Happiness in a teacup – Why drinking tea makes us happier?

Everyone has their main reason for drinking Chinese tea: cozy habit, good program with friends, one person ritual, good refresher, tasty beverage or calming method. Whatever the reason is, We are sure that everyone who regularly drinks tea, can tell about the positive effects, like stronger focus and relaxed mindset. But why can tea make us more active and calmer at the same time? There is a modern and a traditional explanation for this.

The Scientific answer

Looking for a rational answer for the calming and relaxing effect of tea, we have to take a close look at the leaves, and what do they contain. Talking about Camellia Sinensis, it obviously has caffeine, but what else? There is an amino acid called L-theanine, which has calming effect on the brain. This is what makes us relaxed and focused.

How can we describe various states of mind? During sleeping there are delta and theta waves. Delta waves are present when the entire electrical brain activity is pulsing very slowly and it is only seen in a deep sleep. Theta waves are found in dream sleep and deep relaxation. In the waking state we also differentiate two kinds of waves: alpha and beta. Alpha waves are present in a relaxed, aware and attentive state, which is similar to a meditative state. Beta waves are dominant during the stimulated hustle and bustle state where we spend most of our waking lives. However, having alpha waves would be the ideal state – when we are fully alert and calm.

This increase in alpha activity supports a role for L-theanine in achieving a relaxed mental state via a direct influence on the central nervous system. L-theanine reduces anxiety and induces calm because it increases the neurotransmitters that balance our moods, controls serotonin and dopamine. This makes us simply feel good.

It seems that science is supporting our tea drinking habits. Our experience sitting at the tea table would be verified by scientists. Regular tea consumption is associated with lower risks of cognitive impairment and decline, it can also increase cognitive functions, like focus, perception, memory and thinking. In addition, L-theanine lessens the blood-pressure increase in high-stress-response. However, despite the relaxed state L-theanine balances the stimulatory effects of caffeine so you stay alert without feeling restless. This relaxed & alert state is optimal for studying, mental and physical work, creative work, practice and meditation. Here at  Zhao Zhou tea we have a photographer friend who expressed this state like this: “It is like if my vision would change from 150 dpi to 300 dpi.”

“Tea is not a medicine, but it is more like a good friend,
who is always there for you, and provides cheerful heartwarming company.”

There is another interesting fact about the L-theanine. In some specific teas we can find bigger amount of it, in leaves of ancient, several hundred years old trees, or trees growing in high mountains. It is also more in the very first sprouts, or teas that are grown in the shade for a few weeks prior to harvest. The shading increases the plants’ chlorophyll levels and increases the production of L-theanine at the same time. Shade-grown green teas include matcha and gyokuro tea.

Some data about the ratio of L-theanine: in a cup of black tea there is 24.2 mg of L-theanine, in a cup of green tea there is at least 7.9 mg, and a cup of shade-grown green tea may have as much as 46mg. Regardless of what science shows us, we should simply enjoy drinking the tea which we like. Naturally the more we like the tea, the more often we will drink it. Tea is not a medicine, but it is more like a good friend, who is always there for you, and provides cheerful heartwarming company.

The Traditional answer

The beneficial effect of tea was known much earlier, before science would discover L-theanine. Classical Chinese literature talks about chaqi (in Chinese 茶氣). However, it is not exactly clear what is actually meant by the term chaqi, and it is often surrounded by mysticism. Jiaoran 皎然   was a famous Tang dynasty poet, and a good friend of Lu Yu 陸羽, the author of The Classic of Tea (762 ad.), the first tea literature work. There is a quotation from one of Jiaoran’s verses which describes the effect of tea in a poetic way. It is an example how we can understand chaqi.

一飲滌昏寐
情來朗爽滿天地
再飲清我神
忽如飛雨洒輕塵
三飲便得道
何須苦心破煩惱

After the first drink confusion and sleepiness disappear –
clear, bright feelings fill Heaven and Earth.
The second cup purifies my spirit –
a sudden, flying rain lightly scatters the dust.
The third drink simply achieves Awakening –
no need to fuss about banishing troubles and cares.

The term chaqi consists of two characters: cha (tea) and qi which, among other meanings, refers to vital energy. The traditional Chinese tea literature differentiates three kind of sanqi 三氣: diqi 地氣, the before mentioned chaqi 茶氣 and renqi 人氣.

The term diqi 地氣 means the energy of earth. Taste of the tea is determined by the area of the tea tree that is why earth refers to the taste of tea. In contemporary wine culture it is called terroir. Chaqi 茶氣 means the energy of tea. The better the quality of the tea, the stronger we can feel its effect. Typically tea leaves from old trees have this quality. Renqi 人氣is the energy of the person, the host and the guests as well. Each person has different approach, characteristics, knowledge and experience of making tea, so different tea makers can make tea differently, despite the tea and tools being the same.

To experience the power of tea, first of all we need quality tea, the atmosphere also matters tremendously. Make sure to have enough time and space, just like in meditation, then drinking tea can give extraordinary experiences, nice feelings, and a feeling of happiness.

 

Photos: Balogh Kata

Sources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296328
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17182482
http://www.puercn.com/chayenews/cyzs/118412.html

Teas which can lead you to the effects explained above: