Do You Fancy a Cuppa?
“The path to Heaven passes through a teapot.”
– Ancient proverb
The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, provides one of the most popular and available drinks after water and is big business. It has been consumed for thousands of years. The earliest mention of tea dates as far back as the 10th century BC in China, and scholars think it’s use is likely to be even older. It wasn’t introduced into Europe until 1555 but now it is in most households and every establishment.
There are 3 main types of tea: Green, Black and Oolong. Green tea uses young leaves that have not been fermented, Oolong tea is partially fermented, and in Black tea the leaves are fully fermented. This process is in fact oxidisation of the leaves, rather than a fermentation with yeast. The leaves are crushed to break the cell walls allowing contact with oxygen which triggers a chemical reaction in the cells. The leaves are then dried to stop the process. How long the oxidation has gone on for determines the type of tea.
The Health Benefits
Tea contains polyphenols which, as we discussed in the article on chocolate, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which protect the tissues of our body.
Green tea has been shown to reduce the risk of developing skin, prostate, lung, breast, oesophageal, colon, liver, and pancreatic cancers with consistent positive results in animal studies but more mixed results in humans.
Those who regularly drink green tea have better cardiovascular health.
There is evidence that tea may influence how our bodies process sugar and may reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
Studies have shown tea increases bone density and may reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Green tea has been investigated with regards to Parkinson’s Disease. The evidence is mixed, with some studies suggesting a decrease in risk and others showing no correlation.
Drinking tea to lose weight has become a massive industry. The evidence for this is mixed and more research is underway.
There is some good evidence that tea has a beneficial effect on our mental health, with reduced cortisol levels and improved mood. One study showed that green tea drinkers were 21% less likely to be depressed and that tea drinking was equal to 2 and a half hours of exercise.
The bulk of research to date has been on Green tea, but there is mounting evidence for similar benefits from Black tea. The research is mostly epidemiological studies – comparing those who drink tea with those who do not. This is not the most robust evidence, but it is there, it is reproducible, and more research is underway.
The Health Harms
Is there such a thing as too much tea?
Green tea extracts have been associated with liver toxicity, but there is no evidence that Green tea as a drink causes this.
The main harm associated with tea is the caffeine it contains. A review of black tea concluded that moderate amounts of caffeine were good for mental performance, but over 8 cups would be considered excessive caffeine. Excess caffeine can cause abdominal pain, headaches, anxiety, palpitations, increased blood pressure and Insomnia.
Moving away from the science let us now look at the added social benefits of tea. When someone is in distress or a traumatic situation has occurred, our first response is often “I’ll put the kettle on”.
You will all remember situations you have been in where a cup of tea has been a calming influence. This is not just about the chemical effects on our body, it is also about the connection that sharing a cup of tea gifts us; a shoulder to cry on, support and advice, a problem shared. Such connections are not only about adversity, they celebrate our successes too.
Even without others, there are huge benefits to a quiet cup of tea, allowing us space and time – true self-care. In this time, we can practise mindfulness and follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice to “drink your tea”, letting go of worries about the future and ruminations about past events and focussing our attention fully in the now, enjoying a peaceful cup of tea.
This space also affords us time to think and breathe and allows a deeper connection to the Self and the Universe. Here we can do any inner work that we have recognised is due.
Tea has, of course, come from a culture of ceremony and ritual. Rituals are more important than we give them credit for. They are our SOPS they keep us safe and present. They are comfortable and reduce anxiety as they are a way to return to normal whatever has happened.
Next time you have a cup of tea make it a ceremonial and meditative exercise – make time for it properly.
Remember times you have had tea with the people you love and use this time to re-experience those positive emotions.
Be grateful for the tea and the time you have chosen to drink it.
Know that there is growing evidence for the health benefits of tea.
Smell the tea.
Taste the tea.
Allow the warmth to envelope you.
Alternatively, call a friend and ask if they fancy a cuppa!
 Khan N, Mukhtar H. Tea and health: studies in humans. Curr Pharm Des. 2013;19(34):6141-7.  Kim, J. & Kim, J. Nutrients 10, 1201 (2018).  Gardner, E., Ruxton, C. & Leeds, A. Black tea – helpful or harmful? A review of the evidence. Eur J Clin Nutr 61, 3–18 (2007).