Tea: A Magic Elixir?

China Royal Jasmine Curls

Seemingly every month there is a newly discovered health benefit to drinking tea, often green tea. Shouted from headlines, people sometimes think that they should start drinking tea—specifically green tea—even if they dislike it!

So should they?

Researchers tackle this very question in various ways.

For example, they might first evaluate tea drinkers against a control group.

If those tea drinkers seem to benefit in some way (and plenty of studies indicate there are very real advantages to drinking tea!), the study might evolve into a more controlled experiment within a laboratory setting. After all, the researchers want to isolate what specifically causes the effect and be able to measure it precisely. Then, how might that effect be optimized and applied in a controlled and meaningful way?

534-brew-2_0053Green Tea’s Health Benefits—Physical, Social, Cognitive

Various studies have suggested that drinking green tea may:

  • lower the likelihood of dying by stroke, heart attack, or pneumonia
  • lower the risk of cognitive impairment (e.g., protect neurons from damage and maintain neuron viability)
  • lower risk of depression, psychological distress, osteoporosis, cardiovascular issues
  • lower the rate of diabetes, liver disease, body pain
  • increase social engagement, motor function, cognitive activity

So just what about tea has these effects? How exactly does this work? Can this factor be isolated, concentrated, and then used medicinally for specific purposes?

534-brew-6_0064The Magic of Polyphenols

A key seems to be polyphenols—antioxidants that are naturally found in plants. All tea—whether green, black, oolong, or white—is produced from Camellia sinensis, and they all have polyphenols. However, these polyphenols differ somewhat.

In Green Tea

When tea leaves are plucked, plant cells are damaged and the leaves immediately begin to oxidize. To stop this process and to produce green tea, the leaves are steamed or pan-fried. This keeps the polyphenols largely as flavanols or catechins. And it is these catechins that give green tea its color and vegetal flavor.

polyphenol chart-green tea2

In Black Tea

To produce black tea, the leaves are more fully oxidized, which converts the simple polyphenols into more complex forms: theaflavin and thearubigin. Controlling the oxidation controls the appearance and flavor of black tea, with theaflavin providing the tea’s yellow pigments and bright taste and thearubigin providing tea’s brown pigments and depth of flavor.

polyphenol chart-bl tea2

But the conversion of catechins into theaflavins does not reduce their antioxidant properties. In fact, one study has shown that green tea catechins and black tea theaflavins have the same antioxidant potency!

534_first-inf_0243And a Magic Ingredient?

In a recent study, one of the polyphenols in green tea, epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG, has been shown to work with the anticoagulant heparin to protect blood vessels against plaque.

In fact, the authors of the study say this is a “surprising cooperative effect of heparin and the green tea polyphenol . . . EGCG” (Townsend et al. 2018).

The EGCG binds to a protein that forms amyloid deposits, and “convert[s] them to smaller soluble molecules that are less likely to be damaging to blood vessels” (GEN 2018).

Upshot? Protection against stroke and heart attack—but, unfortunately, you’re unlikely to get much of this benefit by simply drinking green tea. This is why laboratory experiments are so important, and are designed to potentially bring tea in some form or other into medical treatment options.

So should a person drink tea for its health benefits?

There seems to be few drawbacks to drinking tea (like anything, in moderation) and potentially a lot of benefits, not the least because—well, to many of us, it truly is that magic elixir!

China Royal Jasmine Curls available at TeaHaus.com.

