Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Tea and Health?

I try not to read too much about the health benefits of tea. (Yes, I know I just wrote a couple of posts about how good ginger and chamomile are for you… and they ARE good for you… and so is regular tea, particularly of the green variety… but I don’t really think that my comments fall into the tea-vangelical category that many other tea-and-health postings on Camellia sinensis do.) As someone with a background in herbal medicine, who is also often stubbornly resistant (still) to taking Panadol for even the most blinding headache, I am fascinated by the capacity of plants to do us good.

Yet the most tea-vangelical of the tea-vangelists (and I may be thinking here about some of the lovely people at T Ching, who are clearly passionate about their tea, but sometimes a little obsessed; witness some of the comments posted to articles on their blog) often decry the practice of drinking black teas – particularly with milk, heaven help you – and portray green and white tea drinkers as the chosen few who will inherit the kingdom of good health… and woe to anyone who dares to touch a nice cup of English Breakfast with milk and a bit of sugar… (cue thunderclaps, lightning, and the howling of wolves)

Ok, so maybe that was a bit extreme, but truly, I find all this information a little bit depressing, which is why I tend to avoid it. I like my black teas (with milk, depending on the kind) equally as much as my greens and whites and oolongs, and nothing spoils enjoyment of something so much as being told that it isn’t good for you. Well, nothing spoils my enjoyment more, anyway; I imagine there are some quirky perverse spirits out there who would revel in such information and indulge with all the more relish in the ‘guilty’ pleasure.

I can certainly see why adding milk to black tea (or any tea, mind you, though that would largely be yukky instead of potentially delicious) may inhibit its health benefits: tea derives many of its healthful properties from flavonoids which, as I understand it from my herbal medicine classes, are bound by proteins (such as those in milk) and rendered less active. But honestly, so what? There are many many other sources of health-giving plant nutrients in the world, and so long as you’re consuming a variety of them I don’t think anyone should be too fussed about their tea consumption, of whatever sort.

There are also vast differences between an infusion of a plant, which is drunk, and the individual constituents of that plant extracted in a laboratory and then concentrated, made into creams and applied topically, or sold as tablets to be taken. MarshalN makes this point beautifully in a recent post at his Tea Addict’s Journal. What’s more, there are oodles of other reasons to drink tea of all kinds, completely apart from any health benefits that might accrue to you: it’s warming or cooling, depending on the type and how it’s brewed; it’s refreshing and thirst-quenching; it can be a pleasant social ritual or a soothing quiet time on one’s own; and it comes in so many myriad shapes, colours and flavours that you could probably spend the rest of your life exploring them. I certainly intend to…


  1. :-) You know, just because you love a bit of milk in your tea does not mean it isn't still good for you. I know the whole scientific protein binding thing, but, surely some of those guys get past the milk protein and continue to provide you nutrition.

  2. You would think so, wouldn't you? :) I'm sure for the amount of milk that goes into most tea, the ratios would sort themselves out somehow...


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