Tea and health have always gone hand-in-hand since the ancients first discovered the beverage. Today, modern science has confirmed, study by study and trial by trial, what generations before have always known: that tea is one of the most healthful beverages in the world.
The bulk of current understanding on the subject today is predominantly on green tea, primarily because early scientific investigation in the field centred on the green variety and its health-giving properties.
One of the major discoveries in this area is that green tea is packed with a compound called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCg), a powerful anti-oxidant, from which most of its health benefits come from. The potency of EGCg in green tea is due to the fact that the tea has been fermented for less time than either black or oolong. Thus many people assume that green tea is healthier than the other teas.
However, studies are beginning to show that while black tea – which constitutes three-quarters of the world's tea production - contains less potent antioxidants than green tea, its compounds such as theaflavins and thearubigens also provide health benefits originally attributed solely to its green cousin.
In a fifteen-year study on 552 men conducted by the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and the Environment found a correlation between regular consumption of black tea and reduced risk of stroke. Researchers concluded that the antioxidants in black tea helped reduce the production of LDL - "bad" cholesterol - that can lead to stroke and heart attacks. Furthermore, men who drank over four cups of black tea per day had a significantly lower risk of stroke than men who drank only two to three cups per day.
Another study by Dr. Joseph Vita at Boston's School of Medicine supported these results. For four months, sixty-six men drank four cups of either black tea or a placebo daily. Dr. Vita concluded that drinking black tea can help reverse an abnormal functioning of the blood vessels that can contribute to stroke or heart attack.
Dr. Allan H. Conney, chairman of the College of Pharmacy at Rutgers University and director of the Laboratory for Cancer Research, says emphatically, "Both green and black tea have been found to inhibit cancer formation in many animal studies."
Research is still relatively new, and it will be a while until there is strong evidence confirming the benefits.
For now, the evidence is leaning towards the fact is that whether green, oolong or black, tea is a rich and healthy source of antioxidants which give great benefit to the drinker.