The beverage tea, from the top leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis is one of the most widely used beverages in the world, second only to water. Black and green tea have mostly similar actions. The active components are polyphenols, mainly epigallocatechin gallate in green tea, and the tea leaf polyphenol oxidase mediated oxidation to oolong and black tea, yielding other polyphenols, theaflavin and thearubigins. There is 40-50 mg caffeine in a 160-ml cup of tea. The chemopreventive effects of tea depend on: (1) its action as an antioxidant; (2) the specific induction of detoxifying enzymes; (3) its molecular regulatory functions on cellular growth, development and apoptosis; and (4) a selective improvement in the function of the intestinal bacterial flora. The oxidation of LDL cholesterol, associated with a risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease, is inhibited by tea. Many of cancers are caused by lifestyle elements. One is cigarette and tobacco use, leading to cancer in the oral cavity, esophagus and lung, inhibited by tea. Mice administered a tobacco nitrosamine, 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK), developed significantly fewer lung tumors than controls when given green tea or its major polyphenol, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Tea suppressed the formation of 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine (8-OHdG), a marker of oxidative DNA damage, in the lung DNA of mice given NNK. Gastric cancer, caused by a combination of Helicobacter pylori and salted foods, is lower in tea drinkers. Western nutritionally-linked cancers of the breast, colon, prostate and pancreas can be inhibited by tea. The formation of genotoxic carcinogens for these target organs during the cooking of meats, heterocyclic amines, and their effects were decreased by tea. Tea inhibited the formation of reactive oxygen species and radicals and induced cytochromes P450 1A1, 1A2 and 2B1, and glucuronosyl transferase. The higher formation of glucuronides represents an important mechanism in detoxification. The developmental aspects and growth of cancers through promotion are decreased by tea. The regular use of a widely available, tasty, inexpensive beverage, tea, has displayed valuable preventive properties in chronic human diseases.