If you have ever traveled through China’s tea country, spent an afternoon tasting Dragonwells or been a part of a Japanese tea ceremony, you likely understand the term “tea drunk” (cha zui or 茶醉 in Chinese). It is the unique feeling of giddy euphoria, lightness and bliss balanced by a sense of meditative focus, peace and wellness that comes when you consume large amounts of high quality tea-- particularly very raw, green or un-oxidized tea. I am convinced that this zen-like mental state is the reason Buddhist monks brought tea from China to the rest of Asia over 1,000 years ago.
Five compounds present in tea are to thank for tea drunkenness (or to blame, if you have accidentally overindulged and are finding yourself a bit too dizzy). They are Caffeine, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), L-theanine, Theophylline and Theobromine. Understanding how they work independently and with each other can heighten your appreciation of tea and its affect on your body.
You are already familiar with caffeine. It blocks adenosine in the brain. Adenosine build up over the course of a day is what makes you sleepy, so caffeine makes you feel awake. There is actually more caffeine in the tea leaf than in the coffee bean, but since we usually use about 3 grams of tea versus 15 or so grams of coffee in a cup, coffee does a better job at keeping us awake.
EGCG is a Catechin, a type of antioxidant in tea that is credited for so many physical health benefits (for example, preventing or curing many kinds of cancers and diseases). It is less known for its ability to relax your mind and improve your mood, but EGCG does alleviate anxiety and increases your resilience to stress as well.
Antioxidants like EGCG also slow the release of caffeine in your body, prolonging the effects of the caffeine. So, while the caffeine in coffee releases in your body over the course of a few hours, the caffeine in tea releases in your body for up to 7 hours.
L-THEANINEThis amino acid, which is more prevalent in un-oxidized green and oolong teas, increases alpha brainwaves, putting you in a calm, meditative, focused state. It increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain and is the perfect compliment to caffeine, as it mitigates negative side effects like sleeplessness, jitteriness and anxiety. You can buy L-theanine in pill form for sleep and relaxation, and they even make Calm Chocolates infused with L-theanine to chill you out.
THEOPHYLLINE and THEOBROMINE
Naturally occurring in cocoa and, in smaller amounts, tea, theophylline and theobromine both work to increase the rate and force of the heart, making you feel flushed and cool. Theophylline also relaxes smooth (involuntary) muscles.
Across China, Taiwan and Japan, there are tea shops on just about every street corner, each with a table for tasting tea. Not dissimilar to a bar in the US, anyone can come in, have a seat and taste teas that are for sale. Usually they are pouring fresh, full leaf, high quality teas that still have a plethora of nutrients intact. These are the ones that will get you tea drunk. Look for the most fresh, best quality teas you can find. Unoxidized tea (green or white), semi-oxidized tea (oolong), shaded tea (Matcha, Gyokuro) or raw tea (Shou Pu-erh) will have the most potency and the best effects.