Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Closer Look at Tea: Caffeine, L-Theanine and Ritual by Jonathan Manley

Typically, we grab coffee while on the go, late for work or for whatever task we are rushing around to get done. We rarely take the time to enjoy it. In my opinion, coffee does not aid in calming self-reflection. Tea, however, is quite different. At the center of tea culture is ritual. If one brews in a yi xing teapot it demands that you stop what you are doing and focus on the process. The water must be boiled, the pot and vessels pre-heated, and each of the several infusions must be attended to carefully. This process coaxes one to relax, be calm and fully engage in the present moment.

Two leaves and a bud...
It’s not only the ritual of tea that aids in the centering process. Tea and coffee are very different by their nature. (I often joke that tea is the marijauna of the drug world and that coffee is the heroin, or should I say cocaine?) When I drink tea I notice an immediate effect quite different from coffee. Tea mildly lifts my spirits without making me jittery or spacey. I feel a sense of calm and focus. One obvious explanation is that the caffeine content of tea is significantly less than coffee cup for cup. The average cup of coffee has 100 to 200 mg of caffeine. Tea on the other hand can be as low as 10 mg but is often in the 20-60 mg range. But caffeine is not the only chemical factor play.
Tea contains an amino acid called L-Theanine. It has the rare ability to cross the blood brain barrier and thus has mild psychoactive properties. Scientific studies indicate that L-Theanine produces a sense of well being, relaxation, and focus. It can also increase the release of dopamine and alpha brain waves, which are associated with the state of being alert but not stressed.

My advice for anyone who is trying to become more health conscious or more mindful is to consider the possibility of tea. In life, there are no quick fixes to achieving peace and health.


  1. I also notice that tea is much less likely to make me jittery than coffee is. I strongly prefer the way I feel after drinking tea to how I feel after drinking coffee.

    Although, I think if I were to make a marijuana analogy to a caffeinated beverage, I'd be more inclined to pick Yerba Mate. I find it makes me feel mellow and relaxed, and noticeably less focused than after drinking tea.

  2. I have to agree that the marijuana analogy is not the best fit, but we are trying to create controversy. Nothing inspires readership like controversy. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.