Two people drinking tea

Tea Myths Exposed: The Reality Behind Popular Tea Beliefs

Nov 10, 2023

Shanika Dasanayaka

In the universe of soothing sips and comforting aromas, tea holds a special place in the hearts and cups of millions. Yet, amidst its rich history and diverse flavors, a fog of myths has covered its way into the tea-drinking culture, leaving enthusiasts thirsting for clarity. So this article is an expedition into the unclear corners of the tea world, and join us as we clarify the tea myths along the way. 

Tea is a beverage made by processing the tea plant's tender leaves (Camelia sinensis). Being native to China centuries ago, tea has become one of the most popular beverages in the world as a drink that gives plenty of health benefits along with a refreshingly delicate taste. Tea got massive demand worldwide during the 18th- 19th centuries, so it became a luxury beverage that only royals drank. Because of the high-end values attributed to tea, many communities used tea as a habit, and many countries became tea growers and processors to match the demand. Therefore, tea became a social drink that many communities gathered around.

Along with the tea habit, many rumors started and were shared within communities. These rumors stemmed from tea drinkers' experiences, misinterpretations of scientific explanations, or the stories they heard as word-of-mouth communication. With time, these rumors have become tea myths, and as tea lovers, it is essential to get them clarified one by one. 

Tea is a sensitive product that needs knowledge of "how to prepare correctly" as it matches your taste preferences. One missing step may affect your tea experience and your perception of tea. Further, tea is a healthy beverage with many natural compounds and micronutrients. The scientific explanations for each compound or micronutrient can be misunderstood or misinterpreted by anyone creating a tea myth.

Some tea myths are commonly experienced within the tea communities, and you should know the exact rationale behind the story as a tea lover. So, let's go deep into tea myths!

Myth #1: Black Tea is More Caffeinated Than Green Tea

Caffeine is one of the leading natural chemicals available in tea, which has a refreshing impact as we drink it. The amount of caffeine is always less than in coffee. There is a myth that says the type of tea determines the content of caffeine. For instance, you may come across concepts like black tea contains high caffeine amounts, oolongs, green tea has less and white tea has negligible caffeine.

However, in the actual scenario, all these tea types contain caffeine in considerably equal amounts. The caffeine content of a tea depends on its growing conditions, tea cultivar, and tea processing method. There is no direct relationship between the type of tea versus its caffeine content. Going further, the caffeine content in a teacup also depends on the steeping time. So, if black tea is brewed for 2 minutes and green tea is also brewed for 2 minutes, the caffeine content of the two cups would be the same. If you expect less caffeine in your cup, reduce the time you brew the tea rather than changing the tea type.

Therefore, "black tea is more caffeinated than green tea" is a myth.

Myth #2: Boiling Water 'Burns' Delicate Taste

According to conventional Western tea brewing wisdom, black tea needs boiling water for steeping. In contrast, green and white tea need comparatively lower temperatures for steeping. The myth says that if green tea and white tea are brewed in hot water, the subtle flavors of these teas will burn through at higher temperatures.

When analyzing the taste profiles of green tea and white tea that were brewed in boiling water vs comparatively low-heated water, there is a significant difference in the tastes, as steeping in low-heated water would give you the best delicate taste. However, black tea and darker oolong teas taste best when boiling in hot water rather than in cooler water. The reason for this situation is as follows:

Due to its high temperature levels, boiling water can extract many strong flavor compounds from the tea leaves. Black tea has its best flavors when it is steeped in boiling water. But if you brew green or white tea in boiling water, it would excrete the intense or astringent flavors that can suppress the delicate mild floral and fruit flavors identical to these teas.

So, boiling water does not burn tea's delicate taste but forces it to excrete all its flavors into the brew. Some green teas and oolong teas are good in boiling water, and some may not, but it is all up to your taste preference.

Therefore, "boiling water burns the delicate taste of tea" is a myth.

Myth #3: Steeping Process for Black Tea is Longer than for Green Tea

Some would say brewing black tea for 5 minutes is a must, while green or white tea should not brew for more than 1 to 2 minutes.

Brewing tea is something similar to cooking. You cannot decide the taste of a tea based on its brewing time. The strict advice on tea brewing time would not consider parameters like tea particle size, amount of tea used, amount of water used to brew, brewing type (tea bag or loose tea), and most importantly, your preference for taste. If you have black tea with small tea particles and need to make it a light tea, you may use a smaller amount of tea and a shorter steeping phase. Likewise, you can change the other brewing parameters to make a flavorful tea.

