A Tea Addict's Journal


July 28, 2011 · 22 Comments

One of the biggest pet peeves I have when I see people advertising tea is some sort of mystical, magical health benefit that pretty much promises it will do anything other than raise the dead.  Accompanying this is the pretty frequent sighting of posts on various tea forums from newcomers who say things like “I want to get the health benefit of drinking tea — which tea is best for X?”  Stores like Teavana then capitalize on this sort of thinking, and invents, without any sort of rationale, a whole series of “health benefits” of various kinds of tea for different parts of the body, with the clear implication that if you want a full body benefit, well, you better buy all of their teas.

There’s only one problem – all this talk of health benefits, etc, ignores the fact that just like pretty much anything else, there comes a point when there’s too much of a good thing.  You can, indeed, overconsume tea.  An analogy can be drawn with wine — while a glass of red wine a day may be good for your health, two bottles a day is pretty much certainly going to cause you health problems.  While it is not clear where tea’s “health threshold” may be, it has to have one.

In my experience I have had two unpleasant encounters with drinking too much tea.  The first was an instance in which I drank too much tea while pulling a near all-nighter in college trying to finish a paper.  I remember my legs were shaking uncontrollably and I’m pretty sure it was due to caffeine overdose of some sort.  The second was actually much more scary — I was drinking lots of tea in the run up to my general examinations for me to proceed on my dissertation research, and one night as I was getting ready for bed, my heart started beating at a rate and strength that was very unnatural — I thought I was getting a heart attack or something.  It calmed down, eventually, but not before it really scared me.  Doctors, of course, found nothing wrong, and suggested I consume less caffeine and sleep more.  Recently, a tea friend here in Hong Kong told me that he had something very similar — heart rate that was abnormally fast (140-150 bpm).  Doctors couldn’t find anything either.  We both agreed that tea, specifically strong, young puerh, and lots of it, may be the culprit.

I have been mostly on a “one tea a day” regimen for the past 6 years, and I haven’t had another such episode since then.  I think lots of people get the impression that I drink lots of tea every day.  The fact is, I don’t unless I’m visiting a shop and hanging out with tea friends.  Yesterday I stopped by Best Tea House to see some old friends, and I know I drank a little too much as I started feeling uncomfortable.  Like a person who is getting tipsy but who doesn’t want to get drunk, I stopped.

I know I’m going to get people here who will poo-poo the idea that too much tea can be bad for you, or that drinking only greens or young puerhs exclusively will yield anything other than pure bliss.  I’m not saying that everyone will get the same reaction — some people may have much higher tolerance for such things, but at some point, you can, in fact, overconsume tea, and at that point it will no longer be a health benefit, but a health hazard.  Tea and health is mostly a marketing hype, as I’m pretty sure that drinking pesticide laced CTC brewed bottled iced black tea flavoured with artificial flavouring agents and lots of sugar is not going to give you any health benefit whatsoever.  Drink in moderation.

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22 responses so far ↓

  • minrivertea // July 28, 2011 at 3:02 am | Reply

    Good article – kind of scary in the middle though! Guess you had heart palpitations – I’ve had that before (not from drinking tea) but it can be scary. I called the ambulance, and they kind of laughed at me at little.

    My first time drinking tea I spent 3-4 hours tasting teas, got really ‘high’ from the caffeine, and was also super-hungry. Do you get that at all?

    • MarshalN // July 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Reply

      Yes, hungry is pretty normal for a lot of teas. Getting high and dizzy is possible too, and that’s where I stop if I got that far.

  • Sam // July 28, 2011 at 5:30 am | Reply

    Agreed. The doctor had to tell me to cut back too. Not good for the heart!

  • Tom // July 28, 2011 at 8:25 am | Reply

    Wow, you must have really been hitting it hard. I’m sensitive to stimulants and non-tea caffeine, so I notice when I’m going over the edge with young sheng, but never to the point of tachycardia.

    I think with anything that has health benefits, it’s more about endurance than intensity. Can you have one tea (or piece of dark chocolate, or glass of wine, etc.) a day for the rest of your life, instead of a few weeks a year where you overload yourself.

    • MarshalN // July 28, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Reply

      It doesn’t seem to happen as I’m drinking — and this wasn’t even young sheng (I believe I was drinking Taiwanese gaoshan oolong). It happens hours after the drinking took place.

  • Adam Yusko // July 28, 2011 at 8:58 am | Reply

    Granted I do not know enough about Pharmacology, or the chemical make up of tea, but certain recent articles of coffee come to mind. The focus on at least 2 articles about the health benefits of coffee had basically the same punchline: “The more coffee you drink the better it can be for you, it all depends on how well you handle the caffeine.” So in that sense the threshold for health benefits verses adverse health effects might be quite hazy.

    I know I personally try and stick to 1 to 2 teas a day, as I too have had some scary moments, that I attribute at least partially to tea. Moderation is key to most things.

