Tiny tea parties have taken place in the bedrooms of little girls for centuries. Even for adults tea is all the rage, ranking as the second most consumed beverage in the entire world, with number one being water. Tea guzzlers and the like swoon over tea because of its endless array of flavors and ability to serve as a thirst quencher at any temperature your heart desires.

But in reality, the key benefits go beyond tea’s naturally luscious flavor and aroma.

Tea time

Since the initial discovery of tea in China, it has been used as a natural alternative for both medicinal and health purposes. Studies have shown that regular tea consumption can benefit your health in many ways. While it is a great source for vitamins and minerals, it has also proven to significantly lower risks of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and various types of cancers.

What’s the secret behind this craziness? Antioxidants – a natural chemical that protects healthy tissues in the human body from damage or disease. Tea leaves contain specific kinds of antioxidants called flavonoids. It’s sort of like having security guards for the cells in your body.

Labels will usually contain information about antioxidant or caffeine levels, which can be a good indicator that the tea is the real deal. When choosing a natural tea, watch out for any sugar or additive content on the label, since it can alter the tea’s nutritional value.

All tea is not created equal

All types of tea come from a plant called camellia sinensis. How the leaves are processed determines which category of tea it falls under – white, green, oolong or black. Each kind has a different purpose, which is specific to its location and the time of year it was harvested.

Green tea is said to be one of the most beneficial teas by replenishing the immune system. Green tea contains the highest level of antioxidants that can help fight the risk of heart disease and various forms of cancer. Green tea holds a significant amount of caffeine compared to other teas: 8 ounces of green tea has roughly 25 milligrams of caffeine, compared to 50-80 milligrams in a cup of coffee.

Black tea, like green tea, is also very rich in antioxidants and has even more caffeine, with eight ounces of black tea containing 40-120 milligrams of caffeine. Its powerful antioxidants specifically attack bacteria and plaque buildup on teeth, which in turn makes for a cleaner mouth and helps prevent bad breath.

Oolong tea, pronounced as “wu-long,” is processed similarly to green tea. Oolong tea tends to have a much richer flavor than black tea and is especially known for its weight loss tactics. The caffeine reacts with an antioxidant, giving the body’s metabolism a serious boost for up to two hours after consumption. A cup of oolong tea contains about 30 milligrams of caffeine.

White tea is processed the least in comparison to others. It has a smaller amount of caffeine, only 15 milligrams per cup. Though this tea won’t give you that extra boost in the morning, it does contain a type of antioxidant that inhibits the reproduction of fat cells, while also fighting wrinkles and lowering the risk of cancer. White tea is known for its light, sweet flavor and is delightful served both hot or cold.

Herbal teas, even though they look, smell and taste like tea, can’t be classified as such because they are produced with combinations of roots, herbs and spices rather than leaves from the camellia sinensis plant. Without those leaves, it lacks the essential components of actual tea.

Rooibos tea is a sweet and nutty flavored herbal tea that is harvested from the leaves of the South African red bush. Although it does not come from the camellia sinensis plant, it still contains antioxidants while still being caffeine-free. Perfect compromise, right? It can stand alone or combine with other teas. Rooibos tea is proven to help with allergies, digestive issues and also reduce the risk of cancer.

Is there such thing as too much sugar?

Any of these teas can be flavored with natural fruits, spices or even mixed with other teas. It is all too common, however, to dump a packet or two, or five, of sugar into your tall glass of iced tea. Sugar adds 16 calories per teaspoon to your cup of tea, and if you have a sweet tooth this can quickly turn a healthy refreshment into a sugary trap. If you can’t shake the sugar, use a natural sweetener. This tends to be much lower in calories and actually has more flavor than refined sugar. Or, learn how to curb sugar cravings and appreciate tea in its natural state.

Brewing & Storing

How the tea is brewed can affect the flavor of the final product. For a stronger flavor, add more tea to the bag rather than increasing the brewing time. White, green and black teas can turn very bitter if they steep for longer than recommended. That said, the water temperature, length of time and amount of tea all depends on what kind of tea you’re brewing. Here is a reference chart.

Storing tea properly is essential to maintaining long lasting flavor. It needs to be kept at room temperature in an airtight canister, away from any heat, light, and moisture.