Tea is much more than a comforting drink – as the compounds within it have pretty significant health implications.
That’s particularly true for green tea (which among other things has been linked to reduced inflammation), but all types of tea have been connected to health benefits.
That outcome isn’t surprising, as tea is loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols (1,2).
But, how do you get the most out of it?
Like coffee, there are many different approaches for how you make tea, and the way you go about it can affect the compounds present in the final brew and by extension, the health benefits of the tea.
So, what is the healthiest way to brew tea?
It is often suggested that longer steeping significantly increases the healthy components, although there is more debate about the ideal temperature (3).
But, some research into the topic suggests that the healthiest way to brew tea may differ significantly from one type of tea to the next.
This is actually an area that has been researched by a couple of key studies.
In these studies, the types of tea (white, green and black) were considered separately, as the types of tea do have different compositions and different properties.
The first study tested two different varieties of each of the three types of tea and looks specifically at the levels of antioxidants (4).
Each variety was tested in four conditions, which were:
- 5 minutes in hot water
- 5 minutes in cold water
- 2 hours in hot water
- 2 hours in cold water
For the black tea, the highest antioxidant content was found in the short immersion in hot water (5 minutes). The level of antioxidants was actually lower if the tea was left in the water for 2 hours.
For the white tea, the longer time period resulted in more antioxidants. For this type of tea, the temperature did not affect the results.
The green tea, on the other hand, was affected by both time and temperature. It produced the most antioxidants when steeped in cold water for 2 hours.
Of the teas considered, the white and the green teas had higher overall levels of antioxidants than the black tea.
The second study also involved three types of tea. This time, the types were green, black and oolong (5).
The authors of the study suggested that hot brewing approaches were effective at extracting healthy compounds, but those compounds also degrade in the heat.
In contrast, they argued that cold brewing approaches result in a higher amount of healthy compounds, but that these are obtained slower.
To combat this, the authors tested an alternative approach, which involved a hot infusion followed by the addition of ice. In theory, such an approach would get the compounds out of the tea quickly, while the process of cooling the tea down quickly would prevent them from degrading.
The authors found that such an approach resulted in similar levels of antioxidants to the cold infusion. The approach also resulted in high levels of bioactive compounds.
That outcome suggests that a hot infusion followed by ice may be the healthiest way to brew tea for people limited in time.
However, it’s important to note that the study didn’t consider that different teas might require different temperatures.
In fact, it largely assumed that the long cold brewing approach would produce the most beneficial compounds for all types of tea.
The results of the first study suggest that is not the case. So, the innovative approach that is proposed here may only be relevant for teas that benefit from prolonged steeping in cold water.
Based on the previous results, that suggests the approach might be relevant for green and white tea, but not for black.
The outcomes of these two studies are very interesting and they shed a lot of light into the impacts of the way that you make tea.
But, at the same time, the studies did have some limitations.
For one thing, they considered relatively few varieties of tea. That can be an issue because there are so many different types of tea out there. It’s also very possible that the healthiest way to brew tea differs between varieties as well as between the different types of tea.
The outcomes of these studies simply don’t provide enough information to tell us.
The other significant limitation is that the studies didn’t consider that many different methods.
For example, one study simply tested its own method (hot infusion followed by ice), while the second study tested two lengths of time (5 minutes and 2 hours) and two temperatures (hot and cold).
So, there’s no indication whether something like 30 minutes in hot water is better or worse than the lengths that were considered.
Nevertheless, the outcomes of the research do offer important insight into brewing tea.
The research also shows that always steeping tea in cold water is not always the best way to get the most health benefits.
These two studies suggest that the healthiest way to brew tea depends on the type of tea.
That does make a lot of sense.
Based on these outcomes, the best way to make black tea is quickly steeping it in hot water.
For green and white teas, the most effective approach is different.
Both of these teas do better when they have been steeped for a long time. Green tea is best steeped in cold water while the temperature doesn’t appear to matter for white tea.
For those teas, you can also try the technique of steeping in hot water and then adding ice.
That has the advantage of producing similar levels of compounds in the tea, without requiring nearly as much time.
Of course, simply considering black, green and white tea is an oversimplification. There are countless different teas out there, with subtle variations. Likewise, as Tea Perspective highlights, there are also alternative ways to brew tea.
What do you think? Would this research change the way you prepare tea? Let me know in the comments below