Tea, Nootropics and GABA

Nootropics, are a class of substances that alledgely can boost brain performance, often being coined “smart drugs”. They are a series of pharma that are supposed to act as cognition enhancers or memory enhancing substances.

Especially this time of year, when we enter the season of “end of year” and final exams the conversation around nootropics and brain enhancing performance pharma re-emerges.

Definition of the term “nootropic” actually encompasses a quite broad classification of materia and equally claims at their performance remain broad, namely; enhancing particularly executive functions, attention, memory, creativity, or motivation. Whilst similiarly their use spans numerous controversial issues, including ethics, safety and diversity of use.

Chemical pharma aside, tea has become to be marketed more as a nootropic itself, which is not suprising in one sense as it does enhance cognition and memory.

Srikanth et al’s (2013) research identified that green tea extract was found to improve learning abilities and memory capacities, suggestive of its nootropic ability.

Caffeine content in tea helps in increasing cognitive function yet also has some negative effects, however as Joshi Pranav ( 2013) proposes, its the theanine in tea that potentially holds the key to its role as a nootropic . Theanine converts in the brain to GABA, the neurochemical involved in inhibiting over active mental activities, such as stress, anxiety, worrying, and nervousness and hence contributing to better cognitive functioning.

GABA has additionally reared its head as seperate marketing concept unto itself in that there has been a rise in popularity in the last 10 years of “so called” GABA tea. Much of the current oolong marketed as GABA tea stems from plantations in Taiwan. One claim is that GABA teas must have at least 150mg of GABA per 100g of tea, that’s at least 25 times more than in traditional teas, and such teas are grown in particular environments with particular varietals to achieve such results. GABA tea production involves shade growing and then nitrogen sparging. It was developed by the Japanese and supported through the research of Omori Masashi.

GABA stands for Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid and acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, typically have relaxing, anti-anxiety, and anti-convulsive effects.

The role of oral GABA intake in health remains controversial, and claims of GABA tea and other dietary GABA products are unfounded. It has been traditionally thought that exogenous GABA (i.e. taken as a supplement) does not cross the blood-brain barrier, however data obtained from more current research describes the notion as being unclear pending further research.

However, moreso than GABA tea, we see the marketing of tea combined with nootropics such as Ginseng or Ren Shen人参. This has happened for a long time with oolong, way before the current craze with nootropics, and I would tend to suggest that it is a flavoured oolong rather than a nootropic tea or health boosting tonic (despite Ginseng’s wide acknowldegment as both a tonic and adaptogen). The sweet, slightly bitter and warm flavours of Ginseng enhances the sweet fruitness of oolong processed tea. Its origin is thought to date back to around 741 BC when combining tea and ginseng was already mentioned in supplementary materia medica texts.

A Cochrane review suggested improvement of some aspects of cognitive function, behavior and quality of life from the regular consumption of Ginseng (Geng et al 2010) hence it arguable that ginseng flavoured oolong can easily be appropriated as a nootropic tea in modern marketing terms. In this respect we may legitimally argue that Ginseng oolong may be identified as a nootropic, however much of this would be due to the pharma in the tea itself (absent of Ginseng) such as theanine, caffeine and other pharma such as catechins and flavoids that have a health modulating effect.

What’s more interesting is the emergence of nootropic in health and wellbeing culture and its agency in marketing health food products. As a global culture we are both constantly seeking supplementation to a hectic busy, stressful modern lifestyle and yet also seeking for that pill of immortality. Like elixirs, tonics and adaptogens before, the term nootropic has become the next big thing to convince ourselves of our potential immortality. The irony is that through history tea has emerged within each of these trends and concepts consistently such that as tea drinkers we don’t have to chase after the next big thing but consistenly practice our tea culture, this including both consumption, attention and awareness of tea. Its what we do, along with what we consume that makes the difference!

Geng J, Dong J, Ni H, Lee MS, Wu T, Jiang K, et al. (December 2010). “Ginseng for cognition”. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (12):

Joshi Pranav C. A review on natural memory enhancers (Nootropics). Unique Journal of Engineering and Advanced Sciences. 2013;1(01):8-18.

Srikanth S, Chandrakanth J, Mohan GK, Rao VU. Evaluation of Green Tea for Its Nootropic Activity. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research and Development. 2013 Nov 1:121-7.

Tea, Soil and Health

Tea has previously been highlighted as potentially containing high amounts of flouride. Fluoride accumulates mostly in the leaves of the tea plant with a substantial amount of fluoride released during tea infusion. Because soluble fluoride is easily absorbed by the gastrointestional tract it has been raised as having a concern for human health. Excessive fluoride intake may be contributing to a wide range of adverse health effects (Waugh et al 2016), with tea plants being a bioaccumulator of flouride from soils.

Being an acidophilic crop, tea also has the potential to retain metals and metalloids from soils and growing medium, such as arsenic, cadmium and chromium, which are subsequently transferred and accumulated in tea leaves and shoots.

Different types of soils and growing conditions will ultimately impact on the exposure of such contaminants to human health. Naturally occuring quantities of metals, metalloids and halogens will be accumulated differently in the tea plant both dependent on age, varietal and soil levels.

