Aqueous extracts of the leaves of Ardisia compressa (AC) have been used in folk medicine to treat various liver disorders including liver cancer. The objective of this study was to partially characterize and determine the total polyphenol content, antioxidant capacity, and quinone reductase activity of A. compressa tea in comparison to mate (Ilex paraguariensis, MT) and green (Camellia sinensis,GT) teas. Total polyphenol content, antioxidant capacity, and phase II enzyme induction capacity were measured by the modified Folin-Ciocalteu, ORAC, and quinone reductase (QR) assays, respectively. The major polyphenols in AC were not catechins. HPLC retention times and standard spikes of AC indicated the presence of gallic acid, epicatechin gallate, ardisin and kaempferol. Using catechin as standard, the total polyphenol value of AC (36.8 +/- 1.1 mg/mg DL) was significantly lower than GT (137.2 +/- 5.8 mg equivalent of (+)-catechin/mg dried leaves, DL) and MT (82.1 +/- 3.8 mg/mg DL) (P < 0.001). Antioxidant capacity (AC, 333; GT, 1346; MT, 1239 mmol Trolox equivalents/g DL) correlated with total polyphenol values (r(2) = 0.86, P < 0.01). AC (4.5-12.5 microg/mL) induced QR enzyme, in Hepa1c1c7 cells, up to 15%. MT and GT showed no induction at the concentrations tested (0.5-10.5 and 0.5-12.5 mg/mL, respectively). These results suggest that AC has a different mechanism of protection against cytotoxicity that is not related to its antioxidant capacity. Further studies are needed to determine such mechanisms and to explore its potential as a chemopreventive or therapeutic agent.