  • Tang Dynasty // July 28, 2011 at 9:56 am | Reply

    I try to keep my green tea diet to a liter a day or less. I find using a small sixty ml. gaiwan aids this. An influence are the recommendations given for tea consumption on the Linus Pauling Institute site.

  • tT // July 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Reply

    I completely agree about Teavana. Their marketing approach is genius really … capitalize on the typical gullible, ignorant American consumer.

    I also agree that too much of anything can (and will) cause harm.

    Regarding your two unpleasant encounters with excess cha, I think it’s important to reemphasize that people’s bodies respond differently to the same stimuli, so nothing is absolute when it comes to these things. As for the cause of the shaky legs, I have no idea. However, I hesitate that it was from too much caffeine. It’s hard to say without more information (i.e. how much you actually drank, brewing method, your body’s response to other caffeinated drinks, etc.). Caffeine is water soluble, so if you were brewing many times in sequence (gongfu style), I would imagine the caffeine concentration would decrease significantly with each brew.

    As for your second encounter, I find that reaction very interesting and potentially serious. If it was only tachycardia, it wouldn’t be too serious (unless you have a weak/damaged heart). But if it was a dysrhythmia, that would be much more serious I would imagine.

    Very interesting. Again, I agree that everyone reacts differently to stimuli, and nothing works the exact same for everyone. You know you’re body better than anyone else and it’s important to listen to what your body tells you.

  • bev "learning to pull radishes" // July 28, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply

    I was just at an Asian grocery store and nearly snapped a cell-phone photo for you. On the shelf was a big can of “Chinese Diet Health Tea” with (I kid you not) the very same silhouette you see on the mud flaps of big trucks on the highways of a buxom female sitting in profile.

  • Pat P // July 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Reply

    I completely agree with this. I’ve found that if I drink young sheng pu more than 2-3 times in a week I start to have a lot of stomach pains. I also had a very similar experience with tea drinking and final exams, it can be very scary; the stress of exams, lack of sleep, and large amounts of caffiene are just generally a bad mix. moderation is definitely key.

    • MarshalN // July 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Reply

      A cousin of mine used to tell me she had some stomach pains frequently, and frequent green tea consumption, I think, may have had something to do with it.

  • Aaron // July 31, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Reply

    I had the same experience with heart palpitation about 10 years ago when I was still in college. But I didn’t decrease the amount I drink. (I did for a few weeks when my heart acting weir). I actually drink more tea now than I did in college and never have that problem again. For me, I think it was caused more by stress of college than by caffeine. So I want to emphisize a point here that tea is for leisure and should not be used to keep you awake to study for that exam tomorrow. When you are tired, what you need is rest and sleep. If you act against what you body ask for, you are doing yourself harm.

    As to the stomach pain, we Teochew people know for a long time that green tea is bad for people with weak stomach. It’s common knowledge that’s passed down thru generations. Try oolong or even shu puerh. And DON’T drink tea on an empty stomach.

  • David // August 1, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Reply

    I suppose everyone is different. Most days I have about 3 to 5 different teas, gungfu style, made strong – most shared with my wife. I don’t have a problem with it. However at a tea house once I drank a vast amount of tea and felt a little jumpy.

  • David // August 2, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Reply

    Amen to moderation! Might be the hardest — and best — way to live… (At least, for me.)

  • Nicolas // August 3, 2011 at 8:09 am | Reply

    Great post.

    You’re one of the few that does a service to the tea community.

  • MikeC // August 31, 2011 at 4:13 am | Reply

    I have had scares with pu ‘er tea. I had broken a 15-year-old cake I had bought in Hong Kong from a respected dealer, and I infused it numerous times, probably using too much tea, as it remained black for several infusions. I had drank excessive amounts, and to my horror, my urine turned dark brown. This happened also several weeks ago after drinking a lot of pu ‘er with yum cha at a restaurant. I took a blood test, fearing the worst, and to my relief, my liver function is normal. Now I drink water between infusions, and all seems well. Has anyone else experienced this?

  • Adrian Loder // March 5, 2021 at 8:22 pm | Reply

    I think rate of consumption is probably as important a factor as total amount consumed – I generally stop drinking tea by 4 PM to avoid causing sleep issues, but otherwise I work off a 400 ml/hour limit instead of a total amount. As others wrote, people also respond differently to caffeine – some, like me, experience no tachycardia despite drinking large quantities of tea. I’ve also been a regular runner for over a decade, so maybe that helps? It’s not odd for me to be on liter number of two of tea with a resting pulse in the 50’s.

    The other thing I’ve found is the importance of eating something first before having tea. Drinking too much fluid without any sodium intake will cause the body to shut off its anti-diuretic hormone (the thing that keeps your body from venting water whenever), which will cause the body to release anything containing water and not retain any water at all until the imbalance is corrected. This happened to me one afternoon after about 2.4 L of tea and a similar quantity of water on top of that, without any food. That was kind of scary because i didn’t understand what was going on. Wasn’t even remotely thirsty the entire rest of the day.

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