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), “Green tea compound dissolves plaques in blood vessels, may boost heart health,” 2018; L. K. 
Leung et al., “Theaflavins in black tea and catechins in green tea are equally effective antioxidants,” Journal of Nutrition 131(9):2248–51, 2001; Massachusetts General Hospital, “Green tea may help conserve cognition, cup by cup,” Mind, Mood and Memory 8(6):4, 2012; H. Mukhtar and N. Ahmad, “Tea polyphenols,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71(6):1698s–702s, 2000; W. Shen et al., “Tea consumption and cognitive impairment,” PLoS ONE 10(9):e0137781, 2015; Y. Tomata et al., “Green tea consumption and the risk of incident functional disability in elderly Japanese,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 95:732–39, 2012; D. Townsend et al., “Epigallocatechin-3-gallate remodels apolipoprotein A-I amyloid fibrils into soluble oligomers in the presence of heparin,” Journal of Biological Chemistry, May 31, 2018; Y. Wang and C.-T. Ho, “Polyphenolic chemistry of tea and coffee,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 57:8109–14, 2009.


Make Your Own Sparkling Teas

ceylon_crop-webSparkling Teas . . .

are coming soon to your local grocery store, if they haven’t already shown up.

But you can make sparkling tea today—

  • by yourself,
  • with your favorite tea, and
  • with total control of just how much, if any, sugar they contain.

To compare, the new Sanpellegrino + Tea (by Nestlé Waters) contains organic tea extract, real fruit juice, and cane sugar; there are 50 calories per serving (Dobos 2018).

Another sparkling tea called SoMATCHAAH! by Matchaah is also pending. According to its website, the new beverage will contain matcha tea, carbonated water, cane sugar, citric acid, and natural flavors. Although it touts the antioxidant benefits of matcha, again, there’s the cane sugar.

While these teas are undeniably convenient, it’s too bad they contain sugar.

Back in 2015 a study found that:

Consumption of SSB [sugar-sweetened beverages] such as soft drinks . . . was associated with higher type 2 diabetes risk independently of socio-demographic, lifestyle and dietary factors. . . . Our findings suggest that reducing consumption of sweet beverages, in particular soft drinks and sweetened-milk beverages, and promoting drinking water and unsweetened tea or coffee as alternatives may help curb the escalating diabetes epidemic. (O’Connor et al. 2015) [emphasis added]

Further, the study suggests that if water or unsweetened tea or coffee is substituted for just one sugar-sweetened beverage on a daily basis, the diabetes risk evidently decreases by 14–25%, which seems decently significant!


So why not enjoy tea’s health benefits without the added sugar?

TeaHaus suggests a couple of ways to make amazingly refreshing sparkling tea. And depending on the tea used (fruit teas really shine here), you can come up with something similar to lightly flavored sparkling water or a concoction more like a soft drink.

Note: You can add carbonation to any tea. Simply start with concentrated tea and add carbonated water and ice, adjusting the ratios to your personal preference.

Method One

Measure out three times the amount of tea you would normally use. For example, if you are making a 20-ounce glass of iced carbonated tea, use triple the amount of tea and add 6 oz of hot water (use temperature and brew time specified for that particular tea).

Fill a 20-ounce glass about half full with ice.

Pour in the brewed tea and add carbonated water to fill the glass (you can either make your own carbonated water with a carbonation machine or use bottled sparkling water).

Top off with ice.

Note:  If you prefer, add agave or honey while the tea is brewing.

lade_final-webMethod Two

Make a tea-infused syrup and add to any sparkling water (or sparkling wine!—though I suppose that may negate some of the health benefits you are going for, depending on which side of the “wine is good/bad for you” debate you support).

Syrup:  Add 12 grams (about ½ ounce) of tea to 16 ounces of boiling water; allow to infuse for 15 minutes to overnight. Strain and cool completely.

And Enjoy . . .

–Dobos, E. “Budding products: new carbonated teas,” World Tea News, April 9, 2018.
–Matchaah. http://www.matchaah.com/so-matchaah.
–O’Connor, L. et al. “Prospective associations and population impact of sweet beverage intake and type 2 diabetes, and effects of substitutions,” Diabetologia, March 6, 2015.

Herbal Japanese Mulberry Leaves Tea, an Antidote to a Lousy Morning

The weather sucks with the lousy rain turning into heavy wet snow and I have a migraine and my car is making a loud scraping sound whenever I turn left.


