Originally introduced from China to Europe in the 16th and 17th Centuries, tea has spread to all corners of the world to become the second most common drink, after water. The early Chinese communities drank green tea primarily for its medicinal properties, while the British brought black tea to England after being introduced to it by the Royal Family. In Europe, namely France, Madame de la Sabriere is credited with having been the first person to add milk to black tea (1). However, the addition of milk and other substances, including sugar or honey, to black tea have resulted in a number of concerns about the ongoing medicinal benefits of black tea.
It has long been documented that green and black tea contain powerful antioxidants that can confer a multitude of health benefits including; weight loss, modulating blood pressure and assisting with cognitive status among other effects (2,3). The antioxidative properties of tea are likely primarily due to the active flavonoids called catechins and their active metabolites, theaflavins and thearubigins (sometimes called tannins). Tea is known however to have some 200 active ingredients. Research in the last decade has shown that these antioxidative effects may be lost with the addition of milk, sugar or honey, although this is by no means conclusive. Previous studies in humans have not shown any significant change in the antioxidative effects of black tea when milk is added (4, 5). However, one small human study(6) and a most recent animal study(7), have concluded that adding milk to tea definitely reduces its antioxidative properties thereby reducing the potential beneficial effects of black tea. Moreover, the addition of sucrose (sugar or honey) has also been shown to have a deleterious effect, while stevia is preferred as a sweetener. The authors also conclude that certain forms of black tea may have as much antioxidative effects as green tea. They also emphasize that in order to maintain the health benefits one should be drinking black tea every two hours or so.
The question remains, should we be drinking our tea with milk and honey/sugar? One possible solution is to enjoy our cup of tea with our 2% milk and/or honey/sugar. This can be alternated with plain black or green tea (no milk or sweetener), so that we can continue to reap the medicinal benefits of tea. It has also been shown that black tea with less than 2% milk would convey similar benefits to black/green tea.
- Burns Karen (2000) Tea and the Guillotine (http://www.teamuse.com/article_000902.html)
- Cabrera C., Ryes A.,Rafael G. 2006, Journal of the American College of Nutrition 25, 79-99. Beneficial effects of green tea. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16582024)
- Schmidt A., et al. Psychopharmacology, DOI 10.1007/s00213-014-3526-1 (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00213-014-3526-1)
- R Leenen, A J C Roodenburg, L B M Tijburg and S A Wiseman. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000) 54, 87-92 (http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v54/n1/abs/1600900a.html)
- Reddy VC, Vidya Sagar GV, Sreeramulu D, Venu L, Raghunath M. Addition of milk does not alter the antioxidant activity of black tea. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16020939)
- Lorenz, Mario et al , Eur Heart J (2007) doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehl442 (http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2007/01/09/eurheartj.ehl442.full.pdf)
- MW Korir, FN Wachira, JK Wanyoko, RM Ngure, R Khalid. The fortification of tea with sweeteners and milk and its effect on in vitro antioxidant potential of tea product and glutathione levels in an animal model. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814613010856)