Caffeine In Tea: Friend Or Foe?
There are caffeine junkies who need to get lit and drink 4 large coffees before lunchtime, and then there are abstainers who equate consuming caffeine to illegal drug use. Caffeine fuels a lot of us and disgusts some of us. But, what is the deal with caffeine? Are all caffeinated beverages created equal? Is it really bad for us? How much is too much? The most commonly referenced caffeinator is coffee, but caffeine occurs naturally in tea. Is tea caffeine the same “damaging” substance as coffee’s caffeine? I got highly tea’d-up and read all the conflicting information so you don’t have to. Let’s do a deep dive into caffeine.
What does caffeine do to the brain?
Drugs work by blocking specific receptors in the brain and changing our cognition. (The specifics are complicated and very cool. I encourage you to look it up if you’re interested in how our neural synapses work.) Anyway, caffeine is no exception. As it turns out, it works just like other drugs. It blocks adenosine from communicating with its receptors. The result is a false message. Adenosine’s job was to tell the brain that the body needs sleep. Caffeine blocked the path. Caffeine can hang out from 4 to 6 hours in the receptor, and adenosine can’t get the memo through. So, the need for sleep didn’t go away. But, we can trick ourselves into thinking it did!
Is that a bad thing?
Despite the fact that we are altering our mental state, a food toxicology report on the effects of caffeine has nothing negative to say. Essentially, caffeine helps us to focus, increases reaction time, and helps us to concentrate. The only contraindication noted was that it might increase anxiety in individuals who are already sufferers. For the general public, caffeine appears to have a positive impact on performance. Granted, it should not be overdone. But, that can be said for pretty much everything.
Is all caffeine the same?
Caffeine occurs naturally in both coffee and tea. Although it is the same chemical in each, the physical response can vary pretty drastically from one to the other. The quantity is one factor, but not the most major one. Other chemicals present can switch up the physical and mental reaction.
Coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine per every 8 oz cup. However, we generally drink a mugful (or several), each of which contain between 12 and 16 oz of liquid. A shot of espresso contains 63 mg. However, once we start to add in copious amounts of sugar and flavor pumps, the chemical stimulation factor gets a bit more intensified. The caffeine in coffee is generally associated with jitters, antsiness, and a crash. But, tea doesn’t have the same effect.
Matcha is the most caffeinated variety of tea, with approximately 70 mg in each 1 tsp serving. Black tea leaves contain around 47 mg per 8 oz serving.
Despite the fact that matcha contains more caffeine than a shot of espresso, it doesn’t affect the body in the same way. This is due to some other plant compounds present in the leaf! The most important of these is L-theanine, an amino acid that naturally soothes the mind without drowsiness. L-theanine stimulates the meditation centers in the brain, and creates a calm alertness when paired with caffeine.
Black tea also contains this chemical pairing. In fact, all true teas do, but the caffeine levels decrease the less they are oxidized. Oolong tea is moderately caffeinated. Green tea, only steamed or pan-fired, is not oxidized at all. It has a very low level of naturally occurring caffeine. White tea is the least caffeinated as it is pure tea leaf that has not been oxidized or processed in any way.
So, shall we caffeinate?
Despite all of the conflicting opinions out there on the topic, researchers have declared caffeine to be a healthy and helpful stimulant. Yes, caffeine is technically a drug. Yes, caffeine can be addictive. But, is that a bad thing? In moderation, drinking caffeinated beverages increases focus and mental clarity. Just remember, it’s not a substitution for sleep! A couple mugs of tea a day can help increase reaction time, creativity, and even calm. All because of the natural occurring chemical composition in the leaves. Caffeinate on, my friends! This case has ruled in our favor!