The Different Varieties of Tea

You’re probably already quite familiar with black tea. Your grandmother might have made you a glass of sweet iced tea when you were a child or your father might have taken his hot tea in the morning with a little bit of creamer.

Within the last decade, there has been a huge influx of healthy, green tea alternatives to the black tea that most Americans had long been consuming.

The Alternatives to Black Tea

There are four main types of actual teas. These are: black, green, white, and oolong. There are also a myriad of herbal tea products that aren’t actually teas at all. Actual teas are all processed from the plant Camellia sinensis, commonly known as the tea plant or tea tree.

While herbal teas may contain infusions from the tea plant, they are not considered true teas and the majority of their ingredients tend to come from other plant and herbal sources. The variety of tea not only determines the flavor, but also the strength of the tea through it’s caffeine content.

Black Tea

Of the four varieties, black tea contains the highest levels of caffeine. Many consider black tea to be the richest and most flavorful, although some people find it hard to drink without added sugar or creamer.

Black tea is named such because the tea leaves of the Camellia sinensis are oxidized during processing turning the leaves a rich, dark color. While you don’t hear about them nearly as often, black tea has many of the same benefits of that people tend to associate with green tea.

Black tea contains an antioxidant compound called TF-2 that many studies have shown benefit those at risk for certain types of cancers and heart disease.

Green Tea

When people think of healthy teas, their mind almost instantly goes directly to green tea. Proponents of green tea (and the manufacturers of it) have made their voice loud and clear in health circles for quite some time. Unlike black tea, the leaves of green tea are not oxidized, which gives the finished tea product a light green color.

The Chinese have been using green tea as a medicinal product for over 4,000 years, using it to treat ailments ranging from headaches, to arthritis, and even depression.

Numerous recent studies have shown that the compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) found in green tea can help inhibit the growth of cancer cells as well as improve cholesterol levels by raising your HDL and lowing your LDL.

EGCG is found in green tea because green tea leaves are processed by steaming which prevents them from being oxidized. The oxidation process is why EGCG is not found in black tea or oolong tea.

White Tea

White tea is the least processed of the actual teas. It is made of the silvery white buds of the Camellia sinensis plant as well as carefully selected young tea leaves. White tea contains less caffeine than the other tea varieties, but contains more nutrients and antioxidant compounds.

Because of the minimal processing that the buds and leaves enjoy, the flavor of white tea is smooth and sweet. It is often referred to as the most gentle of the tea varieties and is generally steeped at lower temperatures.

Oolong Tea

This variety of tea falls somewhere in the middle of black and green tea. It is a semi-fermented tea and is processed by twisting or rolling the tea leaves into tight balls — a process known as bruising.

Green tea and oolong tea have approximately the same caffeine content, and it’s not uncommon to find oolong tea marketed as a weight loss tea because of it’s natural caffeine.

It is recommended that Oolong tea be steeped for longer and in hotter water than you would normally use for green tea.