Mehra & Baker (2007) also suggest that release of potentially toxic trace elements from tea leaves in beverage consumption can be dependent upon the methods and steps in preparing tea for consumption. The release of trace elements were found to be most prevalent in the 1st infusion, perhaps therefore an argument for undertaking a “wash” of the tea leaves often appreciated in gongfu brewing techniques!

Interestingly, Borgohain et al’s (2022) study suggest that the use of tea litter, i.e. either tea prunings or leaf litter from earlier seasons, potentially have the ability to inhibit and reduce the uptake of potentially harmful trace elements by the tea plant.

Leaf and tea litter chemically have an acidifying effect on the soils, binding harmful trace elements and reducing their phytoavailability.

This is somewhat controversial, as it suggests that both tea brewing techniques that include “wash” and “discard” , alongside tea material from more forest garden sources, as opposed to plantation grown, will offer more protection from health risks associated with habitual tea consumption.

The variable we cannot account for is the soil itself. Just because the tea plant is so readily able to act as a bioaccumulator of health damaging trace elements does not presuppose a risk to health. Soils and substrates that are absent of dangerous trace elements are absent of such risks.

As a consumer and tea drinker it is safe to say that we don’t enquire as to the soil composition or analysis of growing medium when we purchase tea. We might go as far as enquire about origins or organic status, but this does not necessary mitigate risk. However, it is reasonable to assume, as current research suggests, that if you utilise a “wash” or “double wash” in your brewing technique as well as ensuring your tea is forest grown or from producers who grow using traditional mixed or “wild” cultivation (as opposed to plantation) you will have effectively ensured your brew is healthy.

Borgohain A, Sarmah M, Konwar K, Gogoi R, Gogoi BB, Khar P, Paul RK, Handique JG, Malakar H, Deka D, Saikia J. Tea pruning litter biochar amendment in soil reduces arsenic, cadmium, and chromium in made tea (Camellia sinensis L.) and tea infusion: A safe drink for tea consumers. Food Chemistry: X. 2022 Feb 19:100255.

Mehra A, Baker CL. Leaching and bioavailability of aluminium, copper and manganese from tea (Camellia sinensis). Food Chemistry. 2007 Jan 1;100(4):1456-63.

Waugh DT, Potter W, Limeback H, Godfrey M. Risk assessment of fluoride intake from tea in the Republic of Ireland and its implications for public health and water fluoridation. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2016 Mar;13(3):259.

Tea as Entheogen, a very Buddhist dilemma

In one of my previous discussions I proposed that tea was indeed an entheogen, a psychoactive substance that induces alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behavior for the purposes of engendering spiritual development .

Whilst tea was perhaps seen as medicine primarily in Taoist practice, and even before this, in folklore animist healing practices, its within the framework and development of Buddhist culture that tea became orientated as a tool for engendering spiritual development. This is maybe due to it’s recognised effectiveness in altering or enhancing states of conciousness.

Tea, within Buddhist culture has developed alongside meditative practices of focus or insight, and has been utilised alongside techniques that aim to give direct access to understanding the nature of being or the mind.

The dilemma, existing in Buddhist practice of Tea and its role in Buddhism entheogenically, is whether it performs as an entheogen in altering conciousness, especially in relation to Buddhist ideals and precepts on the use of mind altering substances.

“Mind” and its self recognition, embellished in the concept of “Conciousness” are themselves loaded terms with very different meanings under one umbrella concept. As Zeman (2002) points out it “conciousness” has shifting meanings and its association with ” mind” has led to complexities of opinion and thought. Not withstanding the Western philosophical and psychological asscociation of conciousness with mental states and being.

Traditional Buddhist concepts of mind, conciousness and it’s overlapping terms are just as complex. Buddhist concepts such as skandhas, citta and sunyata all feed into Buddhist understandings or views of conciousness, but too complex to simply explain here so succintly. However it is clear that Buddhist approaches to conciousness, certainly in Mahayana traditions that developed alongside tea culture can be understood in the well known and circulated “Lotus Sutra”.The Lotus Sūtra is one of the most influential and venerated Buddhist Mahāyāna sūtras.

It is said that the Zen master Dogen, who travelled to China to study both Chan Buddhism and Tea practice, held the Lotus Sutra in high reverence.

Candrakirti, the famous indian buddhist philosophy understood the Lotus sutra to be a definitive scripture that teaches emptiness and conveys the ultimate purport of dependent-arising through its parables and scripture, such that conciousness is expounded as constant, changing through time and not fixed but a stream of awareness that does not have substantiality, but dependently originating and empty of intrinsic existence. The Buddha taught that consciousness is always continuing, like a stream of water.

The moot point here is whether substances such as entheogens cloud, distract or create barriers to achieving the realisation of these Buddhist philosphical principles. Tea, unlike other entheogens, in normal circumstances doesnt create hallucinogenic states that perhaps warp or alter conciousness significantly, impeding Buddhist practice. Similiarly Tea does not suppress the flow or stream of conciousness and subdue awareness.

