With so many tea varieties to choose from, where do you begin? Here we’ll explore the varieties of black tea, how it differs from its close cousins: white, green, oolong and red tea. Then let’s look deeper into the popular health benefits and claims being made these days.
First, let’s be clear on what black tea actually is. It comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, which is originally found in China. The funny thing is in China it is not known as black tea, but red tea. Outside of China, however, red tea refers to the red South African herbal tea (also delicious and very beneficial) called rooibos.
Looking for healthy and tasty black teas? Check out our collection of the best black tea flavors right here.
Believe it or not, black tea is actually the same as green and white tea, the only difference is it is fermented, or oxidized. Black tea accounts for 90 percent of all tea consumed in the West. Black tea is one of five types of tea known as true teas. The other true teas are green tea, white tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea. Black tea is often consumed on its own or with sweetener and milk, though it is also used as the base tea in flavored teas such as Earl Grey and masala chai. Loose leaf black tea offers a malty flavor with a full body and hints of caramel or chocolate notes.
In the world of tea, fermented means that the tea leaves have undergone oxidation. During this process, enzymes in the tea leaves interact with oxygen, causing the tea to develop distinct flavors and aromas. The tea leaves also change to a darker color during oxidation. This is why in the West this type of tea is called black tea. When brewed, it appears red in color, which is why black tea is known as red tea in China.
Each country listed below has its own unique black tea with a distinct flavor profile. You can take your taste buds on a global tour as you begin to explore the wonderful world of black tea. Here are some of the most renowned varieties by country:
From China you will find Congou, Keemun, Lapsang Souchong Dianhoung, Yingdehong, Jiu Qu Hong Mei (oxidized black tea) and Pu'erh (truly fermented black tea). Taiwan’s most popular black tea is Sun Moon Lake. India most frequently drinks Assam, Darjeeling, Kangra, Munnar and Nilgiri black teas. Jaekseol comes from Korea. Nepali, yes you guessed it, Nepal. Ceylon originates in Sri Lanka. Turkey makes Rize.
Now for the health benefits. Let’s take a look closer at the claims for the benefits of drinking black tea and see what truth there is to them.
One of the main black tea benefits is that taking a few sips can help you relax and unwind. According to the University College London professor Andrew Steptoe, “Drinking black tea may speed up our recovery from daily stresses in life.”
In a study he led at University College London, black tea lowered stress and increased relaxation in a group of healthy males with an average age of 33 (1).
They were divided into two groups: one group drank black tea and the other drank fake tea — a placebo caffeinated beverage with none of the active benefits of tea. They were subjected to tasks that directly stressed their heart rate, pulse and stress.
The levels of cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal cortex as a response to stress, in black tea drinkers dropped significantly faster than the group drinking the fake tea. They also reported greater levels of relaxation after the tasks ended.
Researchers also found that black tea drinkers had lower blood platelet activation levels. Blood platelet levels are directly linked to blood clot formation, which increases the risk for heart attacks.
Though black tea cannot stop the stress experienced, “it helps bring the stress hormones back to normal,” the press release reports. Black tea may also be beneficial in improving energy. The tea leaves contain an amino acid known as L-theanine, which may help to boost energy without the jitters and crashes assocaited with a cup of coffee. Swap out your cup of Joe for a few cups of tea instead.
Black tea leaves and black tea extract contain high amounts of antioxidants that can boost overall health and may help treat or prevent certain types of cancer including breast cancer. Scientists believe that antioxidants, specifically polyphenols, catechins, flavonoids, thearubigins, and theaflavins, can be a strong force in preventing and perhaps reducing the development and spread of cancer.
Antioxidants are substances that prohibit or prevent oxidation of beneficial molecules in our bodies. Both antioxidants and free radicals are created in our body. They are essentially opposing forces within our bodies that must be balanced to maintain health.
Free radicals are highly reactive, due to an unpaired electron which endlessly seeks (often destructively) another electron to find equilibrium (2). Antioxidants have that extra electron and neutralize the otherwise damaging effects.
Only in lab rats and other animals has there been evidence to support that drinking black tea reduces cancerous tumors in prostate, breast, lung, stomach, and ovarian cancer. Signs point to the ability of antioxidants present in black tea to absorb free radicals as the main agents of decreased cancer risk. Still, more human testing must be done to assure these benefits.
Additionally, findings in laboratory studies on animals and meta-analysis of studies note that green tea and black tea are also associated with prevention and slowing of cancer cells in colon, liver, breast and prostate cells (3).
Diarrhea, the second most common ailment reported in the U.S., can be alleviated by the tannin content in black tea, where they are present in abundance (4).
Dehydration from excessive diarrhea is a cause of concern. Since it can last more than one instance and depletes your body of large amounts of fluid, staying hydrated is important. A good way to do this is to drink black tea. It contains vital nutrients and fluids that help replenish your body’s resources. Black tea may also be effective in protecting the stomach lining from acids and pathogens that cause ulcers.
