There are only a few dozen caffeinated versions, since all those are made from the same leaf – that of the Camellia sinensis. Whether it’s white tea, black tea, oolong or matcha, all which contain caffeine come from that plant.
When you include the herbal varieties consumed throughout the world, you can actually come up with a list of over one thousand distinctly different kinds to drink.
It’s hard to pit the different types of tea and their benefits against one another. Naming the number one is largely subjective, since what’s most important to one person may differ from another.
So rather than try to answer what is the healthiest tea in the world, let’s first home in on the highest antioxidant tea. That’s something you can objectively answer, based on ORAC testing.
No, it’s not matcha
From threads on Reddit to articles on Fox News, you will come across seemingly authoritative sources who claim that matcha green tea is the best for antioxidants.
That’s just not true.
Much of the confusion comes from mixing up the ORAC values for dry powder versus the brewed tea. One is obviously much more concentrated than the other.
An ORAC value typically uses a 100g weight of the food for measurement. There should only be 3.15g of matcha powder in a brewed cup of that weight (which is technically 1.75 servings). That’s according to the traditional Japanese way of how to make matcha, using 1.8g of powder per 2 fluid oz serving. The other 96.85g is water and that contributes zero antioxidant activity.
Some sources will report the ORAC value for 100g of pure dry matcha powder. Then like a game of telephone, someone reads that and mixes it up as being for 100g of brewed tea.
The difference between those two values can be up to 50-fold.
Sorry Fox News… that’s fake news.
When brewed, regular green tea has an ORAC value of 1,253. Matcha, which is a Japanese version of green tea made using the young leaves and involves partially-shaded growing techniques, is higher but not exponentially; an ORAC of up to around 3,000.
That’s about double the antioxidants of regular green tea, not 10x or 100x like some people claim.
To even get to that doubling, you need to be using one of the highest quality ceremonial grades of matcha available.
For example, the brand pictured has an ORAC of 168,500 for 100g of the pure dry powder, before heavily diluting it to make brewed tea.
What is the highest antioxidant tea?
According to ORAC measurements, the tea that has the most antioxidants is flor de Jamaica, which is the Spanish name for hibiscus tea. When brewed, its ORAC value is 6,990. That’s over 100% higher than the best quality matcha. It’s at least 400% higher than green, black, and white teas.
Made from the dried petals of hibiscus flowers, this beverage is loaded with anthocyanins. Those are pigments that give many plants their reds, purples, and blues. Aside from color, they add potent antioxidant activity.
A study published in the scientific journal Food Research International closely analyzed the antioxidants in extracts of Hibiscus sabdariffa L. flower petals. They reported that 51% of the antioxidant activity comes from its anthocyanin content and another 24% came from a brown pigment. (1)
Also contributing is quercetin. There is ample evidence that this antioxidant may be anti-inflammatory, exert positive effects on blood pressure, and offer anti-aging benefits by mimicking some of the biological effects seen in a calorie-restricted diet.
What is the healthiest tea?
Hibiscus is the tea with the most antioxidants. Other reasons why it’s considered to be the healthiest tea to drink includes research suggesting it may help blood pressure, cholesterol, weight loss, and exhibit anti-cancer activity.
This research is preliminary and therefore the effects are not considered proven in humans, yet what has been published so far is encouraging.
These are the results from a randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled trial conducted by Tufts University. Compared to a placebo version of the tea, that’s how the systolic and diastolic blood pressures measured with daily consumption during the 6-week trial. (2)
In a 12-week cholesterol study involving 104 people, hibiscus extract supplements didn’t lower LDL cholesterol as much as the statin medication group it was pitted against, though both experienced noteworthy decreases. (3)
Effects on cancer cells have never been tested in humans and therefore remain unproven. However using cultured human cells in laboratory settings, as well as animal models, it has been observed that the growth of certain cancer cells seem to be inhibited by some degree when they are exposed to compounds derived from the plant.
The above chart was from a study using immunodeficient mice. These are rodents with a genetic mutation that are able to grow implanted human tumors, without their bodies rejecting those human cells. When prostate cancer was grown on them over a 42 day period, you can see how the tumor volumes were lower in the mice getting the hibiscus leaf extract, compared to those who weren’t.
To be clear, leaves are different than the flower petals, but those too have been studied for prostate, breast, colon, and other cancers in the lab with intriguing results being published on them. (4) (5) (6)
With zero calories per serving, hibiscus is always a healthy tea for weight loss.
There may be further advantages too, because an enzyme from this flower is believed to partially inhibit the digestion of carbohydrates. (7)
Although this effect remains unproven, a clinical trial involving 36 obese people found that consumption of hibiscus extract over the course of 12 weeks led to…
“…reduced obesity, abdominal fat, serum free fatty acid and improved liver steatosis.”
That was in comparison to the placebo group. Similar results have come from studies involving hamsters and rats. (8) (9) (10)
For more details on the studies, check out the hibiscus tea benefits research that has been done to date.
What we drink every morning
To be clear, the potential health benefits of hibiscus tea remain unproven. There is not enough human research for any of them to be classified as proven. For that reason, you should NOT drink it with the intention to prevent, cure, or treat any disease. It’s not a medicine. It should be consumed as a food or dietary supplement only.
As far as it possibly being bad for you, there isn’t proof of that, or even research hinting that it might be unhealthy. It’s zero calories and tastes delicious if you sweeten it with this zero calorie monk fruit.
With that added, it kind of tastes like Kool-Aid and we say that as a compliment, not a criticism! Because unlike that disastrous drink you had as a child, this is something guilt-free and good for you. Sip on it in the morning, afternoon, and into the evening, too. It’s a 100% caffeine-free herbal tea.
Served as a cold tea, agua de flor de Jamaica is popular in Mexico, Central, and South America. In Australia they called it rosella.
In the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom, unfortunately it’s a very hard to find beverage. Practically no one sells if pre-brewed. You won’t find this healthy tea at Starbucks. Even the tea bags are hard to get your hands on. You probably won’t see them at Walmart, Target, or a traditional grocery store. At least we never have here in Los Angeles.
Even if we did see it for sale, we probably wouldn’t buy it.
Why? Because we prefer a blend instead…
The healthiest tea to drink in the morning is a combination of hibiscus and rose hips. Just as resveratrol is believed to activate the AMPK pathway, so are rose hips. Although not proven in humans, research suggests that AMPK activators may exert certain anti-aging benefits related to longevity, muscle mass, brain health, and more.
Here at Superfoodly, we go on Amazon and buy this bulk 6-pack of rose hips and hibiscus tea. At least one cup is brewed daily using two bags, usually mid-morning. That’s long after drinking some low acrylamide coffee or mushroom coffee upon waking.
Is it the healthiest tea? As mentioned at the start, that’s a loaded question since the answer is subjective. Though given the high antioxidant activity detected in hibiscus flowers, as well as the delicious taste when sweetened with this liquid monk fruit, it’s hard to not like this one the best!
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.