Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tea and Mood

This post is inspired by a recent post on the now defunct Indonique Tea Blog, which is titled Tea Effect (now only viewable on archive.org). Tea has obvious lifting effects on mood. Is this due to caffeine? Do the effects of L-theanine moderate and enhance the effects of caffeine, creating a "relaxed alertness"? Instead of exploring these questions, I will focus on a more personal account of my own experience of tea and mood, and provide an alternative explanation that I find to be more compelling.

Caffeine's Effects on Me:

I have never found caffeine alone to have a particularly positive effect on mood. Sometimes a single cup of coffee can leave me feeling sluggish and depressed, for reasons I do not understand. Too much caffeine, which can easily happen from drinking multiple cups of coffee or strongly caffeinated soft drinks, and can also result from carelessly drinking too many cups of tea in a Chinese restaurant, often leaves me feeling quite awful. Even before I notice the "caffeine jitters", I find too much caffeine makes me agitated and restless, and have trouble concentrating. But a single cup of tea, or a few cups spaced over a reasonable time-period never has this effect.

The first tea that I noticed lifting my mood:

In contrast to coffee, which just caffeinates me, I have found that tea can actually lift my mood. I've been a tea drinker for a long time--my parents are both big tea drinkers--but the first tea that I noticed really lifting my mood was Ten Wu Oolong from Ten Ren, which I first had in teabags, when a friend of mine from Hong Kong gave me a box in college. Ten Ren boasts that that that tea is their "finest Oolong tea available in tea bag form.", and I will not dispute this. I enjoyed this tea greatly the first time I tried it, but the first time I noticed its mood-lifting effects was years later, when I finally got my hands on it a second time.

I was drinking a cup of it while hanging out in the math lounge at the University of Delaware, which is pictured below:

Why am I taking the time to include this picture in my tea blog? I have consumed countless cups of tea in that lounge, so I think it is important to get a picture of that lounge in there somewhere, as it is important in the tea history of my life.

But at any rate, I drank a cup of Ten Ren's Ten Wu tea, and I noticed that I just felt good. Not perky, not hyped up, just a nice, wholesome, warm, happy, good feeling. Why? I don't know. I doubt it's L-theanine, because Gyokuro is supposedly highest in theanine, and I don't find that it makes me feel better than other sorts of tea (it certainly doesn't stand out the way the Ten Wu tea does).

Another explanation for tea's effect on mood?

Maybe the explanation is simpler. In our society, we are tempted to look for "scientific" explanations--ones that can be described by mechanisms on the level of physics, chemistry, and biology. In my older post Tea and Health: Beyond Chemistry, I explored the question of whether some of the health benefits of tea lie not in the chemistry of tea, but rather in the process of making and drinking tea and the relaxing effect this has on your mind and body.

Maybe tea lifts my mood because it tastes and smells so good, and because the act of brewing and then drinking tea places me into a more mindful state when I drink it. Maybe drinking tea reminds me of the happy and relaxing times all throughout my life, where I've used tea for a relaxing break, or shared tea with friends. Maybe Ten Wu tea makes me happy because I absolutely love the aroma, the qualities of the cup, or maybe because it reminds me of the fond memories of the time and place and people associated with first trying that tea. That explanation seems much more plausible to me than any sort of scientific or chemical explanation.


  1. Alex is dead on with traditional thoughts about tea's relaxing effects. There's an old saying that to get the most health benefits from a cup of tea, take five minutes and make a cup. Is it the process? The aroma? The chemical composition? All of the above. Who cares! It works! I love it. The only thing I can add is share it with a friend.

    Thanks for the post, Alex. Great Blog!

  2. You know, Alex, I agree that it's probably wrapped up with pleasant memories. No question. Sense of smell triggers astounding memories.

    Nevertheless, I'm really curious about the chemical properties of tea. Certainly possible that I want to quantify it too much, but the desire is definitely there.