Tag Archives: tea

Climate change is making tea worse

If you aren’t convinced by the shrinking glaciers, rising temperatures, and extreme weather events, there’s now another reason to start reducing our greenhouse emissions much faster. And that’s the negative effect climate change is having on the world’s tea production, affecting not only its yield but also its flavor.

Image credit: Flickr / CIFOR

Tea plants are very sensitive to the environments in which they are grown — so much that experts can distinguish different tastes based on where the tea is grown. But that sensitivity is also what makes the crop vulnerable to climate change. Variations in temperature and precipitation can alter tea yield as well as its balance of chemicals.

A report by the charity Christian Aid argues that some of the world’s biggest tea-growing areas will be severely hit by extreme weather, with their yields set to be reduced if the climate crisis continues at its current pace. Floods, droughts, heatwaves, and storms (all of which can be exacerbated by climate change) are already having diverse effects on tea production around the world.

The report focused on Kenya, China, India, and Sri Lanka, the world’s largest tea-producing countries in the world. Kenya is the biggest exporter of black tea in the world and for many years it had the perfect climate for tea growing, with long sunny days. But now climate change is bringing erratic weather changes that pose a threat to tea producers.

A study found that climate change is going to slash optimal conditions for tea production in Kenya by a quarter (26.2%) by 2050. This decline in production is already being felt by Kenyan tea growers. In a survey of 700 farmers in all seven of Kenya’s tea-growing regions, almost half said to have noticed changes in rainy and dry seasons.

A similar situation is being experienced by China, the world’s largest tea producer, which supplies the world with over 300 thousand metric tons of tea annually. Tea in China is regularly produced in the provinces towards the south and east of the country where the weather is humid and changes from tropical to subtropical.

“Climate change is reducing tea yields in China, with changes to weather patterns over the past 50 years affecting crop growth, quality and chemical composition of tea leaves, according to previous studies by US researchers. Longer monsoon seasons with heavier daily rainfall have been linked to crop losses,” the researchers wrote.

The report also looked at India, the second-largest tea producer. More than half of it is produced in the northeast region of Assam, the largest single tea growing region in the world. North Bengal in the Darjeeling district is another major tea-growing area. However, climate change is already threatening tea production in these regions.

In a survey of producers in Assam, 88% of plantation managers and 97% of smallholders stated that the challenging climate conditions were a definite threat to the growth and production of tea. Furthermore, climate change has caused erratic rainfall which has led to both droughts and heavy rain in Assam, the report showed.

Image credit: Flickr / CIFOR

Not just yield

The researchers at Christian Aid raised their concern not only about the declining tea production because of climate change but also on tea losing some of its many properties, including flavor. Tea has a set of aromatic compounds known as “secondary metabolites” that allow to differentiate one tea from another.

However, when tea plants get really wet they suffer a double effect because the plants stop having the ecological cues to make these metabolites, and the few that are there get diluted as the plant gets waterlogged. Global warming has brought unseasonably high levels of rainfall in many parts of the world.

Because the atmosphere’s water-holding limit increases by about 4% for every 0.6ºC rise in temperature, extreme precipitation is more likely when a storm passes through a warmer atmosphere holding more water. These places include major tea-producing areas like China’s Yunnan province, Assam, and Darjeeling in India, among others.

The study also warned over tea losing some of its many benefits to human health because of climate change, such as its ability to boost the immune system, fight off inflammation and prevent cancer – also keeping us alert during the day. Studies have shown that climate change is expected to result in lower quality and less healthy tea in the future.

Christian Aid is calling countries to increase their climate action over the course of the year, especially thinking about the upcoming climate summit COP26 in the UK, a tea-drinking nation. The organization also wants rich countries to provide poor regions with financial assistance to help them cope with the impacts of climate breakdown.

Study finds billions of plastic particles released by tea bags

Tea drinkers may now think twice before using plastic tea bags, as a new set of tests found that a single bag sheds billions of particles of microplastic into each cup. The study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Researchers discovered that a cup of the brewed beverage may come with a dose of micro- and nano-sized plastics shed from the bags. Possible health effects of ingesting these particles are currently unknown.