In the Lotus Sutra the Buddha states:

Knowing that the beings have various desires and objects to which their thoughts are profoundly attached, following their basic natures, by resort to the expedient power of various means, parables and phrases, I preach the Dharma to them”

The dilemma for Buddhism is whether the use of the entheogenic properties of Tea is itself one of these “various” or skillful mean by which the Dharma is taught. Effectively, this is what appears to have occured in the history of tea culture and practice both in Chinese Buddhist traditions and traditions in Japan e.g. Zen.

Whilst there is textual evidence that points to the recognition and value of other entheogens such as cannabis and datura in Buddhism, the relative importance placed on psychoactive plants in Buddhism remains an open question (Parker & Lux 2008)

Tea provides the qualities of an etheogenic substance , but does not in normal quantities cloud or disturb the abiltiy of awareness, hence uniquely it perhaps finds a niche in Buddhist practice both due to its enhancements to wakefulness, itself a symbolic concept of Buddhism, as well as skillful focus upon action and activity that becomes itself a meditation on time and space.

Tea may have been valued for its symbolic importance in Buddhism rather than for its effects in that particular lineages of Chan and Zen that have been associated with the development of tea culture utilised tea as a vehicle to develop and practice Buddhist meditative techniques and enquiry contempraneous to its time. In contrast in Tibetan Buddhism tea was one of the few storable and nourishing food staples that assisted in maitaining health at high altitudes. As such in Tibetan Buddhism tea is incorporated as both medicine, food and offering to deities and sentient beings rather than a transformative substance.

The dilemma for Buddhism and tea practice is not whether it is pharmaceutical effects conflict with Buddhist principles on the use of drugs, as its very pharmaceutical effects conjure up concepts of Buddhist achievements of spiritual and meditative practice, i.e wakefulness, skillfullness and awareness.

The dilemma for Buddhism and tea practice is whether the use of tea as a skillful means of spiritual development can be so easily seperated from Buddhist practice in strongly developed tea cultures that present themselves as Buddhist whislt at the same time retaining the value and teachigns of the Dharma.

Crowley M, Shulgin A. Secret drugs of Buddhism: psychedelic sacraments and the origins of the Vajrayana. Synergetic Press; 2019.

Parker, R.C, Lux, Psychoactive Plants in Tantric Buddhism Cannabis and Datura Use in Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism; Erowid Extracts 2008

Zeman A. Consciousness: a user’s guide. Yale University Press; 2002.

Tea, Immortality and Fungus: a reappraisal

The growing interest in the role of mycology and health has been spearheaded by the likes of Paul Stamets and Tero Isokauppila, leading to the development of food supplements, research and claims of new horizons in pharma.

I happen to feel that we have been here before though, with the role of Tea Medicine, culture and the development of fermented tea, AKA Hei Cha.

It is interesting to note that versions of the Taoist text Yisuan Jing, printed in the Ming period Taoist Canon (1368 to 1644) makes reference to fungi in the following:

“May all the immortals grant me,
The sacred scriptures sustain me, ,
The sun and the moon illuminate,
The light of jade make me shine,
The Yin and Yang make me grow,
The four seasons nourish me, ,
The five fungi give me shade,
The five clouds shelter me, ,
The five Perfected protect me and the six jia vivify me”

As part of the Yisuan Jing this text expounds and invokes the talismans that bestow immortality or at least augment ones life to the ideal age of 120 years.

There is a comparative appraisal to be made in the Shennong Bencao Jing 神農本草經;, the classic of herbal medicine written between about 200 and 250 CE thats identifies several species of “conk” fungi with medical and health giving properties.

We are not precisely sure when the process of fermented tea took place and the role of mycology in developing the enjoyable and health enhancing Hei Cha that we relish today. One legend holds that dark tea was first produced accidentally, on the Silk Road and Tea Road by tea caravans in the rainy season. When the tea was soaked in rain, the tea transporters abandoned it for fear of contamination. The next year, nearby villages suffered from dysentery, and decided to drink the abandoned mildewed tea in desperation. The legend concludes that the tea cured those suffering, and quickly became popular.

More accurate historical opinions suggest that the development emerged during the middle of the Ming period in the in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Can we account for this corelation between tea, developments in the Taoist canon and immortality prescriptions around the Ming period?

Certainly we have the date of 1633 as time when tensions around health and immortality perhaps reached a head when the Great Plague hit China. The epidemic started in Shanxi Province in 1633, and reached Beijing in 1641, where the plague caused the deaths of more than 200,000 people in 1643, directly contributing to the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in 1644. However this is significantly late in this period and we have to look towards earlier times.

In the period prior to the Ming, Taoism prevailed and greatly influenced all areas of society (Xian-Kui 2011). Taoism culture was more popular than Confucianism in Yuan Dynasty (Cao & Zhang 2009) its ideas infiltrated performance arts and politics. Taoist sentiments displayed in literary works often reflected ideas of immortality and perhaps led to the further developments of theories and practices established during the Ming period that followed.

Confluences with medical herbalism, health and immortality during the Ming might have met with some of the initial ideas and prescriptions of Tea Medicine. According to the classical work of Li Shizhen (李時珍) of the Ming Dynasty, “tea is cold and lowers the fire.” Since fire (inflammation) and theories around heat damage was expounded as the causes of many diseases, could Tea Medicine not only have developed as practice and a prescription for health but also entwined itself within established Taoist ideas around immortality?

