It may surprise you to learn that both black tea and green tea are from the same plant. Actually, all teas not labelled “herbal tea” or “tisane” come from this same plant, known as camellia sinensis. So if both black tea and green tea are tea, what makes them different?
In short, black tea is oxidized while green tea is not. When tea leaves are plucked from the tree, this triggers an immediate process called oxidation, where heat is internally generated and enzymes turn the leaves brown. Black tea, unlike green tea, is simply tea that’s allowed to go “brown”.
On the other hand, when producers make green tea, they’re trying to preserve the freshness of the leaves when first plucked. They therefore prevent the leaves from going brown. In order to stop oxidation, tea farmers flash heat the leaves to kill the enzymes. It’s this flash heat, done in seconds, that preserves the green leaves.
Now that you know the difference between green and black tea, which one is healthier for you? As it turns out, green and black tea are both very healthy, but it depends on what health benefits you’re looking for.
Because green tea is a preservation of the leaves’ freshness, it’s high in catechins. A catechin is a phenol and antioxidant that serves as a plant’s secondary metabolite. Catechins are also what gives green tea their grassy taste.
Catechins are beneficial to humans because once processed in our livers, they protect our bodies from free radicals that are thought to cause cancers. They also improve skin, improve exercise recovery, and counteract some of the effects of a high fructose diet.
Many fruits and vegetables are high in catechins, but green tea is especially high in catechins. This is one reason green tea may increase your lifespan.
Just because green tea has its unique health benefits doesn’t mean black tea doesn’t have its own. One of the benefits of tea oxidation is that, even though catechins decrease, xanthines increase. Xanthines are a group of alkaloids used as stimulants and broncholidators. Caffeine, of course, is the most well known. However, tea also contains theophilline and theobromine.
What do each of these xanthines do? Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and prevents the onset of drowsiness. Theophilline is known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Theobromine loosens muscles in the bronchus, and helps alleviate symptoms of asthma.
This just scratches the surface. The health benefits of xanthines have been well studied. Xanthines may improve endurance, prevent pregnancy-induced hypertension, improve cholesterol levels.
So is green tea or black tea better for you? An urban legend will have you believe it’s green tea, but that’s only if your goal is to increase your consumption of catechins. If you’re wanting more xanthines, black tea is the better choice.
Remember, both green tea and black tea contains catechins and xanthines but they differ by levels. And of course, if you want a tea that “balances” catechins and xanthines, you can always try a semi-oxidized variety of tea known as oolong (which, by the way, is quite tasty).
In short, whether green or black, tea is good for you. So drink up!