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Although you may hear that green tea is better for you because the catechins (the most common flavanol — a tannin and antioxidant) haven’t been converted into more complex forms, don’t immediately throw out the black tea that you love and switch to green tea! Both green and black tea have antioxidant properties. Let’s take a look.

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The benefits of green tea

The catechin epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) that’s found in green tea is often called a “natural drug” and is the golden child of current research. Laboratory studies suggest that this strong antioxidant may, indeed, be helpful to treat or prevent many chronic diseases, including those that damage the brain.

Intriguingly, EGCG also may have some of the same advantages that theanine offers. Preliminary research suggests that EGCG may promote alpha, theta, and beta wave activity in the brain, helping us calm down and focus.

However, even though it’s delicious, and even if you drink copious amounts of it, green tea is not guaranteed to give you all the benefits of EGCG that have been demonstrated in the lab. The tea may be loaded with polyphenols, but there may not be enough to have a measurable effect, or your body may be unable to access them.

The upshot? If you like green tea, drink it. Green tea has lots of polyphenols.

The benefits of black tea

Like catechins, the theaflavins and thearubigins (types of tannins) found in black tea are antioxidants. The conversion from simple to complex polyphenols does not appear to change their antioxidant properties in any substantial way.

Although numerous studies focus on the catechin EGCG found in green tea, plenty of work also supports the similar antioxidant capacity of theaflavins and thearubigins.

Moreover, many of the health benefits suggested by studies of green tea are also supported by research on black tea, including possible protection against dementia, cancer, viruses, and bacteria. Note, however, that whole leaf teas appear to contain more robust antioxidants than cut-tear-curl (CTC) processed teas. (For more about this, check out our book Tea For Dummies.)

But, as mentioned in the previous section, consuming polyphenols isn’t a promise that health effects are tangible.

In a nutshell? If you like black tea, drink it. Black tea has lots of polyphenols.

Does it matter which tea you drink?

So many teas! And so many voices out there telling you to drink this or that tea.

But tea shouldn’t be this difficult. Instead, you should drink tea only because you like it, and you should drink only those teas that you like. Because it really doesn’t matter which tea you drink.

All tea contains polyphenols, and all tea polyphenols are antioxidants. It doesn’t matter whether you’re drinking tea that contains mostly catechins (green tea) or mostly theaflavins (black tea). This is a win-win situation for tea drinkers!

Note also that if you want to drink the tea that contains the most polyphenols, just drink the tea that you love. (Bonus: You’ll end up drinking more of it because you enjoy it.) Calculating the number of polyphenols in any given tea is futile, just like figuring out caffeine levels.

Every individual tea must be tested in a lab, and generalizations are challenging. For example, some studies have demonstrated that white tea contains more polyphenols than green, whereas other studies have shown the opposite.

Levels vary widely even within a type of tea. As with caffeine, polyphenol quantity depends on a plethora of factors including:

  • Type of tea plant
  • Geographic location
  • Growing conditions and stress on the plant
  • Time of harvest
  • Which leaves are harvested
  • How the tea is produced
  • How you brew your leaves

Why green tea held the spotlight for a while

Green tea was originally thought to be healthier than black tea for numerous reasons:
  • Early studies came out of primarily green tea-drinking countries such as China and Japan.
  • Green tea-drinking countries were ideal for studies involving large groups of people. Researchers could find communities in which most people were drinking the same tea — grown and produced from the same tea garden and brewed and consumed in a similar manner.
  • EGCG is undeniably a potent antioxidant, and, to our knowledge, green tea contains more EGCG than anything else we ingest (remember, though, that polyphenol quantity doesn’t always translate into concrete health benefits).
  • Extensive studies of black tea began relatively recently; therefore, a larger body of work exists for green tea.
However, as research continues, we’re learning how much more we need to learn. Although thearubigins aren’t well understood and EGCG continues to reveal surprises, results for all types of tea continue to be promising.

In the end, all tea contains polyphenols, and all polyphenols contribute to your health. Drink the tea that makes you happy!

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Lisa McDonald is one of a handful of European-trained tea sommeliers in the U.S. and the owner of TeaHaus in Ann Arbor, MI (, an acclaimed tea shop where customers can find over 200 varieties of tea. Jill Rheinheimer, an editor and graphic designer, writes a research-based blog about all things tea ( as well as educational and marketing material for TeaHaus.

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