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Article 1 of 20 in the W.H.A.T? series.


In 2014 I wrote the book, “The Everything Healthy Tea Book”, published by Adams Media. While it is currently out of print, Adams Media does offer the digital version on Amazon and there are sometimes used physical copies for sale. While I am not able to reclaim the rights to the original version, so many people contact me about writing another book on tea and health, I’ve decided to create this series instead. I’m calling it, “What’s Healthy About Tea”. I’d love to have you be part of this process. Please send your questions and comments to me, or use the Contact Page of this website.

What’s The Healthiest Tea? 

When people about the book, the first question is almost always, What’s the healthiest tea? I have a couple of stock responses that are intended for quick and casual conversation. But a few years ago I added a third criteria.

  1. The freshest tea is the healthiest tea.
  2. The tea you most enjoy and drink more of will be the healthiest tea for you. 
  3. The tea leaves with the most pigmentation, Purple Tea. 
Everything Healthy Tea Cover

Of course, there is medical research and tradition for hundreds of years that we can consider in this series. There are dozens of specific ways in which Tea (Camellia sinensis) and also other herbs contribute to human health and well-being. And that conversation is certainly part of this series. But the starting place to discuss tea and health can also be based on daily life and common sense. And these simple responses are both very practical.

loose tea in a circular display

Factor #1: Freshness 

Tea leaves are harvested in many different ways. When harvested by machine and processed by a machine, the leaves are easily broken. Broken leaves more rapidly lose moisture and some of the nutritional value, flavor, and freshness. Tea leaves harvested by hand stay whole and retain their healthful value longer. Also, handcrafted teas are less common and tend to sell more quickly to tea lovers who look for each year’s new offerings. For this reason, it is more likely that buyers will know the actual date that whole leaf, artisan teas were grown and processed and can be confident of the freshness while buyers would have difficulty determining the age of bulk, machine-processed teas. 

Factor #2: Tea You Enjoy Most

Because there has been more research conducted on green tea, it can seem that it must be a healthier choice than black, oolong, white, Pu’er, or yellow tea. People can then rush to buy green tea, believing that it will work like medicine. But, if they don’t know how to prepare it, the flavor can be very bitter. After the first cup, the remainder of the package might gather dust on the shelf. Just buying the tea offers no health benefits. On the other hand, if you try different teas – perhaps even Tea blended with other flowers and herbs – and you find something that you love to drink every day, you will enjoy significantly greater benefits. 

Example: The natural sweetness of many teas, prepared well, that are blended with flavorful herbs and flowers like cinnamon, chamomile, rose and others can reduce the craving for beverages sweetened with processed sugar. Some tea blends can even replace the craving for and habit of eating a dessert.

Factor #3: Purple Tea

Purple tea, like all other tea, originates from the Camellia Sinensis plant. However, a genetic mutation has managed to produce a tea with higher levels of anthocyanin – which gives this tea its unusual purple appearance. It is the same antioxidant that gives blueberries, raspberries and other red/purple foods their color. Purple tea contains 1.5 percent anthocyanins compared to .1 percent for blueberries.

What is Purple tea? by  | Jan 19, 2017 | T Ching 

Purple tea bush, 2 leaves and a bud

Keeping Your Tea Healthy

The flavor and nutritional value of tea can deteriorate with time and exposure to air, moisture, and light. 

How long will tea last?

It is generally accepted throughout the industry that when tea is stored so that it is not exposed to air, moisture, and light, it will remain both healthful and flavorful for two years. But this is not absolute. And there are differences in the shelf life of different kinds of tea.

Examples: Black tea tends to have a longer shelf life than green tea. Whole leaf tea tends to last longer than broken-leaf tea, especially tea leaves that have been cut finely enough to be processed into commercial teabags.

Aged teas are the exception to this rule. 

There are several different categories of aged teas that, by breaking the “rules” of good tea storage (controlling air, light, and moisture) they actually create unique kinds of tea that have different health benefits. These are sometimes referred to as dark teas or fermented teas. There are aged oolongs. But the most well-known are dark, aged teas from Yunnan Province, China in the region of Pu’erh. 

Q & A for “What’s Healthy About Tea”

Are all Camellia Plants Good For Tea?

Camellia sinensis, what we call the true tea plant, is similar in some ways to the flowering shrub, Camellia japonica, often used in landscaping, But the japonica versions should not be used as a food or beverage. Even though they are not poisonous, they could cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal reactions and have no known benefits or particularly desirable flavor. Camellia sinensis, on the other hand, is the plant from which we make all kinds of true teas; white, green, yellow, oolong, black and dark. Two distinct characteristics are the small, white flower with a mound of yellow stamens and the serrated edges of the green leaves.

Babette's Tea Flower

Why do you make the distinction between Camellia sinensis and herbal teas?

One of the problems that tea “nerds” like me have is that we can come across as sounding like a snob when we make a distinction between the tea that is produced from the herb, Camellia sinensis (Tea), vs. all the other herbs and flowers (tea) from which we prepare healthful beverages. In this article, I’m talking mostly about Tea. But much of what I have to say is true for all. Tea (C.sinensis) does have some unique properties to consider in detail for a deeper discussion. 

More T Ching articles on Tea & Health