Tea: Beyond the “Britishness”

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone…I can see all obstacles in my way…Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind; It’s gonna be a bright, bright…bright, bright…Sun-shiny day!”

Familiar lyrics? That’s right. This is the main theme of the advertisements of one of the major tea-producing companies in the world, Lipton. I have to give Lipton’s Marketing Department this much: they managed to find lyrics that accurately portray one’s feelings after a cup of nice, hot tea.

Yes, that wonderful, dark, coppery liquid that is said to run in place of blood in the veins of the English. But, the fancy ladies and gentlemen of England aside, tea – especially the black tea—has managed to worm its way into the simple, daily lifestyle of the Egyptian community as a whole.

That is why, in this article, I will be discussing this type of tea, black tea, in particular; the history of how this herb became such a popular drink, the classes of tea, a general outline of how black tea is made, the various health benefits of this beverage and some of the facts and fictions regarding it.

Myths, Facts, Elegance and Defiance-All Present in the History of Tea

There has been a conflict regarding the origin of the drink, two legends dominating the said conflict. One is utterly gruesome, involving Bodhidharma, the founder of Chan Buddhism. It is said that he fell asleep while meditating in front of a wall, for nine years. When he woke up, he felt disappointed in himself for his weakness and as punishment, he cut off his own eyelids. They fell to the ground and took root, growing into a plant [1].

Another legend tells that the legendary Emperor of China, Shennong, was drinking a bowl of boiled water, when the wind

China: Birthplace of Tea- 3

blew a few leaves from a nearby shrub, making them fall into the water. The color changed and the Emperor was interested enough to take a sip and was surprised at the pleasing flavor and the restorative properties [2].

Whether the first is true or the last, and whether there is a speck of truth in either, it matters not. However, the one surely true fact shared between two myths, is that the eyelids-turned-to-leaves, and the innocent plant that had its leaves playfully pushed into Shennong’s hot water by the blowing wind, are the same: the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. [3]

It is notable, that with all the recent fuss about the medicinal benefits of tea and its effect on the health, tea began in China, the origin of this drink, not as a beverage, but as a medicinal herb.

From China, where it was more often than not described as the “elixir of life”[4], tea started to be bargained for by Turkish traders. Then on, it traveled to Japan, where it was first studied very closely, before it became a rare, expensive delicacy enjoyed only by the high priests and aristocracy. There, too, was founded the “powdered” form of tea, when the Emperor served it in that form to Buddhist priests. Meanwhile, the demand on tea in China, its birthplace, increased day by day. It is said, amusingly, that the Chinese Emperor, Hui Tsung becomes tea obsessed and writes about the best tea-whisking methods and holds tea-tasting tournaments in the court. While “tea minded,” so the story goes, he doesn’t notice the Mongol take over of his empire. Nearly three centuries later, tea makes it to Europe, and in the 1660s, it reaches the United Kingdom, when Charles II takes a tea-drinking bride, making the beverage so chic and elegant, that alcohol consumption drops [5].

Tea became a very important item in Britain’s global trade, contributing to Britain’s global dominance by the end of the eighteenth century. To this day tea is seen worldwide as a symbol of ‘Britishness’, but also, to some, as a symbol of old British colonialism [6].

Boston Tea Party: Start of the American Revolution

In fact, tea had such an important part to play in the history of the United States of America. The United Kingdom had

passed the “Tea Act” which allowed the British East India Company to sell its tea directly to the colonists bypassing merchants, who sold the tea for a higher price than the company. On the evening of December 16, 1773, a group of men calling themselves the “Sons of Liberty”[7] went to the Boston Harbor. The men were dressed as Mohawk Indians. They boarded three British ships, the Beaver, the Elean and the Dartmouth, and dumped forty-five tons of tea into the Boston Harbor. The water turned a copper-red color and hence, the whole event was called a “Tea Party”[8].

The history of tea is just as rich as the flavor of the beverage. I could possibly go on ranting about it for the entire length of the Scientific Mentality Journal, yet I doubt the editor would approve of such a thing.

Why are There Different Types of Tea?