Tea Culture developed very well in Ming Dynasty, and many texts of this period suggest this. The most important is considered to be the Chapu (茶譜) by Zhu Quan, written around 1440 CE, which calls for a new way to drink tea. The Chashu (茶疏) by Xu Cisu is another important book as it almost covers all of the Tea Culture at the time.

Fungus picking and consumption was quite common among the Taoists throughout Chinese history and romantic ideas of “picking magical mountain herbs” that bestow immortality already existed within literature and art during the Ming period. For Taoists like Ge Hong (葛洪) fungus picking meant the following:

“Taoist sages ventured into the mountain landscape to gather alchemical herbs and ling-chih fungus, to prepare their life-prolonging elixirs, and to encounter mountain-spirits and immortals

According to the unofficial records of the Wanli Period (萬歷野獲編) Ming Emperor Shizong (明世宗) prompted his officials and the common people to collect fungi in the Five Holy Mountains (五岳) in the year bingchen (丙辰) of the Jiajing-era (嘉靖) ( 1556 CE) (Ning). The proposition here is that ideas around the role of fungus and mycology at the time of the Ming, alongside developments of tea processing and tea culture, Tea Medicine and Taoism perhaps inferred the emerging status of Hei Cha with both health benefits as well as Taoist cultural notions upon immortality.

CAO M, ZHANG CD. Taoist Thoughts and Cultural Foundation of the Apotheosized and Taoist Drama in Yuan Dynasty (Ⅰ). Journal of Hengshui University. 2009:03.

Ning YA. The Painting Fungus Growing at the Cenwei Residence 岑蔚居產芝圖 (1659) of Wu Li 吳歷 (1632-1718) and the Religious Belief of his Early Years.

Xian-kui JI. Illusory Consciousness of Taoism and Sanqu in the Yuan Dynasty. Journal of Eastern Liaoning University (Social Sciences). 2011:03.

Tea and Water; East Flowing Water (dongliu shui 东流 水)

Considering himself to be the successor of the Qin Emperor, the Han Emperor made water as a symbol of virtue in order to stabilize the region of the Qin (Pend 2015). The symbolic role of water in Han court ritual was given preferential treatment over the other four elements (Loewe 1994) and seen as an expression of power.

During the Han dynasty (202 BC–220 AD) The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon (Huangdi Nei Jing), the oldest received work of Chinese medical theory, was compiled on the basis of shorter texts from different medical lineages. Whilst development of medical theory classics such as The Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and Miscellaneous Illnesses define this period of one of most influential periods upon classical medical practice.

It is also interesting to note the role played out beTaoist concepts and Taoism in the political evolution of the Han dynasty (Sheng 2000), with its symbolic references to water. From the first century under the Eastern Han Dynasty, Chang Daoling transformed the esoteric teachings of Laozi and Zhuangzi to a religion now recognised as Taoism.

It is not suprising therefore that we find a confluence of medical opinion and ritual emerging through ideas of water.

Dongliu shui (东流 水), literally eastern flowing water is an example of this. The properties of this type of water was not only used in Han purification rituals but found its way into Taoist formulae and herbal processing techniques (paozhi 炮炙), such as in the processing of the poison Aconite into medicine.

Dongliu shui was said to cleanse the malignant and dispel filth and holds the ability to dispel demons. These are useful qualities both in medical practice, transforming the body and microcosm as well as in ritual practice, in bringing macrocosmic harmony.

Comparatively, it is of further interest that emerging Taoist ideas around immortality included the notion of achieving the longevity of a “transcendent; immortal”. It was necessary to expel the Three Corpses (sanshi 三尸) from the body to achieve this and can be cross referenced with techniques such as Bigu (辟穀) in texts such as the Quegu shiqi 卻穀食氣  the “Eliminating Grain and Eating Qi” manuscript.

Water and tea are inseperable and within tea medicine we not only need to consider and give attention to the nature and quality of water but also recognise that water can enhance the properties of tea medicine or even go so far as becoming the tea medicine.

“….Water greatly benefits all things, without conflict. It flows through places that people loathe. Thereby it is close to the Tao..” Lao Tzu

Loewe M. Water, Earth and fire: the symbols of the Han dynasty.”. Divination, Mythology and Monarchy in Han China. 1994:55-60.

Peng CH. A Research on the Ritual Color of the Early Han Dynasty. Journal of Historical Science. 2015;4:17

Sheng J. The Rise of Primitive Taoism and Social Order in the Han Dynasty [J]. SOCIAL SCIENCES IN CHINA. 2000;6..

Is Tea an Entheogen?

Tea is traditionally known to induce mental clarity, cognitive function, physical activation and relaxation. The acute psychoactive effects of tea in literature is mostly attributed to caffeine, L-theanine, and Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) influencing mood and cognitive performance.

So is Tea an Etheogen?

