The Ultimate Tea Guide: Benefits and Types of Teas Around the World

Did you know that tea is the most widely consumed beverage globally, second only to water? Rich in history and tradition, tea consumption is a daily practice for many people worldwide. The benefits of tea go beyond the flavor and aroma – tea is also good for our health.

In this guide, we’ll go through the basics of tea, its benefits according to science, and the different types and blends available. We also feature unique, cultural perspectives from our global Dietetic Advisory Board, as well as insights from our North America Scientific Affairs and Global Product Science & Safety teams.

History Revisited: Where Did Tea Come From?

Archaeological studies tell us that more than 500,000 years ago, Homo erectus pekinensis – a subspecies of Homo erectus typical in China – chewed tea leaves and prepared infusions by adding them to boiling water. The first written evidence of tea consumption in the Asian region dates to 2700 B.C. According to the Chinese legend described in the Cha Ching (Tea Book), tea was accidentally discovered by Emperor Shen Nong when a tea leaf accidentally floated into a cup of boiled water as he prepared to drink it.

Tea farms in China

Botanical evidence also indicates that tea has its origins in China and India, and that it was later introduced in the West by Turkish merchants in the 6th century. Thus begins its long commercial tradition, and it was the Germans first – and then the British – who introduced the drink into Europe.

Today, tea ranks among the top three beverages consumed in the world. About 5.8 million metric tons of tea were produced in 2018, with China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia having the highest production volume. Tea is cultivated in more than 30 countries; in addition to Asian countries, Russia, Argentina, and Brazil stand out as important producers.

Tea Varieties Explained: How Is Tea Made?

Tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which is a green, perennial shrub. According to the types of leaves used, different qualities of teas can be obtained. The highest quality teas are those that use the youngest shoots of the plant.

There are at least three major varieties of recognized teas: black tea, green tea, and oolong tea. These three varieties are generated by treating the leaves differently once they are harvested.

5 Benefits of Tea, According to Science

Depending on the type and blend, drinking tea offers many benefits to our health. Here are a few reasons why it’s good to incorporate tea into your daily diet:

1. The caffeine in tea may increase metabolism and make you feel energetic.

Several independent studies on tea consumption* have shown that it can temporarily increase metabolism, the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. Here are some of the findings:

 

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2. Teas can provide antioxidant support.

Both green and black teas contain flavonoids, phytonutrients which help to fight oxidative stress in the body. These natural plant-based compounds help to support both brain and cardiovascular health.

Several independent studies* conducted in humans have shown antioxidant activity after consumption of green or black tea preparations. These include tea extracts and traditional beverage infusions.

3. Drinking tea may have cardiovascular and heart health benefits.

When you consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, the heart health benefits you receive are in part due to flavanols. Along with berries, apples, and cocoa, tea contains flavanols that are linked to a healthy heart.

According to an independent study*, drinking green or black tea was found to have beneficial effects on blood pressure in people with elevated blood pressure values. Similar research* suggests that the catechins in tea polyphenols may also reduce blood cholesterol.

4. The caffeine in tea can help us feel refreshed and alert.

Caffeine is one source of the bitter flavor in tea, and consuming it at levels found in many tea and coffee beverages has been found to improve alertness. Green, black, and white teas all contain L-Theanine, an amino acid that is said to improve cognitive performance and mood, but does not have the stimulating effects of caffeine.

According to Alice Zhu, member of the Dietetic Advisory Board in China, moderate caffeine consumption may be good for health. Green tea has less caffeine than black (green tea generally has less than 50 mg per 8-ounce cup, while a cup of black tea may have up to 90 mg or so, although amounts can vary).

“A moderate consumption** means a few hundred milligrams per day,” Alice writes. “So, you can rest assured: even for those who drink tea several times a day, their intake of caffeine remains in the ‘moderate’ range.”

