Tea's health and mental benefits have been well known in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries plus it's scientifically a nutritious winner in our modern world.
Tea in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has evolved over many centuries in China and has become a popular, alternative form of medical practice across the rest of the world. While it encompasses many different elements from medicine to massage and meditation, it mainly focuses on holistic healing and harnessing food and drink as medicine. At the heart of TCM is cold and hot - or yin and yang. Yep, it's not just a somewhat tacky tattoo, yin and yang is a very old and eloquent concept. As demonstrated by the symbol, balance is key - it is believed that a balanced body is a healthy body.
In TCM, tea is believed to have a strong anti-inflammatory, toxin clearing and cooling effect - particularly green teas. Tea has the ability to decrease qi (energy), thirst and heat (or yin). Chinese Medicine also sees tea as a mood-booster with the ability to reduce stress and cleanse the mind. Cha Jing (The Tea Classic) lists 24 health benefits of tea, including aiding digestion, breaking down oils and satiating hunger. That's why tea is such an integral part of yum cha/dim sum!
In our modern, Western world, many of the most convenient and tempting foods are often hot leaning. Think fried foods, coffee, alcohol and red meats. When you have too much heat in the body or stagnant toxins, symptoms like ulcers or constipation appear. In TCM, cooling and often bitter foods can work to decrease the heat and these corresponding symptoms. No matter which way you look, nutritious leafy greens are always the saviour.
The modern health benefits of tea
Let's switch gears to a modern scientific point of view now. We know that tea, especially green tea, contains all sorts of goodies like catechins, polyphenols and alkaloids.
Tea has been researched time and again to be shown to be anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and neuroprotective. There have been numerous studies done on tea's ability to lower cholesterol, protect against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
For example, tea and its major constituents have been shown to growths of tumours in animals. The effects of green tea on metabolic syndrome has also been studied extensively and shown to reduce weight gain and/or adipose tissue weight, reduce blood glucose/insulin levels and increase glucose/insulin tolerance.
The mental benefits of tea
Pushing all of that aside for now. What about the all-important, mental, mood-boosting effects of tea?
There's no argument here. Nothing beats the simple pleasure of having a cup of tea. Be it solo or sharing a pot with a friends and family. Similarly to alcohol and coffee, having a cup of tea can be a rich, communal experience. There's a reason why it's lasted all of these centuries and become a culture in itself.
But if we did dig deeper into the science, tea drinking is associated with neuroprotective and cognitive improvements. L-theanine is one of the more prevalent amino acids in tea. It has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and has been researched to treat depression, anxiety, insomnia and schizophrenia with its calming and stress-reducing effects. That's why having a cup of tea won't give you those caffeine jitters like coffee can.
But don't just take our word for it.
If we take a quick trip around the world, countless cultures tell us that taking the time to have a cup of tea is a beautiful practice. Meditation via a gongfu tea or matcha ceremony. The art of brewing chai. The Swedish concept of fika. Getting tea drunk (or cha zui) in a tea house. Enjoying high tea or a simple afternoon tea break. That's why we keep coming back to tea - it might be to do with the physical health benefits, but it's everything to do with culture, community and contentment.