Former president George W. Bush, pictured above, conducted a Q&A session in 2005, pictured above; this session, which focused on the topic of terrorism, still left me and the rest of the world with many unanswered questions about tea.
For example, when writing the article on the caffeine content of tea, I found only a handful of studies, and these studies did more to break down myths (like the myth about white tea being low in caffeine or black tea being high in caffeine) than they did to establish clear patterns of which teas have more or less caffeine. When working on the article on the vitamin C content of tea, I found even fewer studies. The results for theanine were similar; I found sources establishing that Gyokuro and Anji Bai Cha were high in theanine, but I did not find much in the way of thorough research characterizing which teas are relatively higher and lower, and explaining why this would be the case.
Some questions I'd like to see answered scientifically:
- Since it is known that green tea contains measurable vitamin C, whereas black tea contains either no vitamin C or only traces, I'd be curious to see if there is any vitamin C in the greenest of oolongs and the greenest of Darjeeling "black" teas, especially first flush. Given that some of these teas are greener in color than some green teas, I suspect many of these teas are as high in vitamin C as some green teas.
- I'd like to see some work on the levels of various chemicals in whole leaf tea, compared to broken-leaf tea, including the contents of various tea bags containing fannings or dust, and sachets containing whole leaf tea. These sorts of studies would be necessary to definitively answer questions comparing loose-leaf tea to tea bags.
- I'd like to see more work thoroughly exploring how the chemical components of tea differ from higher grades of tea, which tend to be more expensive, to lower grades of tea.
- I'd like to see studies that compare the chemical composition of tea to subjective impressions of its taste and other qualities, conducted by panels of experts and everyday tea drinkers, using blind taste tests. This would shed some light into whether or not impressions of freshness and quality correspond well to chemical changes in the tea.
- It is known that both Vitamin C and other antioxidants in tea tend to break down slowly over time, and that this process is slowed in teas that have been heated (like green tea). I'd be curious for work establishing how fast these chemicals break down, and if substantial breakdown happens before there is a noticeable change in the aroma or flavor of the tea. I'd also be curious to see if white tea would (as I would suspect) initially have a greater vitamin C content than green tea, but that the vitamin C would break down much faster than in green tea.
These are just a few of the questions that come to mind. Some of these would have health implications and would help answer questions about which teas are healthiest. Although I tend to focus primarily on taste, I would like to have a scientifically-valid answer when people ask me questions about which teas are healthiest. Currently, I find myself giving vague answers to these sorts of questions, because there's not enough research for me to give more thorough answers.
Some of these questions seem like they'd be relatively inexpensive and straightforward to answer, as they'd just be a question of testing enough samples through fairly routine methods. Given all the highly expensive, specialized scientific work done nowadays, it seems like a lot of these questions would be more fruitful to pursue. I'd like to offer a hint to academic researchers looking for an easy publication that could attract a lot of attention: these topics might offer some low-hanging fruit.
Pictured here are some low-hanging fruit of the Sorbus aucuparia plant (Rowan tree or European Mountain Ash).
It seems silly to invest a lot of money in costly research on tea, such as controlled clinical trials of green tea supplements, when some of the most basic questions about tea's chemical components remain unanswered.
What do you think?
What sorts of scientific work would you like to have done on tea? Do you think the above questions would be interesting? Do you know of some studies that I've missed that would answer some of these questions or add useful conclusions to the pages I maintain?