Maximizing the Health Benefits of Black Tea Consumption

By on December 17, 2014
Cup of Black Tea

Polyphenols Flavonoids, Theaflavins and Thearubigins

The indisputable health benefits of green tea are well documented; its superior nutritional, healing and preventive qualities has earned green tea a well deserved place in the superfood hall of fame. What you may not be aware of though, is that black tea ,while officially ranked lower down the scale in terms of the health benefits it offers, brings many antioxidant perks of its

This is hardly surprising when you consider that both black and green tea along with other varieties of tea such as white, oolong and pu-erh all originate from the same source, namely the “Camellia Sinensis” plant. It is this factor which distinguishes true teas from herbal and fruit teas, which technically are not teas at all but belong to a category known as tisanes.

Camellia Sinensis or Tea Plant

The Camellia Sinensis or Tea Plant

Note: Only the smallest youngest shoots are used to make tea

The fact that black tea packs its own healthy punch is good news for those who prefer a more full bodied experience in contrast to the lighter more delicate taste of green tea.


What Are The Differences Between Green and Black Tea?

The distinction between tea varieties is down to their divergent processing techniques, the first stage known as withering applies to all types of tea production, and consists of laying the freshly picked tea leaves out in direct sunlight in order to remove some of the moisture. For green tea the second stage involves either gently steaming or pan frying) the withered leaves in a wok; while steaming is usually done by Japanese tea manufacturers, pan frying is more common in China.

Regardless of which method is used, both streaming and pan frying causes denaturing of the plant enzymes thus preventing oxidation of the polyphenols and hence preserving the tea’s ‘characteristic green colour.. This minimal processing also results in green tea retaining most of its nutritional properties, however it also has the shortest shelf life of any kind of tea. In contrast, black tea like other remaining tea types is not denatured, thus the enzymes are allowed to react with oxygen in the air causing the plant to oxidize. In addition, chlorophyll in the leaves are broken down by enzymes which has the effect of releasing or transforming the plant’s polyphenols and flavonoids.

Dried Black Tea Leaves

Dried Black Tea Leaves

The final stage which applies to all tea types involves crushing the tea into various shapes between two rollers. As we are focusing on black tea here, a detailed discussion regarding other types of fermented teas is out of the scope of this article. Suffice to say it is the differing lengths and degrees of the fermentation process that gives each fermented tea its own unique qualities and characteristics.


Health Benefits of Black Tea

Black tea has a lot of caffeine (a known dehydrator), hence some dispute its value as a substitute hydrator for pure water. Despite these concerns be assured the body will always maintain a net amount of water from drinking black tea.

Due to its caffeine content drinking a moderate amount of tea e.g 34 cups per day can slightly raise blood pressure, however this effect does not last for long, neither is it associated with any long term high blood pressure issues.

As with other varieties of tea there are decaffeinated versions of black tea, however studies have suggested that the while the process of decaffeinating tea is no cause for health concerns, it does reduce the amount of beneficial flavonoids present.

In Jennifer Warner’s article for WebMD “Drinking Black Tea May Soothe Stress” (Warner,2006), Andrew Steptoe a researcher at the University College of London is quoted as saying “Although it does not appear to reduce the actual levels of stress we experience, tea does seem to have a greater effect in bringing stress hormone levels back to normal,” This was Steptoe’s conclusion to a research project he had participated in concerning the positive effects that drinking tea has on stress.