Over time, plastic breaks down into tiny microplastics and even smaller nanoplastics, the latter being less than 100 nanometers (nm) in size. Scientists have detected the microscopic particles in the environment, aquatic organisms and the food supply, but they don’t yet know whether they are harmful to humans.

Nathalie Tufenkji and her team wondered whether recently introduced plastic teabags could be releasing micro- and nanoplastics into the beverage during brewing. They also wanted to explore the effects of the released particles on small aquatic organisms called Daphnia magna, or water fleas, which are model organisms often used in environmental studies.

In order to do this, they purchased four different commercial teas packaged in plastic tea bags. They cut open the bags, removed the tea leaves and washed the empty bags. Then, they heated the teabags in containers of water to simulate brewing conditions.

Using electron microscopy, the team found that a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature released about 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into the water. These levels were thousands of times higher than those reported previously in other foods.

“We think that it is a lot when compared to other foods that contain microplastics,” Tufenkji said. “Table salt, which has a relatively high microplastic content, has been reported to contain approximately 0.005 micrograms plastic per gram salt. A cup of tea contains thousands of times greater mass of plastic, at 16 micrograms per cup.”

More research is needed to determine the kind of impact the particles will have on humans, the researcher added. For now, she said, it’s best to avoid plastic tea bags and seek out other options.

“Tea can be purchased in paper tea bags or as loose-leaf tea, which eliminates the need for this single-use plastic packaging,” she said.

Drinking tea may improve your brain health, study shows

Drinking tea on a regular basis improves brain health, according to a new study, which examined neuroimaging data and concluded tea drinkers have better-organized brain regions – associated with a healthy cognitive function.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons.

Assistant Professor Feng Lei from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s Department of Psychological Medicine led the research alongside collaborators from the University of Essex and the University of Cambridge. The findings were published in the journal Aging.

“Our results offer the first evidence of the positive contribution of tea drinking to brain structure and suggest that drinking tea regularly has a protective effect against age-related decline in brain organization,” explained Asst Prof Feng Lei.

Previous studies showed drinking tea is beneficial for human health, with positive effects such as mood improvement and cardiovascular disease prevention. A study by Feng Lei in 2017 showed that daily consumption of tea can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older persons by 50%.

Now, the research recruited 36 adults aged 60 and above and gathered data about their health, lifestyle, and psychological well-being. The elderly participants also had to undergo neuropsychological tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The study was carried out from 2015 to 2018.

The team analyzed the participants’ cognitive performance and imaging results and found that individuals who consumed either green tea, oolong tea, or black tea at least four times a week for about 25 years had brain regions that were interconnected in a more efficient way.

“We have shown in our previous studies that tea drinkers had a better cognitive function as compared to non-tea drinkers. Our current results relating to brain network indirectly support our previous findings by showing that the positive effects of regular tea drinking are the result of improved brain organization brought about by preventing disruption to interregional connections,” said Feng Lei.

Thinking about the future, Feng Lei and the team argued more research is needed to better understand how functions like memory emerge from brain circuits, and the possible interventions to better preserve cognition during the aging process. They plan to look at the effects of tea as well as the bioactive compounds in tea can have on cognitive decline.

Coffee or tea? The answer might lie in your genes

It’s a heated debate, with passionate people on both sides, but scientists might bring an unexpected player to the argument table: genetics.

Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world every day, and tea is no slouch either, with 1.42 million pounds of tea consumed by Americans every single day — and Americans lag strongly behind other countries, particularly India and China. Yet, while both beverages seem very popular among their consumer groups (which sometimes overlap), there’s often a strong disagreement between the two camps. While there’s obviously a strong cultural component to personal preference, genetics might also play a role. Essentially, whether someone is a coffee drinker or a tea drinker might be linked with the presence or absence of key genes that shape how bitter flavors taste.

If you think about it, enjoying bitter things (like coffee) seems a bit illogical. After all, the main function of the bitter flavor is to send out a signal that there might be some harmful substances involved — so why do we like it?

According to the new study, people who like coffee are more sensitive to the bitter taste, which seems counterintuitive, but researchers say this happens because coffee-drinkers associate the bitter taste with the follow-up reward of stimulation that coffee brings.

“You’d expect that people who are particularly sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine would drink less coffee,” said Marilyn Cornelis, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The opposite results of our study suggest coffee consumers acquire a taste or an ability to detect caffeine due to the learned positive reinforcement (i.e. stimulation) elicited by caffeine.”

