Health Benefits of Tea: How Different Types Compare

Tea has been used for generations by many different cultures in both social settings and to boost health and wellness. Different types of tea boast different benefits. But not all teas currently on the market provide any real benefit when it comes to your body. In fact, in some cases, you may be better off drinking plain hot water with lemon.

Before you choose a tea, it's helpful to understand the basic differences between varieties. All traditional tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. There are only four categories of traditional tea: white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and black tea. The difference between each is the degree to which each leaf is oxidized or fermented. Usually, tea leaves that are heavily oxidized are darker or redder, and teas that are less fermented are lighter or greener. Traditional tea usually contains caffeine.

Herbal teas and fruit teas are different than traditional teas. These varieties are less likely to contain caffeine. As you might imagine from their name, they are produced from dried herbs or fruit.  Different herbs may provide a variety of health benefits, but the jury is out on which benefits you are likely to gain when you drink herbal tea.

Listed below are some of the most popular types of tea, both herbal and traditional. The health benefits of tea are outlined along with scientific evidence that may or may not support the claims.

Green Tea and Matcha

Green tea in yellow teacup
@treycwong via Twenty20

Green tea is one of the most popular teas on the market, due in part to its reputation for providing antioxidants and boosting wellness. Matcha, or powdered green tea, is also very popular in health food stores and in wellness communities. According to some sources, one cup of matcha tea provides the benefits of 10 cups of regularly brewed green tea.

Fans of green tea believe that it can be used to prevent and/or treat cancer, lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease, improve mental functioning, lower blood pressure, prevent tooth decay, boost weight loss, and increase water loss.

Green tea and green tea extracts have been widely studied for their potential health benefits. But only some of those benefits are supported by scientific evidence, according to the National Institutes of Health.

According to the Integrative Medicine Database at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, there is only limited evidence that tea has any anti-cancer properties. And some studies have shown mixed results. The same holds true for green tea's possible effect on cholesterol and heart disease.

Green tea may have a limited ability to prevent tooth decay, although the theory has not been tested in clinical trials. Some studies have shown that drinking green tea may help you reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.

The caffeine in green tea may stimulate the nervous system to boost mental awareness and may have some (limited) effect on metabolism.

Side effects of drinking green tea may include nausea and stomach upset in some people. The caffeine in green tea may also cause nervousness and problems sleeping.

Black Tea

Traditional black tea is the most popular kind of tea worldwide. Types of black tea include Earl Grey, Darjeeling, masala chai (when it is blended with other spices), English breakfast tea, and scented black teas like rose black tea and lychee black tea. There are also popular black tea blends such as Lapsang Souchong (a smoky blend), Keemun black tea, and Yunnan black tea. Traditional black tea contains approximately 50-90 milligrams of caffeine per cup.

Like green tea, black tea contains polyphenols including catechins, flavonoids, and tannins. Polyphenols are plant-based chemicals that may provide health benefits. Researchers have linked consumption of flavonoids to important health outcomes, but scientists advise that more research is needed to say for certain if black tea can significantly boost your health.

Most experts recommend that if you want to take full advantages of ​black tea health benefits, use loose leaves (rather than a tea bag) and don't add milk or sugar.

Oolong Tea

If you prefer a tea that is slightly richer than black tea, then try oolong tea. You'll get about 30 milligrams of caffeine per cup (less than coffee), although the caffeine in your tea cup will vary based on a number of factors, including brew time.

Oolong tea, like green tea, has a reputation as being helpful for weight loss. Some scientific evidence has shown that consuming oolong may help reduce body fat in people who are already overweight or obese. The tea is also believed to have cholesterol-lowering properties and animal studies have shown it to reduce triglyceride levels.

Keep in mind, however, that simply drinking oolong tea—without changing other lifestyle factors—is not likely to have a dramatic or noticeable impact on your overall health profile.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is an herbal tea. It does not provide caffeine like black tea or green tea, so it does not provide stimulation in the same manner as those traditional teas. Instead, chamomile is widely recognized as a calming tea.

There is some scientific evidence to support the use of chamomile tea for anxiety and insomnia. There is also some limited clinical evidence that it can help to reduce muscle spasms, although more research is needed to confirm this benefit.​

Chamomile tea may also be used as an antiseptic to treat skin ulcers or even to treat hemorrhoids. But no clinical trials have been conducted on humans to prove that it will work.

Side effects from chamomile tea may include redness or swelling in people who are hypersensitive or allergic (especially those who are allergic to ragweed or chrysanthemums).

Pu-erh Tea

Pu-erh tea has been popular in China for thousands of years and has recently become more popular in other regions of the world. Unlike other varieties of tea, Pu-erh is ​fermented, pressed into shapes, and then aged under high humidity before it is ready to be sold. Most Pu-erh tea has a distinct pungent or musty smell.

Fans of this tea claim that it has both weight loss and detox properties. Some people also believe that it can boost mental clarity and lower cholesterol.

The caffeine in Pu-erh tea may provide the weight loss benefits and mental clarity that some drinkers experience, though Pu-erh has less caffeine than other traditional teas. Animal studies have shown a link between Pu-erh consumption and both reduced body fat and lower cholesterol levels, but human studies are lacking.

Rooibos and Honeybush Tea

Rooibos (also known as red bush tea) and honeybush are tea "cousins" because they originate from a similar area in South Africa. Both are herbal teas that provide no caffeine. Rooibos has a nutty flavor. Honeybush has a slightly sweeter taste that is often compared to honey.

