If Not Coffee, Tea?

“Coffee is not my cup of tea.”

― Samuel Goldwyn

And so says a reader who emailed me after reading my post, “Caffeinate Me” (where I extolled the health benefits of coffee, how it’s best brewed and the way I enjoy it): “Well no wonder I’m not healthy. I can’t stand drinking coffee. Does tea give any benefits? Knowing my luck it’s probably bad for me!”

Chai, te, thee, teo, tsaa, teh, tae, che – whatever language you speak, it’s all Tea. Tea is grown everywhere from the Himalayan mountains to the lowlands outside Charleston, South Carolina, to Africa (most of which is CTC [“crush, tear, cut” machine-harvested] black tea destined for tea bags) to China – the birth place of tea and the one country that produces more types of tea than anywhere else.

Every type of tea’s composition and characteristic flavor is dependent on where it comes from, the soil and climate it grows in, or in what proportion they are used in blends (popular blend examples: Earl Grey – black tea with bergamot oil [a citrus plant], English Afternoon – Assam and Kenyan with Ceylon; Irish Breakfast – several black, including Assam). Of course, there are varieties of green teas, which are made from leaves that have not aged and oxidized (as are Oolong and black teas.)

Tea has been drunk for millenniums – in fact, it’s debatable whether it or beer or wine was the first man-made beverage – and has been touted as a panacea for every ailment known to mankind as well as the key to happiness and wisdom.

In priority order, these types (listed benefits scientifically inconclusive) may have or do:

1) green tea –  antioxidents that interfer with bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic and colorectal cancers; lessen  clogging of the arteries; counteract stress; reduce risks of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease; improve cholesterol levels

2) white tea – most potent anticancer properties

3) black tea – protect lungs from damage caused by smoking; reduce risks of stroke

4) Oolong tea – lower bad cholesterol, help weight-loss

So what are the possible down-sides to tea?

1) Aluminum, iron and other metals – aluminum traces may be associated with Alzheimer’s, with risky amounts in Chinese and Indian/Sri Lanka blends; black tea may inhibit iron absorption (may harm people with anemia.)

2) Floride exposure – highest levels found in machine-harvested leaves (that are sold as cheaper market teas) contain the most, but even drinking a liter per day would only result in 4 mg consumption, well less than the max tolerable level per day of 10 mg (of course, one must factor in the daily intake of floride-laced water per day in that maximum.)

3) Oxalates – overconsumption can cause kidney stones, even kidney failure.

4) Caffeine – a mild diuretic that (as with coffee) could cause mild dehydration if not balanced with water intake.

Now, I like a good, hot cuppa. My absolute favorite is black tea from Kenya. For sun or iced tea, a Sri Lankan black orange pekoe will do.

But back to the readers question, does tea give any benefits? Answer: possibly. Interestingly, coffee has had greater scrutiny than tea, medically, and coffee’s benefits have the weight of (limited) science whereas tea has much less. And it would appear that tea has more negative possible issues than coffee.

But like all things, everything is good in moderation. And when in doubt, consult your physician.

So dear reader, if you can’t/won’t drink coffee, and are now leery of tea, maybe you should stick with water and fresh juices.

– Bill


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