Black tea derives its power from the transformation of the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg) into other useful substances; during the fermentation process; the EGCg is converted into compounds known as theaflavins and thearubigins . In recent studies theaflavins have been found to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol, theaflavins are also the catalyst of the unique color and flavor of black and other fermented teas. From their research (Sinha et al 2013) Sangeeta Kumari Sinina and Saroj S. Ghaskadbi conclude “TR rich fraction has good antioxidant properties, which correlate to the total phenolics and flavonoids content and provide significant protection against oxidative damage to biomolecules (lipids, proteins and DNA) in rat liver mitochondria”. In 2014 Chris Swift published his paper “Strange and awesome benefits of black tea (Swift, 2014) which documents several key benefits related to the consumption of black tea as follows:

  • Fresh breath and Improved oral Health
  • Reduced risk of stroke and heart disease
  • Reduced risk of diabetes


Cup of Black Tea

The Best Way to Drink Your Black Tea

After considering all the health benefits relating to black tea as discussed in part one, it would be pertinent now to address the pitfalls of reducing black tea’s health benefits through certain post additives prior to drinking. The most obvious culprit is of course sugar; it is no secret that sugar is bad for you, hence ideally you should completely eliminate sugar from your tea. Nevertheless, for many people this is easier said than done, if you cannot stomach your tea without some type of sweetness try substituting your sugar intake with a little honey.

Note: The popular conception that honey is somehow healthier than sugar is a complete myth. Spoon for spoon honey has the same nutritional value as sugar, the thing that gives honey, the edge over sugar is that it is roughly twice as sweet, so therefore you use only half as much The other less obvious and perhaps more surprising fact is the detrimental effects that milk has on tea. While milk in itself offers many health benefits research has shown that the milk proteins bind to the flavonoids in the tea rendering them harder to digest and thus negating their benefit. Serving hot black tea with milk is popular with many groups of people especially among the population of Great Britain, however in order to capitalize on the full benefits of drinking black tea try to refrain from adding milk.

Why Not Serve Your Tea Iced?

Those who cannot stomach the thought hot black tea served with only a slice of lemon, might like to consider Iced Tea as an alternative. This method of serving tea is extremely popular inthe United States and comes in both sweetened and unsweetened varieties. The unsweetened variety which needless to say is the most healthy option is to be found mostly in the northern partof the US whereas the southern US are almost exclusive consumers of the sweet variety. Before proceeding further with discussing the many varieties of iced teas a word of warning regarding the drawbacks of manufactured ice teas. The majority of ice teas produced commercially are not only unhealthy options due to the addition of products such as high fructose corn syrup but certain processes such as freeze drying for instant iced tea can seriously damage the antioxidants of the tea by as much as 90%. In order to ensure that your ice tea beverage is as healthy as possible, it is recommended that the consumer avoid the commercial varieties as far as possible in favor of homemade ice tea.

Tip One:  When Making Iced Tea Always Use Top Notch Ingredients

It has been the experience of this author that in using inferior ingredients such as a low grade tea, people tend to compensate for the poor quality in taste by adding copious amounts of sugar. In terms of tea choice always go for the highest quality possible ,note that even certain teas marketed specifically for ice tea produces an inferior product. It’s best to shop around a little to find a suitable tea; a particular brand that the author finds works well is Tetley British Blend which can be found in most American supermarkets in its distinctive purple box.In other parts of the world such as the UK tea brands such as PG tips and Yorkshire blend are excellent for making ice tea. It may also be worthwhile browsing the loose leaf section of the tea aisle, while using loose tea can be a tad messy it does offer superior infusion qualities.

Tip Two:  Always Use Filtered Water Never Straight From The Faucet

This is key in producing a great tasting tea, as far as possible avoid using regular water straight from your faucet unless you have a filter attached. The difference in taste between filtered and
unfiltered water (all other things equal) is remarkably astounding. If you don’t have a filter then use bottle water instead, be assured it is well worth it.

Tip Three:  Avoid Using Sugar

Everyone knows refined sugar is bad news, and we all should be working to eliminate it as far as possible from our diets. If you really must add a sweetener to your ice tea choose honey for its
advantages over refined white sugar as mentioned above.


