Why I Drink Sinful Amounts of Tea

Just after graduating from college, I was thrown into a depression that, in retrospect, held me back from personal growth for the better part of a year. For the first six months of being out of college, I lived with my parents. And by live, I mean I barely left the house and worked my way through non-stop hours of Law & Order: SVU. I love SVU (especially that dreamboat, Olivia Benson). But hours of it for months is not good for one’s positive outlook. Between rape, child trafficking, abuse and Munch’s cynicism, the rays of sunshine were few and far between.

But something promising was happening in the background. Slowly, for some years, my interest in tea had been peaked, but only in the back regions of my mind. A visit to San Francisco for my final Spring Break had put Samovar Tea Lounge on my radar, courtesy of a friend. I decided, in the boredom of my new ultra-recluse lifestyle, to take the plunge with whole leaf, fair trade, quality teas. Why? I do not know. Regardless, I was an immediate addict. I had fallen in love again. I got a library membership and started reading about and studying tea. My focus was enthralling. My mom thought I had lost my marbles. I later found out that my focus wasn’t purely manifested by interest. Actually, the tea was helping me to focus and to sustain that focus.

I swear by tea. Sometimes, when I’m having a rough day, I’ll pace my way through a piping hot pot of Oolong tea, and I’ll literally get a light sensation in my body and notice my mood lighten up as well. It’s insane. And wonderful. If you’re wondering how tea does this, have a gander at this article from World of Tea by Chicago Tea Garden‘s Tony Gebely:

Monks have been drinking tea for thousands of years to maintain a state of “mindful alertness” during long periods of meditation. But only in the last few years have studies shed light on why tea has this effect on the mind. The two elements responsible for this are caffeine and L-theanine, and it is the combination of the two that makes tea unique from any other drink.

Photo of tea from Tea Masters Blog

Spare Me the Science: What L-theanine and Caffeine can do for the Mind

Promote a mindful state of relaxation
Increase our ability to multi-task, and multi-task well
Increase speed of perception
Increase performance under stress
Improve learning ability and concentration
Decrease anxiety
Reduce task-induced fatigue

The Science

L-theanine is an amino acid responsible for increasing alpha brain wave activity, which promotes relaxation. In concert with the stimulant caffeine, this allows tea to induce a feeling of increased concentration over a longer period of time, compared to caffeine alone. Some tea merchants will tell you that tea “releases” its caffeine into the body more slowly than coffee, but in actuality, the effects of caffeine are being moderated by L-theanine.

Recent studies have shown that tea “. . . taken throughout the day can significantly benefit speed of perception and more consistent levels of simple task performance. L-theanine appears to antagonize the stimulatory effects of caffeine by decreasing seratonin levels that have been artifically elevated by caffeine”  [1]. As a result, the bod sustains a feeling of alertness that cannot be obtained by the caffeine in coffee or soda.

Studies have also shown that there are added benefits to tea, besides alertness. In a paper by Eschenauer and Sweet, it was concluded that “increased alpha activity in the brain induced by L-theanine has been associated with increased creativity, increased performance under stress, and improved learning and concentration as well as decreased anxiety.” [2] A 2001 study suggests that the combination of L-theanine and caffeine “improves the ability to multi-task and reduces task-induced fatigue,” [3] which is something we can all benefit from.

L-theanine is seldom found anywhere in nature other than tea and a single species of mushroom. It is “synthesized in the roots and concentrates in the leaves, where sunlight converts [L-theanine] to polyphenols,” [4] In other words, shade-grown teas like Gyokuro, a Japanese green tea, have higher concentrations of L-theanine because the amino acid is not converted into polyphenols as much as tea leaves that are exposed to full sun.

Conclusion

Due to the unique combination of L-theanine and caffeine found in tea, there are many reasons as to why this can be another alternative to coffee and soda, especially when looking for a jump-start to the day, or a way to maintain concentration for hours of coding and/or studying. It is best to experiment with different teas and find out how each tea affects you. A good starting point to discover different and appealing teas is the “Hacker’s Guide to Tea.”

For all links and sources for this article, go here.

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