Both coffee and tea (at least some types of tea) contain bitter-tasting caffeine, but coffee contains another bitter molecule: quinine, commonly found in tonic water. Different bitter molecules are linked to different taste receptor genes, and Cornelis and colleagues at the University of Queensland in Australia wanted to study the connection between these taste genes and coffee consumption.

They analyzed data on 430,000 men and women aged 37-73 in the UK, finding that people with gene variants that make them taste caffeine more strongly were 20% more likely to be heavy coffee drinkers (drinking more than 4 cups per day).

A similar correlation was reported for heavy tea drinkers.

“As caffeine contributes to not only the bitterness of coffee but also its perceived strength and texture, people who are better at detecting caffeine may find coffee more enjoyable and flavourful,” says Daniel Liang-Dar Hwang, one of the study authors. “In contrast, people who carried the bitter taste receptors for quinine or PROP drank less coffee and more tea. Compared to the average person, every extra copy of the quinine or PROP receptor gene was linked with a 9% or 4% higher chance of being a heavy tea drinker (>5 cups of tea a day).”

So, which one do you like — coffee or tea?

The study was published in Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-34713-z

Drinking tea might help reduce glaucoma risk, new study concludes

An intriguing study has found a correlation between drinking tea and a reduced risk of glaucoma. However, don’t start brewing an extra cup just yet, because no causation has been established.

Image credits: Conger Design.

Glaucoma is an eye condition in which fluid pressure inside the eye causes systematic damage to the optic nerve. Most types of glaucoma have no symptoms and can creep in and lead to blindness if they are not detected and treated early. Writing in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, researchers in the US describe the association between consumption of coffee, tea or soft drinks and this condition, which affects over 2.7 million people in America alone, and almost 60 million worldwide.

They surveyed 1,678 participants of the 2005–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Across them, the prevalence of glaucoma was 5.1% (84 people). There was no significant correlation between glaucoma and consumption of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, iced tea and soft drinks, and glaucoma. But when it came to hot tea, things were quite different. As it turns out, tea drinkers are at a significantly lower risk of glaucoma.

Participants who consumed at least six cups a week were 74% less likely to have glaucoma when compared with those who did not consume hot tea. To make things even more interesting, there was no change for patients who drank decaffeinated hot tea.

“In summary, individuals who consumed hot tea were less likely to have a diagnosis of glaucoma compared with those who did not consume hot tea,” the authors write.

Of course, this is just a correlation and no causation has been properly explored, but the fact that the same results didn’t carry over to decaf tea seems to suggest that certain plant chemicals — such as flavonoids and other antioxidants found in tea — provide a protective effect to the eyes. But this still doesn’t prove anything, and it doesn’t really explain why the same effect wasn’t reported in iced tea.

There are also other limitations to the study, including a lack of information on the tea that was drunk, a limited sample size for both people with glaucoma and tea drinkers, and possible errors in diagnosis. Still, this is good news if you’re a tea drinker.

“Tea drinkers should feel comfortable about drinking tea but should realise that the results are preliminary and drinking tea may not prevent glaucoma,” said Anne Coleman, co-author of the research from the University of California, Los Angeles.

But if you want to reduce your risk of glaucoma, there are other things you should focus on. The biggest risk factors for glaucoma are still an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity. So while tea is still probably good for you (especially without sugar), staying fit and eating healthy food is still the best thing you can do.

Journal Reference: Connie W. Mu et al. Frequency of a diagnosis of glaucoma in individuals who consume coffee, tea and/or soft drinkshttp://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjophthalmol-2017-310924

How to brew the perfect black tea — according to science

So, you’ve gone through the basics. You’ve enjoyed a selection of herbal teas, the ubiquitous black tea, and who knows what other delicious wonders. But you want to do it right. Well, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll be looking at how to brew a tea properly, with advice from expert scientists, including the British Royal Society of Chemistry.

Tea brewing is as much an art as it is a science, and as George Orwell used to say, “the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.” Needless to say, different teas require slightly different methods, and personal preference also plays an important role. However, there are some things which universally apply. We’ll have a look at how to brew the perfect tea, taking a black tea (Assam) as a sample, while keeping in mind that different teas require slightly different brewing times and temperatures.

