000 Japanese adults, collecting data on their health for up to 11 years. This makes tea consumption one of the few science-backed habits associated with a longer lifespan. Excuse us while we go whip up some matcha…