Thursday, November 12, 2009

Antioxidants: Is bitter tea better?

I've been reading a book lately, Tea: Bioactivity and Therapeutic Potential, which is a collection of rather dense, scientific article about different facets of tea's biological activity.

I quote from the first article, by Miao-Lan Chen:

The catechins that are water-soluble, colorless compound[s] contribute to astringency and bitterness in green tea.

Catechins are the well-known antioxidants present in all tea. Not all of them are water-soluble, colorless compounds. And the authors stops after this remark and does not draw any inferences. But if catechins are bitter, could it possibly be that bitter teas are perhaps better for you? Just a thought...I've noticed that over time, my taste for bitter food and drink has developed considerably. The thought behind this had crossed my mind before, which is what was behind my rather far-out and speculative article on tea tasting for health.

Either way, I like bitter I'm going to keep drinking it just for taste!


  1. Got here searching for this topic on google... I drink tea for the health properties, and as such, I grind my tea into a powder and it's very very bitter. Not all of the beneficial compounds are water soluble, so this gets the others into me. I suppose that the increased and often extreme bitterness is due to the release of extra compounds, but whether or not they are health promoting compounds... I don't know.

    1. When it comes to antioxidants or any sort of naturally occurring chemicals, keep in mind that more is not always better. Most chemicals have a range of quantities for which they are beneficial, and a threshold after which too much can be harmful or stressing to the body. This amount can be different from one person to the other.

      I think it's important to listen to your body. There is a lot of evidence that drinking tea is healthy, but this evidence is mostly from people who drink tea as a beverage, not taking it as a dietary supplement. What you're describing sounds to me like you're getting outside the realm of normal beverage use, and into the realm of using it medicinally or as a supplement.

      I also think it's important to use the flavor of the tea as a way to evaluate its quality. If people drink tea because they feel like they "should" drink it because it's "healthy", they might be tempted to ignore signals that their body is sending that say that it's not great for them.

      There are traditional powdered teas, consumed like you describe, like Matcha. But Matcha is actually quite high in caffeine, because the whole leaf is being consumed rather than just an infusion of it, so effectively all the caffeine is consumed...and caffeine is not the only chemical in tea that one can have too much of. So I would be cautious with that. I know for me, I have a limited amount of matcha that I can tolerate without feeling jittery or off...I can't drink nearly as much of it as I can drink normal, brewed tea, whether green or black or any other type.

  2. It seems that most people don't like bitter tea-- which I find odd since I do what I can to make my green and black teas as bitter as possible! That is, using boiling water and steeping for a long time in a thermos. By searching on Google (which is how I got here) I found that to "fix" bitter tea, one should steep for a maximum of 4 minutes and not use boiling water.
    However, if that is done, then the tea is simply being made weak and not strong. This will prevent some antioxidants from leeching from the tea bag into the drink.

    Anyhow, I'm going to continue drinking my lovely 'dry' tea because it's delicious!!