The water

The water should be fresh and “soft” — hard water contains minerals that can create unwanted tea scum. This doesn’t really affect the taste, but it does create a rather unpleasant sight. For this reason, bottled mineral water is also a no-no. Having a nice soft water ensures that your tea will be smooth and uniform. It’s also good to use water that hasn’t been previously boiled. Tea loves oxygen, which allows it to spread its flavor generously, and pre-boiled water has lost some of that oxygen.

The cup

One should never drink tea from polystyrene cups, the Royal Society of Chemistry says. Not only does that make the tea too hot to drink straight away, but it also absorbs some of the flavors, and often adds in some of its own plastic or papery flavor. Tea should instead be enjoyed from a ceramic cup or a mug. Ideally, from your favorite mug, when it’s raining outside.

Personally, I like large mugs, because aside from allowing you to drink more tea, they retain heat better than smaller cups. Smaller cups (especially those with a large surface) tend to cool down faster. To accelerate cooling, you can leave a teaspoon inside the mug, where the metal will act like a radiator.

The tea

Loose tea is often more flavorful, but teabags can work just as well.

Tea bags are, of course, very convenient, but they do have a few downsides. Producers often bag lower-quality tea, though that is not always the case. Even if the tea is high quality, the bag itself slows down the infusion. In the case of black tea, not only do they slow down infusion, but they also favor the spread of tannins, which is less desirable due to their strong and unpleasant taste. Therefore, we recommend using leaves or other loose tea.

You don’t need a lot of tea per cup. A teaspoon (2 grams) is almost always sufficient and will ensure that the flavor spreads properly.

Of course, make sure that your tea is high quality. Good tea is not necessarily expensive — you can find cheap, high-quality. Make sure that the production area is written clearly on the label, and make sure it’s a type of tea you enjoy. Avoid artificial flavorings. Opting for fairtrade tea is always a good choice since it ensures that the people who worked to grow and harvest the tea get paid properly. But no matter what kind of tea you opt for, make sure it’s good.

The brewing

For green and black tea, infusion needs to be done at the highest possible temperature. However, as mentioned before, you don’t want to over-boil the water because that will make it lose oxygen. So as soon as it starts to boil, take it out of the kettle (or stop the fire) and start the infusion process.

For the perfect tea, you don’t want to put the hot water into a cold pot, so either pre-heat the pot (maybe in a microwave) or pre-fill it at least a quarter with boiling water, and then drain it.

Brew for 3-4 minutes. Again, this is often a matter of preference and depends from tea to tea, but 3-4 minutes is generally a good reference. The more you brew it, the more tannins and antioxidants are released into the brew. You want some of those because they’re good for you, but too many will leave behind a nasty aftertaste, which you want to avoid.

Image credits: Patrick George.

Milk and sugar

Milk and sugar are optional. Traditionally, milk was added to tea to preserve the delicate and very expensive Bone China cups, and the taste has remained popular, especially in the UK. If you do add milk, make sure to pour it first, before the tea, to ensure a nice spread of color. You can, of course, also add it after the tea — just be sure to mix it well to obtain a uniform color. If you’re lactose intolerant, you can substitute in other options, such as soy or almond milk. Just keep in mind that anything you add will change the taste of the tea.

There were some studies which claimed that adding milk to tea neutralizes the beneficial effect of its antioxidants, but more recent research has found that that is not really the case. It’s not clear why different studies obtained different results.

Sugar is also optional. White sugar is the most common option, but dark sugar and honey can also be used. A bit of sweetness works great with tea, as it moderates the tea’s natural astringency. Of course, too much sugar isn’t good for you, and it will also mask the flavor of the tea. Honey is another great choice — it’s not as sweet, it adds a bit of secondary flavor, and it’s more healthy than sugar. Just make sure to not pour it into boiling water, because that will destroy its beneficial properties; add it after the tea cools down a bit.

Drinking tea

Typical color of black tea with milk.

