A Tea Addict's Journal

Black tea headache

September 20, 2008 · 22 Comments

I had some keemun yesterday in a mug. Nothing harmful, I thought, but at the end of that, I could start to feel a little of that same headache creeping in. It was not yet a major concern, nor the rather annoying headache that I’ve had recently after drinking blacks, but nonetheless… it’s there.

It’s a strange thing. I’ve never had a problem like this before, where drinking one type of tea leads to a headache. I deliberately used less leaves than usual and maybe that’s what allowed me to avoid a full on headache, but the mere presence of it is disturbing, to say the least.

Then I drank some of my aged baozhong, which always serve me well in a pinch….and no problems.

What could black tea have that causes this? Pesticide?

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22 responses so far ↓

  • Anonymous // September 20, 2008 at 10:29 am | Reply

    I don’t know if it’s pesticides, but I get headaches from Darjeeling and Bai Hao (and sometimes similarly-oxidized teas). It seems to be so consistent with teas around that oxidation level that I am led to believe it is somehow a factor.


    • Megan // July 2, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Reply

      A lot of black tea has caffeine in it which can definitely cause headaches. I’ve been having the same issue, I drink a LOT of tea (black teas in particular) and I have to balance it out with water breaks in between to avoid headaches.

  • Anonymous // September 21, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Reply


    It’s hard to isolate this kind of reaction… It could be pesticide as you mention, even fertilizer that grew into the leaves. However, I doubt that those are the causes.

    From my own experience, I used to get headaches from any black tea. I wasn’t sure why, but it seemed to be from the abundance of tannins, caffeine and bitterness. It had been years since I tried black tea again, but with my new knowledge of gong fu cha, I can again drink black tea. When I brew black tea with short steepings, I get a light, full cup of black tea for 3-4 infusions and NO HEADACHE! I think consuming tea nutrients with right water ratio is important, like brewing other teas, black tea is no exception. I realize traditionally in the west, black tea (or red tea) is steeped 3-5 mins. That simply does not work for me. Try gong fu keemum, and let us know if it improves your experience.


  • MarshalN // September 21, 2008 at 8:26 pm | Reply

    @ecclenser – 

    That’s what I normally do… but it doesn’t seem to work either. I got plenty of headache from that…

    Mind you, there are plenty of other teas to drink….

  • mulcahyfeldman // September 22, 2008 at 9:19 am | Reply

    Black tea shouldn’t be bitter if brewed correctly. And doesn’t the Puerh have a certain amount of caffeine? Lack of caffeine for someone who is used to a certain amount generally will cause headache and haven’t you recently adjusted your tea-drinking schedule to begin earlier? Or was that just a pipe dream? Maybe you should try an organic black to eliminate the pesticide theory although I worry about where teas are stored when warehoused as well. I think organics have to be stored more stringently and that might be a start. Have you tried any other black tea lately besides the keemun? Hoping you solve this mystery soon, Eileen

  • sjschen // September 22, 2008 at 9:56 pm | Reply

    Interesting post. I also get headaches, or more often, a sore neck from drinking many black assam or darjeelings. Strange thing is adding milk to these teas prevent the headaches or sore necks. Go figure.

  • MarshalN // September 22, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Reply

    Hmmm, milk does the trick? That’s interesting.

  • mulcahyfeldman // September 22, 2008 at 11:22 pm | Reply

    Maybe it’s the sugar in the milk? Definitely needs research or maybe you should turn back to greens. You never explained why you cannot drink green tea anymore. I find it soothing, with a caffeine lift. And white teas, much more of a caffeine lift. Have you tried Toki’s 21-days steeping? Maybe that would alleviate the headache. So much tea, so little time. Eileen

  • ang // December 29, 2015 at 9:28 pm | Reply

    Came upon this while trying to figure out why I have an ocular migraine. It’s the only thing I can think caused it, but can’t find much about it, just that it happens! Scared to drink it now because I don’t know if I’ll have this reaction. Bummer.

