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Healthy Eating

If You Secretly Hate Green Tea, Check Out Our Guide to the Best Black Teas

We wax poetic about the benefits of green tea. But that grassy-piney-bitter taste isn't for everyone. If that sounds like you, try these über-healthy black teas.

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If you think tea’s better in black, you’ll be pleased to know those darker brews share most of the same healing actions as green tea. It makes sense: all tea (other than herbal varieties) comes from the Camellia sinensis shrub, which is native to China and grows throughout tropical and subtropical regions in Asia. The difference between black teas and green tea lies in how the plant is processed. Picked fresh from the bush, Camellia sinensis leaves are astringent, bitter, and not very interesting. Processing techniques soften the rough edges, unfold flavors and aroma, and create the many varieties of tea.

Green vs. Black Tea

In general, black tea is made by drying, crushing, and oxidizing tea leaves, a technique that releases and concentrates volatile oils and develops a smooth, robust flavor. For green tea, fresh leaves are steamed and processed without fermentation, resulting in that characteristic grassy, piney, unfinished taste.

It’s true that oxidation alters some of the compounds in the tea leaf; analyses show that both types of tea contain similar levels of flavonoids, but they differ in their chemical composition. Green tea is higher in catechins, especially the revered epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), while the oxidation process used for black teas transforms simple flavonoids into theaflavins and thearubigins—beneficial antioxidants in their own right. The bottom line: in spite of variations in chemical composition, both types of tea contain similar healing compounds. Here’s what the science shows:

  • It protects against pathogens. Black tea is high in L-theanine, an amino acid that boosts the body’s levels of virus-fighting compounds; some research shows black tea inhibits the influenza virus, and in one study, black tea extract blocked herpes simplex virus type-1.
  • It makes your brain work better. L-theanine in black tea also interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain, enhancing mood, promoting concentration, and encouraging calm focus that’s similar to the state experienced during meditation.
  • It cools inflammation. Tea is rich in antioxidants that fight free radical damage and tame the flames, and studies link both green and black tea with lower levels of inflammation and inflammatory markers in the blood.
  • It soothes and heals skin. Cold black tea compresses have long been used to heal and repair skin; tannic acid, theobromine, and other compounds in black tea cool the sting of sunburn, and research shows topically applied black tea eases dermatitis and other skin conditions, which is why tea is increasingly being used as an ingredient in natural skincare products.
  • It keeps your heart healthy. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions of tea protect the heart and blood vessels, and research suggests people who drink black tea regularly have a significantly lower risk of heart disease.
  • It protects against Alzheimer’s. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components in tea reduce damage to the brain and interfere with enzymes involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s; some studies link black tea consumption with better cognitive performance and less likelihood of Alzheimer’s.
  • It lowers your risk of cancer. Research shows compounds in black tea protect against inflammation, minimize DNA damage, and inhibits the growth and spread of cancer cells, and studies associate black tea intake with a reduced risk of skin, ovarian, lung, and other cancers.
  • It may help you live longer. Antioxidants and other compounds in tea protect against heart disease, cancer, and other leading causes of mortality. In some research, drinking tea (green or black) three times a week was linked with increased longevity and a higher quality of life.

The Best Black Teas to Try

If a smoother brew is your cup of tea, you’ll be pleased to know you have plenty of choices—black tea varieties number in the hundreds, from fruity, floral renditions to hearty blends that rival coffee in their boldness and pungency. Go beyond the basic blacks, with five notable teas you need to try:

  1. Assam. This bracing brew comes from the Assam region in India, where the warm, humid climate and terrain contribute to its dense, malty flavor and aroma. Its robust caffeine content makes it a popular addition to morning blends such as English and Irish Breakfast.
  2. Keemun. Made from a variety of Camellia sinensis often used to produce green tea, this traditional Chinese tea has a deep orange hue with hints of wood and smoke, with fruity undertones. It’s lower in caffeine, and is often used in heartier blends to soften the edges and add depth and complexity.
  3. Pu-erh. From the Yunnan Province of southwest China, this fermented tea is created through a special process that halts oxidation but leaves enough moisture for natural bacteria to thrive. The result: an earthy-sweet brew that’s uncommonly smooth and mellow.
  4. Lapsang souchong. This bold, distinctive tea from China has an unmistakable smoky flavor and aroma that’s unlike any black tea you’ve ever tried. Processing methods include smoking and drying tea leaves over burning wood, creating a full-bodied, subtly sweet experience that’s reminiscent of campfires.
  5. Darjeeling. Light but richly layered, Darjeeling comes from the Himalayan foothills and is prized for its complexity. It’s less oxidized than other black teas, preserving delicate flavor notes of grape, grass, citrus, and yielding a pleasing balance of smoothness and astringency.