An entheogen is a psychoactive substance that induces alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behavior for the purposes of engendering spiritual development or otherwise in sacred contexts. Entheogens have traditionally been used to supplement many diverse practices geared towards achieving transcendence, including divination, meditation, yoga, sensory deprivation, asceticism, prayer, trance, rituals, chanting, hymns like peyote songs, drumming, and ecstatic dance.

Tea, as we know from both cultural and botanical contexts certainly appears to tick all these boxes.

Theanine is a physiologically and behaviourally active compound and, while it is unclear its mechanism of effect its properties are owing to its abilities to pass the blood brain barrier.

Terence Mckenna, American ethnobotanist and mystic is quoted as stating the role of entheogens is in dissolving boundaries . The human mind, embedded in culture, is constantly wanting to draw boundaries or place phenomena in neat tidy boxes. For example we break up the study of knowledge into 1st, 2nd, 3rd year undergraduate study, and differentiate between post-graduate and doctoral study. Similiarly we break up and box off child development into areas of motor, speech , cognitive learning. Many examples exist. Our minds essentially limited to defining and forming boundaries and structure, not able to recognise the infinity of nature and phenomena experienced only in the present moment.

Entheogens break down these boundaries and finite limitations of our conciousness and perceptions. Perhaps that is why Tea historically goes hand in hand with Buddhism and Taoism, where it enhances practices that aim to acheive a similiar effect, albeit without intoxication.

In all culture we have a co-history of plant use and other naturally occuring pharma that helps takes us beyond the constraints of learnt and constructed boundaries, Tea is just one of these, despite it becoming more of a social ritual and lifestyle habit than what we would normally associate with other Entheogens. However, take for example the concept of a “tea break” , here we halt time that is imposed by the structure of work to bring people together in social and emotional elevation, enabling often the freeing up of normative notions of identity and power embedded in the workplace or a diurnal routine.

Austin (1999) points out that the Japenese Tea ceremony is pervaded by feeling tones of harmony, reverence, purity and tranquility. Participants entering into a spirit of equality , their relationship to each other not conditioned by social rank, privelege or gender.

Over the last 12 months we have been living under the pressure and social stress induced by changes in routine , social patterns and behaviours due to the COVID19 pandemic. It is well documented that such social trauma and anxieties can reduce the ability of individuals to enact self directed choice or engage in phenomena or activities outside of the self e.g. spiritual and social transcendence.

Chronic psychosocial stress is associated with the development of depression, mood disorders,
and various other stress-related diseases as well as impairing high executive fucntions such as self-control by reducing the use of cognitive control (Wolff et al 2020). It would appear during Chronic Stress conditions we become vulnerable both to learnt behaviours and imposed behaviours. An example of this maybe cited in “stockholm syndrome”.

The role of tea pharma such as theanine in reducing stress and lowering blood pressure has been long documented (Yokogoshi et al 1995). Enacting physically percevable benefits to an individual provides opportunities for it to be used both etheogenically and psychoactively to re-engage an individual into the world and provide a mechanism of re-aligining conciousness to broader and wider phenomena beyond the self.

Theanine is also recognised as a relaxing agent, its sedative effecr seems to be related to the modulation of a wide range of neurotransmitters, and, in particular, to a reduction in glutamate transmission (Borgonetti et al 2020). Glutamate receptors are responsible for the glutamate-mediated postsynaptic excitation of neural cells, and are important for neural communication, memory formation, learning, and regulation. Thereby the role of theanine from tea , enacted in Tea as an entheogen may be to enhance both mood, memory and social cohesion and connections.

There is more to be discussed around this topic as both culture and history of Tea pervades numerous examples of its role in the classic sense of an entheogen. However this is often overlooked due to its pervasive prescence and acceptance in many cultures and throughout history.

Tea is psychoactive, its pharma confirms this, but because it effects are subtle and its enhancements are gentle, albeit long lasting, it fades into the background when ethnobotanists or anthropologists talk about entheogens. It does not capture the headlines like peyote or psilocybin, however as conversations around “microdosing” in these areas start to occur, we should look towards Tea as both an example and guide. We have been microdosing tea psychoactives for thousands of years!!

Austin JH. Zen and the brain: Toward an understanding of meditation and consciousness. MIT press; 1999 Jun 4.

Borgonetti V, Governa P, Biagi M, Galeotti N. Novel therapeutic approach for the management of mood disorders: In vivo and in vitro effect of a combination of l-theanine, Melissa officinalis L. and Magnolia officinalis rehder & EH Wilson. Nutrients. 2020 Jun;12(6):1803.

Dietz C, Dekker M. Effect of green tea phytochemicals on mood and cognition. Current pharmaceutical design. 2017 May 1;23(19):2876-905.

Rogers PJ, Smith JE, Heatherley SV, Pleydell-Pearce CW. Time for tea: mood, blood pressure and cognitive performance effects of caffeine and theanine administered alone and together. Psychopharmacology. 2008 Jan;195(4):569-77

Unno K, Furushima D, Hamamoto S, Iguchi K, Yamada H, Morita A, Horie H, Nakamura Y. Stress-reducing function of matcha green tea in animal experiments and clinical trials. Nutrients. 2018 Oct;10(10):1468.