The final outcome of a perfect tea cup relies on all these parameters, including brewing time. So there should not be a hard-and-fast rule for a specific tea brewing time.

Therefore, the'steeping process for black tea is longer than green tea' is a myth.   

Organic Tea is of Higher Quality

Some tea consumers believe organically made teas have better quality than conventional ones.

However, if we look back to history, tea has been growing as a commercial crop in many countries. Thus, conventional farming practices were the norm. Tea planters used many different fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides in their fields to increase their yield. This practice was necessary, as the tea farmers had to cope with the growing demand for tea from around the world.

Under this scenario, some small-scale producers focused on producing tea organically as a new market approach. Demand for organic tea has drastically increased during the last two decades, and it continues. As a result, many tea gardens practicing conventional farming are converting to organic fields to keep up with market needs.

Though the tea-growing states that their teas are organic, finding 100% organic tea land without contamination could be challenging. Therefore, searching for a tea that follows good agricultural practices (GAP) and the recommended norms of conventional farming would be better if you are not strongly concerned about the organic status of a tea.

When considering the tea's quality and taste, there is hardly any difference between organic tea and conventional tea. If you are more concerned about tea flavors, conventional teas might taste better in certain instances. But if you consider ecology, ethicality, sustainability of the world, and healthy attributes through your cup of tea, then organic tea is the best solution for you. However, you will have to pay a premium price.

Therefore, "organic tea is higher in quality" is a myth.

Myth #5: Green Tea is 'Better' for you than Other Teas

Most people start drinking tea considering its health benefits, and there is a high tendency towards green tea as a healthy beverage.

Many believe that the caffeine content in green tea is low compared to other tea types, and it needs to be corrected. The caffeine content does not depend on the type of tea; it primarily depends on growing conditions, tea variety, and processing methods. Also, some believe green tea contains more antioxidants than all other tea types. This fact is correct because green tea is less oxidized during processing. Green tea contains more antioxidants than black tea and green tea, but white tea possesses more antioxidants than green tea.

Further, some tea drinkers complain of upset stomachs when they drink green tea before meals, but such a complaint has not been reported by drinking black tea, oolong tea, or aged teas like pu-erh.

When following scientific literature on tea, it is prominent that many scientists have researched green tea more than dark or heavily processed tea. Because of this, accurate research data on the beneficial properties of other tea types may not be available. Therefore, it is incorrect to conclude that green tea is a far superior tea to the other types.

Therefore, "green tea is always better for you than other teas" is a myth.

Myth #6: Tea & Vitamins are Incompatible to Consume Together

Most people believe that having a cup of tea after taking vitamins as medicine is not good.

Black tea possesses some characteristics that disturb the process of iron and supplement absorption. Therefore, the complaint is correct in some cases. This is even more important for pregnant women who take prenatal vitamins. However, some vitamins are destroyed when they are exposed to heat. In that case, not only tea but any hot beverage or hot water can destroy vitamins when consumed together.

Therefore, "tea and vitamins are incompatible to consume together" is a myth up to a certain extent.

Myth #7: Natural Tea is Better

It is a belief that tea must be drunk alone without any additives to deliver its best health benefits to the body. 

Tea is a calorie-free beverage without milk, sugar, or honey. Though milk or sugar is added to tea, it will give you all the health benefits wrapped in it, apart from adding some calories to your body as a negative effect. However, there is no harm in adding other natural flavors like a slice of lemon, a few drops of lime, a piece of ginger, or a piece of cinnamon. These would further enhance the beneficial aspects of a cup of tea. 

Therefore, "only natural tea is always better" is a myth.

Myth #8: Pregnant Woman Should Be Careful When Drinking Tea

All teas made from the tea plant, including black tea and green tea, contain caffeine that pregnant women should limit. Therefore, it has been advised by medical experts that pregnant women should consult their physicians about their tea-drinking habits and limit tea drinking during the pregnancy period to avoid unexpected circumstances.

Therefore, "pregnant women should be careful when drinking tea" is not a myth.

