If all you want to do in the winter months is sit fireside with a steaming hot cup of tea, you’re not alone. Your favorite tea brew might do a lot more than just warm you up, though. Teas, tinctures, and infusions have been used for thousands of years to promote health, solidify communities, and enliven the taste buds. Tea is often praised for its antioxidants, but it can also soothe the body and calm the mind.
You don’t have to only drink green or black tea to get the benefits. These lesser-known varieties are loaded with flavor, perks, and unexpected ingredients.
Whether you’re trying to cut back on caffeine or are looking for something new to fill your cup, here’s what to sip on.
Note: While “tea” technically only refers to the traditional black, white, or green varieties made from the plant Camellia sinensis, herbal tinctures and infusions are often also referred to as tea.
1. Coffee leaf tea
Coffee isn’t the only beverage that can be brewed from the Coffea plant. Coffee leaf tea is actually made from the green leaves of coffee plants. Typically, the coffee leaves are processed similarly to green tea. They are dried in the sun before being lightly toasted. The result is a smooth, slightly sweet tea that bears little resemblance to the brew made from the famous beans. Coffee leaf tea has been consumed for centuries in parts of Africa. Now it’s gaining popularity in the rest of the world for its high levels of antioxidants and low caffeine content. It has about as much caffeine as decaf coffee or green tea.
- Try coffee leaf tea if … Espresso gives you the jitters. The tea has about as much caffeine as decaf coffee or green tea.
Perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth, this naturally caffeine-free tea is often slightly sweet with a hint of vanilla. The herbal infusion is made from a small shrub that is native to South Africa. It’s high in antioxidants, and is being studied for its potential to help reduce oxidative stress. Drinking rooibos tea may also improve bone health.
- Try rooibos tea if … You have a weakness for chocolate and like a sweet-tasting tea.
If you like black tea, you might also enjoy a cup of pu-erh. Made from the same leaves (Camellia sinensis) as green and black tea, pu-erh is fermented and then aged to create its distinct earthy flavor. Animal and lab studies have revealed potential health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, preventing tumors, and reducing obesity. However, clinical studies still need to be done to determine the tea’s exact impact on humans.
Because the fermentation process encourages the growth of fungus and bacteria, many manufacturers recommend discarding the first brew before drinking. Check the package before steeping.
- Try pu-erh tea if … You are over Earl Grey and are looking for a new black tea in your life.
Between golden milk and turmeric lattes, turmeric is all the rage lately. The hype is worth noting. This brightly hued root may reduce inflammation, fight some cancers and infections, and ease digestion. Curcumin, the main active substance in turmeric, is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce inflammation and prevent blood clots. Many packaged turmeric teas and recipes include ginger to improve the taste and increase the health benefits.
- Try turmeric if … You already drink green juice and look for a healthy boost from your beverages.
5. Yerba mate
Yerba mate is a traditional South American beverage seeped in history. It is made with the twigs and leaves of a plant native to parts of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. Caffeine fiends may especially enjoy the brew. Yerba mate contains almost twice as much caffeine as black tea. Luckily, because it still only has half the amount of caffeine as coffee, many people do not experience the same crash or jitters associated with coffee.
The tea contains many antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and it has been studied for its potential anti-inflammatory properties and cardiovascular benefits. A recent small study also found that yerba mate consumption may protect against Parkinson’s disease, although significantly more research is needed.
- Try yerba mate if … You are looking for a jolt but don’t like the caffeine crash you experience post-coffee.
6. Mushroom tea
No, not those magic mushrooms! Reishi mushrooms can be made into tea and have promising anticancer, antiviral, and immune-supporting properties. Their distinct bitter flavor has made them a nice match for coffee, and at least one company has included them in their brews. Look for teas and coffees made with reishi, changa, or cordyceps mushrooms. However, you should talk to your doctor before trying mushroom tea if you take blood pressure or blood thinning medications.
- Try mushroom tea if … You’re looking for antioxidant power from your brew.
Sip yourself to sleep with this herb. Valerian has been used for centuries to ease anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. It’s a popular alternative remedy for insomnia because it’s considered to be gentle and safe.
While its insomnia-busting benefits are inconclusive, valerian may still be worth a try. However, some researchers believe you need to ingest valerian for a few weeks before you begin to feel its effects, so be ready to make a habit out of it. Drink the tea one to two hours before bedtime to get the most benefits and always speak to your doctor before trying it.
- Try valerian if … You’re looking to ease anxiety or get some serious shut-eye.