Wolff M, Enge S, Kräplin A, Krönke KM, Bühringer G, Smolka MN, Goschke T. Chronic stress, executive functioning, and real‐life self‐control: An experience sampling study. Journal of Personality. 2020 Aug 28.

Yokogoshi H, Kato Y, Sagesaka YM, Takihara-Matsuura T, Kakuda T, Takeuchi N. Reduction effect of theanine on blood pressure and brain 5-hydroxyindoles in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry. 1995 Jan 1;59(4):615-8.

Matcha tea – wonder drug or over inflated claims?

Kochman et al (2021) make a grand and sweeping claim, in their review, that Matcha has the potential in preventing many diseases and supporting cognitive function.

As with many scientific research upon the health benefits of tea, much of this is attributed to the high content of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in processed tea material. However, to the contrary, studies in coronary disease challenge previously claims of anitoxidant dietay consumption and their benefit on heart health. Luo et al (2021) recognise that whilst observational studies have identified associations between higher levels of dietary-derived antioxidants and lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), randomized clinical trials showed no reduction in CHD risk following antioxidant supplementation.

Much of the evidence for the role of antioxidants in health has been dependent on in-vitro trials rather than in-vivo studies and therefore the mechnism by which cell health is modulated by dietary anti-oxidants to some extent remains elusive.

This said, promising in-vivo studies of isolated specific tea pharma and phytochemicals are well documented. One such chemical is Theanine, which I have discussed in previous topics. Kochman et al (2021) report, due to the methods of shade growing tea for Matcha production, Theanine does not break down resulting in high values leading to its health benefit. It has been shown that values in brewed Matcha can be between 6.1mg/l and 44.65mg/l (Unno et al 2018).

There are no official guidelines regarding how much Theanine a person should consume to experience health modulating outcomes, however more recent research into this phytochemical appears to suggest a therapeutic dose in the region of 200mg. This is a lot of Matcha tea!!

A further pharmaceutical of interest in Matcha is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another chemical I have discussed in previous posts. It is understoofd that EGCG exerts dose-dependent antiproliferative effects on cancer cells in-vitro (Du 2012) however again the mechanism by which these beefits could be conferred through dietary consumption remain elusive, however its volatile rings could offer a pathway of absorption into tissues and cells to modualte health. It is additionally understood that EGCG is stored in the liver in higher concentrations than blood plasma, which has led to concerns about its hepatotoxicity, however demonstrates is rapid uptake in some tissues via dietary means through blood plasma. Generally 100ml of green tea contains about 70.2 mg of EGCG with safe therapeutic doses of around 338mg per day, suggesting that Matcha may confer more long term health modulation via this chemical alone. Interestingly, enough EGCG is destroyed through black and red tea production to render them absent of this health benefit, whilst extraction values from green tea such as Matcha is dependent on the temperature of the water.

EGCG has been additioanlly shown to activate macrophage phagocytosis and therefore, similiar to Theanine could provide benefits as an immune modulator without interfering with normal antigen pathways. This makes it particulary interestign and potential useful in the immune compromised patient or immune suppressed.

Much of the recent evidence is within the framework of scientific reductionist enquiry, and I have yet to present a view point from other health frameworks such as Classical Chinese Medicine, however it interesting to note that both of the chemicals highlighted above are thought to play a role in the bitter sweet flavour profile of Matcha tea and therefore tonify Heart and Spleen and therfore also can play a role in maintaining health.

In summary, I would’nt go as far to say that Matcha is a wonder drug, and claims made elsewhere maybe over-inflated but there are some significant findings that suggest, as part of maintaining health and modulating health, there is enough potential to consider its importance.

Du GJ, Zhang Z, Wen XD, Yu C, Calway T, Yuan CS, Wang CZ. Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) is the most effective cancer chemopreventive polyphenol in green tea. Nutrients. 2012 Nov 8;4(11):1679-91.

Kochman J, Jakubczyk K, Antoniewicz J, Mruk H, Janda K. Health Benefits and Chemical Composition of Matcha Green Tea: A Review. Molecules. 2021 Jan;26(1):85.

Luo J, le Cessie S, van Heemst D, Noordam R. Diet-derived circulating antioxidants and risk of coronary heart disease: a Mendelian randomization study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2021 Jan 5;77(1):45-54.

Unno, K.; Furushima, D.; Hamamoto, S.; Iguchi, K.; Yamada, H.; Morita, A.; Horie, H.; Nakamura, Y. Stress-Reducing Function of
Matcha Green Tea in Animal Experiments and Clinical Trials. Nutrients 2018,

Tea and the Bamboo Grove

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove - YouTube

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (竹林七賢) were a group of Chinese scholars, writers, and musicians of the third century. They were highly gifted individuals who were opposed to the teachings and state institutionalized structure of Confucius, instead believing in individual freedom, openness and spontaneity.

They existed historically at the end of the Han Dynasty, which had led to a period of social, economic and political chaos. Their achievements on literature, philosophy and arts, alongside their lifestyle, spirit and pursuits has held an important position and big influence in Chinese culture (Yin 2011).

