How to maximise the health benefits of your cup of tea 

As new research shows even more ways that tea can help your heart health, we explain how to get the best chance of reaping the benefits.

Taking a few moments to enjoy a cup of tea is one of life’s simple pleasures. It helps us to get moving in the morning and feel more alert. Tea warms us up when it’s chilly outside. It also helps us to unwind when we need to have a little time out from a hectic day. 

Tea is also an excellent choice when it comes to your health. For example, tea helps to keep you hydrated, and it offers protection against tooth decay (because of its fluoride content). Tea also provides some essential minerals including manganese.  

Research is also discovering new ways in which tea might benefit your heart health. 

Aerial shot of a cup of teaCredit: Shutterstock/Towfiqu ahamed barbhuiya

New research into tea and heart health

Latest research published in the journal Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy has highlighted a recently discovered natural tea compound called cystatin. Research in mice has suggested that it offers an extra benefit for protecting your heart health, as it could help to reduce the risk of blood clotting and thrombosis.

The research also found that cystatin could help to thin the blood naturally by preventing platelets (the substances in your blood that stick together to form a clot) from sticking together. The study also found it might play a role in relaxing blood vessels, although more research is needed into this. 

“This latest research adds to existing evidence which shows that regular tea drinkers are less likely to develop heart disease or suffer from heart attack or stroke,” explains Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietitian from the Tea Advisory Panel.

“According to a survey of nearly half a million British adults, those drinking three cups of tea daily had a 24% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.” 

Which type of tea is best for your health?

All types of tea made from the camellia sinensis plant (black tea, green tea, white tea and oolong tea) have the same number of total polyphenols (those heart-healthy plant compounds).

How they differ is in the proportion of each type of polyphenol that they contain. For example, black tea contains more of the polyphenols called theaflavins and thearubigins.

Black tea

Theaflavins are formed in the production of black tea and are more commonly associated with its blood cholesterol-lowering effects. Thearubigins contribute to black tea’s distinctive dark brown colour and are associated with anti-inflammatory and gastrointestinal regulating effects.  

Green tea

In contrast, green tea contains more of the polyphenols known as catechins. Green tea is also thought to provide more antioxidants but whether you prefer black or green, they all offer health and wellbeing benefits. 

Herbal tea

Herbal teas can be made from a wide range of plants, so their benefit can vary greatly depending on what they’re made from. 

Woman relaxing with a cup of teaCredit: Shutterstock / Simona Pilolla

The polyphenols effect

Tea contains a number of antioxidants that are associated with your heart health. Dr Ruxton tells us more about tea’s potential benefits. 

“Tea is made from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant and is rich in polyphenols,” she explains. “Polyphenols are antioxidants in tea which are beneficial for heart health and several other aspects of our wellbeing too.

“These have an anti-inflammatory effect in blood vessels, resulting in the dilation (widening) of blood vessels. This leads to the lowering of blood pressure.” 

“Tea also contains L-theanine, a natural compound which promotes relaxation and gives us that ‘aaaahhh’ feeling when we sit down to a cuppa,” she adds. 

Does it matter if you add milk to tea?

Many of us like to add milk to our tea, so you may be wondering whether that affects its benefits. Thankfully, Dr Ruxton reassures us that research indicates adding milk to tea doesn’t lessen the heart health effects. 

“It has sometimes been thought that milk could reduce the antioxidant content of tea. Yet, research has found consuming black tea increases blood levels of antioxidants and adding milk does not seem to inhibit this effect.” 

What we might need to tweak to better absorb the heart-healthy antioxidants in tea is the brewing time we apply. 

Woman holding a cup of tea while outdoorsCredit: Shutterstock / Butsaya

How long should you brew your tea for?

Dr Ruxton says leaving the tea bag to brew for three to five minutes is important, as this will ensure the optimal amount of polyphenol compounds are released. 

The number of cups of tea we consume per day matters too for maximising heart health benefits. According to tea habits research by Tetley, tea drinkers typically drink three cups per day. But as Dr Ruxton explains, four cups (or even more if you like your tea weak) is best for your heart. 

Four cups of tea is optimal for getting the most from your brew,” she says. “But for people who prefer to have weak or milky tea, drinking 4-6 cups per day would be more beneficial for your heart health.” 

Whilst tea does contain healthy antioxidants, so do many foods, especially fruit and vegetables. Getting your five-a-day and eating plenty of wholegrains will also help to support your heart health as well as your overall health.  

How to make a perfect brew

Want to know what makes the best brew? Dr Sharon Hall from the UK Tea and Infusions Association has put together a few simple steps to help ensure we make a great cup of tea. She advises we should: 

  • Use a good quality tea bag or loose-leaf tea. 
  • Store tea in a cool, dry place, away from strongly flavoured or perfumed foods. 
  • Always use freshly drawn water and consider using a water filter. “In some parts of the country, the tap water is hard or soft and this can affect the taste of tea,” Dr Hall explains. 
  • Use one tea bag or one rounded teaspoon of loose tea for each cup or mug. 
  • Put fresh water in the kettle each time. “The flavour of tea develops best when made with freshly boiled water”, Dr Hall says. “The lack of oxygen bubbles in re-boiled water can give tea a flat taste.” Try to boil only the amount you need each time, to save energy and so you don’t get tempted to use re-boiled water for the next cup. 
  • Allow the tea to brew for the recommended time before pouring, and always read the instructions on the pack. 
  • When brewing tea from a bag in a mug, adding milk last is best. 
  • Most black teas should be brewed for three to four minutes (or up to five to gain maximum heart health benefits). 
  • Lapsang Souchong tea tastes best after four to five minutes.  
  • Green tea is best brewed for three to four minutes and oolong tea for three to five minutes, depending on your strength preference. 
  • Remove the bag after brewing, before you add the milk. 
Julie Penfold

Written by Julie Penfold she/her

Updated:

Julie Penfold has been a specialist health and wellbeing journalist for more than 15 years and has been a finalist in three prestigious health and medical journalism awards during that time. She has written for a wide variety of health, medical, wellbeing and fitness magazines and websites. These have included Running, TechRadar, Outdoor Fitness, Be Healthy, Top Sante, Doctors.net.uk and The Guardian’s Social Care network.

  • twitter
  • linkedin