Apart from water, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world. People have been drinking tea for thousands of centuries: it’s a commodity that wars have been fought over, it’s been a source of medicine, and it’s a key feature of many of the world’s most distinguished cultures. In Japan, matcha. In India, chai. In England, black. In the Middle East, cardamom. In China, oolong.  In South America, yerba mate. Today’s coffee crazed culture has caused many people to lose sight of why we drank tea to begin with. This week, we will discuss the history of tea, and its health benefits that you can take advantage of as the health savvy CEO. 

Pinpointing the exact origins of tea is difficult because it has been around for so long. Legend has it that the second emperor of China and the creator of Chinese medicine, Shen Nung, discovered tea when the leaf of the Camellia sinensis plant blew into his cup of hot water in 2737 BCE. Shen Nung was astonished by tea’s restorative properties, and began using it as a medicine. After hundreds of years of variations of preparation, the standard procedure among the Chinese became to combine grinded tea leaves with boiling water. This practice became so popular throughout Ancient China that a distinct tea culture emerged, and tea drinking spread rapidly throughout Asia.

The practice of tea drinking didn’t reach the western world until the 15th century when the Han Dynasty in China started trading with Europe. China had three main commodities: porcelain, silk, and tea. Dutch traders ventured to China to trade European silver and returned with large quantities of tea. When tea finally reached Europe, it was initially considered a luxury. Tea drinking grew in popularity in major cities including London and Paris, but was mostly restricted to aristocratic classes due to high taxes. Eventually, however, tea began to overtake coffee as the drink of choice in coffee houses in Britain and throughout Europe, and tea ultimately turned into a lucrative industry.

If you’re not a tea aficionado, it’s important to know that there are two major distinctions when it comes to tea – traditional tea (black tea, green tea, and white tea) and herbal teas (chamomile, peppermint, ginger, etc.). Traditional teas all come from the leaves of a plant known as Camellia sinensis – the leaf that flew into Emperor Shen Nung’s boiling water. The difference in the type of tea comes from the length of the fermentation. White tea has a short fermentation period, green tea is semi-fermented, and black tea is 100% fermented. 

While we aren’t suggesting you completely nix your morning coffee habit, we do recommend adding a few cups of tea into your daily health regimen…and here’s why… Even since Shen Nung discovered tea 6000 years ago, it’s been used as a remedy to treat inflammation and respiratory illnesses, supports immune health, and stimulates brain function. The wide range of health benefits are due to the polyphenols in the Camellia sinensis plant. These powerful chemical compounds act as antioxidants which control the damaging effects of free radicals in the body. Research shows that polyphenols protect the body’s tissues against oxidative stress and associated pathologies such as cancers, coronary heart disease, and inflammation. 

If you rely on coffee for its energetic boost, tea too can do the same, but with a soothing effect. Tea contains L-theanine which is a naturally occurring, non-protein amino acid only found in tea. L-theanine works by blocking excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate resulting in feelings of relaxation. L-theanine also stimulates a related neurotransmitter called GABA, which produces its own calming and anxiety-reducing effects. Research suggests that L-theanine may have neuroprotective properties that will help protect our cognitive ability as we age.