So, you’ve got the right water, the right pot, the right cup, the right tea, and you’ve poured some milk (or not); now you’re waiting for the brew to cool down a bit. After 3-4 minutes, take the tea out (or pour it into your cup). Let it cool down to 60°C and 65°C, which is usually obtained around 1 minute after the brewing time. If it’s hotter than that, you won’t be able to drink it — and no one likes a slurper. If it cools down more , its taste starts to change. Of course, no one’s going to measure the temperature. As a rule of thumb, it should have cooled down enough to be comfortably drunk, but still hot.

… and most importantly

Sit down and relax. Drinking tea is as much a feeling as it is an actual activity. Focus on the brew ahead of you, smell it before you drink it, and enjoy it thoroughly. Experiment with different teas and different brewing processes. Find what you like and tweak things according to your own taste. Good company makes for better tea, but tea also works perfectly with “me moments.”


The short version

For those who can’t be bothered to read the whole thing, here’s the short version:

  • Soft water, no mineral water and no hard water. No pre-boiled water.
  • Ceramic mug or cup.
  • Try loose tea or high-quality teabags.
  • Boil water, start brewing.
  • Brew for 3-4 minutes.
  • Milk and sugar (or honey) are optional.
  • Drink at 60°C – 65°C degrees.
  • Enjoy!

Kombucha. Image: Colorado State University

What is Kombucha and is it good for you?

What is Kombucha — the so-called ‘elixir of life’

Kombucha is essentially a fermented tea made by a culture of bacteria and yeast (more on that later), which uses a solution of tea, sugar, and sometimes flavorings as “fuel”. Kombucha originates from Asia and has been used for centuries. It’s also called “mushroom tea” because of the bacteria and yeast that clump together during the brewing process resembling a mushroom cap. Kombucha is not made by a mushroom though, but a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY for short.

It is believed that the beverage has many benefits among which improved digestion, appetite suppression, better memory, lowers high blood pressure, promotes hair growth, gives more energy and… a couple more. Skeptics, however, argue that these benefits are actually unproven by medical studies. Moreover, there are reasons to believe that fermented tea can be dangerous if brewed at home.

Kombucha. Image: Colorado State University

Kombucha. Image: Colorado State University

Kombucha taste, texture, and composition

Kombucha is slightly effervescent, highly acidic, and sweet from the sugar. It contains sugars, B vitamins, and antioxidants, as well as low concentrations of alcohol — a byproduct of the fermentation process. It also has floating bacteria inside it, which might seem unappealing for some, but not all that different from the kind you find in wine for instance. One eight-ounce serving has 30 calories, which is a lot less than most soft drinks.

History and Myths

Image: Kombucha Home

Image: Kombucha Home

It’s believed Kombucha originates from China, the first record of the brew dating from the Tsin dynasty in 212 BC. The Chinese used to call it the “Tea of Immortality”. Through trade, the drink first spread to India and Russia, then much of Asia.

There is a legend saying that in 414 AD. Dr. Kombu – supposedly from Korea – brought the fungus to Japan to treat the Japanese emperor Inkio. The Emperor was healed and from that time the mushroom was attached with the name Kombu-cha (Cha means tea) in honor of that doctor.

A Kombucha SCOBY mother. It ferments the tea to produce the brew. Image: Inhabitat

A Kombucha SCOBY mother. It ferments the tea to produce the brew. Image: Inhabitat

The brew a reputation for performing miracles, hence the name miracle fungus, magical fungus, elixir of life, and gout tea. Each place and country where it spread to attributed its own name for Kombucha, so we have Russian Fungus, Japanese sponge, the Divine Tsche, Mongolian wine, Indian wine, Fungus Japonicus, Pichia fermentans, Cembuya, Orientalis, Combuchu, Tschambucco, Volga Spring, Mo Gu, Champignon de longue vie, Teekwass, Kwassan, pseudo lichen and Kargasok Tea, Scoby, kochakinoko. They all mean to say Kombucha.

Wherever this tea originated from it is now known throughout the world. In the U.S., it has surfaced from the underground. Once quite obscure and known among new age circles, Kombucha can now be easily found in food stores like Whole Foods or corporate cafeterias like those at Google or Facebook.

Is Kombucha good for you?

All this talk of a miracle ale might get a lot of people excited, so is there anything to it? It Depends. I urge you all to be skeptical of anything that’s touted as an elixir drink sure to cure anything from arthritis to constipation, to cancer. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, as always. “There is really very little evidence to support any kind of claims about kombucha tea. So we don’t know if it does anything at all,” said  Andrea Giancoli, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for NPR.