It is difficult, especially living under the varying rules and regulations of a pandemic, not to draw comparisons between the post-Han dynasty period and current times. They directly invoke ideas of resistance or escape from restrictions of freedom and state operated control of populations that forms an analogy for life under politically fraught periods of history. However, whether you believe that these sages are more symbolic and figurative, than historic, there is long-standing culture iconography of the Bamboo Grove in respect to tea practice.

Fucui (2012) argues that the Seven Sages represent an aesthetic ideal. To a certain extent this might be a factor in their popularity as subjects in Chinese artistic representations.

Yet, it has been argued that within the depiction of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove it is alcohol rather than tea that was extolled in a form of “alcoholic utopianism”. So how did they become represented so widely in tea culture?

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove are widely represented in both art that bedeck tea houses as well as teaware.

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Nowhere, more than in Japanese tea ceremonies of the Edo period, was there a popular depiction of the Seven Sages alongside tea culture. Ironically, a period noted for its Neo-Confucianist ideology.

During this period, in Japan, the country was under rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and was characterized by strict social and class based feudal control. Hence it was suggested that the relative freedom and liminal space of the Japanese tea house offered both sanctuary and unbridled conversation and discussion. This almost directly analogous to the Bamboo Grove of the Seven Sages.

It has been suggested that those marginalized from the affairs of government often politicized the seven sages theme, those whose reclusive sensibilities were motivated by religious practice or aesthetic pursuits also ascribed to it. Zen monasteries and their patrons, for example, often commissioned seven sages paintings. Perhaps the commissioning of the seven sages themed artwork by Buddhist monasteries in Japan additionally entangled their iconography with tea culture, in that the practice of tea and Zen holds a long and rich history.

Graham (2007) points to a decline in the institutional power of the religion after the sixteenth century in Japan, therefore its reasonable that the popularity of the Seven Sages amongst larger and more established Buddhist institutions in the Edo period was itself a playful statement of their direct opposition to the Shogunate power base. The Tokugawa anti-Buddhist sentiments are well documented (Klautau 2008).

Yet, during the Edo period, tea culture in the form of the tea ceremony was a formal practice. The decline in the Buddhist religious power is thought to have allowed the traditional purist “Zen Spirit” of tea practice to open up to a wider culture, particularly women and lower classes (Corbett 2018). Tea practice was simultaneously popularized and systemized and led to an explosion in ceramics for tea practice, perfect medium for not only communicating artistic iconography but subtly communicating political or religious opinions.

Perhaps, despite the Seven Sage of the Bamboo association with tea is a later development, the ideology and iconography they represent in symbolized freedom and artistic expression has led to it being a rich reference to tea practice.

During current times tea practice has continued as much in pre-COVID times, to offer a Bamboo Grove to those seeking escape and sanctuary in which to enjoy a space to express creativity, conversation and opinion without fear of judgement. Whether we meet up over a steaming cup of tea or conduct a more formal tea session , tea provides a panacea to the feelings of control, restraint and restrictions we are currently experiencing.

Corbett R. Cultivating Femininity: Women and Tea Culture in Edo and Meiji Japan. University of Hawai’i Press; 2018 Mar 31.

Fucui Z. Aesthetic Ideal of the Unrestrained Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove in A New Account of the Tales of the World. Journal of Jixi University. 2012(11):49.

Graham PJ. Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art, 1600–2005. University of Hawaii Press; 2007 Sep 30.

Hai-qing YIN. Cloud Platform and Mountain Vary in shape, Seven Sages Give New Voice——The Review of Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove in Recent 20 Years. Journal of Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences (Social Sciences Edition). 2011;6.

Klautau O. Against the ghosts of recent past: Meiji scholarship and the discourse on edo-period Buddhist decadence. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 2008 Jan 1:263-303.

Anti-viral properties of Tea

In current times it is impossible to get through the day , let alone a tea session, without some conversation about viruses or the coronavirus.

The ongoing COVID19 global pandemic drives a “vaccine race” between multi- national agencies and states as the world tries to react to the current infection. Staying healthy and virus free has never been more of a concern.

A recent study by Karthikeyan et al (2020) recognised the value of tea and methanol extracts of tea leaves in having a strong anti-viral activity against Newcastle disease virus.

Newcastle disease virus is a virus that causes a deadly infection in many kinds of birds. In humans, it causes mild flu-like symptoms or conjunctivitis (an infection of the eye that is also called pink eye) and/or laryngitis (an irritation and swelling of the voice box and the area around it).

The study recognised that tea exhibits diverse biochemical and pharmacological effects including stimulation of defence against viral agents by modulating immunological parameters.

Its important to additionally recognise from this study that tea extracts, including water based extracts that inform most of our culture of tea drinking, perhaps provides an important ally against any viral pandemics. Equally, by protecting against other viral agents in a pandemic, tea offers an opportunity to reduce burdens on already over-stretched health care systems.

The immuno-modulating properties of tea may offer a level of protection against the severity of the symptoms of viral infection. It has previously been suggested that Theanine, a significant health benefitting amino acid in tea, may offer a frontline treatment against the severity of symptoms from COVID19 by triggering host response earlier to the virus and thereby preventing hospitalization.

