Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. Health benefits have been associated with tea drinking, including a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and cancer, and protection against dental caries and bone loss. It is likely that these benefits relate to the high polyphenol content of tea and how these polyphenols are metabolised and used by the body. In contrast, concern has arisen about the impact of tea on hydration and iron status, and the role of tea as a source of caffeine. This article updates an earlier systematic review by including more recent published evidence on the potential role of black tea in human health. While it is clear from in vitro and animal research that tea polyphenols act as antioxidants and have a beneficial effect on many biochemical processes in the body via a range of complex mechanisms, findings from epidemiological studies and the few available human intervention studies have been contradictory. Reasons for this are explored, including the influence of lifestyle factors other than tea consumption on cancer or CHD risk. The clearest consistent evidence points to an association between tea consumption, in excess of three cups per day, and a reduced risk of myocardial infarction. More human research is needed to draw conclusions about cancer and other markers of CHD. There was no consistent evidence pointing to a detrimental effect of tea drinking on hydration, bone health or iron status. The caffeine content of tea was modest compared with other sources and was unlikely to have an adverse effect on health within an intake range of 1 to 8 cups of tea per day.