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Nourishment and You: Coffee or Tea?

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Should it be tea or coffee, black or green, white or herbal? Not so long ago, it seemed that tea was simply tea and coffee was simply coffee. We have become much more selective in our tastes for beverages, but actually enjoying tea is not such a new thing. Tea is one of the oldest beverages, and was the drink of emperors.


Tea is gaining popularity not just as a beverage, but also as a healing tonic.


Personally, I used to be a completely mad coffee lover. I would schedule meetings where I could get the best cup of coffee. I would only drink the very strong European kind, and I would basically live with a cup in my hand. Being Danish, this came easily—a thermos of coffee, filled fresh a few times a day, is a normal office accessory on the typical Danish desk. Later in my life I heard the saying, coffee is the drink of slaves (it makes us do things we would never do otherwise), and, all of a sudden, it made sense to me that this beverage is the most popular office drink. I am not sure I was totally a slave to my work, but I was surely one to my cup of coffee.


That was then, this is now. Now I live free. Free from the anxiety and the artificial level of stress that coffee induces, free from mood swings and sadness, free from the toxic headaches and the sudden outbursts of anger. And finally, free from the daily afternoon slump, when I’d almost fall asleep on top of my computer.


Back then, when I said I was quitting coffee, no one believed I could ever do it—but I did. What a relief. I still have the urge from time to time; then you will find me lingering in a coffee shop, with my nose in the air. I love the smell, so that’s what I do. You may also still find me with a coffee cup in hand, especially if I’m driving long distances. But I don’t drink the coffee; I’m just letting that amazing smell fill up my car—it’s great. How can I resist taking a sip, you may ask. The answer is that I realized, after being coffee sober for a long time, it was not the taste for which I longed (although I thought it was). It was the ritual, the social scene (try being in Paris and not drink coffee), the smell, the… I can go on and on. But my conclusion, in the end, was that it was not actually drinking coffee that made me feel happy.


Drinking tea does make me feel happy. Tea can be very satisfying, and its myriad tastes and scents are truly fit for a connoisseur, if you would like to be one.


The history of tea goes very, very far back in time. It was in 2737 BCE that tea was reportedly first discovered in China, by the mythical second emperor, Shen Nung, known as the Divine Healer.


It might seem that tea would have a tough time living up to its reputation as a healing tonic. A great deal of research has been done into the healthful properties of tea, especially green tea, because of the antioxidants it contains. Studies have examined the effects of EGCG (the antioxidant that occurs in green tea) on cancer, cholesterol, heart disease, rate of metabolism, and even gum health. The studies have indicated benefits, but there are not yet conclusive enough results to give tea the official stamp of approval. One product whose claims you should definitely discount is the Enviga sparkling green tea drink marketed by Coco-Cola and Nestle—save your money. If you are looking for a nice green tea bottled up and ready to go, pick one from Ito En. This company’s green tea beverages are sugar-free and just brewed. How much better can tea get, short of brewing it yourself?


Is the caffeine in tea different from the caffeine in coffee? Well, yes, the effects of coffee on your body are different, as is the amount of caffeine it contains. Coffee contains more caffeine, and this can affect the level of anxiety you experience—and therefore, the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, present in your body. Increasing levels of cortisol puts your body into a perpetually stressed state.


Some people believe a cup of coffee can be a good thing. A site called Positively Coffee lists coffee’s benefits. Do note that this site is sponsored by a pro-coffee organization promoting the world coffee economy. The purported benefits of coffee are contradicted by some health experts, but supported by others. One solution to this confusion may be in moderation: “a little might be good, but a lot is not better.” Another thing to consider is that the beneficial nutrients in coffee are its antioxidants and phytochemicals. Guess what. You can find these in tea, too, as well as in fruit and vegetables.


Okay, in some situations, when your brain needs a quick increase in alertness, or you need a shot of adrenalin to stay awake, coffee can certainly help you out. Please, just don’t use it all the time. It will wear you out, especially if you add it to the stress of big-city living.


To shift away from coffee, use a process of transitioning. Don’t pull the plug on coffee overnight—it will make quitting harder on you, in more ways than one. First, begin the process by switching to decaf. You can do half decaf and half regular for a few days, then go all the way to just drinking decaf. The next step is adding some black tea and drinking only one cup of coffee. Do this for a couple of days. Still feeling good? Make the leap to drinking only one cup of black (or green) tea each day. Have herbal tea at night, and you can start enjoying better sleep.


Is this all starting to feel okay to you? Then it is time to fall in love with the ritual of tea drinking, allowing coffee to be a once-in-a-while thing that gives you some jitters. Yes—to your great surprise, you will now feel a difference when you drink coffee. And be careful. The jitters are what trapped you the first time, since you felt so alive or alert when you had that one cup. Don’t be seduced again. The feeling won’t last long, and then you’ll be back on the same rollercoaster. Gently let go of your coffee addiction by experiencing how much closer you can be to yourself when you’re not in a constant state of anxiety and caffeine-induced stress.


Having put my addiction to coffee behind me (although I still have a love affair with coffee), I now have a new ritual. I sit with my cup of tea, breathe in its bouquet, and completely indulge in its fine nuances. A sense of relaxation and calm sweeps over me. My memories of busy days fueled by quick cups of strong coffee can live on in my mind—and still bring a smile to my face.


Some of my personal tea choices:


  • My personal absolute favorite—from the perspective of a former coffee addict—is pu-erh tea. It is dark, rich, and very flavorful. This tea is also said to have slimming effects. I don’t know about that, but it is completely satisfying to drink.


  •  Green tea—this tea offers many choices. You can experience the nutty taste of Dragon Well, the scented sweetness of Jasmin Pearl, the smooth taste of Genmaicha, the bitter sweetness of Sencha, or the light, fragile flavor of White Tea.


  •  And then, of course, there are herbal teas. My favorite nighttime tea is either rooibos, which can help you sleep, or a nice French verveine,  which is much more delicate in its taste, and as nice as desert. Sometimes I add some dried lavender to it—yummy.


 


All teas have their time and place. The best way to find your personal favorites, is to try them. Sniff, taste, enjoy the color, and hold a nice cup in your hand—savoring the moment—just you and your tea break. Or a have a wonderful time sharing a nice pot of tea with someone else.


 

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