By GMB Health Advisor, Dr Sandy Krafchik
After water, tea is the most popular beverage worldwide. There are numerous varieties & flavour combinations to choose from. Tea is rich in anti-oxidants and has also gained increased popularity due to its associated health benefits – e.g. detoxification, improving digestion & preventing certain diseases. But are all teas created equal and are they all beneficial to our health? Have you ever wondered what’s REALLY in your cup of tea?
History of tea
Many different legends exist about the origin of tea. The ancient Chinese tradition of drinking tea dates back thousands of years to the early Chinese dynasties and aristocrats who drank it for its medicinal properties. In ancient times, leaves from the Camellia Sinensis (the tea plant) were either compressed into bricks and ground into a powder, or dried, rolled and placed as loose leaves directly into boiling water to infuse. Tea arrived in the West in the 16th century.
All teas originate from one of two important subspecies, either the Assam type (assamica) or China type (sinensis). Grown in India, Sri Lanka and other parts of the world, the Assam type tea produces large, strong tasting leaves. The China tea type, cultivated in China, Taiwan, Japan and parts of Darjeeling, yields a more delicate tea with smaller leaves. Climate and geographic location, including the altitude and soil, all play a role in determining the quality of tea
Harmful products hidden in many teas
Many of today’s tea brands operate under the claim of providing health benefits and promoting “clean living”, but are in fact laden with pesticides, toxins, artificial ingredients, added flavours and GMOs.
Did you know that most tea is not washed before it is packaged? If the tea has been sprayed with pesticides, these will end up directly in your cup once the tea is steeped in boiling water! Thus, organic tea is always the best & safest option! Research has substantiated these assumptions. This may apply to both loose leaf and bagged teas. Endosulfan is a pesticide that has been banned by the U.S., China, the E.U., and 144 other countries because it has been linked to impaired fertility and may harm unborn babies. Other pesticides include bifenthrin, imidacloprid, acetamiprid, chlorfenapyr, pyridaben, acephate, dicofol and monocrotophos.
2. Artificial Flavouring, Natural Flavours, and Hidden GMOs
Many popular tea brands include the ingredient “natural flavours”. This term includes any ingredient from a natural origin and misleads the consumer into thinking they are buying cleaner ingredients. Examples include additives such as Castoreum (a chemical from the glands of beavers) and Carmine (Natural red#4) – made from dried, ground up Cochina beetles. The reality is that many tea companies are using these additives to mask the inferior taste and quality of their tea. Fortunately, there are now many brands that are only using all real ingredients. Additionally, there is the added risk of consuming possible GMOs - which is not often considered by people when consuming tea.
3. Plastic and paper tea Bags
Did you know that the “silky sachets” and “luxurious mesh bags” that hold loose leaf teas are made of plastic? PLA (polylactic acid) is a corn-based tea bag material that has attracted tea companies due to its appealing appearance and its claims of being biodegradable. Terms like “silky sachets” and “corn-based biodegradable tea bags” mislead customers into believing a product is more natural and sustainable than it really is. Although the tea bag is not an ingredient as such, it is still placed into boiling water to prepare tea. Tea bags are usually made from food grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Although these plastics are considered among the safest in terms of leaching potential, the molecules in these plastic tea bags may still break down and leach out when steeped in boiling water! The “glass transition” temperature (Tg) is the temperature at which the molecule in certain materials such as polymers begin to break down. As a rule, the Tg of a material is always lower than the melting point. PET and food grade nylon have a Tg lower than the temperature of boiling water. This means the molecules that make up these plastic tea bags begin to break down in hot water. So, while the plastic itself won’t melt in your tea, the glass transition temperature could potentially leak out harmful substances. Some of the newer tea bags are made with a variety of plastics. Some plastics are nylon, some are made of viscose rayon, and others are made of thermoplastic, PVC or polypropylene. Many paper bags are treated with a compound called epichlorohydrin, which is used to produce epoxy resins and acts as a pesticide! It is a potential carcinogen, and has been shown to cause impaired fertility, and weakened immunity.
So, what should you do the next time you want to enjoy a cup of tea?
Tips when brewing and picking out the safest tea:
- Choose an organic & non-GMO certified brand of tea.
- Check the ingredient list on the back of the tea package to make sure there are no added flavours or GMO ingredients (like soy lecithin and corn starch) added to the tea leaves.
- Make sure the brand you buy uses a safe form of packaging material or buy loose leaf tea and use a stainless steel or glass tea strainer. Have the company verify that bags do not contain epichlorophydrin, and avoid plastic tea bags all together.
- Bring your own tea when eating out or going to restaurants and ask for a pot or cup of boiling water.
- Store tea in an airtight, opaque container in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Light, temperature, moisture and odours can compromise the quality of tea. To maintain freshness tea must be stored properly.
My favourite tea brands
This organic tea brand comes in a massive variety of flavours – you are sure to find a favourite! There are different categories of teas – e.g. immunity, cleansing, digestive, women’s, relax, energy etc. – this makes it easy to find what you need.
This is an organic fair trade tea brand. All the ingredients are ethically sourced and bought directly from a small co-operative of independent Fairtrade farmers. Refreshing, cleansing and more natural than most, Qi Teas are guaranteed to be free of chemicals, pesticides, formaldehyde and genetic modification. The tea bags are not bleached and are free from glue and aluminium staples. My favourite is the Organic Wellness green tea.
This is a speciality healing, organic, caffeine free tea brand. I tried the Remedy tea when I had flu and found it soothed my cough. Available in 7 blends.
The traditional 5 stage method of tea production is used to produce their tea: withering, rolling, fermenting, drying and sorting. I especially enjoy the calming peach, cinnamon and green tea flavours.
This tea brand is certified Organic. Organic cultivation protects the environment, the farmers, and you. It has a fantastic range of teas - all with a wonderful smooth rich flavour and aroma. Numi uses full leaf quality (FOP grade & above) organic tea in all their products. Natural, compostable paper filter tea bag are used which are free of toxins.
Food Babe. 2017. Do You Know What's Really In Your Tea?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://foodbabe.com/2013/08/21/do-you-know-whats-really-in-your-tea/. [Accessed 15 June 2017].
The History of Tea | Mighty Leaf Tea. 2017. The History of Tea | Mighty Leaf Tea. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.mightyleaf.com/about-us/learn/history-of-tea. [Accessed 16 June 2017].
Collective Evolution. 2017. What’s In Your Mug? The Toxic Truth About Tea – Collective Evolution. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/10/26/whats-in-your-mug-the-toxic-truth-about-tea/. [Accessed 19 June 2017].