Tea has a rich history with the earliest Chinese legends about tea dating back to 2700 BC in connection to the mythical emperor Shennong, who is regarded as the father of Chinese medicine and agriculture. Scholars believe that tea drinking originated in southwest China. In ancient times, tea was used for its medicinal properties and the tea leaves were consumed whole or infused in herbal medicines. Around 600 BC, tea drinking became an art form and the loose leaves were infused into water or the leaves were ground into a powder that was steeped with water. I am a tea connoisseur. Although I can appreciate a good cup of coffee on occasion (tempered with lots of ghee/grassfed butter and honey), tea is a part of my daily life. I enjoy the ritual, the comfort, and the taste that drinking tea brings. So, quite understandably, I was pretty distraught when I began to suspect shortly after I became Paleo that there was something about my tea that was exacerbating my migraines. An Internet search revealed that some tea bags may be sealed with a paste that contains wheat. As I'm incredibly sensitive to gluten, this was concerning to me. I contacted my favorite tea company at that time and they denied that any gluten was used in their tea bags. In fact, I've yet to find a tea company that actually uses a wheat paste to seal the bags. I'm not quite sure if this is a past practice of some tea companies that is now mostly extinct or if it is an Internet legend. Regardless, there are plenty of other pressing issues of concern when it comes to how tea is packaged, not to mention the tea itself!
Beware of Paper Tea Bags
Paper tea bags are often treated with a chemical known as epichlorohydrin. This chemical is a resin that helps to keep the tea bags from breaking apart easily in hot water. It also has applications for use as a pesticide. Epichlorohydrin is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency. Animal studies indicate that drinking water that contains epichlorohydrin can lead to stomach tumors, as well as infertility.
Silk or Mesh Tea Bags are Scary Too
But what about the silk or mesh tea bags that are found in some of the higher end teas sold in specialty markets (such as Mighty Leaf and Tea Forte)? The bags are downright fancy and they display the tea leaves in a way that is visually appealing. Unfortunately, it turns out that these bags are often made from plastics, such as food-grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Although these plastics are touted as being "safe" in terms of leaching potential, it is very likely that some amount of phthalates is still escaping into your tea. Food-grade nylon and PET both have a glass transition temperature (the point at which molecules begin to break down without a state change) that is less than the boiling point of water.
Some silk and mesh tea bags may be marketed as "biodegradable" or "sustainable". These bags are likely made from a material manufactured from genetically-modified (GMO) corn. Corn is a grain that may cross-react for those with gluten intolerance and I recommend that my patients with autoimmune issues avoid it. Not to mention that it is best to avoid GMOs as there is still far too much that we don't know about the health impacts of GMOs.
Conventional Tea is Covered in Pesticides
Two investigations by Greenpeace, an international environmental group, found shockingly high levels of pesticides in teas from China and India (respectively, the first and second largest producers of tea). Popular brands tested included Lipton, Twinings, Tetley, Brooke Bond, Golden Tips, and Goodriche. The quantity of pesticides on the teas were found to be far above the standards set by the European Union and many samples contained pesticides that have been previously banned under the Stockholm Convention, including DDT. You can read the results of the China investigation here and the India investigation here.
Artificial and Natural Flavorings
Many popular teas also contain artificial and/or natural flavors. The Food and Drug Administration has many regulations that govern the use and labeling of artificial and natural flavors. The bottom line is that it's best to know what is in your tea and not guess what processed concoction of chemicals is making your tea taste the way that it is. Pure tea without additives and flavorings has a wonderful taste provided by nature itself. There is no need to mess with it!
What Kind of Tea to Buy
Clearly, navigating the world of tea isn't quite so easy. When purchasing tea, it is best to seek out certified organic, loose leaf tea brands. Organic tea brands with bags that are made from non-corn, natural fibers that aren't treated with epichlorohydrin do exist, but it is easier and more cost effective to opt for a loose leaf brand and use a tea strainer. Personally, I love the wide variety of fair-trade, certified organic teas by Frontier Co-op. The Earl Grey (black) Tea and the Gunpowder Green Tea are my current favorites. I prefer to use this stainless-steel tea strainer for work and traveling and I keep this stainer at home.
My favorite way to take my tea is with raw honey and ghee. I blend the tea in a blender with the honey and ghee and it makes a frothy tea "latte". Simple and delicious!
What about you? What are your favorite tea brands? Please comment below!
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