Though very popular, few to none reliable studies have made that might document the health benefits of Kombucha. Depending on where you brew it, and the SCOBY used, the drink will contain bacteria like  Bacterium xylinum, Bacterium gluconium, Acetobacter hetogenum, Pichia fermentons, but also antibiotic-producing bacteria like  Penicillium species. Some have found anthrax bacteria. Yeast species include Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Torulaspora delbrueckii and Zygosaccharomyces bailii. Candia fungus species — these cause the most common fungus infections — like  C. albicans, C. kefyr, and C. krusei were also found in some batches. Judging from its bacterial composition, Kombucha could prove to be a great probiotic improving the microfauna inside the gut. However, there’s no reason to believe yogurt isn’t better.

Besides small amounts of alcohol (usually under 0.5%), Kombucha contains substantial acetic acid (vinegar), ethyl acetate, glucuronic acid, and lactic acid. Caffeine is also found given most brewers use black or green tea for the brew’s solution, which might also explain why some report enhanced energy.

One 2003 systematic survey of Kombucha studies found no paper “relating to the efficacy of this remedy.” Moreover, the author notes “several case reports and case series raises doubts about the safety of kombucha. They include suspected liver damage, metabolic acidosis, and cutaneous anthrax infections. One fatality is on record.”

Bottled Kombucha, the kind you see sold in stores, is safe or should be. If you brew Kombucha at home, however, please careful since there are high chances of contamination. The brew needs to be stored in glass. If stored in ceramic pots, the acid will eat away the lining causing lead poisoning when ingesting the brew. Apparently, there seems to be more evidence that testifies Kombucha’s adverse effects than benefits. ScienceBasedMedicine reports some risks associated with Kombucha ingestion:

  • an alcoholic developed jaundice after two weeks, which resolved after discontinuation
  • dizziness, nausea and vomiting that resolved with discontinuation and restarted with rechallenge
  • toxic hepatitis that resolved with discontinuation
  • metabolic acidosis and disseminated intravascular coagulopathy, resulting in subsequent cardiac arrest and death
  • metabolic acidosis, cardiac arrest (with recovery)
  • anthrax infections of the skin through topical application of kombucha
  • lactic acidosis and acute renal failure
  • lead poisoning secondary to making it in a ceramic pot

Kombucha is categorized as a specialized process in the FDA Food Code, requiring any retail or foodservice operator planning to sell kombucha to obtain a variance from their regulatory authority and to submit a food safety plan to their regulatory authority as defined in the Food Code section 3-502.11. The FDA recommends using brewing water over 165°F (74°C), keeping equipment clean and sanitary, using a fresh commercially purchased culture for the first brew, not selling kombucha with a pH below 2.5 or higher than 4.2, and to discard kombucha with signs of mold growth.

“Proponents claim kombucha tea can stimulate the immune system, prevent cancer, and improve digestion and liver function. However, there’s no scientific evidence to support these health claims,” concludes  Brent A. Bauer, M.D. in an article for Mayo Clinic.

In conclusion, Kombucha isn’t a superfood. There isn’t evidence yet that might suggest this, at least. It won’t kill you either, but it could cause some health problems if you brew your own or the bacteria interacts in a special way with your organism.  I brewed my own batch for 6 months from a mother that I reused. The SCOBY mother grew to about 3 fingers thick. The drink is tasty for my liking, though some might find it too acidic. I didn’t have any health problems but didn’t feel any better or healthier either. I stopped after a while after I neglected the mother and was too disgusted by what I found in my one-gallon jar to start fresh. I threw the mother in the trash, though some say you can grill some great burgers with it.

Kombucha is fun to try, but if you’re worried stay away to be on the safe side.


Sugar with that? Sweetening coffee or tea really changes your drink

Coffee and tea taste bitter to most people because of the caffeine. Of course, some like their coffee dark, but most people, including yours truly, can’t have a sip without at least a lump of sugar inside. Apparently, we’re on to something. Adding sugar to coffee or tea not only cuts the bitterness, but changes the chemistry of the drink at a fundamental level, according to Dr. Seishi Shimizu at University of York.


