There are three basic types of tea: black, green/white and oolong. Contrary to popular assumption, all three teas come from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis. The difference between the teas' flavors and health benefits are based on the way the plant's leaves are cultivated and processed.
You may be thinking, "Wait a minute, my favorite tea is Earl Grey. I know there are more types of tea than just those three." Well, not really. Earl Grey, like many other popular teas, is actually just a flavor of tea, not a specific type. In fact, Earl Grey is a black tea infused with bergamot, which gives it a distinct, citrusy flavor.
Fresh tea leaves contain catechins and polyphenol oxidase enzymes. When tea is processed, the leaves may be rolled or broken, causing the polyphenol oxidase to join with the catechins. This process is known as oxidation or fermentation, and according Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center, it can be stopped by steaming or firing the tea leaves. White and green teas both experience minimal oxidation, while oolong tea undergoes partial oxidation and black tea is considered a fully-oxidized tea. The main difference between the white and green tea varieties is that white tea is developed from young tea leaves and buds, while green tea is made from more mature leaves.
Given the fact that each type of tea comes from the same plant, you can expect the health benefits to be similar, but not identical. The level of oxidation a tea's leaves undergo will affect the benefits incurred by consumption. Consider the following:
In addition to the specific benefits of each tea, the OSU Linus Pauling Institute lists the following potential benefits of general tea consumption:
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If all these potential benefits have you itching to boil water and steep some leaves, make sure you're not confusing herbal tea for green, white, oolong or black tea. Herbal tea is not made from the tea plant and cannot be associated with the same health benefits. The only thing that makes herbal teas "tea" is the fact that they use dried leaves and herbs to release flavor when soaked in hot water.
Do you know the difference between green tea and white tea? This video explains the difference between different types of tea.
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