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8 Summer Sips to Try if You Love Sweet Tea​

Pour a refreshing glass of self-care with teas that deliver delicious flavor with less sugar. Plus: Homemade Can Save You $100 a Year.​

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Christopher Testani
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Nothing invigorates on a hot summer day like a delicious glass of sweet tea — a welcome refresher enjoyed on the porch or patio, on picnics, or at cookouts. But if you buy your iced tea bottled, here are four good reasons to prepare your own: It’s so cheap and so easy. You’ll likely add much less sugar. And it’s healthier.

Some bottled teas can contain far fewer polyphenols than fresh-brewed tea, according to a 2010 report presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. And you want lots of polyphenols, antioxidants that protect the body’s tissues against free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can increase the risk of illnesses such as coronary heart disease and cancer. Then there’s reason number five: You can choose the exact tea you want.

We asked registered dietitian-nutritionist Janette Marsac to spill the tea on popular varieties, both herbal options (1 and 2) and from the tea plant (3 through 8).

1. Hibiscus tea

Caribbean folks call it sorrel. West Africans call it bissap. In Central America, it’s agua de Jamaica, and in the Middle East, it’s karkade. Made of dried hibiscus flowers, from a shrub that grows in tropical regions worldwide, slightly sour, fruity and hot pink, this caffeine-free herbal tea contains high levels of antioxidants. It may also help manage blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Sip with caution, though: Too much hibiscus can have a laxative effect. Avoid it if you are pregnant.

2. Chamomile tea

This is a caffeine-free herbal tea with a slightly earthy, sweet taste. Often recommended before bedtime, chamomile contains an antioxidant called apigenin, which may induce sleepiness and reduce insomnia, especially in older adults. Try brewing this tea with fresh lemon, grated ginger and a little honey.

3. Black tea

Black tea is a great substitute for coffee if you want the benefits of caffeine. It contains the most of any steeped tea — 47 milligrams in 1 cup, about half the amount in a cup of joe — and it’s a rich source of theaflavins, which may help lower blood cholesterol.

4. Green tea

It retains more disease-fighting compounds than black tea because of its air-drying process, which results in less oxidation. Green tea may also boost metabolism and improve insulin sensitivity, research suggests. Plus, it contains 29 milligrams of caffeine per cup.

5. Oolong tea

A traditional Chinese tea, oolong has a flavor that can range from light and fruity to bold and earthy. It has 38 milligrams of caffeine per cup, and its antioxidants are similar to those in green and black teas.

6. Matcha tea

Made from whole green tea leaves ground into a fine powder, then mixed with hot water, matcha tea has about three times more antioxidants than green tea does, plus more caffeine — about 70 milligrams for 1 cup of tea made with 1 teaspoon of powder. (The caffeine content is higher than for steeped teas because you’re consuming the tea leaves.)

7. Masala chai

Masala chai is a black tea infused with a variety of spices such as cardamom, black pepper, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and star anise. All these spices enhance the tea’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s traditionally brewed with whole milk and sugar.

8. White tea

Harvested as buds rather than leaves, white tea is the least processed of the true teas, retaining a high level of antioxidants. It generally has less caffeine than green or black tea and has a lighter taste. In addition, white tea has oral health benefits, including plaque prevention (and it won’t stain teeth).

Just Chill

All tea varieties can be enjoyed cold.

  • If you steep tea in hot water, remove the bag (or strain the leaves) after the recommended steeping time to avoid a bitter aftertaste. Refrigerate after it reaches room temperature to avoid cloudiness.
  • If you’ll be pouring your tea over ice, use twice the amount of tea during the steep to concentrate flavor.
  • Enjoy the clean, bright taste of cold brew: Steep a tea bag in cold water in the fridge for six to eight hours before drinking. You’ll appreciate the difference.
  • For a granular tea such as matcha, steep and stir it before adding ice to avoid grittiness.

Money Saver—Over $100 Per Year!

We compared the cost of buying a gallon bottle of a popular iced tea weekly and the cost of making a gallon at home using tea bags. Each homemade gallon saved about $2.12. Over the summer that would save about $25, or the price of a pretty glass beverage dispenser and a set of six iced tea glasses. Drinking DIY year-round could save another $80 or so, enough to splurge on an attractive serving tray, six dishes and a tablecloth. Tea is even better when shared with friends.

Tips for Healthy Sipping: Reduce or Skip the Sugar

Sweet tea is a staple in the South, but the high sugar content cancels out the tea’s health benefits, says Marsac. Instead of going cold turkey — unsweetened tea can seem bland if you’re used to the sugar — cut back in increments, decreasing by 1 teaspoon of sugar, or diluting the tea with water, each week. Another option: Flavor unsweetened black tea with a lemon wedge; green, oolong or black tea with a few fresh mint leaves; or white tea with a single basil leaf. Marsac also recommends adding iced tea to a water bottle with an infusion chamber (you can fill it with fresh halved strawberries or peach slices to add flavor) or freezing diced fruit into ice cubes to slowly flavor tea as they melt.

Watch the Caffeine

Tea may not have the caffeine levels of coffee, but too much can still cause increased anxiety, trouble sleeping and heartburn, Marsac points out. Tannins in tea may also block iron absorption, if you drink a lot. New to the tea ritual? Marsac advises starting with one 8-ounce glass of true tea per day to see how you respond. You can enjoy herbal tea the rest of the day.

This story was adapted from Learn more here.