Sorry to be the bearer of bad news here, but it turns out that your piping hot cup of darling darjeeling might not be as healthy as you think. Sure, the tea itself is great for you—and has historically been used in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat everything from digestive issues to heart health and improve cognitive function; but the way you’re drinking it might just be negating these potential health benefits.
Here’s what you need to know about toxins in your brew:
Tea plants are naturally hyperaccumulators
The plants that deliver us our favourite hug-in-a-mug are natural “hyperaccumulators”, meaning that they are extremely good at extracting agents from the soil and then accumulating them in their leaves. This means that tea plants (and their subsequent leaves) are at exceptionally high risk of absorbing the nasties present in the soil. Tea plants naturally accumulate fluoride, lead, aluminium, arsenic and other heavy metals; and thanks to the fact that tea grows in acidic soils—an even greater amount of these toxins can quickly accumulate.
A lot depends on the country of origin
Ever heard someone say “not for all the tea in China?” Well, that’s because there is a hell of a lot of tea… in China. It produces roughly half of the world’s tea, and records indicate that they could be producing upwards of two and a half million tonnes per year. Phew.
Alongside these lofty claims to tea-related fame, however, exists a darker truth. China is also the world’s largest user of pesticides, with experts suggesting that its current use surpasses safe levels and is contributing to environmental pollution and human health problems. Sadly, it’s not common practice for manufacturers to wash tea leaves before they package them; leaving pesky pesticides floating around in your cup.
The answer—as with so many things related to health and nutrition—is to know your source. Buy organic if you can, or at least know where your tea is coming from so that you can make an informed decision about your consumption. As a rule, Japanese teas are considered less toxic than those from China or India.
The bags themselves can be full of toxins
Ok ok, so leaves aside; the actual teabag itself could pose just as great a risk to your health. The most commonly used materials to create tea bags are food grade nylon and polyethylene terephthalate—which although considered the safest thanks to their relatively high melting points, are still unstable in boiling hot water; meaning that toxins will seep out of the teabag and into the tea.And if that wasn’t concerning enough; the majority of paper tea bags are treated with epichlorohydrin, which is known to be a carcinogen, to cause fertility issues and to compromise your immune system. No thanks!
Tips for choosing and safely consuming tea:
Try and choose loose leaf tea
Do not over-steep. Sure letting your tea steep for twenty minutes does create a more prominent taste, but it can also increase the infusion of heavy metals into your brew
Buy organic if possible, but know that this doesn’t mean zero toxins
If you’re buying tea in teabags, look for ethically sourced versions that state they are epichlorohydrin-free