Know Your Teas: Black Tea

Tea makes for a satisfying beverage at any time of day. Some teas can provide a kick of caffeine, while others have more calming effects. Some have probiotic effects, making them good for the gut. Tea also contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant potential. Antioxidants can help keep your cells in good health, and they can also lower the risk of coronary heart disease and even some cancers.  

Black tea has been a popular beverage for over 500 years — and was involved in a certain tea party in Boston — but how does it compare to other teas when it comes to your health? Read on to find out.

What Makes Black Tea “Black”?

There are four main types of tea, all of which are made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant: black, green, white, and oolong. Black and green teas make up the majority of the tea consumed around the world. Black teas are considerably more popular in Europe and North America, while the Eastern Hemisphere tends to favor green tea, particularly China and Japan.

Green tea and black tea are prepared differently, which accounts for their differences. Whereas green tea is made when tea leaves are dried and steamed very soon after harvest, black tea comes from tea leaves that are oxidized, or allowed to brown. The oxidation process causes the formation of two compounds, theaflavins and thearubigins, which give black tea its distinctive taste and color, and also its possible health benefits.

How to Get the Antioxidants

Did You Know?
  • Green tea has more than twice the antioxidant potential of black tea.
  • Tea bags and milk can block antioxidants.
  • More antioxidants are released at higher temperatures.
  • Even “decaffeinated” black tea contains some caffeine.

Black tea contains antioxidants, although less than green tea. The way you drink your tea can affect how much goodness you get from it. Because it’s oxidized, it needs to be brewed at higher temperatures for antioxidants to be released.

A British study found that while black tea releases antioxidants at even low brewing temperatures, brewing it at a near-boiling temperature like 90 degrees Celsius can boost its antioxidant potential tenfold.

The researchers also found that tea bags can prevent the extraction of flavonoids, and that adding milk — especially whole milk — can block black tea’s antioxidant effects.

Can It Reduce the Risk of Cancer?

One of the main areas of focus when it comes to research on black tea's health benefits is cancer. While the National Cancer Institute does not recommend for or against the use of tea in relation to cancer risk, some claim that drinking tea can not only help prevent the onset of cancer but also help reduce the amount of cancer cells in the body.  

Much research has been devoted to the ability of tea to prevent ovarian cancer specifically. However, tests have yet to show an effect.  

There is some evidence to suggest that it may be helpful in reducing the risk of other cancers, including rectal, colon, stomach, lung, and breast cancer, but conclusive evidence is still needed to explore these claims further. Doctors attribute these claims to the existence of polyphenols and antioxidants in black tea.

Get Your Caffeine Kick

As you probably know, black tea is a good source of caffeine. The amount depends on how strong you make your tea, so an 8-ounce serving can contain anywhere between 14 and 70 milligrams (mg). Even “decaffeinated” tea can contain up to 12 mg.

As a result, black tea can help boost your mental alertness and concentration. It's possible that the caffeine in teas and coffees can reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease.

Are There Other Health Benefits?

Your heart is another area where black tea may play a beneficial role. While those with heart conditions should use caution when it comes to caffeinated beverages, there is some evidence that those without heart problems can see their risk of heart issues reduced. It may help reduce clotting and inflammation.  There is sufficient evidence to support black tea's role in reducing the occurrence of coronary heart disease. One study even concluded that tea drinkers were less likely to die following a heart attack than those who didn't drink tea.

The purported health benefits of black tea don't end there. There are additional claims that tea (and coffee) can help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. Some people claim it can help prevent tooth decay, though study has found no evidence for that. Other possible areas black tea can improve health: osteoporosis, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, weight loss, and kidney stones. While the side effects of black tea are mild, its caffeine content can disrupt certain people with nervousness and excitability.