A tea’s type is determined by the processing which it undergoes. Tea is traditionally classified based on the techniques with which it is produced and processed, into the following types:

White tea: Wilted and unoxidized.

Yellow tea: Unwilted and unoxidized, but allowed to yellow.

Green tea: Unwilted and unoxidized.

Oolong: Wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized.

Post-fermented tea: Green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost.

Black tea: Wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized [9].

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Why Black Tea?

A lot of importance is given to the possible health benefits of tea, especially green tea. That, however, does not mean that black tea is devoid of any of those benefits. Recent studies in leading medical journals declare black tea a potential heart tonic, cancer blocker, fat buster, immune stimulant, arthritis soother, virus fighter and cholesterol detoxifier[10]. Not bad for a lowly shrub soaked in a little hot water.

The most recent trend in the world of health is, without a doubt, the frenzy about antioxidants. And black tea does not disappoint anyone where antioxidants are involved. It contains a large number of those, mainly catechins, which are polyphenolic antioxidants. These have anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic and anti-tumoric properties [11].

"Tea is beating all scientific expectations as the most potent health beverage ever. The many ways tea can promote health is truly astonishing-" researcher John Weisburger at the American Health Foundation

The polyphenols that exist in tea are called Tannins. These molecules have a bad reputation because of their association with tannic acid—which is used to tan hides to make leather. Though the tannins in tea are in the same class of chemicals as tannic acid, tea does NOT –contrary to popular belief— contain any tannic acid. The tannins tea does contain are, as mentioned above, catechins and other bioflavonoids—our trendy antioxidants. Some of these tannins are responsible for the dark color and astringent taste in black tea[12]. So people…don’t start judging tea for its tannins. These are really good stuff packed into your cup of tea.

In addition to the effect of antioxidants and polyphenols, tea has long been tied to a lower risk of stomach, colon and breast cancer, although the connection is not proven. Now lab studies find that black tea chemicals actually may stop cancer growth. Rutgers University researchers showed that a compound in black tea called TF-2 caused colorectal cancer cells to “commit suicide”; normal cells were unaffected. The same study – and substance— is said to contribute to tea’s anti-inflammatory properties. Along with being an anti-carcinogenic compound, TF-2 suppresses the Cox-2 gene, which triggers inflammation[13].

Also, tea is possesses germicidal and germistatic activities against various gram-positive and gram negative human pathogenic bacteria including some that cause diarrhea, pneumonia, cystitis and skin infections. So when you drink tea, chances are good you will wipe out viruses in your mouth[14].

As aforementioned, it is truly amusing that, with all the “recently discovered” health-benefits of tea, one must be reminded that tea, first and foremost, had started out as a medicinal herb and not as the fancy, elite display of “Britishness” as one of my good friends calls it.

Tea Facts and Fiction

In spite of becoming such a popular drink worldwide, there are still a number of myths that give tea a bad name which, in my opinion, must be addressed.

Tea Contains As Much Caffeine As Coffee

That is simply not true at all. If we take a typical cup of tea and a typical cup of coffee as examples, we would see that coffee contains twice as much caffeine than tea [15].

Tea Causes Dehydration

Tea is a good source of fluids- picture courtesy of: http://www.teaadvisorypanel.com

While tea contains caffeine tea does not start acting as a diuretic until and unless the amount of caffeine in one sitting contained more than 300g of caffeine. Tea is actually a good source of fluids, especially for people who do not like carrying a bottle of water around with them all day long [16].

I must admit that vehemently believed that tea is an evil, potent diuretic until I started writing this article.

Tea Contains High, Harmful Levels Of Fluoride

While tea does contain high levels of fluoride, accumulated in the leaves from the soil, it is not harmful at all to us. In fact, it is a well known fact that fluoride is very good for our teeth[17].

Tea Gives You Anemia

No, let us get this one thing straight please, because I—along with all you people out there who have to deal with the same situation at home—have had enough of parents nagging about how we will get anemia by drinking a cup of tea too many.

While it is a fact that the aforementioned tannins in tea do interfere with the absorption of iron from the diet, it does not cause anemia. Tannins play a role in inhibiting the absorption of non-heme iron (iron from plant sources), but they don’t, however, have a noticeable effect on the absorption of heme iron (iron from animal sources) [18].

