Inhibition of anomalous aggregation of tau protein would be an attractive therapeutic target for Alzheimer's disease (AD). In this study, tannic acid (TA), a polymeric plant polyphenol, and its monomer, gallic acid (GA), were introduced as the references to afford a molecular framework that integrates tau binding properties and inhibitory effects. Using a thioflavin S fluorescence assay and electron microscopy, we demonstrated that TA could competently inhibit the in vitro aggregation of tau peptide R3, corresponding to the third repeat unit of the microtubule-binding domain, with an IC50 of 3.5 μM, while GA's inhibition was comparatively piddling (with an IC50 of 92 μM). In the isothermal titration calorimetry experiment, we found that TA could strongly bind to R3 with a large amount of heat released. Circular dichroism spectra showed TA dose-dependently suppressed the conformational transition of R3 from a random coil structure to a β-sheet structure during the aggregation process. Finally, a structural model was built using molecular docking simulation to elucidate the possible binding sites for TA on the tau peptide surface. Our results suggest that TA recognizably interacts with tau peptide by forming a hairpin binding motif, a key framework required for inhibiting tau polymerization, in addition to hydrogen bonding, hydrophilic-hydrophobic interactions, and static electrical interactions, as reported previously. The inhibitory effect of TA on human full-length tau protein (tau441) was also verified by electron microscopy. This finding hints at the possibility of TA as a leading compound of anti-AD drugs and offers a new stratagem for the rational molecular design of a tau aggregation inhibitor.