5. Tea is a great addition to your hydration needs.

People often wonder if drinking caffeinated beverages such as tea and coffee will just make them more dehydrated. In reality, moderate amounts of caffeine will not deplete the water in your body.

While water should be your primary source of fluids, tea can complement your hydration needs and give you some variety, given its unique flavor.

While plain tea has no fat, sugar, and calories, do watch out for some commercial tea drinks – large amounts of added sugar and high-fat dairy can rack up calories quickly.

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The Problem of High-Calorie Tea Beverages Today

You can find tea and tea beverages everywhere: from your local grocery store to your neighborhood coffee shop. As products have been made to be more convenient and appealing to the masses, it is often at the expense of nutrition. For example:

Dietetic Advisory Board member Julie Yu observed that there are more than 20,000 chain tea shops in Taiwan. In fact, Taiwanese people consume 1 billion cups of tea annually, bringing in billions in revenue every year. While bubble tea is extremely popular, newer entries to the field include seasonal add-ins like dragon fruit and lychee, or functional boosts like matcha green tea.

“It is a norm for office workers to get these treats at least once a day,” she writes. “People usually get the drink after lunch or in the afternoon as a snack.”

Liquid calories definitely contribute to the global megatrend of overweight and obesity. In Mexico, our Dietetic Advisory Board member Marien Garza observed that overweight and obesity are present in 75.2 percent of adults, as well as in 33 and 36 percent of school-age children and adolescents, respectively.

“These chronic diseases are now a real public health problem, and sugar-sweetened beverages are the main source of added sugars here,” she writes. “In fact, sugar-sweetened beverages contribute 10 percent of the overall energy intake in Mexican people. In January 2014, a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages was enforced in Mexico as an effort to prevent further increases in obesity. Following the tax implementation, the volume of household purchases of taxed beverages fell by an average of 8 percent over two years, suggesting a promising impact on the population’s food-purchasing choices.”

“As a developing country, it is necessary to work on policies and strategies for education and food guidance, so that children, young people, and adults, can make correct food decisions that improve reduction in high caloric beverage consumption,” she added.

Similarly, in the United States, sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet.

Types and Blends, Tea Culture, and Consumer Trends Around the World

While tea originated in Asia, it has traveled all over the world throughout history and is enjoyed by many cultures.

Colorful tea varieties

Here are a few blends and varieties shared by our global Dietetic Advisory Board members:

Tea consumption in Malaysia

Dietitian Tiffany Yong writes that while Malaysia’s tea-drinking culture has its origins in the British colonial days, the country is now a multicultural and multiethnic country. She discusses different ways that Malaysians consume tea:

Tea consumption in Thailand

Based in Bangkok, dietitian Vipada Sae-Lao relates a popular version of tea in her region: “Thai tea is one of the most popular and signature tea drinks in Southeast Asia. It is always served in authentic Thai restaurants. Thai tea is made from Ceylon tea, condensed milk, and sugar. When served cold, it is known as Thai iced tea.”

Kombucha popularity in South Korea

According to dietitian Ji-hye Park, kombucha (kombu tea) has become very popular in South Korea in recent years. “Many celebrities began to enjoy drinking it, and the general public followed.”

“Kombucha is a fermented drink with beneficial bacteria in green tea or black tea with sugar. It contains probiotics, which are beneficial for immunity and gastrointestinal health. It also contains organic acids, acetic acid, and lactic acid bacteria, promoting digestion, and contains antioxidants such as polyphenols. Kombucha is best served cold. While it tastes like sour vinegar to some, it also has a sweet fruit flavor and is quite refreshing.”

Tea consumption in Indonesia

Dietitian Aria Novitasari relates a few anecdotes about tea culture in her region:

Tea consumption in Mexico

Dietitian Marien Garza writes that for a long time, the consumption of tea in Mexico has been related to traditional medicine, healing through rituals, and the administration of medicinal plants, still practiced in some rural markets.

