A lot of fretting is done over tea and coffee. These are the second most widely consumed beverages after water. Available in all kinds of varieties, at all kinds of outlets and for prices ranging from Re. 5 to a couple of thousand a cup! Regular drinkers swear they are addicted and can’t function without it. Sparse non-drinkers just can’t see the point. But demand continues to rise. These two crops are the biggest export items for many a country and production often fails to meet demand pushing up prices.
One would think for food items so widely consumed, a lot would be known. But what’s surprisingly common among the general public is just a set of notions, hardly any facts. Most people just have it by habit. It does not provide any tangible benefit, but not having it often leads to what resembles withdrawal. It has all the hallmarks of an addiction. No wonder it is added to many a soft drink. These beverages found from hundreds of years have been consumed without major detrimental effects. But the quantity of tea and coffee that most of us consume makes it somewhat disconcerting. So I set out to find out what we can believe for sure. The place to start would, of course, be what we already know:
We know tea/coffee give us a kick, a spurt in alertness if you will. Some people swear by its headache-relieving properties. The more recent crop of believers will go on and on about antioxidants and other wonderful chemicals bubbling in these brews.
Now, both tea and coffee contain caffeine which is proven to have an uplifting effect. Certain varieties of tea, in fact, contain more caffeine per gram than coffee. However, since more amount of coffee is required to make a cup, the total caffeine content in a cup of coffee would be higher. Caffeine is also known to have a mild analgesic effect. This is why it is used by many as over the counter pain relievers and cold medicines in small amounts. Both tea and coffee do contain antioxidants and a host of other beneficial sounding compounds. Weather these compounds stay active after all the processing and rigorous brewing with milk and sugar and what not is a big question mark.
Miracle Ingredients: There are a host of these bouncing on the airways – Ginseng, Aloe Vera, DTH. The common theme you would realize is wide-ranging effects, active in any dosage form including shampoos, cures public-health priorities like heart disease, cancer and Parkinson’s, actual mode of action is hard to prove, but it is natural, has no side effects so no harm in trying.
Proof of the pudding: The issue with any of such ingredients is their effect may be nearly impossible to zero down on. Unlike drugs meant to cure specific diseases/conditions, a general well-being product cannot be studied convincingly. Even if statistically significant figures emerge from a scientific study, there are too many influencing factors involved – smoking, life-style, eating habits, genetics, occupational hazards, co-existing conditions. So we can never be sure of the effects, beneficial or otherwise. There is green tea-king of miracles, but that is the issue of another feature. The kind of tea we prefer in India is unique – boiled mercilessly with milk and copious amounts of sugar. There is very little chance left for the tea’s flavor to manifest. We might as well be drinking hot sugar water, it would not taste different! If you are used to it then that’s the only tea you know about. But consider the downside.
Lactose intolerance: Even if not downright lactose intolerant, many people have difficulty in digesting lactose present in milk. At 3 to 4 cups a day you are giving your GI tract a hard time getting through the day.
More sugar please: Table sugar can be very dangerous. As you sink one after the other sugar cube, the calories pile up without you even noticing.
Eats into healthier options: Tea and Coffee are known to dampen appetite. We tend to have these drinks during the long boring hours between meals. It keeps us going without providing much in the way of nutrition.
Heartburn: Though not acidic by themselves, tea and coffee can trigger acidity. If one ignores this, it is easy to get used to it and never realize that curing it may be as simple as avoiding your ritual 3 o’clock cuppa.
Quantity: Amount of Caffeine and other constituents in tea and coffee vary widely with the variety, blend and brewing method. However, as a thumb rule, anything over four cups of either beverage is ill-advised due to the afore-mentioned reasons.
Recipe: Now here is a touchy issue. Many an Englishman would take to arms defending his brewing methods. Broadly there are the boilers and the adders. We tend to boil tea repeatedly and this kills whatever anti-oxidants are still present in it. Beneficial ingredients also die out on standing. So, in general, boil it if meant for immediate consumption. Add tea to warm milk on other occasions. There is also decaff, but with a premium price and questionable taste, it is too much trouble over a mild beverage.
What can I do?
Considering the dependence and strong emotions involved, we gingerly place the following options before you:
Avoid having tea, coffee on an empty stomach. It increases stomach acid production that causes heartburn. On the other hand, tea and coffee are known to reduce absorption of nutrients and even medicines. So it is best not to have these with or immediately after important meals, viz; breakfast, lunch and dinner. We don’t like being the bearer of bad news but someone has to do it. We do intend to offer solutions too; biscuits and light snacks are alright. With bigger meals, it is advisable to have tea/coffee a good thirty minutes later.
Switch to tea from coffee if you have an existing heart condition or are pre-disposed to one. Your body can do better without the added anxiety caffeine can bring.
A couple of years back; we would not have thought of a feature on tea and coffee consumption. But we do not live in simple times. From carrying multiple handsets to consuming ‘memory-enhancing’ drugs, the culture of excess is here to stay and it is only going to get crazier. So while we can still enjoy a cuppa with friends, it does not hurt to be aware what ‘brews beneath the froth’.
– Punit G. Pania