I totally get that these are very minor complaints in light of, well, pretty much everything else that’s happening pretty much all around us pretty much every day these days.

Still. Sometimes you just need small pleasures to mitigate the irritations.


Therefore, I pull out my Japanese Mulberry Leaves.

This herbal tea consists of small pieces of very dark green flat leaves that have lime-colored veins.


The tisane’s aroma is slightly sweet, subtly grassy, and the infusion is a clear bright lemon color that has a touch of lime.


The flavor matches the aroma, with unique earthy/grassy and herbal notes. It’s soft and smooth, reminding me of all that’s right with the world.

The Japanese Mulberry and Silk

Growing as a small tree or shrub, the Japanese Mulberry (Moraceae family) is native to Japan’s mountainous areas. For centuries it has been cultivated for its leaves, which are fed to silk worms.

Silk production originated in China, coming to Japan around BC 28. By the Heian period (794–1185 AD), the upper classes wore silk while the rest of the population was relegated to hemp and ramie (JRB Silk Fabrics).

The kimono was the most important Japanese garment. It was worn by fashionable ladies, sometimes as many as twenty kimonos at a time, all made of the thinnest, finest, most transparent silk, giving a rainbow appearance as the coloring of each layer melted into those above and below. (JRB Silk Fabrics)

The hardy mulberry tree handily supported the silk industry, even with repeated harvesting of its leaves.

The Japanese Mulberry and Possible Health Benefits

Further, the mulberry tree’s bark, fruit, leaves, and roots proved useful for more than silk worm food—so much so that “ancient Japanese society held the tree sacred” (Dr. Schar). Its medicinal applications included drinking the tisane made from the leaves.

A famous Japanese medical text oddly entitled, “How to take care of yourself by drinking tea” written by the Japanese Buddist monk Eisai, in 1211 AD, . . . states that mulberry is excellent for the people suffering from thirst. In the contemporary world we know he was referring to the thirst associated with diabetes. (Dr. Schar)

A lot of research on diabetes is currently being conducted with mulberry leaves. For example, one recent study  indicated that 1-Deoxynojirimycin from mulberry leaves lowered blood glucose, triglyceride, and total cholesterol levels of diabetic mice (Diabetes Week 2017).

My Cup of Japanese Mulberry Tea

Regardless whether this tisane has an effect on diabetes, it does have an effect on my mood.

Yes, the weather still is dreary and my car still makes that disconcerting noise, but my migraine is clearing and the tea is delicious.

–”The history of silk,” JRB Silk Fabrics, accessed March 1, 2018. http://www.jrbsilks.com/history-of-silk
–”Japanese mulberry,” Dr. Schar, accessed March 1, 2018. http://doctorschar.com/japanese-mulberry-morus-bomcycis
–”Researchers from Hefei University of Technology report new studies and findings in the area of type 2 diabetes (metabolic effect of 1-deoxynojirimycin from mulberry leaves on db/db diabetic mice using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry . . . ),” Diabetes Week, July 17, 2017, p. 84.

Japanese Mulberry Leaves available at TeaHaus.com.

The Cinnamon of Autumn Teas

Cinnamon may well be autumn’s quintessential spice. Where would pumpkin and apple pie be without it?! Or your favorite chai on these chilly evenings?cinnamon-3-web

Culinary Spice Extraordinaire

Although the Western world tends to reach for cinnamon as part of dessert, this versatile spice is capable of so much more.

Native to Asia, the bark of the Cinnamomum evergreen tree has been used for centuries in Asian and African cuisines.

Cinnamon is harvested during the rainy season when the bark is more pliable; the bark is then rolled into the familiar sticks. The word “cinnamon” derives from Greek kinnamōmon, which itself came from the Hebrew qinnāmōn.

From the Middle Bronze Age

Gløgg, glüwein, mulled wine anyone? Cinnamon is an essential ingredient, but these beverages are actually latecomers to the mulled wine world.


