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Research continues to show us that tea is one of the healthiest things you can drink. But just because an ingredient shows a beneficial effect in a lab doesn’t necessarily mean you’re benefiting from it when you eat or drink it. That’s the case with our favorite steeped drink, according to a new study published by the Institute of Food Technologists in the Journal of Food Science. It turns out the water temperature and time you take steeping your tea play important roles in how much antioxidant action you’re actually getting from it.
First, the benefits: An impressive body of scientific evidence supports the ability of tea, particularly green and white varieties, to reduce the risk of disease. Tea has been shown to be beneficial in treating diabetes and complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, and in reducing the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. And at least one study suggests it can aid in weight loss.
But some of the existing research notes that the precise “dose” or preparation needed to produce health benefits is a little hazier. To help demystify how best to preserve tea’s antioxidant properties, the researchers tested two brands each of white, black, and green teas, prepared both hot and cold, to measure flavonoids, polyphenols, “ferric-reducing antioxidant power,” and free-radical-scavenging activity — in short, the elements researchers believe make tea so healthy.
Green tea is the least processed of the bunch, which is the likely reason it boasts the most antioxidants, while black tea — popular in the U.K. served with milk and sugar — has the least. To preserve as many antioxidants as possible in your favorite cup, here’s how you should drink it, according to this study:
This darling of health research is sensitive to both time and temps. Flavonoids were the same whether steeped for five minutes or two hours, but cold steeping for two hours produced tea with the most antioxidants. Most benefits were noted in green tea samples in this order: Tea prepared in cold water for two hours, in hot water for five minutes, in hot water for two hours, and cold water for five minutes.
The Takeaway: Try cold-steeping your green tea for the maximum benefits.
This was more affected by time, not temperature overall, and retained most of its antioxidants via prolonged hot-water infusion, or by steeping in hot water for two hours. In other words, the longer it sits, the more antioxidants.
The Takeaway: Let your white tea sit a bit longer.
In contrast to white tea, the more time black sits in hot water, the more it loses antioxidants.
The Takeaway: Steep it hot but not too long.
By Virginia Pelley
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