The 5 Tea Varieties and Their Health Benefits

Several summers ago, I had the pleasure of working at The Cultured Cup, a tea and coffee shop in Addison, Texas which imports some of the finest teas and coffees from across the globe. My time working there allowed me to harness a deeper understanding of tea’s complexities and nuances and cultivate a greater appreciation for the beverage at large. While all teas are derived from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis, their methods of processing differ significantly. These processing methods determine the type of tea the leaf will become, either white, green, oolong, black, or dark. Below, I’ve complied a brief description of each tea variety and their health benefits. I hope this article helps better inform your tea drinking, and happy reading!  

  1. 1. White Tea

    The simplest of the teas, white tea undergoes a basic production process of plucking and drying. Unlike other tea varieties, white teas remain unshaped and unoxidized, subsequently offering delicate tastes and aromas. Although they embody subtle flavor profiles, white teas carry powerful health benefits due to their unprocessed nature. They possess the most antioxidants of any tea and may help combat cancer.

    Recommended steeping instructions: brew between 170-180 degrees for 1-5 minutes.

  2. 2. Green Tea

    Although similarly unoxidized, green teas undergo a more complex processing method than white teas. After harvesting, the tea leaves go through a withering process to reduce moisture content and are then quickly heated, usually by steaming or pan firing, to prevent oxidation. Finally, experts shape the tea leaves into the desired form. Like white tea, green tea contains a high degree of antioxidants, including polyphenols, which stimulate healthy digestion and cardiovascular function. Studies show that green tea additionally helps to prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, and alleviate neural stress.

    Recommended steeping instructions: brew between 160-180 degrees for 2-4 minutes.

  3. 3. Oolong Tea

    My favorite of the tea varieties, oolong tea undergoes a complex oxidation process. Whereas white and green teas experience no oxidation and black and dark teas experience full oxidation, oolong teas undergo a process of partial oxidation. After withering, oolong tea leaves withstand bruising. This exposes the leaves’ enzymes to open air so that the tea can be oxidized anywhere from 10-85%, at which point tea masters apply heat to the leaves to prevent full oxidation. Such a wide range of oxidation levels lends oolong tea to complex flavor profiles ranging from earthy to fruity to nutty. Studies show that drinking oolong tea can notably lower cholesterol levels and may also aid with weight loss.

    Recommended steeping instructions: brew at 195 degrees for 4-5 minutes.

  4. 4. Black Tea

    Like oolong teas, black teas undergo a process of withering, rolling, and oxidation. However, unlike oolong teas, black teas are allowed to fully oxidize before drying. Due to the compact nature of black tea leaves, this tea variety exhibits the highest level of caffeine concentration. The average cup of black tea contains 47 mg of caffeine, which may stimulate a state of enhanced alertness and improve moods. Some experts suggest that black tea may also help reduce the risk of stroke and help protect the lungs from cigarette smoke.

    Recommended steeping instructions: brew at 208 degrees for 3-5 minutes.

  5. 5. Dark Tea

    Dark teas differ from the other varieties in that they undergo a microbial fermentation process. After withering and rolling, the leaves age for anywhere from 10 to 15 years, and in some cases longer than 50 years! The most popular form of dark tea, Pu-erh, hails from China’s Yunan province and undergoes a top-secret production process in which experts shape tea leaves into cakes and bricks. As a highly sought-after product among tea drinkers, the Chinese government heavily regulates the Pu-erh industry and classifies the tea as a protected origin product.  Beyond its lofty reputation, studies show that drinking Pu-erh may also lower weight gain and reduce levels of LDL cholesterol.   

    Recommended steeping instructions: brew at 208 degrees for 2-4 minutes.