Image: flickr

Previously, researchers thought the bitter taste suppression was due to the change of “water structure” induced by the additives. Using  statistical thermodynamics, however, Shimizu showed that instead of the change of water structure, the bitter taste suppression must be due to the binding of sugar with the caffeine. The elemental cause is the affinity between water and sugar molecules, which in effect make the caffeine molecules stick together.

“It is delightful indeed that food and drink questions can be solved using theory, with equipment no more complex than a pen and paper.  Encouraged by this discovery, and our recent success on how to make jelly firmer, we are working hard to reveal more about the molecular basis of food and cooking,” said Shimizu who published his work in Food and Function.

Millions of people around the world love coffee, not to mention tea. Knowing more about how various additives like sugar or salt react with water is highly important for the food industry. In effect, we might one day find that perfect cup of coffee. I know, a puritan’s dream.

[MORE] What gives coffee its distinct color and flavor

Swap a sweet drink for water and you get a 25% lower chance of diabetes

Swapping out a single daily sweet drink for water or unsweetened tea or coffee can lower the risk of diabetes by up to 25%, a new research suggests.

Drinking tea instead of soda or hot chocolate every day can reduce the risk of diabetes by up to 25%. Photograph: incamerastock/Alamy

The study monitored the food diaries of 25,000 men and women aged 40 to 79 in Norfolk, England, over 11 years. During the study, 847 participants were diagnosed with new-onset type 2 diabetes, and the team wanted to see if sugary drinks (such as sodas and squashes) had any effect on the onset of diabetes.

They found that replacing one soft drink or sweetened-milk beverage a day with a serving of water or unsweetened tea or coffee reduced the incidence of diabetes by 14% to 25%.

“Our findings suggest that reducing consumption of sweet beverages, in particular soft drinks and sweetened-milk beverages, and promoting drinking water and unsweetened tea or coffee as alternatives may help curb the escalating diabetes epidemic,” the authors concluded.

There was also a social component to the type of sweet drinks people preferred, authors said. People who drank sweetened coffee or tea were more likely to come from a lower class and have a generally less healthy diet, whereas people from a higher class tended to drink more fruit juice. Lead scientist Nita Forouhi, of the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge, said:

“The good news is that our study provides evidence that replacing a daily serving of a sugary soft drink or sugary milk drink with water or unsweetened tea or coffee can help to cut the risk of diabetes, offering practical suggestions for healthy alternative drinks for the prevention of diabetes.

Indeed, the main takeaway is: even a small, constant change, something as having a water instead of a soda, can have a huge long-term impact on your health.

“Our new findings on the potential to reduce the burden of diabetes by reducing the percentage of energy consumed from sweet beverages add further important evidence to the recommendation from the World Health Organisation to limit the intake of free sugars in our diet.”

Tea flavors changing with shifting rainfall patterns

Climate change has many unexpected consequences – as a research has shown yet again. This time, a team of Montana scientists have shown that the tea flavors are changing, mainly as a result of shifting rainfall patterns. This variability can jeopardize the livelihood of tea growers and has significant effects on the end product we drink.

People working on tea plantations. Image via China Tour.

Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world – after water, of course. Its consumption equals all other manufactured drinks in the world – including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol – put together. The total consumption is estimated 3.21 million tonnes annually and in the United States, tea purchases have increased for 20 consecutive years and annual sales have surpassed $2.2 billion, with 160 million Americans drinking tea every single day. So naturally, any changes that affect tea affect a huge number of people.

“Climate change is impacting agro-ecosystems, crops, and farmer livelihoods in communities worldwide. While it is well understood that more frequent and intense climate events in many areas are resulting in a decline in crop yields, the impact on crop quality is less acknowledged, yet it is critical for food systems that benefit both farmers and consumers through high-quality products”, the study reads.

Selena Ahmed, lead author of the study, found that major antioxidant compounds that determine tea properties – including epigallocatechin, epigallocatechin gallate, epicatechin gallate, gallocatechin gallate, catechin, and gallic acid – can rise and fall by up to 50 percent! The change is big enough to not only affect the taste, but also the nutritive properties of the beverage. Ahmed, from Montana State University, conducted the research in an area of southwest China, where the changes are most likely representative.

