America has long been a nation of coffee-drinkers, but one ancient beverage has been moving up in the national consciousness: tea. It’s no coincidence that the popularity of tea is increasing just as many people are starting to pay more attention to their health and wellbeing.
Tea is unbelievably healthy.
Packed with antioxidants, tea offers an immunity boost without the extreme caffeine jolt of coffee. It’s been proven to benefit your heart, bones, immune system, digestive system, and even your pearly whites.
With the exception of herbal teas, virtually all teas—black, white, green—are derived from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. This plant is roasted, fermented, dried, and otherwise processed to produce different tea varieties. But which tea is best? Let's drink up the details of six powerhouse teas, then take a look at the best green tea.
6 powerhouse tea varieties
Green tea, black tea, white tea—ever wonder what’s the difference between the many varieties of tea you can find on your grocery store shelves? The main difference between the six top teas is the processing method, which affects the taste, color, and nutrients in the final product. Here are the six most common varieties of tea:
To make black tea, Camellia sinensis leaves are withered, rolled, oxidized, and dried, or heated—the most steps out of all teas made from Camellia sinensis. This is the strongest tea variety in terms of taste, and also the most caffeinated, although it still contains only about half the caffeine of a cup of coffee. Although black tea is often disregarded in comparison to its greener siblings, this variety is packed with antioxidants that boost immunity and repair damaged DNA. Black tea also has the highest tannin content.
This variety sits halfway between black and green tea—it’s oxidized, but not fully, so the leaves maintain some greenness. That’s why this tea is a warm green-brown color when brewed. Oolong has less fluoride than green tea and is great for gut health and stress reduction.
Pu-erh tea is unique because of its processing method. Instead of being oxidized by enzymes, tea leaves are oxidized, or fermented, by bacteria in a highly controlled process. This gives pu-erh tea its signature complex, earthy taste. The process of making pu-erh is much like that of a good wine or cheese, with several months or even years of aging involved, making it one of the most expensive teas. It’s sold in molded cakes, making it a great choice for special occasions.
Out of all the tea varieties, green tea packs the biggest punch, with more catechins and anti-inflammatory polyphenols than its more-processed siblings. This tea is dried before oxidation can happen, trapping its green color—and many of the tea leaves’ nutrients and antioxidants. Popular in China, Japan, and Korea, green tea has accumulated several ceremonial drinking rituals.
White tea is the least caffeinated and least processed version of Camellia sinensis. Tea leaves are picked while they are still buds with white hairs on their undersides, then gently withered and heated. White tea has the most delicate flavor of all the tea varieties, and is pale yellow when brewed. It has similar levels of polyphenols to green tea.
Herbal tea encompasses a wide variety of brewed herbs, spices, roots, and plants. Rich with antioxidants and vitamins, herbal tea options including ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and rooibos each offer their own unique benefits. Ginger is great for digestion and nausea and high in vitamin C; turmeric contains inflammation-fighting circuminoids. Cinnamon is antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-diabetic—and has more antioxidants than 26 common herbs. Rooibos is great for skin, bone, and heart health. Try this option for a sugar-free herbal tea that boasts the benefits of both turmeric and ginger.
The health profile and benefits of green tea.
If green, white, pu-erh, oolong, and black tea all come from the same plant, then which one is the best choice? Is green tea really better? Most definitely...
It’s true—green tea is more often lauded for its health benefits than any other tea variety. In fact, many researchers call green tea the healthiest beverage on the planet. That’s because the minimal processing green tea undergoes preserves its natural antioxidants, particularly polyphenols. Green tea is rich in polyphenols, including catechins, which help fight and prevent cell damage, and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant that has many benefits—killing cancer stem cells, fighting fatigue, reducing the effects of Alzheimer's disease, protecting the liver, and reducing virus transmission.
Green tea also contains more L-theanine than black. L-theanine is an essential amino acid that can have a calming effect and also helps balance the effects of caffeine (one reason why drinking a cup of green tea is unlikely to leave you with the jitters).
It’s worth noting that although the processing method for black tea removes some antioxidants, including EGCG, it also creates others, such as theaflavins, which can protect cell and heart health and boost antioxidant production. Black, oolong, and pu-erh tea varieties also maintain many of the same benefits as green tea, meaning there’s no reason to cut black tea out in favor of green if black is really more your style.
The king of tea is matcha.
It may be an age-old question in other cultures, and the debate may continue—but there are plenty of reasons why matcha is considered the creme-de-la-creme of green tea.
While most green tea varieties are fairly similar, matcha, a Japanese variety of green tea, has a special growing process. It’s shaded for approximately the last month of its growing season, boosting chlorophyll (the substance that makes matcha a vivid green color) and in turn, increasing levels of L-theanine.
Matcha is also processed differently: The tea leaves are ground whole, meaning that when you consume matcha, you’re consuming the entire tea leaf, instead of just tea-infused liquid. This boosts the caffeine and antioxidant content.
Plus, matcha is fun to make and drink. Try the traditional method, in which matcha powder is whisked with hot water, or give a naturally sweetened matcha latte a try. Some people prefer their matcha in warmed milk, especially nut milks, for extra richness.
Matcha offers the most antioxidants of perhaps any tea variety—but in the end, the differences are small. No matter which tea variety you choose, you’ll reap enormous benefits. And upping your tea consumption doesn’t mean you have to quit coffee cold turkey—instead of reaching for a coffee during your afternoon slump and crashing later, try sipping on some green tea for a more sustained boost. Finding your chi is all about building small habits that can improve whole-life wellbeing.
Try our matcha! It's a sugar-free, naturally sweetened matcha latte drink mix for an instant antioxidant boost.
DID YOU KNOW?
Matcha is great to bake with. Check out our favorite matcha cheesecake recipe.
Adaptogens are used in teas also. You can make an elixir to suit your needs: brain beauty, mood, and libido. See what adaptogens can do for your body.