Except for water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world. Three main categories—green, black, and oolong—comprise 3,000 varieties of tea, all from one marvelous plant, Camellia sinensis.
A growing body of research touts its many health benefits, so brew and enjoy a cup of hot tea or a refreshing glass of iced tea soon.
All the flavors, colors, and aromas of tea result from different processing methods and from where the plant was grown.
Full-bodied black teas, including English and Irish Breakfast tea, Darjeeling, and Ceylon, undergo several hours of fermentation. Delicate oolongs are partially fermented, while green and white teas are not.
In white tea, the leaves and buds are simply steamed and dried; it brews to a pale yellow or light red shade and tastes slightly sweet.
Herbal teas, known for their medicinal properties, are not true teas at all, but rather infusions of herbs or plants other than Camellia sinensis. “Teas” made from cinnamon, lemon, chamomile, echinacea, peppermint, and other herbs and spices are not only tasty, but they may also help you fight off that summer cold.
The focus of many scientific studies, teas from the camellia plant are rich in polyphenols—a type of antioxidant. These nutrients fight free radicals, which cause cell damage that can lead to a host of diseases including cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Green tea has shown promising results in studies ranging from heart health and cancer prevention to weight loss. One study funded by the National Cancer Institute finds that moderate amounts of green or white tea may protect against tumors of the colon almost as well as sulindac, a drug shown effective for the same purpose.
Another study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that green tea extract increased metabolic activity and fat oxidation, which has important implications for weight loss and control.
Animal studies on a primary polyphenol in green tea known as EGCG demonstrate an ability to lower the production of a protein that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, leading to nerve damage and memory loss.
Black tea, too, has shown promise in laboratory tests. Antioxidants can help block the formation of plaque on artery walls that leads to high levels of LDL cholesterol.
Oolong tea may be useful for treating atopic dermatitis or eczema, especially in cases that fail to respond to standard medical care. Patients who drank oolong three times a day for up to six months experienced improvement in their skin conditions. Study authors concluded that its effectiveness may be due to the antiallergic properties of polyphenols in tea.
Antibacterial compounds in green tea may also fight infections. Anti-inflammatory effects have also been reported in studies of green tea, making it potentially useful for preventing arthritis or limiting its severity. It may also be useful in reducing muscle inflammation after exercise.
How to Make Healthy Iced Tea
For refreshing iced tea, start with 4 cups of fresh, cold filtered or spring water in a teapot or pan. Bring it to a boil and then pour it over 5 tea bags tied together in a heatproof pitcher. Allow the tea to steep for an hour, and then remove the bags, squeezing gently.
(For “sweet tea,” add sugar or other sweetener like Stevia to taste, stirring until it dissolves.)
Add two additional cups of fresh, cold water, cover, and chill, or add ice cubes to serve right away.
Pour into a tall glass with more cubes, add a lemon wedge or sprig of fresh mint, and enjoy.
Although using solar power to brew tea is popular in the summer months, the Centers for Disease Control advises against it. Sun tea is a good medium for growing bacteria.
"Catechins Suppress Muscle Inflammation and Hasten Performance Recovery After Exercise by S. Haramizu et al., Med Sci Sports Exerc, 3/6/13
"Consumption of Polyphenol Plants May Slow Aging and Associated Diseases" by U. Uysal et al., Curr Pharm Des, 2/19/13
"Green Tea Catechins: Defensive Role in Cardiovascular Disorders" by P. Bhardwaj and D. Khanna, Chin J Nat Med, 7/13