The tea plant Camellia sinesis is cultivated in >30 countries. Epidemiologic observations and laboratory studies have indicated that polyphenolic compounds present in tea may reduce the risk of a variety of illnesses, including cancer and coronary heart disease. Most studies involved green tea, however; only a few evaluated black tea. Results from studies in rats, mice, and hamsters showed that tea consumption protects against lung, forestomach, esophagus, duodenum, pancreas, liver, breast, colon, and skin cancers induced by chemical carcinogens. Other studies showed the preventive effect of green tea consumption against atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, high blood cholesterol concentrations, and high blood pressure. Because the epidemiologic studies and research findings in laboratory animals have shown the chemopreventive potential of tea polyphenols in cancer, the usefulness of tea polyphenols for humans should be evaluated in clinical trials. One such phase 1 clinical trial is currently under way at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in collaboration with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. This study will examine the safety and possible efficacy of consuming the equivalent of > or =10 cups (> or =2.4 L) of green tea per day. The usefulness of tea polyphenols may be extended by combining them with other consumer products such as food items and vitamin supplements. This "designer-item" approach may be useful for human populations, but it requires further study.