White

Black and green? So 20th century. The hot new color in tea is white. The leaves for all three teas come from one plant, Camellia sinensis. But those leaves meant for black and green teas are rolled and fermented before drying, while those destined for white teas — which actually brew up pale yellow-red — aren't. Nutritionwise, this small change makes a big difference.

Flavonoids are natural chemicals credited with tea's ability to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer, and protect your teeth from cavity-causing bacteria. Fresh tea leaves are rich in flavonoids called cate-chins, but processing the leaves to make black and green teas releases enzymes that enable individual catechins to hook up with others, forming new flavor and coloring agents called polyphenols (poly = many) that give flavor and color to black and green teas. Because white tea leaves are neither rolled nor fermented, fewer of their catechins marry into polyphenols. According to researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) at Oregon State University, the plain catechin content of white tea is three times that of green tea. Black tea comes in a distant third.

Why should you care about this? Because all those catechins seem to be good for living bodies. For example, when LPI researchers tested white tea's ability to inhibit cell mutations in bacteria and slow down cell changes leading to colon cancer in rats, the white tea beat green tea, the former health champ. And when scientists at University Hospitals of Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University applied creams containing white-tea extract to human skin (on volunteers) and exposed the volunteers to artificial sunlight, the creamed skin developed fewer pre-cancerous changes. To be fair, green tea preparations were also protective, but white tea has less caffeine than either green or black tea, which makes it the perfect brew for a recovering caffeine fiend. Sip.

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