Thirty-one men (47 (SD 14) years) and thirty-four women (35 (SD 13) years) took part in a 4-week randomized cross-over trial to compare the effect of six mugs of black tea daily v. placebo (water, caffeine, milk and sugar) on blood lipids, bowel habit and blood pressure, measured during a run-in period and at the end of weeks 2, 3 and 4 of the test periods. Compliance was established by adding a known amount of p–aminobenzoic acid (PABA) to selected tea bags, and then measuring its excretion in urine. Mean serum cholesterol values during run-in, placebo and on tea drinking were 5·67 (SD 1·05), 5·76 (SD 1·11) and 5·69 (SD 1·09)mmol/l (P=0·16). There were also no significant changes in diet, LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, triacylglycerols, and blood pressure in the tea intervention period compared with placebo. Compared with placebo, stool consistency was softened with tea (P=0·04), and no other differences were found in bowel habit. Results were unchanged when fifteen ‘non-compliers’, whose PABA excretion indicated that fewer than six tea bags had been used, were excluded from the analysis, and when differences between run-in and tea periods were considered separately for those who were given tea first or second.