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QUESTION: A lot of the health claims for drinking tea are confusing - which are true?
ANSWER: Perhaps at no other time over the long history of tea drinking has so much scientific research been conducted on the properties of the tea bush and the leaves we steep in our cup. Much of the more recent research has focused on green teas because they remain the most popular type of tea in many countries outside of the U.S. and Europe. These positive results have fueled a growth in green tea consumption in the U.S. which has as much to do with the reported health benefits than any flavor preference for the taste of green teas.
Since all teas are coming from the same basic "Camellia sinensis" plant (with minor variations) all teas retain some of the same basic healthy ingredients. It is the processing of the tea that most alters the degree to which some teas are more healthy than others (black tea being more intensely dried and heated tends to lose some of the concentration of antioxidants and amino acids that provide most of the wellness properties of tea). While we appreciate all of the good news coming out of the research supporting the premise that tea is good for you, we tell our customers to drink tea first for the enjoyment of the tea. Appreciate all that surrounds the drinking of a cup of tea, the miles it traveled to get to your cup, the quiet pause in a hectic day to prepare the tea, and the relaxing qualities of tea - don't reduce drinking tea to an activity akin to taking a medicine.
QUESTION: OK, but what about the caffeine in tea?
ANSWER: Tea has a gentle caffeine, lower than that of coffee and many caffeinated sodas. Coffee averages around 80-115 milligrams (mg) for a 6 oz. serving although some specialty coffees can be well over 200 mg. per cup. Tea displays a wider variety due to the harvesting of the leaves during more than a single season and the wide range of processing of the tea leaves to create white, green, oolong and black teas. Finally, not only can there be varying levels of caffeine in the leaf depending on where it is grown, when it is harvested, and how it is processed; teas being brewed at different water temperatures and for different lengths of time will all contribute to how much caffeine is in any given cup.
All that being said, the numbers one sees quoted on many tea (and medical) websites estimate caffeine levels in specific ranges for each type of tea: black tea at around 40 mg., oolongs near 30 mg., green teas 20 mg., and white teas 10 mg. Decaffeinated teas (like decaffeinated coffees) still have low levels of caffinene even after the decaffeination process (avg. 4-5 mg.) South African Rooibos, botannical blends without a tea ingredient, and herbal teas (tisanes) are the only true caffeine-free teas.
Few countries outside of the U.S. isolate the caffeine level of tea as a negative so out of context to all the other health benefits found in tea. If moderating levels of caffeine are a concern, most teas can easily be brewed to reduce caffeine levels if desired without having to buy decaf tea specifically. Caffeine is a water soluble component of the tea leaf and the caffeine level of any type of tea can be lowered by pouring off the water after 20-25 seconds steeping to "wash" the leaves, discard the water, and then pour fresh water into the cup or pot and brew for the usual length of time. This home brewed method allows you to balance retaining of the flavor of the tea vs. the removal of some of the caffeine.
QUESTION: Does tea have the potential to help my workout, yoga, run or other activities? What about helping my recovery?
ANSWER: While we're not willing to predict that tea-based drinks are going to be pushing Gatorade off the store shelves anytime soon, in some ways teas do offer nutritional and performance benefits possibilities that most sports drinks can't offer.
Admittedly, for many, depending on the intensity and the duration of the activity, the sports drinks do exactly what is needed to stay hydrated, maintain a sustainable level of carbohydrates and provide a measure of electrolytes. But for less intensive activities, the calorie levels of these drinks can exceed the burn-off of the workout effort and the additional sugars are not always helpful for those with dietary concerns about excessive levels of simple sugars.
Tea, naturally full of antioxidants which help with inflammation and recovery are often blended with other botanical ingredients that provide nutritional support and are sources of healthy vitamins and minerals. Good quality teas require little or no sweetening and when you brew them to drink during or after exercise you control the type and level of sweetener, you don't have to settle for high fructose corn syrup in the ready to drink bottles.
Teas we recommend for hot or cold drinks during or after an activity include: organic Bancha green tea, organic Lemon Ginger green tea, Red Tiger pu-erh black tea, organic Hibiscus botanical tea, organic Ginger Lime Rooibos botanical tea, organic Yerba Mate and organic Pomegranate white tea.
A link to recent local running races where Zen Tara Tea has been a sponsor, participant and served some of our teas at the race to help the runners recovery after the finish line.