Much earlier, ancient Egyptians were imbibing spiced medicinal wine, and in 1700 BC, revelers in a Canaanite palace were quaffing red and white wine that contained honey, mint, juniper berries—and cinnamon.

To the Middle Ages

Cinnamon eventually reached Europe, signaling wealth and prestige during the Middle Ages. It was used in baked goods, beverages, and meat-based dishes—and the more extravagant the use, the higher your social status.

The 1475 wedding of George, Duke of Bavaria, and Jadwiga of Poland required a staggering

386 pounds of pepper, 286 pounds of ginger, 257 pounds of saffron, 205 pounds of cinnamon, pounds of cloves, and 85 pounds of nutmeg (Freedman 2003).

Incidentally, cinnamon may have masked the taste of meat spoiling, with meat being another of those upper-class perks.

To Today—A Spice for Health?

This aromatic spice has been used medicinally for millennia, and today we know that cinnamon indeed has many health benefits.

The caveat is that much more research needs to be done. Like tea, the properties of cinnamon depend upon many factors such as where and how it is grown, the concentration used in the study, and the cinnamon variety.

Cassia cinnamon is the variety most likely to be found in our kitchens because it is more flavorful and less expensive, but Ceylon cinnamon seems to offer more health benefits. In high doses, cassia cinnamon is actually toxic.

Even with all the ambiguity, research does suggest that cinnamon may improve the function of insulin.

Like tea, cinnamon has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. In fact, when heated, its antibacterial benefits evidently increase.

Recent studies suggest that cinnamon also helps protect against cognitive problems, including Alzheimer’s disease.


So what’s not to like about cinnamon? Especially when blended with tea! 

Flavours and Fragrances of Plant Origin, FAO–Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy. 1995.
–Freedman, P. “Spices: how the search for flavors influenced our world,” YaleGlobal Online. 2003.
–LaMotte, S. “Cinnamon: Pantry staple—and medical powerhouse?” CNN. August 29, 2017.
–Seema, J. et al. “Effect of Cinnamomum zeylanicum extract on scopolamine-induced cognitive impairment and oxidative stress in rats,” Nutritional Neuroscience 18(5). 2015.
–”Spice pages,” Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages. http://gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com.
–Wilford, J. N. “Wine cellar, well aged, is revealed in Israel,” The New York Times. November 23, 2013.

Tea in the Poison Garden

Tea. In the Poison Garden. In Ireland, land of tea drinkers.

Apparently recklessly risking their lives, in 2016 the Irish drank more tea per capita than any other country except Turkey!

Skull and crossbones on Camellia sinensis tea sign

So after being taken aback by the skull and crossbones, I did read the rest of the sign:

The ‘cup that cheers but not inebriates’ turns out to contain a highly addictive substance, caffeine, withdrawal of which results in a variety of unpleasant effects.

Contains caffeine and tannin. Caffeine is addictive; five cups a day are said to be sufficient to produce addiction. Withdrawal or reduced usage after excessive consumptions [sic] leads to dizziness, headaches, constipation, indigestion, palpitations and insomnia.

Camellia sinensis info sign

Well, okay, true enough.

But the sign continues:

The effects of caffeine addiction are, often, underestimated because it [sic] challenges the general view of what being an ‘addict’ means. But the physical affects [sic] of caffeine withdrawal are well documented and can be similar to withdrawal from tobacco or heroin.

Okay, aside from the grammar errors, I have issues with the information because, well—really?

Caffeine addiction can be equated to heroin addiction? I seriously think not.

I get that caffeine is addictive, and that it is a drug that happens to be legal. And I know that high levels of caffeine can be dangerous. But while a drink like Ammo apparently has around 171 mg of caffeine per ounce, tea has a paltry 3–6 mg of caffeine per ounce!

Maybe if you ate an entire tea plant? Daily?

tea plant

Okay, maybe I am overreacting. After all, the Poison Garden (which, granted, did contain some deadly plants) was located in Blarney Castle. Which was built in 1446.

But tea didn’t make it to Ireland until the 1800s.

Perhaps a tad bit of blarney here?

Click here to read my previous post, which introduced this poisonous plot. . . .

Next up: a look at what the rest of Ireland has to say about tea. . . .

Sources: (1) “Annual per capita tea consumption worldwide as of 2016, by leading countries (in pounds),” Statista; (2) “Ammo Energy Shot,” Caffeineinformer.


Can Drinking Tea Help Prevent the Flu?

computer mouse in teacup

tea leavesAs we hurtle toward the end of summer, back-to-school sales are ramping up, college dorms are filling up . . . and flu season is next up.

So the big question—does tea help prevent colds and flu???

We know that drinking liquids in general helps. As does gargling.

But it doesn’t look like gargling tea specifically makes much of a difference. Although early studies (e.g., Yamada 2006) were encouraging, in February researcher Ide and colleagues (2017) said that “green tea gargling may slightly reduce influenza compared with water gargling” but additional studies are needed. . . .

Of Mice and Tea

But this month, a more promising study—involving mice and, indirectly, tea—was published in Science.

Okay, the subjects were mice, and they weren’t exactly tea drinkers, so results are preliminary. Yet the results are exciting!

computer mouse in teacup
Mouse in teacup, oh, wrong mouse

Instead of looking to prevent flu, this study probed the body’s response to flu. Therefore, all the study mice were given the flu.

The scientists found that some mice suffered lung damage from the flu whereas other mice had no damage. The difference between the mice?

The ones who were shielded from lung damage had been given a specific metabolite, or DAT (desaminotyrosine).

And Flavonoids, Microbes, and Metabolites, the Short Version

microbe-webThe story is:

  • We all have microbes in our guts.
  • Some of these microbes break down or metabolize flavonoids, which are compounds found in plants (including tea leaves).
  • Flavonoids are good because they have “anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, vasodilatory, anticancerigenic, and antibacterial properties” (Schoefer 2003).
  • One of these microbes, Clostridium orbiscindens, breaks down certain flavonoids and makes a metabolite that helps with interferon signals.
  • An interferon is a protein that is released when a virus (like the flu virus) is present; it helps the immune system, inhibiting the virus from multiplying.
  • That metabolite is, you guessed it, DAT.

The Upshot:

virus-webSo all the mice had the flu virus. But those that had been treated with DAT experienced less flu-inflicted lung damage (such as pneumonia).

In other words, if the mice already had certain flavonoids—and the right microbes—in their guts, the byproducts from those microbes breaking down those flavonoids served to protect the mice from damage from the flu.

Presumably, then, the same would hold for people.

Next up:

Because we have lots of microbes in our guts, there are undoubtedly others that use flavonoids and, in the process, assist our immune systems. These need to be identified and studied. Also, how can we boost those beneficial microbes in people who have inadequate levels?

The Practical Take-away

So no, this study did not promise that drinking tea would prevent flu. It did, however, suggest that plant flavonoids just might mitigate the effects of flu!

And according to EurekAlert (2017),

the researchers said it might not be a bad idea to drink black tea and eat foods rich in flavonoids before the next flu season begins.

So, put on the kettle!cup of tea

–Ide, K. Y. Kawasaki, M. Akutagawa, and H. Yamada. “Effects of green tea gargling on the prevention of influenza infection: an analysis using Bayesian approaches,” J Altern Complement Med 2:116–20. February 23, 2017.
–Schoefer, L., R. Mohan, A. Schwiertz, A. Braune, and M. Blaut. “Anaerobic degradation of flavonoids by Clostridium orbiscindens,” Appl Environ Microbiol 69(10):5849–54. October 2003.
–Washington University School of Medicine, “Natural compound coupled with specific gut microbes may prevent severe flu,” EurekAlert AAAS, public release August 3, 2017.
–Yamada, H., N. Takuma, T. Daimon, and Y. Hara. “Gargling with tea catechin extracts for the prevention of influenza infection in elderly nursing home residents: a prospective clinical study,” J Altern Complement Med 7:669–72. September 12, 2006.
NOTE: Tea pictured is Lapsang Souchong from TeaHaus

Tea, Porcelain, and Our Brains—yes, there IS a connection here!

coffee-beans,-grinder-webAroma . . .

There is nothing quite like the tantalizing aroma of fresh coffee, at least to sleep-deprived me.

And if you—like me—feel as though just smelling the coffee makes you less sleepy, you may be experiencing an actual biological effect. Really! Some research studies have indicated that coffee’s aroma alone is enough to activate several genes and proteins that have antioxidant, anti-stress, and energy metabolism roles.*

The aroma of tea may also work on us physiologically. Its scent can evoke a positive response because we associate it with tea’s pleasing flavor, possibly serving to relax us.†

Studies abound for teasing out the effects of tea aromas because “smell leaves an imprint on the memory circuits” and can therefore be used in therapy for those with cognitive decline; in Britain, the aroma of teapots is used in work with the elderly—the scent rekindles their younger years.†

Anticipation . . .

In thinking about this power of aromas to transport a person across years, there is one particular new-textbook-smell that always induces a feeling of anticipation for me, taking me right back to elementary school, in a happy way. This expectation of learning segues into a fascinating and absolutely lovely exhibit of porcelain currently at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

As guest curator Shirley Mueller explained as we toured her art & science exhibit, Elegance from the East: New Insights from Old Porcelain,‡ our brains do react when we anticipate learning something, as well as when we see something beautiful. And her exhibit provides opportunities for these instinctive neural responses in spades!

Beauty . . .

My daughter and I learned a lot about early export Chinese porcelain—items produced specifically to be exported to Europe—as we oohed and aahed over the many pieces displayed, including this pair of tea caddies:

These caddies probably were used to store two different types of tea, distinguished by the caddy lids—one being white on blue and the other blue on white.

The beauty of the caddies is also no accident.

As humans, we want things to be beautiful, and as Shirley pointed out, we like to have beautiful things in our homes—we are sort of hardwired for this. In addition, with tea being a luxury item in the West in the 1600s, those lucky enough to be able to afford it wanted to display it along with its accoutrements (hence the eventual tea table, tea cart, china cabinet, and so on). Multiple reasons for the imported porcelain to be pretty!

Tea . . .

In the 1600s, the Chinese teas most likely imported to the West would have been those that traveled well, including Lapsang Souchong black tea (thoroughly dried with pine smoke), green gunpowder (its rolled leaves leave less surface area for the tea to absorb moisture or aromas), and the fermented pu-erh. Visitors to the exhibit can smell these teas (provided by TeaHaus) for themselves in this interactive display:

TH display-crop-web

If you’re wondering why Earl Grey is included, as it would not have been one of the teas exported early on, there is some evidence that bergamot was soon used in the West to mask the flavor of inferior teas (see my earlier post). Eventually, of course, Earl Grey developed into a tea that continues to be well-loved by Westerners.

Combined . . .

A cup of tea is indeed a thing of beauty at my home.

And its fragrant aroma may well transport me back in time . . . perhaps to dreaming about Europe at a time when I wouldn’t have been able to afford tea.

Nah. It just reminds me to get back to work!

*”Study results from H. S. Seo and colleagues update understanding of sleep deprivation,” Medical Devices & Surgical Technology Week, p. 369. August 10, 2008.
King, J. “Therapeutic effects of tea aromas,” Tea & Coffee Trade Journal 170(7):36. July 1998.
Elegance from the East: New Insights from Old Porcelain, exhibit by Shirley M. Mueller, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana. May 26–October 22, 2017. Click here for more information about the exhibit, which is ongoing.
NOTE: Teas shown in exhibit are available at TeaHaus.