  • Amy Meredith // April 22, 2016 at 8:04 am | Reply

    I’ve been drinking tea for years (hot and iced). I started getting migraines many years ago and it took until recently to realise they are coming from all Camellia sinensis products. Teas and many cosmetics contain the plant. 🙁 I know it’s not caffeine because I drink many cups of coffee in the a.m. The lotions for the face were also triggering my “hay fever” . Terrible thing is that I was using green tea to relieve migraine symptoms and I could not understand why things were only getting worse.

    • Liam.Kernighan // August 21, 2019 at 5:26 pm | Reply

      Same for me. A lot of migraines which I could not understand for long time why they are keep happening. The answer is same as yours: tea. And it’s definetely not caffeine because coffee has no such effect at all.

    • Liam Kernighan // August 21, 2019 at 5:33 pm | Reply

      Same for me. Frequent migraines caused by tea and no problems if I drink coffee.

  • Cheryl KY // May 27, 2017 at 7:19 am | Reply

    I have read that black tea is fermented and people who are sensitive to tyramine will get a migraine. But I’m gonna try adding some milk to my tea although I prefer it black, but I don’t want anymore migraines either.

    • SP Velayutham // October 1, 2017 at 3:46 am | Reply

      As Black tea is a fermented tea, it is a migrain trigger for some. But when I add a cardomom in the tea, then I don’t get the headache.

  • Jason // November 8, 2017 at 8:08 pm | Reply

    For me, Twinings’ English Breakfast tea leads to severe headaches.

    • Mary Myers // December 6, 2019 at 7:37 am | Reply

      Me too! I was off the tea for a month and the headaches stopped. I went back to drinking tea and they returned. They start at my neck and climb up the back of my head. Its excruciating pain.

  • Meredith // March 23, 2018 at 7:40 am | Reply

    A coworker got me into the Twinings tea a few weeks ago and I bough a variety pack. I’ve had headaches for days and have never had problems drinking black tea before. Thanks to Google, I found this chain. Thank you all for the insight!

  • Rose // August 26, 2019 at 7:42 am | Reply

    Black tea is high enough in fructans that Monash University has rated it as a high FODMAP. If you have trouble digesting FODMAPS like Fructans then you could be getting a headache as a symptom.

  • ATraveller // December 27, 2019 at 1:23 pm | Reply

    I’m happy I found this post – I have the same problem, and I know it’s got nothing to do with Caffeine, because I love coffee and have no problems drinking it. But one cup of black/green tea and my whole head is on fire the next morning (white seems to be ok-ish).

    By coincidence, I found out that I have the same adverse reaction to L-Theanine, so I’m assuming it’s due to that.

    I really miss drinking tea, and I’d love to be able to start again. But I don’t dare to try.

  • Daniel // January 18, 2021 at 10:16 am | Reply

    I often get a headache when I drink a certain type of gunpowder tea. It is not caused by the caffeine, I don’t know what it is but I don’t get it if I drink a slightly more expensive type available in Fortnum & Mason.

  • James // September 12, 2021 at 3:55 pm | Reply

    Just chiming in to confirm I get headaches from certain teas but can drink coffee all day with no problems. I’ve noticed these headaches have an associated nausea which makes them rather unpleasant. I’ve found that not letting the teabag or leaves ‘stew’ helps avoid the headaches, but they are still there, just far less pronounced. Green tea doesn’t trigger them for me.

    Twinings Afternoon tea (my favourite tea by flavour) was the first to trigger it. I think because I was leaving it to brew for too long. Also Yorkshire tea can also trigger it. My thoughts are it is something to do with certain tannins. I’m not sure which exactly, or why only certain teas have this effect.

    I’m going to try various methods to reduce the headaches, such as using lemon juice in place of milk (as it also binds to the tannins) and see if that helps. I think that plus lowering the brew time will solve this for me. Thanks everyone for your thoughts on this.

  • Hannah // February 23, 2024 at 11:09 am | Reply

    I just read that twinnings and celestial teas are heavy in metals and pesticides. Mountain Rose Herbs does extensive testing and careful sourcing.

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