Stress is real and very prevalent every day, especially these days. The scary slope is that chronic stress can lead to a variety of issues — insomnia, weakened immune systems, headaches, digestive problems and perhaps even scarier ones like heartaches and debilitating panic attacks. Everyone internalizes or externalizes stress differently, that’s why different approaches are abundant and needed. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy. I’d like to share with you one of my personal favorites: herbs and teas. These have been my go-to companion for when I’m combating stress and anxiety.
As you may know fruits, flowers, herbs and more have been used for centuries to treat very aliments that plague many of us today. Beyond the usual shift of lifestyle habits, introduction of calming techniques, diet and exercise, teas seem to be an easy to manage and simple first step to reducing the monkeys on our back.
Disclaimer: High levels of constant stress may require professional intervention. Also before deciding to treat yourself with herbal teas, we strongly suggest consulting your doctor. Some herbs may interact with certain medicine and cause serious side-effects.
Think about it? A warm mug in your hands, the fragrant steam that curls into the air, and the wonderful herbal scent that greets your nose as you inhale. Tea is truly relaxing. It’s the second most widely consumed beverage in the world after water. When it originated in Southwest China thousands of years ago it was used purely for medicinal purposes and now it’s in 80% of American households Tea has become a ritualized form of relaxation but beyond that is has a myriad of actual health benefits not including its antioxidants (explain).
In this case we’re focusing on anti-stress effects.
There seems to be one ingredient in particular that is the shining star to those effects and it’s called L-theanine. This amino acid is found in all tea leaves. It helps cognitive focus, improves sleep quality, and promotes general relaxation.
Just take the 2017 study, where researchers gave low-caffeine green tea to one group of students, and a placebo to another. The green tea group experienced a reduction in stress. The same happened in a Japanese study that found matcha green tea can reduced anxiety in mice.
L-theanine has been shown to boost alpha brain wave activity — which boosts focus, creativity, and mood stabilization.
Furthermore, continuous research has shown that L-theanine affects the chemicals in our brains that factor heavily into our sleep, emotional state, mood, and you guessed it, stress levels. For reference an 8oz cup of brewed coffee generally has an average of 95–200 mg.
I think it’s safe to say, it’s tea time!
Okay, sit tight…
All tea come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. Where they differ arise from processing, growing conditions, and where it’s grown. The plant is native to Asia, but is currently cultivated all around the world.
Green Tea — General Steeping: 2 to 3 minutes, Water Temperatures: 160–180 degrees fahrenheit
You might be most familiar with green tea. Funnily enough, all tea actually starts out green. The green tea process is defined by preventing oxidation. Shortly after picking, the leaves are rapidly heated to stop oxidation and keep the leaf “green” throughout its production. Green teas are typically steeped for shorter amounts of time and at lower temperatures which will produce a lighter cup with less caffeine.
Avg. Caffeine Content: 24–40 mg
Favorite Fair Trade Brand: English Tea Shop, Green Tea, “Refreshing, cleansing, and packed with goodness. This tea is prepared using traditional Chinese methods, helping to remain a true classic.”
Black Tea — General Steeping: 3 -5 minutes, Water Temperature: 200–212 degrees fahrenheit
The process for making black tea is kind of the opposite of green tea. During the oxidation process it’s allowed to absorb more oxygen removing most of the water in the leaf. This is what results the characteristically dark brown and black leaf with typically more robust and very noticeable flavor, too powerful for some.
Avg. Caffeine Content: 14–61 mg
Favorite Fair Trade Brand: Harney & Sons, Paris, “This popular blend, reminiscent of a Parisian favorite. A fruity black tea with vanilla and caramel flavors, it contains a hint of lemony Bergamot.”
Oolong Tea — General Steeping: 1–3 minutes, Water Temperature: 180–200 degrees fahrenheit
Oolong tea is neither a black tea nor a green tea; it falls into its own category of tea. It’s roughly defined as any tea that undergoes partial oxidation. The leaves are literally baked by a tea master. It’s hard to categorically simplify it due to this. Oolong represents a true artisan mastership of tea processing — appearance, shape and flavor of can vary wildly depending on the region where it’s grown and how it’s processed. The origins of oolong are claimed in both China and Taiwan.
