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10 things you probably didn’t know about tea (but should if you drink it)

Some recent controversy in the Swell office led to a lot of discussion about the right or wrong way to make a cup of tea. Some of us (ahem, Kristy and Bec) prefer just a teaspoon of milk to their black tea, while others (everyone else) enjoy a more medium brew with a good dash of milk. But given that we aren't experts on the matter, we turned to someone who is (and to whom adding any milk at all is sacrilege) - our resident wordsmith and Certified Tea Master, Melinda.

Ahh tea, there’s nothing like a good cuppa to take away life’s problems for a few minutes. But the world of tea is also kind of overwhelming – there are so many types of tea! So many brewing tools! So many pretty cups! That’s why I decided to become a Certified Tea Master (yeh that’s a real thing), because I wanted someone to show me the ropes. Along the way I learned some pretty interesting facts that changed the way I drink tea. These are the 10 things I wish every tea drinker knew – so make yourself a cuppa and let’s dive in. 

1. The tea in teabags isn’t leftovers swept up off the floor

2. Some teabags contain microplastics

If you like the convenience of teabags but prefer better quality tea, look for pyramid teabags.

3. Tea needs to be brewed at different temperatures

4. Loose leaf tea doesn’t have to be a pain to brew

Brewing loose leaf tea in a teapot is a lovely ritual when you have time; less so when you’re at the office and want to quickly make a cuppa. But real talk: loose leaf tastes wayyyy better, so you deserve it all of the time. 

Solve this problem by getting a tea infuser that rests in your mug, like this one. Pour water into your mug, let the tea brew while you head back to your desk and then sit the infuser inside its handy lid. It’s simple and leaves no mess. This is a top-notch alternative to those awful round tong-like infusers that snap shut on your fingers, drip everywhere and are often so small they don’t fit your tea leaves properly (which is their one job).

5. Tea affects iron absorption

If you drink a cup of tea with an iron-rich meal or straight after taking an iron supplement, you’re not going to get much iron . As such, it’s best to avoid drinking tea around mealtimes – you can still have it with your morning crumpets or afternoon brownie, just not with iron-rich foods. The advice is to wait an hour after eating before having a cuppa (SBS has more information).

6. All tea comes from the same plant

This is a fun little fact even your barista might not know. All tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant (I’m talking black, green, white, oolong and puerh tea here and not herbal teas, which are technically classified as tisanes and not as tea). 

The reason why these styles of tea are all so different despite coming from the same plant is because of how they are processed. Black, oolong and puerh teas are left to oxidise longer, which makes the leaves turn dark, while green and white teas do not go through this process. Soil, climate and the time of year when the tea leaves are harvested also affect flavour – this is why two types of the same style of tea can taste so different.

7. Tea contains caffeine

So why doesn’t it give you the same buzz as coffee? I’ll save you the science lesson and just leave it at this: there are compounds in tea that affect the way caffeine releases in the body. That means you don’t get the same hit as you do from coffee. Generally speaking, a cup of tea is about a half to two thirds lower in caffeine than coffee, and herbal teas don’t contain any caffeine at all. If you’re looking for a buzz but don’t want coffee, try matcha or yerba mate, which give you the largest caffeine hit (with a good dose of antioxidants too).

8. Tea should just be enjoyed for taste

When you make a cup of tea, you’re drinking an infusion from a plant. So yeh, it’s a pretty healthy choice… but you shouldn’t be drinking it as a health treatment. That’s because there are no conclusive studies demonstrating that tea can cure illnesses such as diabetes or reduce the risk of things like cancer or heart disease. If you see a brand making these claims, run the other way and just enjoy your tea for what it is: a delicious, life-affirming, soul-hugging brew.

There are no conclusive studies demonstrating that tea can cure illnesses such as diabetes or reduce the risk of things like cancer or heart disease. If you see a brand making these claims, run the other way.

9. After water, tea is the second most consumed drink in the world

You might have thought coffee or even Coca Cola would take out this spot, but – just like you – the rest of the world knows just how good tea is. It’s the national drink in populous countries like China and India. And last year each person in Turkey consumed an average of four kilograms of tea, making it the world’s largest consumer of tea per capita.

10. Tea should be stored in airtight containers

If you want your tea staying fresh, invest in a few cannisters or airtight jars. When stored, your tea needs to be out of sunlight and not near too much heat, so don’t put it in that cupboard over the stove or beside the oven. If you do decide to store your tea in a clear glass jar (I repeat, this must be airtight to work), make sure it’s not left on the benchtop – pop it in a dark cupboard instead. 

Hot tip: Cannisters aren’t the most fun thing to spend your dollarydoos on compared with new teas or tea cups. So if you know a tea lover, remember that cannisters are a very handy gift they may not buy for themselves.

Words: Melinda Halloran | Photography: Zoe Lonergan

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