“Kids were so used to sugared drinks that when we gave them mango tea, they said it tasted like water .We gave seventh graders a black tea with strawberry flavor and they were asking for sugar,” said sociologist Elizabeth Fawcett, who, along with tea expert and impresario Kyle Stewart, introduced tea to middle school students as part their project, “Time for Tea in the Classroom.”
Stewart, a former opera singer and co-owner of the Cultured Cup in Austin, Texas teamed up with Fawcett, adjunct professor at Texas Women’s University, not only to introduce students to fine teas, but as a way to teach them about Asian culture and economics. But while the students were receptive to learning about how tea is prepared, a lot of them simply had trouble tasting it.
One of the first teas the students sampled was golden monkey, a high-end non-astringent black tea from China that has golden threads running through the dry leaves and peach-like undertones. “Some had never tasted hot tea before,” says Fawcett. More surprisingly, a lot of the students couldn’t taste it at all.“We then brought in white fruited tea,” added Fawcett. “But some of the kids couldn’t discern a flavor that was not sweet.”
Giving tea to children may strike some parents as akin to giving a toddler a sippy cup of coffee. But when you consider that a 16 oz. cup of Starbuck’s hot chocolate has 43 grams of sugar and 25 mg, of caffeine — and a 16 oz bottle of Diet Coke ( the conventional size sold in 6 packs) –has a whopping 64 mg of caffeine, a cup of tea sounds like a nutritional bargain. And that’s doesn’t include zero grams of sugar (unless you add it yourself) and the advantages of anti-oxidants: “The health benefits of tea are huge,” says Peter Goggi, the first American-born tea taster for Lipton and the executive vice president of the Tea Association of the US. Goggi, who has a background in chemistry, spoke on “Current Research on Tea and Health” at the 2013 World Tea Expo. “The longer you drink tea, the more the benefits,” said Goggi, who cited studies detailing tea’s anti-oxidant effects and the role tea plays in lowering blood pressure, increasing concentration, and promoting weight loss. On this last point, Goggi, a portly fellow, quipped, “Imagine how much larger I’d be if I didn’t drink tea.”
Here’s another surprise: fluoride, which has been added to water supplies to prevent cavities, is also in the leaves of the tea plant camilla sinensis. Contrast that to Diet Coke, which is as good for teeth as battery acid. According to the American Dental Association, “most soft drinks contain phosphoric acid and citric acid. Prolonged exposure to acid can do do permanent damage to to teeth by producing a condition called “erosion,” or the loss of hard tissues from the tooth surface. Diet soft drinks ….are also acidic and may increase the risk of … enamel erosion.”
In a 2010 study in the scientific periodical, Food Composition and Analysis, researchers examined the amount of fluoride in brewed tea. They found that “4-5 cups of brewed tea for women and about 6 cups for men would achieve the recommended daily intake fluoride; this does not account for additional amounts provided by natural or intended fluoridation of drinking water.” On the other the other side, Fluoride Action Network, which cautions against excessive amounts of fluoride, notes that “heavy” tea drinkers might suffer from fluoridosis, a “potentially dangerous bone disorder caused by too much fluoride in your system.” And the amount of fluoride in tea can indicate a decline in quality. A study from China published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry noted that “The fluoride level increased with the decline in quality and showed good correlation with the quality grades. The results suggest that the fluoride content could be used as a quality indicator for tea evaluation.” Or to look at it another way: mass market tea probably has lots of fluoride.
So what do we know now? Tea, unlike soft drinks, has anti-oxidants that promote health. Tea has less caffeine than some sodas and the amount of sugar can be controlled. Tea leaves contain fluoride, thus reducing tooth decay. So why don’t more parents give their darlings a cup of tea instead of a can soda? Says Goggi, “You go overseas and kids are drinking tea at one year old.”
So parents, think tea the next time you reach for that six pack of soda.