What's Healthy About Tea? - Busting Ten More Tea Myths

Correcting a second list of major misunderstandings about tea.

Inspired by the introductory material to my book, “The Everything Healthy Tea Book”

These next ten myths are based on questions from students in my classes and the discussions and considerations that followed. 

  •  Milk should be put into the teacup first. OR Milk should be added to the brewed tea.

    There’s a science behind this that says that it is healthier to add brewed tea to milk already in the cup. One explanation is that  when milk is poured into hot tea, individual drops separate from the bulk of the milk and cause significant denaturation – degradation – to occur. This is less likely to happen if hot water is added to the milk. But there’s a common-sense approach that says you won’t know how much milk to add until you see the color change in the cup. According to George Orwell, “By putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk, whereas one is likely to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.”

          The health reason or the ‘foodie’ strategy?

You might consider the question while enjoying a bit of British tea humor in these videos.

  • The healthiest kind of tea is green tea. 

Each kind of  true tea (Camellia sinensis) – white, green, yellow, oolong, black and dark – have slightly different health benefits. Our shared oral history and herbal medicine suggests that some are better for managing the symptoms of cancer or for reducing blood pressure, for aiding with digestive disorders or even for weight loss.  But different doesn’t mean that one is better than another. Modern medical research has confirmed much of what has been believed for thousands of years. Yet, we are still far away from being able to make any specific claims . . . yet alone that one kind of tea is healthier. 

What I often say when I teach classes about tea is that the healthiest tea is the freshest. One that has been picked and processed within 1-2 years. One that is from a provider we know we can trust. One that is prepared with clean, fresh water. And one that we enjoy enough to drink frequently. The reason for this last statement is that there is absolutely nothing healthy about the tea that sits un-appreciated and not brewed in your cupboard. Most of the positive research results are based on consuming several cups a day. So, the healthiest tea is one that becomes part of your lifestyle. 

  • Purple Tea is healthier than all other teas. 

Africa Kenya-purple teaOne assumption about purple tea is that the additional antioxidants in the leaf make it much healthier than any other tea. And there may be some scientific evidence for this. But how the leaf grows in the field is only one factor in the overall healthfulness of the tea. Improper processing, distribution and storage can compromise what started in the field.  Fortunately, there is a lot of interest in developing high quality cultivars and researching both the agricultural and health values that they might offer. In the next few years, we should be hearing much more. 

And, referring back to the first “busted” myth of this article, if you don’t like the way it tastes and don’t drink it . . . if it doesn’t fit comfortably into your daily tea drinking . . . then it won’t do you any good. 

  • Purple Tea is so unique that should have its own category.

There are so many different kinds of teas that it can be intimidating to newcomers. And the way we describe them to make them more interesting can actually make them more confusing. The way we introduce new teas should have relevance to the entire world of tea. So that adding a new tea to your personal assortment is more comfortable and meaningful. As we develop even more variations on the classics, it’s tempting to focus on the uniqueness as a marketing strategy. In the case of something like Purple Tea, this strategy might backfire.

One reason is that Purple Tea – the leaf – is being processed in many different ways. As white, green, black and dark teas. Perhaps even as yellows or oolongs (I haven’t seen these yet). We’re all asking ourselves how we can best explain the interesting new products available on the international tea market.

What do you think?

  • Tea is an old-fashioned, out-dated beverage. 

Well . . .  I do hear this one fairly often. It does fly in the face of tea being, ” . . .  the second most consumed beverage in the world. Second only to water.” For my response, I’ll point back to the discussion of Purple Tea. Even though the brand name teas work to maintain a consistent flavor profile, and we te

  • Black Tea must be brewed with boiling water. 

We have a Western (vs. Asian) style of brewing very strong black tea. Using boiling water is one way to quickly draw all the components from the leaf. The flavor, color, aroma and the biologic compounds like caffeine. But there are many other ways to brew all kinds of tea. Including black tea. And one is even cold brew where the leaf never touches hot water. This produces a much different cup. An interesting taste comparison is to use equal amounts of tea and water. Cold brew one in the refrigerator overnight. Brew the other with boiling water. 

What differences do you taste? 

  • Black tea has the most caffeine and white tea has the least. 

Because Black tea is traditionally brewed with boiling hot water and other teas are brewed with cooler water, there is an experience when drinking it that the actual leaf must contain less caffeine. But, when we consider the role that caffeine plays in the plant’s life, we quickly see that this is not true. Caffeine is the plant’s way of defending tender new leaves from predator bugs. It’s a repellant – bitter to the taste and discouraging to invaders. Therefore, the most caffeine is stored in the newest flush – the top leaves and buds. This is the same for all kinds of tea. So green and white tea containing a high percentage of buds can also have a high percentage of caffeine. 

 

  • Tea will cure anything! 

One of my favorite responses to this optimistic rumor is to share this playful ad. Building on the stereotype of the devoted tea drinker, this bit of storytelling pokes a bit of fun at one of my favorite myths. 

  • Tea is a natural mood elevator.  TRUE!  This one is not a myth. 

There is a component in tea that naturally and healthfully makes you feel better. L-Theanine is able to pass through the blood/brain barrier and lift spirits. The combination of caffeine and L-Theanine gives the effect of being invigorated and able to focus with a sense of calm rather than jitters. 

  • Any kind of tea can be made into teabags. 

You can now find good quality representatives of almost every category of tea. The one that I have never seen – and don’t expect to see – is Yellow Tea. There isn’t much produced and most Tea Sippers interested in a tea like this one would prefer to experience the whole leaf with the entire sensory experience.

But this brings me to my real answer. You can brew any tea you want – any way you want. Literally hundreds of different methods and variations. There are no rules that cannot be broken. That’s one of the beautiful things about tea. But if you’re looking for inexpensive teabags on grocery store shelves, the choice will be limited. The complexity and cost of running whole leaf through tea bagging machines is one constraining factor. But the greater reason is that the consumer demand is not sufficient to make this realistic. 

  • There is a proper way to make tea! 

We tend to use the word “proper” in relation to the British style of making tea. But this does not mean that there is only one right way to brew a delicious cup. Even for the British. What I like to think of as a right way to brew tea is to show knowledge of and appreciation for the tea product. No matter how familiar or how rare. To take the time to prepare it in a way that shows respect for the person being served – yourself or your guest. And pause a moment to allow it to enliven the senses as well as the mood. 

But I found this video of Stephen Twining sharing his favorite methods for making tea. Enjoy!