Selecting a Suitable Brewing Method

The brewing methods for iced tea are categorized into two distinct types i.e., fast and slow brews respectively. The latter category is the one preferred by the author, since in his opinion it produces a superior flavor due to the extra time allowed for the tea to infuse. The first method is called a hot brew and is the only one which comes under the classification of a fast brew, as its name suggests hot tea is poured over a pitcher of ice to cool it quickly, it is frequently served with mounds of sugar and fresh lemon.
The latter two methods belong to the slow brew category, the first of these is the warm brew. which is prepared using cold water, after the tea is added it is brewed for several hours in direct sunlight using a suitable container (ideally plastic). This method works well for iced tea that is brewed using fresh fruit, since the extended brewing time under the Sun’s natural heat causes an intense infusion of the fruit with the tea.  When brewing is finished the tea is left to cool in a refrigerator. and served chilled.

Finally the third method as you may have guessed is known as the cold brew method where the tea is brewed for an extended time in cold water.(two days is recommended) This method creates the highest quality iced tea, as the flavor is drawn out naturally in the absence of any type of heat. This method is particularly suited to making unsweetened iced tea using loose leaf


Additional Ways to keep Your Iced Tea Healthy

With all the exciting super powers of black tea we have covered in part one, it would be nothing short of criminal to sabotage all that incredible healing potential. Therefore here are a few tips to help you resist the urge of subverting your precious glass of liquid black gold.

1.  If you choose to take your iced tea in the unsweetened form, try infusing it with licorice/ginger root or aniseed, not only will these commodities enhance the flavour of your iced tea turning it into a healthy exotic virgin cocktail, you will be less likely to give in to sugar cravings.  As if that wasn’t enough, consider you will also profit from the additional health perks to be found in these spices.,for some real miracle healing power add some panax ginseng root.

2.  The addition of citrus fruits such as fresh lemon, lime or orange will add a pleasant tangy zing to your unsweetened ice tea, which again will weaken the urge to saturate your tea with deadly sugar.

3.  Before considering sweetening your iced tea try infusing it with fresh fruit, the results may be enough to deter you from any further sweetening. The types of fruit that work exceptionally well with iced tea are peaches, nectarines, cherries, damsons, plums, blackberries and puréed raspberries/black raspberries and strawberries.

4.  If you simply must add a sweetener NEVER use refined or even brown sugar, and certainly not corn syrup. instead choose honey for the reasons given earlier in this article.

5.  A little raw black strap molasses is a good complement to ginger iced tea, you will only need a couple of tablespoons per gallon because of it’s intense flavour.

6.  ALWAYS avoid sweeteners like Splenda, even though many of these products are marketed as natural, results from clinical tests have raised concerns over their safety.

Check out the author’s complimentary recipe for Plum Iced Tea

David's Plum Ice Tea Recipe


Citations and Sources:
  1. Sinia. SK, Ghaskadbi. SS:  “Thearubigins rich black tea fraction reveals strong antioxidant activity” Int J Green Pharm 2013, Web 2014 ~ Thearubigins rich black tea fraction reveals strong …
  2. Swift, Chris:  “Strange and Awesome Benefits of Black Tea” Rogers Family Company Coffee and Tea Blog iWeb 2014 ~ Strange and awesome benefits of black tea
  3. Warner, Jennifer:  “Drinking Black Tea May Soothe Stress”, WebMD 2006, Web 2014 ~ Drinking Black Tea may Soothe Stress

Dave Ward

About Dave Ward

Dave Ward majored in “Business and Computing” and “Computer Science” at the “University of Wolverhampton” in his native country the UK. Before graduating in 1992 he lived for a short time in Frankfurt, Germany, and Garmisch PartenKirchen afterwhich he returned to the UK. In 1995 he moved to the States where he currently resides in the Chicago area as a freelance “Systems Analyst /Software Developer”. In addition to his work life Dave enjoys a passion for the art of writing, having taken several classes in the subject including his latest at Duke University NC. Hitherto he has produced a plethora of writings, from various genres including technology, poetry, fiction and cultural affairs. His longtime interest in the health and fitness industry and its concerns has also spawned several articles dedicated to this subject. Currently he has several side projects in the pipeline; these include his latest poem, a book on morality, a stage adaptation of John Bunyan’s book “A Pilgrim’s Progress”, and a vegetarian cookbook. You can reach Dave at the following email address

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