Myth #9:Herbal Tea is True Tea

Many states that herbal tea is the true tea, and teas from the tea plant belong to a type of herbal tea.

It has been widely accepted that true tea is made only from the tea plant, scientifically called Camelia sinensis. Only the tender bud and two leaves are used to produce true tea types such as black tea, green tea, oolong tea, white tea, and a few more. Herbal teas are any drinkable beneficial dried plant materials such as flowers, fruits, leaves, roots, stems, barks, and rhizomes.

Therefore, "herbal tea is true tea" is a myth. 

Myth #10: Drinking Tea Causes Allergic Reactions

Some rumors say tea causes some allergic reactions in the body when consumed.

Tea, the term, denotes not only the tea coming from the tea plant but also all types of herbal teas. Teas derived from the tea plant or true tea are not causing allergic reactions often. However, herbal teas containing different types of flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds can cause some allergic reactions. According to some records, inhaling herbal tea particles containing flowers and parts of flowers has caused allergies in the respiratory system.

Therefore, "drinking tea causes allergic reactions" is true for some herbal tea blends.  

Myth #11: Tea is Good for Cold & Sore Throats

Many believe that tea can cure colds and sore throats.

True tea types like black, green, oolong, and white tea contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can control the symptoms of colds and sore throats. Further, drinking tea as a hot drink aids in calming the throat. However, tea is not the exact solution to cure colds and sore throats. Tea provides some assistance to control the symptoms, and it is better if you could get medicinal expertise to advise if the conditions are worsening.

Therefore, "tea is good for colds and sore throats" is correct up to a certain extent.

Myth #12: Tea Does Not Have a Shelf Life

Many believe that tea has no shelf life and can be consumed at any time.

The generally accepted and proven shelf life of pure tea is three years, and for flavored tea, herbal tea, or blended tea, it is two years, only if the teas are stored in airtight containers before opening. After opening a tea pack, it needs to be stored in a cool, dark place or in an airtight container to preserve its qualities. The shelf life of tea shortens to 6 months once the tea packet opens and the tea itself starts deteriorating its fresh attributes. After six months, the catechin level lowers, and moisture absorption causes a drop in the fresh taste of the tea.

Therefore, "tea does not have a shelf life" is a myth.   

Myth #13: Adding Milk Reduces Health Benefits of Tea

Many believe that adding milk tea to the tea cup would reduce the health benefits inherited from tea.

There is no scientifically proven evidence that milk can react with the natural chemicals in tea. So, the natural compounds like catechins, caffeine, and antioxidants contained in a pure tea cup and a milk-added tea cup would be the same. However, a pure teacup does not contain any calories, and adding milk would add some calories to the teacup. If you are looking for a calorie-free teacup, adding milk would not support your thoughts, but it will give you all the other health benefits that a pure teacup offers.

Therefore, "adding milk reduces the health benefits of tea" is a myth.

Myth #14: Tea Can Interfere with Blood Thinners

A rumor says tea can interfere with blood thinners, and you should avoid tea.

Tea contains several micronutrients, including vitamin K, which interferes with anticoagulants. Anticoagulants are commonly called blood thinners because they prevent or reduce the coagulation of blood, prolonging the clotting time. So, if you are using blood thinners for medicinal purposes, you should get the advice of medical experts before using tea.

Therefore, "tea can interfere with blood thinners" is not a myth.

Myth #15: Hot Tea is Better Than Iced Tea

There is a discussion among tea drinkers about whether hot tea is always better than iced tea.

To make iced tea, the tea concentration is prepared by steeping the tea in boiling water. So, the natural chemicals and micronutrients in the tea excrete fully into the tea brew, similar to hot tea brewing. Then the chemical content in both beverages is equal, and both can deliver all the health benefits inherited from tea. However, bottled iced tea often contains a considerable amount of sweeteners and preservatives, which is optional when making a hot teacup. If you are concerned about calorie intake and taste, there are differences between hot tea and iced tea, and it is totally up to your preferences. It doesn't mean that hot tea is always better than iced tea.

Therefore, "hot tea is always better than iced tea" is a myth.

As a tea enthusiast, you may question your loved ones, colleagues, and friends about tea myths. Or else you may join for discussions on tea myths. Now you have enough knowledge of tea myths rumored in the community, and you will be able to scientifically explain the rationale behind each myth and break them like a pro.  

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