“I am in no way interested in immortality, but only in the taste of tea.”
– Lu T’ung, Tang Dynasty Poet

LuT’ung would be pleased to know that tea is definitely one drink that would bring you closer to immortality. A staple in the Buddhist philosophy, tea is said to aid meditation by clearing the head and now we have the research to back it up. In fact, researchers have dispelled the urban myth that tea is dehydrating because it contains caffeine.

“Studies on caffeine have found very high doses dehydrate and everyone assumes that caffeine-containing beverages dehydrate. But even if you had a really, really strong cup of tea or coffee, which is quite hard to make, you would still have a net gain of fluid”

(source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/5281046.stm)

Obviously, you should not stop drinking water completely but tea can be excellent for rehydration as it replaces both fluid and antioxidants.

So what makes tea so magical?

It’s all about chemicals

Well, the right ones anyway! We all know the importance of antioxidants, molecules that prevent the oxidation of cells which can lead to many free radicals. Free radicals are unpaired molecules that are highly reactive, which can end up reacting with the wrong substances, causing a chain reaction of damage to our body.

Tea, also known as Camellia Sinensis,contain antioxidants called polyphenols, which many plant based food, including coffee can have. However tea contains ECGC (Epigallocatechin gallate), one of the  most powerful of these, and they can help fight against free radicals that can contribute to cancerheart disease, and clogged arteries.

All tea are not the same though

Green and white tea, are likely to have the more polyphenol as they are the least processed. Oolong and black teas are fermented or oxidized so they have lower concentrations of polyphenols than green tea; but their antioxidizing power is still high. On the other hand, mature tea leaves contain 10 to 20 times more fluoride, which is important for healthy teeth and gums.

78% of the world consumes black while 20% consume green tea. The balance of 2% consume oolong. Consumption of white tea is slowly increasing, though it is still not as popular as green tea.

Drinking green tea has been associated with

  • Lower levels of cancer, especially esophageal. It is widely believed that green tea reacts with cancer causing cells without reacting with the healthy cells.
  • Improved cholesterol levels and reduced risk of stroke due to less arterial clogging. Green tea is believed to inhibit the production of free radicals in the lining of the arteries
  • Reduced risk of neurological diseases like Alzheimer and Parkinson.
  • Increased metabolic rate.

Black tea is also beneficial as it:

  • Helps blood vessels dilate appropriately.
  • Potentially reduces lung damage arising from smoking. (But the best way for prevention is still no smoking!)
  • Promotes better oral health because of higher concentrations of fluoride.
  • Contains alkylamine antigens and tannins also boost our immune response and our ability to fight common viruses such as influenza.
  • Lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Aside from the long-term health benefits that come with regular consumption, one of the daily benefits of drinking tea is “relaxed alertness”. L-theanine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in tea and is the only naturally occurring source we can include in our diet. The calming effects of L-theanine counter the jitteriness that can result from excessive caffeine in our bodies.

But tea has caffeine too! This is too good to be true!

All teas also have caffeine and theanine, which affect the brain and seem to heighten mental alertness. But compared to coffee which packs 80mg per cup (almost ? the recommended daily caffeine intake for men and ? for women), tea only carries 15mg per cup. While dry tea contains more caffeine than dry coffee, much less tea is needed to produce a flavourful beverage.

Of course, if you are sensitive to caffeine, be mindful of your intake if you wish to drink more than 1 cup. Pregnant women should also be mindful, as tea, like wine contains tannins which can decrease the absorption of iron and folic acid.

Some might also point out that many of these studies are not formally confirmed by government institutions like the US Food & Drug Administration. This could be because many of these studies are also done in Asia, where tea drinking is a culture, and cannot be generalised to countries like America, where tea drinking is less common.

Even if you are skeptical, most of these studies have not shown any harmful effects and may only be guilty of only showing correlation and not causation.

As with any food, the key is moderation and holistic. Tea is not going to counteract a dinner made up of donuts but there is no harm in swapping one cup of coffee for tea!