With the freedom of being able to choose the subject upon which I write each week, I am invariably able to cover subjects that I feel passionate about. The virtual document you see before your very eyes is certainly no exception. Indeed, you may have guessed by the title that, like millions of others in this country, I am a complete conformist to British traditions and will wholeheartedly declare, “I love tea!”
It is not simply its beautifully tanned hue, inoffensive yet deliciously sweet taste (yes, I have a sugar), or even the fact you can pour it into a mug affirming you as ‘World’s Best Cousin’. This love in a mug has been a long-standing companion throughout my studies at school, then university, and even during my time training in competitive sport; on the days that seemed harder and more arduous, for whatever reason, I could successfully self-bribe myself into muscling through with the knowledge that in the not too distant future I would receive the warm and welcoming nectar that is a cup of tea. But this lovingly embracing hug in liquid form is so much more. It is a bridge to new social horizons, a proven de-stressor, a cultural icon, and even has benefits for physical health; a best friend to many.
In transcendence from this metaphor, a cup of tea can prove to be a key ingredient in forming and sustaining relationships. This has certainly been the case in my life, never more so when starting university. A night fuelled on alcohol may provide a somewhat delusional and dream-like consciousness that an abundance of new friendships have been made in the space of a few hours, however a cup of tea is the un-glossed ingredient to forming lasting friendships. As somebody who is particularly shy, securing a friend can be quite a formidable experience- how can I hint I am enjoying this person’s company without sounding weird? I could try; ‘Will you come to my halls for a chat?’- bordering on creepy and a bit deep for a first meeting. Would you like a cup of tea?- perfect.
It is an affordable but delicious offering, cools slowly leaving plenty of time for a natter, and is liked, if not loved, by most- but much more than possessing these appealing physical attributes, it is a metonym for companionship. Four years later I share a cuppa with a girl I met at university- this refreshment so easily compels us to realise that it is this very ritual that lead to each of us becoming a necessity in the other’s life.
The humble tea, or perhaps not so humble if you are a drinker of some regally exotic blend, therefore has an unspoken pretext. It can evidently serve as an offer of friendship, a gateway to conversation, perhaps as a method of seeking advice, and can even gently form an accessing pathway into the troubles of a stoic loved one who adopts another British tradition, the stiff upper lip.
Despite our natural fondness for this drink however, our nation was actually one of the last to try tea which was first discovered in ancient China over 5000 years ago. It was in 1662 when King Charles married a Portuguese Princess, Catherina of Braganza, who brought tea chests to England as part of her dowry and swiftly introduced it into popular society. On behalf of the country, I thank you, your highness. It was not until the early 1800’s when afternoon tea became a daily event leading to the eminence it obtains today. Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, considered the wait between lunch and dinner far too long and plagued with hunger pangs, and so conceived the wonderful idea of having tea and sandwiches (invented a time a little earlier by the Earl of Sandwich) around four and five o’ clock.
As an ardent and hard-hitting journalist, I am conducting invaluable research whilst I write- yes, I am sipping tea. But, perhaps the reason we love this beverage so much is due to the accompanying and unconscious promise of relaxation.
Indeed, much more than a placebo, tea has been proven to have relaxing properties. In fact merely popping the kettle on as the necessary preparation has been found to lower levels of stress in times of upset or anxiety. The copious times soap characters have uttered the inevitable line, “ere, I’ll make yer a brew”, as another cast member discovers a scandalous love affair, are apparently not in vain. A study conducted by the University of London by psychologist Dr. Malcolm Cross, found a single cuppa ‘can significantly reduce anxiety levels after suffering a stressful experience and in some cases, make people calmer than they were before’.
The centre of the study was an experiment in which volunteers were placed in a stressful scenario. Those who did not receive tea immediately after the ‘stress-inducing test’ demonstrated a 25% increase in anxiety. Conversely, those who were given tea afterwards showed a reduction in stress by 4%. Although these results can be linked with elements of biochemistry, tea’s calming benefits are actually a question of British culture. Dr Cross explains; “This study shows that the said psychological aspects of tea enhance the effects of its chemical make-up on our bodies and brains. It’s possible that this culturally rooted, symbiotic function between mind and body explains why Britons instinctively turn to tea in times of need”.
It would seem that, as part of the humble cuppa’s multitude of talents; its ability to associate with feelings of ‘psychological escape’, time to oneself, and the ‘promise of comfort and warmth’, it also has direct links with physical health. With a heavy but fond sigh at the thought of a freshly made tea, billowing silky steam that promises the taste of heated perfection, I cannot help but feel thankful to discover something that is so adored in its frequent consummation is actually good for you- I am still waiting for the day this is the case in other indulgences, pizza and ice cream.
According to further research into tea-drinking by the University of College London, black tea has a positive effect on stress hormone levels in the body. In a study, participants were asked to drink a cup of black tea four times a day for 6 weeks, with the control group doing the same with a fake or placebo tea. It was found that those who drank tea could de-stress much quicker because of lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their blood.
The health benefits do not stop here and become more intrinsic; UCL researchers also found that tea can reduce the likelihood of heart attacks. Experts have also believe that flavonoids, polyphenol anti-oxidants found in the drink, are a key ingredient that promote good health by preventing cell damage and bone strengthening.
Next time you clasp a cup of tea- perhaps blowing it in emphatic eagerness to sup its delight or dunking a hobnob to augment indulgence- embrace it a little more passionately to acknowledge all it so generously offers!
http://www.tea.co.uk/tea-customs [Accessed April 2013]
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5281046.stm [Accessed April 2013]
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2006/10/06/black-tea-can-reduce-stress/ [Accessed April 2013]