So, a person with a balanced diet has nothing to worry about at all when tea is involved. In fact, a person diagnosed with anemia is allowed a cup of tea per day.

Tea Is Bad For The Bones

No. In the past it was thought that certain constituents found in tea, such as caffeine and fluoride, may weaken the bones.

Recent research suggest that tea is good for the bones- picture courtesy of: http://www.teaadvisorypanel.com

However, recent research is now suggesting that drinking tea can actually have a positive effect on bones. Studies among older women have found that women who drank four or more cups of tea a day had improved bone density compared to women who were non-tea drinkers. Furthermore, the milk that is added to tea, as enjoyed by the majority of the UK population, is a source of Calcium, which is important for bone health. In fact, the milk in four cups of tea a day provides 21% of an adult’s daily calcium requirements[19].

Green Tea Is Better Than Black Tea

No, it is not. A request to the media: “Stop being prejudiced towards green tea; you are giving the public the wrong picture”.  In fact…I think it is absolutely racist for the media to make people believe green tea is actually better than black tea.

Both contain as much antioxidants as the other. Both contain tannins, and both contain as much caffeine as the other. Both Black tea and Green tea have not only their own distinctive colors, flavors, and aromas but also they have their own specific health benefits[20].

The British Consume More Tea Per Capita Than Any Other Country

False! I am sorry, I am sorry to the British. You’re not it. Despite my friend’s claims that my “Britishness” is increasing every time I have “a cuppa” with “cake and scones”…it is the Irish people who are seated comfortably on the throne of the highest-tea-consumption rank[21].

At the end… I would love to remark on how this beverage is actually a main part of our lives as Egyptians. You almost never find someone in our community who doesn’t enjoy a nice, refreshing cup of tea early in the morning before going off to work or to college.

I truly hail Lipton for their choice of song in the Lipton advertisements. With a cup of tea in the morning, it really will be a bright, bright sun-shiny day…


[1] -Evans p. 3

[2] -Chow p. 19-20 (Czech edition); also Arcimovicova p. 9, Evans p. 2 and others

[3] -History of Tea- a drink for the ages-http://www.teaforte.com/tealiving/history.cfm

[4] -Tea- History in China-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea

[5] -History of Tea Timeline http://www.2basnob.com/tea-history-timeline.html

[6] -In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 29 April 2004.

[7] -“Events leading to the Boston Tea Party” http://www.kidport.com/reflib/usahistory/americanrevolution/teaparty.htm

[9] – Liu Tong (2005). Chinese tea. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press. pp. 137.

[10] – “The Benefits of Black Tea” http://www.teabenefits.com/black-tea-benefits.html

[11] – “IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 51 (1991)” http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol51/index.php

[12] – “Tea and Iron” http://www.veetea.com/site/articles/Tea-and-Iron

[13] – “Black Tea Benefits” http://www.teabenefits.com/black-tea-benefits.html

[14] – “IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 51 (1991)” http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol51/index.php

[15] – “Coffee Vs Tea” http://www.diffen.com/difference/Coffee_vs_Tea#Caffeine_content_and_effects

[16] – “Myths And Truths” http://www.teaadvisorypanel.com/myths

[17] – “Myths And Truths” http://www.teaadvisorypanel.com/myths

[18] – “Does Herbal Tea Interfere With Iron Absorption?

http://altmedicine.about.com/od/drcathywongsanswers/f/teairon.htm

[19] – “Myths And Truths” http://www.teaadvisorypanel.com/myths

[20] – “Green Tea Vs Black Tea” http://www.professorshouse.com/food-beverage/food/green-vs-black-tea.aspx

[21] – “About Tea-Myths Or Facts?” http://www.professorshouse.com/food-beverage/food/green-vs-black-tea.aspx

  1. OBJECTION!!!! Enlish people arent fancy, nor do they REALLY drink that much tea. its just a stupid stereotype >>

  2. That was exactly the point behind the title, Princess. ::headdesks!::

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