“Tea is the Elixir of Life.”

As the world moves towards a more heightened sense of environmental and personal concern on health and sustainability, there is a growing trend towards seeking a fair trade, plant-based, gluten-free, lactose and sugar-free drink which may contain antioxidants. What better drink is there that covers all these criteria than TEA?

Generally speaking, over the past decade our tastes and opinions have altered somewhat, and we are taking a more proactive approach to health than in previous decades. With this attitude comes the idea of making our daily food choices that are more beneficial and good for us but also may contain ingredients that will act to prevent health problems. Tea is one such drink that does just that in spades.

The Health Benefits of Tea?

Tea has no sodium, fat, sugar nor is it carbonated. Tea helps to increase fluid intake, has virtually no calories and may in fact improve general health and well being. This is because Tea contain flavonoids or polyphenols (antioxidants) that help to neutralize free radicals in the body. Scientists believe free radicals damage elements in the body, such as genetic material and lipids, that may contribute to chronic disease. It is thought that the flavonoids in tea may provide an important role in maintaining good health. The flavour and colour of a cup of tea is from two phenolic substances theaflavins and thearubigins, which are formed from the flavanols during tea processing.

Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages worldwide, and global consumption ranks second only to water, well ahead of coffee, beer, wine and carbonated soft drinks

“A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter.”

Mary Lou Heiss,

Also of note is that it is the Flavonoids that give Tea its flavour called tannins. The stronger the Tea the more tannins present. The longer you steep or draw the tea the more tannins are in the cup.

Tea is available in many varieties although the five key Teas are White, Green, Oolong, Pu’erh and Black are all from the same Camellia sinensis plant. Chinese tea is from a variety of Sinensis plant a more bush-like variety that prefers cooler temperature at higher altitude. Indian tea from the Assam region comes from the variety assamica plant, a tall tree, to five metres growing in hot, humid areas on flat terrain. As in viticulture, the soil, environment, weather, humidity, sunlight and rainfall will greatly influence Tea quality and taste plus of course the cultivation and processing.

In recent studies it was found that people who regularly drank green or black Tea every day have reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Tea provided various other heart related benefits on cholesterol, slowing of heart disease and improvements in blood pressure. These results were based on as little as one cup a day up to 6 cups a day. The phytochemicals in tea are thought to play a role in decreasing the risk of cancer and may also boost the immune system.

There are studies on the consumption of tea for benefits to neurological and cognitive decline, reduction in anxiety, memory, attention and brain function. This is due to the amino acid L-theanine in Black and Oolong tea, a strong antioxidant. It has been shown to reduce cognitive stress and used in conjunction with the presence of caffeine, improves memory and learning tasks. The outcome for us after a cup of Tea is a reduction of mental and physical stress. It gives us a feeling of relaxation by increasing our dopamine and serotonin levels. No wonder we love our morning and afternoon Tea.

Like coffee, Tea is a stimulant due to caffeine but the caffeine is slowly released over about ten hours. The caffeine content in a cup of tea ranges between 20 to 70 mg per 170ml from around 2.5g of tea leaves. This will depend on how the tea is made and what variety. A cup of coffee, in comparison, has 40–155 mg of caffeine per 170ml. Tea also contains another psychoactive compound, the amino acid theanine. According to Nigel Melican managing director of Teacraft says caffeine and theanine together create a

“synergistic and balancing effect of stimulating and relaxing’. Where caffeine stimulates and wards off drowsiness, theanine induces a relaxed alertness that reduces mental anxiety and creates a sense of wellbeing by increasing the brain’s production of gamma-amino butyric acid and promoting alpha brainwave activity. The amino acid also improves the taste of tea by offsetting the astringency of some brews.”

The flavonoids present in Tea are at the centre of research into cancer prevention. The major ones in tea are catechin (C), epicatechin (EC), epicatechin gallate (ECG), gallocatechin (GC), epigallocatechin (EGC), and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), EGCG is the most active of these catechins and is the main one studied in cancer research. It is said to reduce the formation of lung, oesophagal and skin tumours in patients and may also protect against diabetes.

Global research findings have been instrumental in the development of supplements and foods based on tea extracts for improved health and preventative medicine using Teas therapeutic properties but I think I’ll stick to just drinking my Tea.

Fun Facts

Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world next to water.

In 2018 globally we drank 273 billion liters of tea.

Turkey, Ireland, and the United Kingdom the world’s biggest tea drinkers.

87% of Millennials most likely drink tea

Tea is grown in mountainous areas 3,000 – 7,000 feet above sea level, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn in acidic soil rich in minerals. Tea producing countries are Argentina, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Malawi, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Taiwan, Australia and Vietnam. The top tea producing countries are China and India.

Tea is a natural and environmentally sound product derived from a renewable source. The Tea industry employs hundreds of thousands of workers in the growing, production and manufacturing of tea. The tea plant is naturally resistant to most insects and the oxidation of the tea leaf is a natural process.

Many thanks to the authors of the Article
The Association between Green and Black Tea
Consumption on Successful Aging: A Combined
Analysis of the ATTICA and MEDiterranean ISlands
(MEDIS) Epidemiological Studies. https://researchsystem.canberra.edu.au/ws/files/27249571/molecules_24_01862.pdf and The Tea Association Of the USA Inc Fact Sheet.

https://www.chemistryworld.com/features/the-chemistry-in-your-cuppa/2500010.article

Di Baker 2020

Images courtesy of Unsplash