Both of these herbal teas have been reported to have health benefits. Some believe that teas can protect against cancer, provide anti-aging properties (including treatment of wrinkles), improve bone health, boost your immune system, relieve stomach cramps, and inhibit cravings for sweets.

There has been some very limited research that shows a link between honeybush consumption and the possibility of improved bone health. But the studies are preliminary at best. And since honeybush has a sweet taste, it is reasonable that if you drink it instead of enjoying dessert you may be able to skip the high-calorie sweet treats.

Animal studies have shown that rooibos tea may provide some of the advertised health benefits including anti-inflammatory benefits, relief of type 2 diabetes symptoms, improved immune function, and prevention of damage caused by radiation. But human studies are lacking, so it is as yet unclear whether you will gain these benefits if you drink the tea.

Turmeric Tea

Turmeric tea is gaining popularity in food and nutrition circles, but it is not really tea in a traditional sense. It isn't brewed with tea leaves or from herbs. Instead, it is a blend of spices combined to provide flavor and health benefits.

Turmeric tea recipes usually include ground turmeric, honey, and lemon. Recipes may also include other spices like ginger, black pepper (for absorption), cinnamon, and nutmeg. Black tea may also be added to turmeric tea. Some recipes also include some variety of milk. When milk is included the drink is often called "golden milk" or "​turmeric milk." Companies are showcasing their unique blends at conferences and specialty food shows, like the Fancy Food Show organized by the Specialty Food Association.

Many who drink turmeric tea believe that it provides numerous health benefits. Fans of the drink believe that it has anti-cancer properties, decreases inflammation, improves acne, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, provides weight loss benefits, and can even reduce pain and depression.

There is some scientific evidence to support some of these benefits. Turmeric contains curcumin, an active ingredient that has been studied in both animals and humans. Research has provided some evidence that curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties. But whether or not the spice can prevent disease is another issue.

Animal studies and limited human research has demonstrated that curcumin provides possible benefits in the treatment and prevention of certain cancers. Although, some research has shown that turmeric may interfere with some chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer.

There have also been animal studies that suggest a link between the consumption of turmeric extract and the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers have also noticed that rates of the disease are lower in areas (like India and Asia) where people consume more turmeric.

While it seems like turmeric is a wonder spice, there are drawbacks to consuming it as well. The National Institutes of Health says that high doses or long-term use of turmeric may cause gastrointestinal problems.

High Octane Tea

High octane teas are flavored teas that have been super-caffeinated. A typical cup of traditional black tea might have 50-90 milligrams of caffeine. A typical cup of coffee may have 100-150 milligrams. But a cup of high octane tea may provide 150 milligrams or more.  People who don't like the taste of coffee may choose high octane tea as an alternative.

Brands like Zest Tea make specific varieties of High Octane Tea. But there are other companies that blend tea varieties with more caffeine. The Republic of Tea, for example, provides a list of higher energy teas that includes Blackberry Sage Black Tea, Earl Greyer, and Green Matcha. These varieties, however, provide less caffeine than a cup of coffee. Smaller brands like Adiago Teas make High-Octane Gladiolus tea that has "moderate" amounts of caffeine, according to the company.

While caffeine can provide certain benefits, including a boost in mental alertness and (slightly) increased metabolism, some people experience drawbacks as well. If you drink too much caffeine, you may have problems sleeping and you may also experience headaches, nervousness, or a jittery feeling.

Flavored Teas

Many companies blend traditional tea or herbal tea with fruit flavors or spices to create flavored teas. If you don't like the taste of plain black tea or green tea you might prefer one of these infused teas instead. In most cases, the flavor infusions won't change the health benefits of the tea. And in most instances, choosing a plain fruit-flavored tea (without added sweeteners) is going to be better for your health than drinking tea with sugar or cream that you add on your own.

Be aware, however, that commercially sweetened teas, like flavored iced teas or sweetened tea drinks, are often a source of empty calories and may provide more sugar than you need.

A Word From Verywell

For many of us, drinking tea is a calming, peaceful part of our day. Even if the tea itself doesn't provide any health benefits, simply taking the time to brew a cup and enjoy each sip provides a sense of peace and wellness.

It is very possible that your cup of tea also provides medicinal benefits. But because there is little hard evidence to support many of the claims, it may not be smart to rely on tea to treat, prevent, or manage illness. If you are managing a medical condition, work with your healthcare provider to come up with a plan that includes both traditional and natural options for improvement.

Sources:

Cao ZH, Gu DH, Lin QY, et al, "Effect of pu-erh tea on body fat and lipid profiles in rats with diet-induced obesity." Phytother Res. 2011 Feb;25(2):234-8​.

He RR, Chen L, Lin BH, Matsui Y, Yao XS, Kurihara H, "Beneficial effects of oolong tea consumption on diet-induced overweight and obese subjects." Chin J Integr Med. 2009 Feb;15(1):34-41.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, "Green Tea," National Institutes of Health, Updated September 2016.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, "Turmeric" National Institutes of Health, Updated September 2016.

Visagie A, Kasonga A, Deepak V, et al, Commercial Honeybush (Cyclopia spp.) Tea Extract Inhibits Osteoclast Formation and Bone Resorption in RAW264.7 Murine Macrophages—An in vitroStudy, Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 Nov; 12(11): 13779–13793.

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