Let me paint a picture: You’re pushing through the front door after a long day at work, setting your keys down and peeling off the layers. Your shoulders are tense and your neck is stiff, so you decide what you need is a long, hot bath. As you turn the tap, steaming water pours out of the faucet in a thunderous roar, and you set the scene with lit candles and pull down your favorite products. Lavender bubble bath, maybe a nice Jasmine shower gel. The lit candles’ wax starts to melt in their jars and the scent of peppermint flows into the humid air of the bathroom, and suddenly the pain of your headache eases, and your muscles relax.
Tea, like many essential oils that reside in candles and other products, is a powerful plant that can easily promote health and wellness in people. Tea has many affects, depending on what plants you brew; there’s catechin antioxidants, L-theanine, caffeine, melatonin. Combined together with the right tools and rituals, tea can help energize your day, keep you calm and level-headed, in addition to helping you unwind at night.
Oolong Road: The Journey of Tea
The discovery of tea is something that has been debated about basically forever, but many accounts point to the story of Shennong. This legendary Chinese Emperor was enjoying sitting out in his garden one day, when a breeze came a blew some leaves from the tree he was under, into the drinking water his servant was boiling. An enthusiast of medicinal herbs, the Emperor decided to drink the concoction. This very first cup of tea held the leaf from the Camellia sinensis plant, the leaf that makes up most tea in modern society today. Traditionally, this plant, when grown and processed using different methods, can be made into any White, Green, Oolong or Black tea. Any other tea we drink today is considered an herbal blend-stemming from plants other than the Camellia sinensis.
The Camellia sinensis plant is rich in catechin antioxidants, L-theanine, and caffeine. The different methods of processing, like rolling or roasting the leaves, can affect these elements, as well as the flavor, strength, color, and aroma of the drink. While White tea—simply picked and dried, has almost no flavor, and has high levels of antioxidants, Black tea—which is typically fermented and roasted, has a rich, dark flavor and higher levels of caffeine.
Black tea is extremely common in American restaurants, the classic “Texas sweet tea” we all know and love. If you have a glass at dinner and wonder why you can’t fall asleep, well now you know why. Green tea is also very popular, and typically has a high level of caffeine and antioxidants, which is why it’s often recommended as a sick remedy and a coffee substitute. Matcha, a ground-down, powered green tea is on the rise for energy drink substitutions, as the powdered affect can mix with water easily and offer a higher concentrate of tea-caffeine.
Tea and Mental (and Physical) Health
Oolong tea is another variation on the Camellia sinensis plant, which has a smooth, full bodied flavor and a medium caffeine level, but a very high percentage of L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid that reduces anxiety by inhibiting the excitatory stimuli in your brain all the while spurring the production of relaxing neurotransmitters. In fact, it’s the central amino acid being studied for medicines involving anxiety disorders like schizophrenia.
Herbal teas are also used to promote relaxation and mental health. Herbs like Chamomile, Lavender, and Jasmine are all contributors to tranquility. In fact, many of these are the main ingredients in sleepy time teas, or teas that are suggested for use before bed to bring about an easy and deep sleep. And since these teas are all herbal, none of them contain any caffeine, which makes them great for an afternoon drink!
On the opposite end, caffeine in tea typically works differently than caffeine in coffee and other energy drinks. This is due to the higher levels of antioxidants, which slow the absorption of caffeine in our digestive systems. This is beneficial because it causes a gentler increase of the chemical reaction — the alert, awake feeling — with a longer period of stimulation and a slower decrease, with no crash at the end. The addition of L-theanine to the equation of caffeine in tea works in tandem with the chemical, reducing stress without reducing caffeine-related alertness.
There are many other delicious herbal blends you can mix for different health benefits. Add a citrus fruit for vitamin C; add blueberries for extra dose of superfood antioxidants; add honey as a sweetener and antibiotics. The combinations are limitless and extremely beneficial to one’s health and wellness!
Tea and Addiction
There are many negative and dangerous side effects to the serious condition of drug or alcohol dependency. Some of these include raised blood pressure, unhealthy weight loss or weight gain, anxiety and depressive episodes, and much more. Tea can help decrease theses effects over time in several different ways.
One of the most instrumental components in tea is the amino acid, L-theanine. Once L-theanine is digested, a series of reactions occur: the amino acid boosts levels of GABA, lowers levels of excitatory brain chemicals, and enhances alpha brain waves. Basically, this eases your brain into a state of wakeful relaxation. This state is commonly experienced when daydreaming, meditating, or being creative. It’s also responsible for the best part of the night: the REM sleep cycle. One Psychology Today article suggests that the most appealing aspect of L-theanine is its ability to relax the tea-drinker without sedating them – an important criteria for those of us looking to get away from the harmful and addictive effects of anxiety-reducing pharmaceuticals.
When used over time, L-theanine has been seen to lower blood pressure, regulate weight, and more. On a sidenote, the other big component in tea is the catechin antioxidants, which are highest in Green teas. These antioxidants are have properties similar to anti-inflammatories like Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and other NSAIDs.
Establishing a Ritual
Tea ceremonies are not a new thing. The first mention of a formal ceremony was found in eighth century Japan. These ceremonies are preformed throughout the entire world, with different types of teas and ways to brew them, with different goals in mind. Some are medicinal, some purely traditional. But a ritual doesn’t have to be ceremonial; in fact, it can be a routine series of actions, set in place with an intention and preformed regularly.
For the insomniac, this could mean washing your face, making your bed, and drinking a nice warm cup of chamomile before bed – actions set with the intention of a getting a good night’s rest. For the not-a-morning person, this could be a shaken iced cup of Matcha and a full plate of eggs before heading out for the day with the intention of starting the day with a healthy full meal and caffeine to wake them up and to start off on the right note.
I used to work with a woman who came into work everyday for two weeks straight saying she hadn’t gotten any sleep. She said she had tried sleeping pills, meditation, yoga, sound machines, everything she could think of. When I asked if she tried tea, she said she drank green tea before bed every night. While not as high in caffeine, green tea does offer quite a bit in terms of being alert, and I explained the difference in decaf and noncaf — decaf still has caffeine, just not as much — and gave her some of my herbal lavender tea. She came in the next week saying she got a full nights’ rest every night of the weekend, she had never had anything like it. I told her about my Matcha mornings, and she swore to try it next.
“Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners.” -William Shakespeare
So the point is this, tea is a good beverage, and even a better habit. But the utmost point is to take care of yourself first, to feed your body and soul, to establish routines that give your mind a moment to slow down, take in the world around you, and re-center yourself. Recovering from addiction is one big project of putting your self-care first, each step bringing you closer to your true self. And don’t forget, drink lots of water between glasses of tea, stay hydrated!
Side note: if you are wondering how I made it all the way through this blog post with only one source, it’s because I was a manager at a Tea shop for 3 years, and I managed the training for all of the employees. It will all be engrained in my brain forever!! Thanks for reading 😊.
Katelyn Barnett is an Administrative Assistant at Stonegate Center. She has attended college for English and Fine Arts, and has several works of art and poetry published. Katelyn was on the Editorial staff at a literary magazine and has freelancing experience with graphic design. You can usually find Katelyn at the coffee shop, muttering about comic books or crying about how expensive weddings are.