As American-British author and keen tea drinker, Henry James said, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
A cup of tea at any hour of the day has a restorative effect for most of us. Whether it is the first steaming sip in the morning, an afternoon pick-me-up or a quick cuppa enjoyed in a spare minute, sitting down with a hot drink provides at least a moment of relaxation in our busy lives.
Studies have even found that the act of holding a warm drink can make you see the world in a better light. We naturally associate hot drinks with warmer characters so, if you meet a stranger with a cup of tea in hand, you’re more likely to be seen as welcoming and friendly.
No wonder tea is by far our favourite hot drink in the UK. As a nation we get through 165 million cups every day – coffee is a long way off catching up with an estimated 70 million cups drank each day. Britons are always counted among the world’s highest tea drinkers and it is even grown on our shores.
While areas like Darjeeling, Assam and Ceylon might be the first to spring to mind when thinking about growing the camellia plants from which tea is made, the Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall has been growing, harvesting and blending the stuff since 1999.
Originating in China, tea was seen as a drink for healing until the 6th Century and, when it arrived in Britain as a result of exploration in the 17th Century, it was advertised as a medicine. While we no longer tend to see the warming drink through a medicinal lens, it could have benefits for our health.
Is tea really good for your health?
Drinking tea, whether it’s a mug of builder's, a prized white variety or a delicate green blend, is thought to be good for us.
Extensive research has shown that the combination of caffeine and L-Theanine, a naturally-occurring amino acid found in tea, improves reaction time and memory, while increasing focus and concentration. It has even been shown that tea can act on theta brainwaves, which occur most often in sleep, to increase our attention spans.
If you’re a keen tea drinker you may have already noticed tea’s calming effect, with some blends like chamomile being renowned for their relaxing influence.
Studies back this up, noting that stress levels spike less, and we’re able to recover from stress faster, if we drink six or more cups of tea per day.
When it comes to drinking tea for our health, green tea varieties are having a bit of a moment. Picked from the same camellia plants, green teas simply forgo the oxidisation process which produces black varieties.
What are the health benefits of green tea? Rich in antioxidants, green tea can combat free radicals to help keep skin healthy, works to reduce inflammation and there are studies which suggest consumption may help to protect against cardiovascular disease.
As the benefits of different tea varieties are coming to light, more and more of us are ditching traditional blends for more exciting varieties.
Should I cut down on caffeine?
While there are many health benefits to sipping on tea, there is no denying that it contains a significant amount of caffeine – in one cup of black tea you’ll find roughly 50mg.
People are affected by caffeine in different ways and often this depends on how much you are used to consuming as well as your own sensitivities.
Drinking 400mg of caffeine, or approximately eight cups of black tea, every day can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, problems sleeping and headaches.
Therefore, cutting back on caffeine is a good idea for many and reducing the amount of tea you drink is a simple way to do this (although you will also find caffeine in coffee, chocolate and some protein bars).
Reducing the amount of caffeine we consume can have side effects, including headaches and fatigue, but these are short-lived and ultimately it could lead to better sleep, more energy and less stress. Plus, you don’t need to cut out tea entirely to make the change.
While it is a myth that green tea contains significantly less caffeine than black blends, the amount of caffeine you drink depends largely on the strength of your brew.
The simplest option is to switch to decaf blends and enjoy more fruit and herbal infusions which tend to be caffeine free. However you take it, there's nothing more healing than a cup of tea.
Photos by rawpixel, Gian Cesco, Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash