The Science Behind Tea's Wellbeing
As you carefully pour simmering water over freshly produced tea leaves and allow the magical aromas they release to transport you to the Kenyan farms were the bushes are grown, the soluble elements that make up the tea leaf are being gently transferred to the liquid. These tiny elements are the science behind tea's amazing wellbeing properties.
Tea leaves contain the components found in every living organism and those characteristic of plant species, however it is the presence of polyphenols and alkaloids in particular that gives an infusion of tea its astonishing properties.
As their name suggests are a combination of several groups of phenols that make up a family of organic molecules present throughout the plant kingdom. Commonly known as 'tannins' these molecules have astringent properties that can make living tissue contract and give tea its astringency, strength and thickness.
Alkaloids are naturally occurring heterocyclic organic molecules that contain nitrogen and are found in amino acids. Three kinds of alkaloids are found in tea, the main one being caffeine.
Theine or Caffeine?
Theine and caffee are the same alkaloid. Recognised as early as 1838 as being identical to the caffeine in coffee, the caffeine in tea is, nonetheless, distinguished from the caffeine in coffee because it forms different bonds with other substances, which changes how it affects the body.
When tea leaves are infused, the caffeine combines with tannins, which attenuate and stabilise its effect. Tannins prevent caffeine from being released rapidly, so it is absorbed over a longer period of time. The effect therefore is longer lasting and more regular.
In tea, caffeine stimulate the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system by enlarging the diameter of the vessels in the cerebral cortex. When ingested coffee on the other hand has a direct effect on blood circulation through the coronary system, stimulating an acceleration of the heart rate. In short tea is more of a stimulant than an excitant. It sharpens the mind, increases concentration, eliminates fatigue and enhances intellectual acuity.
"The act of drinking tea must be appreciated for its own sake, without seeing any other justification, for only thus can the tea drinker taste the sunlight, the wind and the clouds"
Tea by Gascoyne et all (2011)