Researchers collected samples during two extreme (opposite) weather events – a severe drought and a very powerful monsoon. They conducted chemical samples and also asked experienced tea growers about the quality of the tea they grew during these events. The interviews revealed that the vast majority of people considered tea grown during the monsoon period to be inferior to the one grown outside of that period. The chemical analysis confirmed this – antioxidant levels were observed to be lower during the monsoon period. More tea was grown, but the quality was lower.

“The increase in precipitation that occurs with the seasonal transition from the spring drought to the monsoon tea harvests results in an increase in tea yields and a decrease in functional quality”, Selena further writes.

Green Tea is a significant source of antioxidants and has a myriad of positive effects on the body. Image Source.

This has significant impact not only on the farmers’ livelihoods, but also on the end consumers, which get significant quantities of antioxidants from tea.

“Extrapolating findings from this study with climate scenarios suggests that tea farmers will face increased variability in their livelihoods with the increased prevalence and intensity of extreme droughts and heavy rains associated with climate change,” Ahmed explained. “The study has compelling implications not only for tea, but also for all other food and medicinal plants for which changes in weather patterns can alter flavor and nutritional and medicinal properties.”

It is well known that tea (especially green tea) contains antioxidants such as polyphenols in green tea can help prevent cardiovascular disease, burn calories and even ward off some types of cancer. Furthermore, green tea in general (as well as many other types of tea) is associated with a healthier lifestyle and can help regulate body temperature and blood sugar, encourage digestion and even sooth the mind.

Journal Reference: Selena Ahmed, John Richard Stepp, Colin Orians, Timothy Griffin, Corene Matyas, Albert Robbat, Sean Cash, Dayuan Xue, Chunlin Long, Uchenna Unachukwu, Sarabeth Buckley, David Small, Edward Kennelly. Effects of Extreme Climate Events on Tea (Camellia sinensis) Functional Quality Validate Indigenous Farmer Knowledge and Sensory Preferences in Tropical China. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109126

Tea vs coffee. A new study suggests coffee increases risk of non-cardiovascular mortality, while tea reduces these risks. Image: life-cafe.co.za

Drinking tea reduces risk of non-CV mortality. The opposite occurs for coffee

Tea vs coffee. A new study suggests coffee increases risk of non-cardiovascular mortality, while tea reduces these risks. Image: life-cafe.co.za

Tea vs coffee. A new study suggests coffee increases risk of cardiovascular mortality, while tea reduces these risks. Image: life-cafe.co.za

A recent study that assessed coffee and tea consumption habits of a whooping 131 000 people from France found that tea reduces non-cardiovascular mortality (non-CV) by 24%. Far from it, the same can’t be said about drinking coffee: consumers  had a higher CV risk profile than non-drinkers, particularly for smoking. Overall there’s a tendancy to have a higher risk profile for coffee drinkers and a lower risk profile for tea drinkers

The study involved 131 401 people aged 18 to 95 years who had a health check up at the Paris IPC Preventive Medicine Center between January 2001 and December 2008. Correspondents were followed-up over a mean period of 3.5 years, during which there were 95 deaths from CV and 632 deaths from non-CV causes. Coffee and tea consumption was self-assessed via a series of questionnaires. Consumers were grouped into three classes: none, 1 to 4, or more than 4 cups per day.

Non-coffee drinkers were more physically active, with 45% having a good level of physical activity compared to 41% of the heavy coffee drinkers. Professor Danchin said: “This is highly significant in our large population.” On the other end, physical activity increased with the number of cups of tea per day from 43% in the moderate tea drinkers to 46% in the heavy drinkers.

Heavy coffee drinkers (more than 4 cups a day) were significantly older than non-drinkers, with a mean age of 44 years, compared to 40 years.

Coffee drinkers were also found to be smokers in larger proportions than tea-drinkers. One-third (34%) of the non-drinkers of tea were current smokers compared to 24% of those who drank 1-4 cups per day and 29% of those who drank more than 4 cups.

Tea was associated with lower blood pressure than coffee, with a 4–5 mmHg decrease in SBP and 3 mmHg decrease in DBP in the heavy tea drinkers, compared to non-drinkers, when adjusted for age. The findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress  by  by Professor Nicolas Danchin from France.

Here are some of the documented harmful effects of caffeine consumption: