Tea is an important dietary source of flavanols and flavonols. In vitro and animal studies provide strong evidence that tea polyphenols may possess the bioactivity to affect the pathogenesis of several chronic diseases, especially cardiovascular disease and cancer. However, the results from epidemiological and clinical studies of the relationship between tea and health are mixed. International correlations do not support this relationship although several, better controlled case-referent and cohort studies suggest an association with a moderate reduction in the risk of chronic disease. Conflicting results between human studies may arise, in part, from confounding by socioeconomic and lifestyle factors as well as by inadequate methodology to define tea preparation and intake. Clinical trials employing putative intermediary indicators of disease, particularly biomarkers of oxidative stress status, suggest tea polyphenols could play a role in the pathogenesis of cancer and heart disease.