Black tea can not cure diabetes but it can help with some of the symptoms that result from it, such as dehydration. Lab rat experiments show that black tea is beneficial in both lowering blood sugar levels and reducing diabetic cataracts. Human studies have also demonstrated a reduction in increased blood sugar levels (5).
How does black tea affects blood sugar levels and cataracts? Studies claim that polysaccharides are responsible for inhibiting glucose absorption. When intercepted by antioxidants found in black tea, there are immune boosting and antihypertensive properties. Scientists also find that alpha-glucosidase, the enzyme that turns starch to glucose is inhibited by drinking black tea. Regular consumption of black tea can help boost the immune system and fend off the common cold.
There are many kinds of headaches, depending on the underlying kind, black tea may be able to help. If you are having a tension headache, black tea can help reduce stress faster than standard painkillers. While most caffeinated drinks constrict the capillaries in your brain, causing headaches, antioxidants in black tea are known to help you relax.
If you are prone to caffeine headaches and drink coffee and caffeinated sodas, then black tea may not be your answer since it contains caffeine. The caffeine content of a cup of black tea is about half the amount found in a standard cup of coffee. Antioxidants are not commonly found in caffeinated sodas, though they are found in coffee. It is important to know what the underlying cause of your headache is in order to assess if black tea is will help you.
Polyphenols are a group of phytochemicals — there are over 500 of them. They are antioxidants that protect cell structures like DNA and cell membranes. They also protect from damage from free radicals and are known to stimulate the metabolism. When ingested they are absorbed into your bloodstream and body tissues to alter the way your liver metabolizes energy and promotes weight loss (6).
However, a recent study shows that additionally, “Black teas are prebiotics, substances that induce the growth of good microorganisms that contribute to a person’s well-being.”10 The study conducted on lab mice fed a high-fat and high-sugar diet to four groups of mice. Two of the groups were also given tea supplements, one green tea and the other black tea.
The findings were that the black tea mice had reduced fat and an increase in pseudobutyrivibrio, a bacteria that’s known for targeting metabolism.
Many claims are made associating black tea with a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s. One such study shows that 71 percent of those who consumed black tea daily in a 12-year study were less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease (7).
It also revealed that, out of those who already had Parkinson’s, there was a correlation between higher black tea intake and increased protection from the crippling effects of the disease. Both caffeinated and decaffeinated varieties were used, and in both cases, black tea “conferred protection, suggesting compounds other than caffeine were responsible.” Drinking a cup of black tea wevery day over the long term may also help to decrease the risk of stroke.
Research presented at the American Society for Microbiology in Orlando, Florida shows that “compounds in black tea may attack the harmful bacteria in your mouth that cause gum disease and cavities (8).
They also discovered that “compounds in black tea were capable of killing or suppressing growth and acid production of cavity-causing bacteria in dental plaque.”
The results were outstanding. “One experiment showed that when volunteers rinsed with black tea for 30 seconds five times at three-minute intervals, plaque bacteria stopped growing and producing acid, which breaks down the teeth and causes cavities.”
Black tea has anti-inflammatory properties that result in a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases with few side effects. Antioxidants in black tea work to reduce inflammation in blood vessels, which helps lower high blood pressure. By alleviating inflammation, these antioxidants also lower the risk of blood clots and heart attacks. Regular black tea consumption can help lower markers of heart disease and improve overall health.
Black tea may also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by managing cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. Antioxidants in black tea have been shown to reduce bad LDL cholesterol while increasing good HDL cholesterol. The antioxidants work to reduce overall cholesterol levels to protect heart health.
Therefore, is black tea good for you? Definitely. Whether you prefer loose tea leaves or tea bags, Chinese black teas or versions from Africa, there are many ways to enjoy black tea.
There are many more benefits to black tea beyond drinking it. Here are a few:
Pour yourself a cup of tea that's piping hot or opt for a black iced tea using loose leaf tea. Whether you brew black tea yourself or drink tea at a café, take a moment to breathe in its unique aromas. See if you can identify the different tea types by scent the subtle nuances of the different regions. Instead of nullifying the flavor with dairy or sugar, try using citrus peels or fruits to enhance the flavor.
Start a black tea journal and see which variety you like most, or check out our reviews to give you some ideas. You’ll be able to find new ways to consume this traditional drink and reap the benefits for years.
A whole new world awaits you if you have yet to journey into the exotic land of black tea. And, black tea is only one stepping stone into a bountiful world of nature’s remedies. Drinking tea is a great way to take care of yourself and take a moment to enjoy life's pleasures. As the steam rises from your next cup, and perhaps coats your glasses a moment, pause and remember how much good you are doing for your body with each sip.
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