“Today, big international companies have introduced green tea and matcha, including different beverages and food products with them,” Marien writes. “But they have been positioned for a population segment of medium and high buying power.”

“In Mexico, traditionally and culturally speaking, tea is any infusion prepared by immersing in very hot water, without boiling, ingredients such as leaves, flowers, fruits, or barks of certain plants. It is left to rest for a few minutes, so that the soluble parts of the ingredients dissolve, and all its properties are extracted by the effect of the heat. In my country, it represents a whole cultural tradition. The most common infusions used are chamomile, lemon, valerian, jasmine, cinnamon, peppermint, and hibiscus.”

Chai, ginger and tea

Indeed, beyond the popular green and black teas, there is a wide range of herbal teas available. Many of these non-caffeinated herbal teas feature herbs, plants, fruits, and spices, and they often contain functional benefits. For instance, chamomile may promote relaxation and restful sleep, while ingredients like ginger and peppermint can help soothe stomach woes.

All the Ways You Can Enjoy Tea

Loose leaf, tea bags, and powdered teas

According to our North America Scientific Affairs team, loose leaf, tea bags, and powdered tea are all tea products, but have undergone a slightly different manufacturing process. While some people like the traditional way of making tea by immersing tea leaves in hot water, using a powdered tea extract can be a convenient way to prepare your tea.

At Herbalife Nutrition, we use tea leaves that are processed in hot water, and the extracted liquid is dried to make the tea powder.

Using the same amount of tea powder to make a cup of tea is similar to the typical amount of tea used to prepare a traditional beverage.

Powdered teas are also convenient, safe, and easily stored. Because the leaves have been processed naturally into this format, there can be better control for pesticide or heavy metals than what might be found in unprocessed tea leaves. Quality and consistency of the flavor are also better controlled for with the powdered format.

Is Hot or Iced Tea Better?

Tea can be enjoyed in many ways, hot or cold. Adding milk or ingredients such as citrus, berries, cinnamon, ginger can make your drink really tasty.

Iced tea with pomegranate

We asked our Dietetic Advisory Board Members how they or their regions enjoy tea. Here’s what they had to say:

“Green tea can be enjoyed both warm and cold. If you drink green tea warm, you can feel the subtle aroma and taste, and if you drink green tea cold, you can feel the bitterness of tannin.

When I eat greasy food, I usually drink warm green tea, which refreshes my mouth. When the weather is hot like these days, I add ice and enjoy it cold.”

–Ji-hye Park, Dietetic Advisory Board Member, South Korea

“Here in Vietnam, most people enjoy the taste and aroma of hot tea with no added sugar or cream. I personally enjoy it too, the rustic scent and flavor, holding the cup close to my nose, then taking a sip of tea.”

— Thuy Tien Huynh, Dietetic Advisory Board Member, Vietnam

“My favorite recipe goes to fruit tea, where the sweetness comes from natural fresh fruits. Apart from drinking tea, Malaysians also enjoy having tea-infused cakes and cookies. Some common types of tea used in baking are black tea, Earl Grey, matcha, and houjicha. Some bakeries even serve bubble milk tea cake!”

— Tiffany Yong, Dietetic Advisory Board Member, Malaysia

“As people become more health-conscious and wanting to avoid added sugar, tea shops have been customizing sugar levels to people’s preferences. So, for example, if you decide to try bubble tea, make sure to customize your drink to a lower sugar level.”

–Julie Yu, Dietetic Advisory Board Member, Taiwan

*These studies were not conducted on Herbalife Nutrition products.
** Herbalife Nutrition recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 400 mg caffeine per day, with no more than 200 mg of that in any single consumption. Caffeine-sensitive persons should consider lesser intake.
Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND –Sr.Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan BowermanM.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman earned a B.S. in biology with distinction from the University of Colorado, and received her M.S. in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a registered dietitian, holds two board certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, and is a Fellow of the Academy.