A buyer’s guide to black, green, white and herbal teas, plus health benefits and brewing tips.

EatingWell Editors
October 26, 2017

A buyer's guide to black, green, white and herbal teas, plus health benefits and brewing tips.

Studies show if you drink tea regularly, you may reduce your risk of Alzheimer's and diabetes, plus have healthier teeth and gums and stronger bones. How? Tea is rich in a class of antioxidants called flavonoids. "True teas," such as black, green, oolong and white teas, come from the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. What many of us call herbal teas, such as chamomile and rooibos, are actually tisanes or infusions. The differences in true teas result from how the tea plant's leaves are processed: black teas are oxidized (exposed to oxygen) a few hours before rolling and drying, deepening their color, while white teas and green teas are simply steamed, rolled and dried. Think of oolongs as hybrids; their leaves are partially oxidized before drying.

Regardless of the variety, maximize the power of its flavonoids by drinking it freshly brewed. If you want to keep a batch of cold tea in your refrigerator, "add a little lemon juice," recommends Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. The citric acid and vitamin C in that squeeze of lemon-or lime, or orange-help preserve the flavonoids.

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.

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