Recent studies have revealed the possible binding sites present on SARS-CoV-2 and studied their interactions with tea polyphenols. Theaflavins, especially theaflavin-3,3′-digallate (TF3) have shown a significant interaction with the receptors suggesting activity of these polyphenols against COVID-19 (Mhatre et al 2020)

Ghosh et al (2020) identified 3 main green tea catechins/polyphenols could provide potential as anti-COVID-19 drug candidates. These namely being epigallocatechin gallate, epicatechingallate and gallocatechin-3-gallate, all of which bind to the corovirus thereby modulating its ability to bind with host cells.

It would appear from current anti-viral research, it will require a broad spectrum multi-modal approach in combatting any viral pandemic such as COVID19 and perhaps one drug or vaccine is not the panacea. The fact that tea has the potential to interfere with viral reproducibility as well as modulate immune level responses to pathogens makes it a comprehensive phyto-pharmaceutical alongside actions such as hygiene controls (e.g. handwashing, wearing face masks etc. ) that reduce the viral load.

Ghosh R, Chakraborty A, Biswas A, Chowdhuri S. Evaluation of green tea polyphenols as novel corona virus (SARS CoV-2) main protease (Mpro) inhibitors–an in silico docking and molecular dynamics simulation study. Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics. 2020 Jun 20:1-3.

Karthikeyan N, Balasubramanian G, Baskaran C, Padmaraj A, Gayathri T, Sivamani P. Phytochemical and antiviral potential analysis of Camellia sinensis (Green tea) against Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV) in ovo. 2020

Mhatre S, Srivastava T, Naik S, Patravale V. nAntiviral Activity of Green Tea and Black Tea Polyphenols in Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19: A Review. Phytomedicine. 2020 Jul 17:153286.

Is it really just about the Theanine?

Theanine is the most abundant amino acid in tea leaves (40-70%) and therefore strongly indicated in the pharmaceutical and health benefits of tea.

Theanine has a chemical structure very similar to glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid in the body that helps transmit nerve impulses in the brain. By mimicking neurotransmitters, L-Theanine induces a state of relaxed focus. It’s incredibly useful in helping to address states of hyper-stimulation such as anxiety or muscle tension, as well as for optimizing the effects of other substances like caffeine or stimulating herbs/medications (Cooke 2019).

A recent study demonstrated l-Theanine was higher in albino yellow tea leaves compared with normal green one (Cheng 2019) suggesting different growing techniques could change the outcomes of pharma in the tea leaf. However equally genetics may also contribute to the range of values of theanine found in different teas.

Interestingly, Theanine is primarily synthesized in tea roots and is subsequently transported to young shoots. In tea plants, theanine serves as both a storage and
transport form for nitrogen and its transport is modulated by soil levels of nitrogen itself. This suggests also an intimate relationship between soil and pharma in the leaf that then is experienced in the final brew and cup.

Recent studies put an interesting slant on the culture of having a chat over a cup of tea.  Dassanayake, Kahathuduwa & Weerasinghe (2020) demonstrated that Theanine can increase attentional processing of auditory information, in important effect especially for any tea session conversations! Equally it upholds the centuries of cultural behaviours around tea drinking, study and oral traditions. Whereby, such as in Chan Buddhism, tea drinking goes hand in hand in the  oral recitation and transmissions of teachings.

Theanine has also been cited as modulating the health outcomes of COVID19 infection in positive favorable ways (Tanno , Takahashi & Tsuchiya) in that it is thought that it stimulates increased anti-body production, perhaps effectively “buying time” and numbers against any potential viral load.

Theanine has additionally been reported to inhibit inflammatory responses in some diseases can prevent inflammatory responses by suppressing the NF-κB signaling pathway reducing the release of downstream pro-inflammatory mediators in inflammatory-related diseases (Bai et al 2020).

Tea continues to be a natural source of extraordinarily useful pharma for human health as well as a rich resource of culture. Over centuries both the observed effects of tea consumption and the effects of its benefits have merged together in its value as a medicine in all domains of health.

Bai H, Zhang Z, Li Y, Song X, Ma T, Liu C, Liu L, Yuan R, Wang X, Gao L. L-Theanine Reduced the Development of Knee Osteoarthritis in Rats via Its Anti-Inflammation and Anti-Matrix Degradation Actions: In Vivo and In Vitro Study. Nutrients. 2020 Jul;12(7):1988.
Cheng S, Fu X, Liao Y, Xu X, Zeng L, Tang J, Li J, Lai J, Yang Z. Differential accumulation of specialized metabolite L-theanine in green and albino-induced yellow tea (Camellia sinensis) leaves. Food chemistry. 2019 Mar 15;276:93-100.
Cooke J. L-Theanine Summary. Heart. 2019 May 4.
Dassanayake TL, Kahathuduwa CN, Weerasinghe VS. L-theanine improves neurophysiological measures of attention in a dose-dependent manner: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Nutritional Neuroscience. 2020 Aug 7:1-1.
Tanno H, Takahashi M, Tsuchiya T. Effects of oral amino acid cystine (700 mg) and theanine (280 mg) administration on SARS-CoV-2 virus infection-A case series. Authorea Preprints. 2020 Oct 5