How to Maximize the Flavor and Health Benefits of Tea

By Joyce Hendley, M.S., "Tea Time," July/August 2009

What to add to your tea to make it healthier, how to make your own iced tea, plus 5 tips from a tea expert.

"People are talking about it. Just search "Tai Chi Green tea " you will find a lot. Some of the talks sound too good to be true. But most of them are convincing. "

Tea Glossary

True Teas

Black Tea

Just like wine, tea’s complex flavors vary widely with the region and processing. Darjeeling (India) is slightly spicy, with grape and almond overtones, while Chinese types, such as smoke-dried Lapsang Souchong, tend to be earthier.
Where it’s from: China, India, Sri Lanka, Africa, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal, the Caucasus regions, Turkey.
Health benefits: People who drink black tea regularly (3-5 cups/day) tend to have fewer heart attacks and strokes, as well as lower rates of colon and lung cancer. Drinking black tea also may reduce risks of diabetes and osteoporosis and inhibit bacteria that causes tooth decay.
Water temp/steeping time: Boiling water for 3-5 minutes.

Green Tea

Green tea has a vegetal, mildly grassy flavor, with a slightly astringent mouthfeel. Oversteeped brews can be bitter. Chinese types include Dragonwell, prized for its trace of chestnut flavors, and Jasmine (fragrant with added jasmine flowers). Try Japan’s smooth Sencha or toasty Genmaicha, blended with toasted rice grains.
Where it’s from: China, Japan, Sri Lanka.
Health benefits: Drinking green tea is associated with lower rates of colon and pancreatic cancers and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.
Water temp/steeping time: Steaming water for 2-3 minutes.

White Tea

White teas are relatively rare and expensive because they’re only produced from new leaves and buds. They have a light body and golden color plus a pure “tea” flavor without astringency and a hint of sweetness. The leaves of White Peony open up and look like a peony when steeped, while Ceylon White (Sri Lanka) has pine and honey notes.
Where it’s from: China, India, Sri Lanka.
Health benefits: Compared to other true teas, white tea contains more of a flavonoid called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which may help prevent heart disease and fight cancer.
Water temp/steeping time: Steaming water for 2-3 minutes.

Oolong Tea

The flavor and color of oolong tea can vary widely, depending on source and length of oxidation. Lighter oolongs, such as Pouchong, are similar to green tea, while darker versions like Formosa have characteristics more like black tea.
Where it’s from: Taiwan, China.
Health benefits: Studies suggest that oolongs provide health benefits similar to green and black teas. A type of flavonoid in oolongs called chafuroside may fight inflammation and help inhibit the development of intestinal cancers.
Water temp/ steeping time: Darker oolongs: same as black tea. Lighter oolongs: same as green tea.


Herbal Teas (e.g., chamomile, hibiscus)

Their aromas and flavors echo the flowers, leaves, seeds or roots from which they’re derived. Chamomile has flowery, applelike notes; hibiscus has sour, berrylike fruit flavors.
Where it’s from: All over the world.
Health benefits: Chamomile tea has a long history of use as a sleep aid; it may also help soothe an upset stomach and help calm colicky babies. Hibiscus tea is rich in vitamin C and may help reduce blood pressure.
Water temp/steeping time: Boiling water for 3-5 minutes.

Rooibos (Red Bush Tea)

This earthy dark red brew is favored by black-tea drinkers looking for caffeine-free alternatives.
Where it’s from: South Africa.
Health benefits: Rooibos contains a fair amount of flavonoids—quer­cetin, luteolin and aspala­thin—that are associated with reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Water temp/steeping time: Boiling water for 3-5 minutes.

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner