Tea is a potion. It wasn’t designed to be drunk by Spaniards. It doesn’t pair well with jamón, Spanish omelet, or even with fried fish. What a mess! Despite all of this, and the shabby quality tea served in Spanish bars and cafés, some people do wind up drinking it, perhaps because they are looking for a drink without alcohol or carbonation or because they don’t like the taste of coffee. It would seem that the old tonic ad was right: if you try something a bunch of times you’ll end up liking it. Our previous post discussed how simply preparing tea improves your health. Today we’re going to discuss the matter of drinking tea once you’ve gotten over the feeling that it isn’t your drink.
Setting aside the now legendary polyphenols, which everyone knows are fantastic antioxidants and are found in high concentrations in different types of teas – to the point that a single cup of tea may have one-fourth the amount of antioxidants we need every day, we will focus on caffeine and theanine and their positive biological effects. We should start with issues of nomenclature or how we refer to things. Theine and theanine are different things, while theine and caffeine are the same thing. Surprise! They are the same molecule, but we refer to it differently; we also call it mateine and guarana when they come from other plant sources.
Almost all adults in this day and age have experienced firsthand the stimulating effects of caffeine, which improves their attention and ability to concentrate, but there are also certain myths that we’d like to clarify. Does tea or coffee have more caffeine? We’ll try to confuse you with the answer. Tea leaves usually have more caffeine than coffee beans, but as more ground coffee is used to make a single cup of coffee, you’ll find about double the caffeine in your coffee cup than in your cup of tea (this is a non-scientific estimate, considering the millions of recipes and types of tea and coffee on the planet).
The second myth is that the tea with the least caffeine is white tea. This is a huge lie told by many websites and tea shops! A majority of scientists currently accept that the biological use of caffeine is to defend against disease, infestations, and herbivores. Therefore, the younger the leaf (white tea leaves are white because of the hairs from their recent birth and the lack of chlorophyll, as they still haven’t performed photosynthesis) the higher the caffeine content they have, so as to better defend themselves. As it is difficult to measure at home, the experiment that we propose is for you to prepare a cup of white tea for your partner at 8:00 pm following the instructions and false promises from the shop. Ask them the next day how well they slept. If you generally don’t talk in the morning because they aren’t a morning person, just look at the expression on their face. You’ll know.
So, after the people who are quite sensitive to caffeine have left white tea on the shelf, we’d like to recommend the following options: 1) track down old leaf teas like Japanese kukicha (it is picked in winter when the caffeine content is lower); 2) lower the brew temperature – especially for green teas, if you don’t, they will be too bitter and astringent – from boiling to 65ºC (which is usually the recommendation, but we never pay attention because it is hard to calculate at home, even more so at your neighborhood café). With this, the amount of caffeine extracted from the leaves is reduced by between five and 10 times; 3) the most incredible proposal of all for our consumption-oriented minds: dump the first brew from the leaves, as 50% of the caffeine is extracted in the first 45 seconds because it is a small, very polar molecule. It may sound like a joke, but it certainly isn’t strange for us tea nerds, who buy teas that can and should be brewed at least three to four times. Due to the quality and quantity of the leaves we use, we reduce brew times significantly. They are usually between 30 and 90 seconds for the first brew (of course, some teas require different processes). Beyond that time, some consumers might be thought to be boiling their tea in order to make a cake with it (evidently, there are teas that require extractions that are quite long due to their particular characteristics). (Please be advised! Everything in life works in stages, and tea nerdism is no exception. You may start out this way, but once you reach a very high level of tea nerd, since your tea consumption will have increased, the caffeine will have no effect and you won’t waste a single drop. It is not uncommon to find tea nerds sniffing an empty cup, still warm after the disappearance of their beloved drink.)
What is the advantage of consuming caffeine from tea, where it comes in lower quantities, instead of from coffee, if you’re looking for a stimulant? Well, there are a number of reasons, but we’ll give you one with regard to space. Along with caffeine, we also consume theanine, an amino acid derived from glutamic acid which has been proven to reduce physical tension, psychological stress, and symptoms of anxiety. It also improves reasoning, memory, and mood. However, it doesn’t do this with the caffeine; they actually work separately. If you’re interested in combining both effects: being alert and focused with feeling centered, relaxed, and stress-free, you should drink green teas that have been shaded before harvest, as is the case with Japanese matcha, kabuse sencha, and gyokuro. There is more L-theanine in them than in all other teas that are not subjected to this production process.
If you try it and enjoy the experience, please share it with others. Small gestures like offering a colleague a cup of tea can brighten tough days, and of course make this world a better place to live in. And that’s health.