There’s just something special about sitting back and relaxing with a steaming hot cup of tea. Tea not only tastes good, it also offers a variety of health benefits, including improved memory and cardiovascular health.

Tea was first discovered in China thousands of years ago, and has been a popular beverage all over the East since then. In the 1600s and beyond, tea found its way to England and ultimately, the United States. Tea drinkers gravitated to the beverage for its medicinal benefits, and today it ranks among the world’s most popular beverages.

Tea’s abundance of antioxidants continues to be studied for their health benefits. Recent research from the European Society of Cardiology found that tea drinkers had a 24% reduced risk of dying from a cardiovascular-related event such as a heart attack. French research professor Nicolas Danchin says:

“Tea has antioxidants which may provide survival benefits.”

Researchers said the tea drinkers studied tended to have healthier lifestyles overall, which could have influenced the reduced risk of dying from a cardiovascular event.

Coffee drinkers were more likely to smoke and less likely to exercise than tea drinkers. In fact, after adjusting for smoking, coffee drinkers were no more likely to die from cardiovascular-related causes than non-coffee drinkers. Nevertheless, scientists remained hopeful about the ability of tea to improve cardiovascular health. Danchin adds:

“I think that you could fairly honestly recommend tea drinking rather than coffee drinking and even rather than not drinking anything at all.”

Nearly all teas offer some type of health benefit, but some types are particularly beneficial. Whichever type you gravitate toward, try drinking two or three cups a day for maximum benefit, recommends Harvard Health Publications.

Make sure the water absorbs all the wonderful nutrients by allowing the tea to steep for at least three minutes. Also be sure to drink it plain, or with just a dash of lemon or honey. Adding tons of sweeteners to the tea could counteract any of the health benefits.

To get the most out of drinking tea, drink it freshly brewed. The power of antioxidants becomes diluted as tea is processed, and so it’s best to avoid altered forms including decaffeinated tea or bottled preparations, according to Harvard Health. Tea contains less caffeine than coffee, so you don’t have to worry too much about the intake.

1. Green tea

Green tea, with its rich array of antioxidants, has gained fame as a cancer fighter. This chlorophyll-colored beverage offers the best source of antioxidants known as catechins, according to Harvard Health Publications. The powerful compounds work to stop cellular damage and have been linked to reduced risks for several types of cancer, including breast, skin, lung, and colon.

The health benefits don’t stop there. Research from the University of Basel shows the beverage also works to improve memory by stimulating brain plasticity, which refers to its ability to change. Scientists say the tea could prove to be an asset in the war against dementia.

Other mental benefits include green tea’s purported ability to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. It could also reduce the risk of stroke.

2. Black tea

Although green tea’s popularity is steadily gaining, black tea is still one of the most popular types of tea. It also has the highest caffeine content, but still offers numerous health benefits. Black tea and green tea actually come from the same plant, but black tea is exposed to oxygen-rich air, which turns the leaves black, according to WebMD.

This type of tea is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which work to protect cells against DNA damage and are believed to protect against certain kinds of cancer, including ovarian and lung cancer. Black tea has not been shown to prevent the types of cancer that green tea has, including breast and colorectal.

However, if you’re concerned about a heart attack, black tea may offer health benefits. Research shows that it may help to keep arteries clear. It could also reduce the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, Parkinson’s disease, and kidney stones, according to WebMD. The beverage may also promote bone health.

3. White tea

While black tea is more processed than green tea, white tea is the least processed of them all. Some researchers believe the white variety offers even more potent protection against cancer than green tea, according to researchers at Oregon State University. The minimal processing ensures the tea retains more of the powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols.

White tea is derived from young leaves—the same as black or green tea, but they’re picked before the buds fully open. The leaves are steamed and dried before they oxidize and turn darker. Because of the minimal processing, the tea tastes a bit more mild and sweet than green or black.

4. Oolong tea

Oolong tea also comes from the same plant as green tea, but is processed in a different way than other teas. After the leaves are picked, they’re bruised through a shaking process. The bruised areas then turn red while the rest of the leaf turns yellow through fermentation. Finally, the leaves are fired in a pan.

The tea has been shown to promote mental clarity, according to WebMD. Other research shows it likely offers benefit for preventing ovarian cancer.

5. Herbal tea

In addition to white, black, green, and oolong teas that come from the Camellia sinensis plant, there are a variety of herbal teas available that offer countless health benefits. These teas can be purchased in bags at the store, but some varieties can be made easily at home.

Ginger tea, for example, helps to reduce inflammation, combats nausea, and may reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis, according to WebMD. If you’d like to make the tea at home, simply take fresh ginger root, chop it up, and boil it in water for about 10 minutes. Pour in a cup and enjoy.

Other healthy herbal teas include chamomile, believed to stave off complications of diabetes such as vision loss and nerve damage. It may also thwart tumor development, according to WebMD.

What is your favorite type of tea?

Image by Nomadic Lass via Flickr

Get Free Email Updates!

Weekly updates on conditions, treatments, and pain medicine.