Avg. Caffeine Content: 30–44 mg
Favorite (Almost All) Fairtrade Brand: Choice, Organic Oolong, “Savor the delicious complexity of this sophisticated oolong. A tea with a balance and harmony all its own. A gentle earthiness with hints of smoke, a lingering finish and a delightful aroma make this a remarkably enticing and enriching cup.”
White Tea — General Steeping: 2 to 3 minutes, Water Temperatures: 160–180 degrees fahrenheit
White tea is known to be one of the most delicate tea varieties because it is so minimally processed. It’s harvested before the tea plant’s leaves open fully, when the young buds are still covered by fine white hairs, hence the name “white” tea and then gently dried until they are finished. They are handled minimally and not re-shaped in any way.
Avg. Caffeine Content: Varies
Favorite Fair Trade Brand: Buddha Teas, White Oak Tea (Caffeine Free), “White oak bark tea is a great herbal tea to enjoy in the mornings or late at night, and is known to contain a few essential nutrients such as vitamin B-12.”
Some honorable mentions of my favorite tea brands in general would be
- Traditional Medicinals, Nighty Night
- Clipper Teas, Organic Chamomile Calming Infusion
- Lifestyle Awareness, Stress Balance
- Glow Water, CBD Tea (Calm, Sleep, Restore)
What is ‘Fair Trade’?
Fair Trade may be a term you hear often in relation to foods, handcrafted items, teas and more. Wikipedia explains it better than I can citing, “Fair trade is an arrangement designed to help producers in developing countries achieve sustainable and equitable trade relationships. Members of the fair trade movement add the payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as improved social and environmental standards.”
All in all Fair Trade empowers people to make choices for themselves and their community, regardless of their position in society or position on the globe. It addresses the injustices of conventional trade (think ‘Big Business’), which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.
Not only that, the FAIRTRADE Mark is the most recognized ethical label globally. And yes, there’s a difference between ‘Fair Trade’ and ‘Fairtrade’, which you can learn more about here because it does matter.
I shared some of the most popular teas with you, but how you prepare it is just as important as your selection. All teas should generally be handled differently — temperatures of water, steeping times, and amounts of the tea itself.
I follow these simple steps for a tea for a tealicious cup every time:
- Use fresh, pure, cold filtered water. Spring water is the best and try not to re-boil old water. Yuck.
- Pour the water over the tea directly into the cup. I find this allows the flavor to naturally seep into the water as it pours over it.
- Cover your tea (i.e. a teacup cover, small plate, etc) while it steeps to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel. Also don’t squeeze tea bags after steeping is complete. All you’re doing is squeezing the dregs where the tannins are most concentrated straight into your tea, thus causing a very bitter and not tasty cup of tea.
- Be mindful not to over-steep your tea! The longer your tea steeps, the more quickly it will release any bitterness (tannins) and astringency. Taste your tea after the recommended steeping and steep longer if you want more flavor, otherwise toss the bag or leaves out immediately. Unless it’s a high-quality loose leaf black tea, those can be steeped multiple times.
- Finally, I have a bad habit of making tea and walking away while it cools off. But, don’t let the tea to cool down, drink it while it’s warm, that’s when it tastes best.
To truly enjoy the subtle flavor differences between the many varieties of teas, try sipping them plain with no additives. If you already know you prefer the tea and want to try something extra, you can add lemon, milk, sugar, honey,
While tea won’t really go “bad”, it can get stale. To ensure you’re getting the freshest tea you can sip, be sure and buy it from a reputable company that can tell you when and how the tea was processed and packaged. I prefer teas that have unbleached satchels and opt for loose leaf teas when I want to really see and smell a new tea. I suggest not keeping tea for more than a year if cared for properly. Some storage tips to consider include:
- Always store tea in a cool, dark place. Never store tea in the refrigerator.
- Tea will last longer if stored in an opaque, airtight container.
- Don’t let tea share the pantry with items like coffee and spices that can leach their flavor into the tea leaves.
As you can see tea genuinely provides a boost in mood and brain activity that gives us this sense of relaxation and well being that only tea can provide. There’s a reason we drink it when we’re sick, sad, or stressed. find the whole process of brewing the tea and sitting down someplace to slowly savor it to be very relaxing. It’s an exercise in meditation that takes five to ten minutes — perfect for relieving a stressful moment.
Co-authored by Sara