Healthy Tea Challenge: The Bottle vs. The Brew

Boxing Gloves

The newswires have been all a flutter this week, reporting that you may not be getting healthy tea if your tea consumption comes in bottled form.

Last Monday, when the details of the research study were released, I watched the stream of tweets on my Twitter account fly by as tweeters warned their followers to be cautious of the troubles lurking in their bottled brew.

In all honesty, I really didn’t pay much attention to all the hubbub because I’ve never been one to drink tea with the expectation of receiving health benefits. I drink tea simply because I like it.

But, as the week progressed, I got curious.

I started by reading several online articles that detailed some of the major findings of the research study, but I wanted to view the research for myself.

So, I headed over to the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) web site where I found the original report by typing “tea” into the search bar.

Here are my thoughts about the results the scientists presented at the national ACS meeting, plus some of the original data from the report.

Let the battle of “The Bottle” and “The Brew” begin!

Healthy Tea Challenge Round 1:

Fancy Footwork

The Bottle: The researchers found evidence, that half of the bottled teas they sampled had extremely low levels of antioxidants or polyphenols. So low in fact, that they stated one would need to drink 20 bottles of the stuff to achieve the same health benefit as a single cup of home brewed tea.

But, hang on. There’s more.

I do want to point out that the researchers only sampled six bottles of tea. That means that three of those bottles had small amounts of polyphenols, or little to no health benefit. The other three had a healthy amount of antioxidants.

Here are the actual results: The six teas analyzed contained 81, 43, 40, 13, 4, and 3 milligrams (mg) of polyphenols per 16-ounce bottle.

The Brew: The average cup of home-brewed green or black tea contains about 50 to 150 mg of polyphenols.

Round One Results: As you can see from these results, more research is needed in order to firmly state that bottled teas contain little to no antioxidants. In fact, some bottled teas may well be just as healthy as a cup of steeped tea.

I think the title of the ACS article sums up the study rather nicely: Bottled tea beverages may contain fewer polyphenols than brewed tea. Note my emphasis on the word “may” because that is really the keyword here.

In my opinion, round one was just a lot of fancy footwork that is great for oohing and aahing the crowd, but leaves us wanting more.

Healthy Tea Challenge Round 2:

The Bottle Takes a Bruising

The Bottle: Another interesting piece of information that the scientists presented, was that some manufactures do mention the level of polyphenols on the bottle label.

However, this can be deceiving for there are no industry standards or governmental guidelines for calculating and listing the polyphenol content on the label. Therefore, the amount listed may possibly be incorrect.

In addition, the polyphenol level may be influenced by slight changes in the manufacturing process, such as the amount of tea used, the quality of the tea, as well as the brewing time and temperature.

The Brew: Similar to bottled tea, the processing of the leaf itself, take for example green tea verses black tea, can result in varying degrees of polyphenol content.

For instance, using boiling water and a longer steeping time tends to increase the amount of polyphenols in your teacup.

Round Two Results: Based on the labeling information alone, I would be most wary of any polyphenol claims on all processed consumable products, not only tea. That is until there are some stringent guidelines put in place for quantifying and labeling the amount of antioxidants in consumable products.

With that being said, The Bottle and The Brew have similar challenges when it comes to nailing down exact numbers for polyphenol content. In fact, it can’t be done. There are simply too many factors that can influence the final polyphenol count; from tea quality to water temperature.

This round goes to the The Brew for not using clever marketing gimmicks to trick its opponent.

Healthy Tea Challenge Round 3:

The Bottle Takes a Hit Right to the Kisser

The Bottle: In their presentation, the researchers also made a statement that bottled teas might contain substances other than tea. Substances, like sugar that health-conscious consumers would ideally want to avoid.

This begs the question whether bottled tea has any redeeming qualities other than taste and convenience for the average shopper.

Adding fuel to the fire, I do have to say that I’ve personally tasted some of these off-the-shelf teas from my local grocery store and they barely resemble tea in my opinion. They tend to taste like sugared water with flavoring. Although, there are some brands that do resemble “real tea.” However, they are usually not mainstream brands.

Overall, I would have to say that not all bottled teas are created equal.

While we’re on the topic of sugar and artificial sweeteners. As you may know from previous posts, I try to steer clear of artificial sweeteners, which this study didn’t touch on.

But, one does have to wonder if even a high polyphenol content can outweigh the potential harm we do by ingesting sugar substitutes, or even a high doses of sugar for that matter.

Both of this types of sweeteners, tend to be key ingredients in typical bottled teas.

The Brew: Unless we add it ourselves (e.g., sweetner) tea is tea. Enough said.

Round Three Results: The Bottle really takes a beating here, especially those bottles filled with potions with potentially harmful ingredients.

And The Winner Is…

I think it is fair to say that the surefire winner of the Healthy Tea Challenge is The Brew. Of course, with 5,000 years training, this contender has staying power.

However, I wouldn’t be too quick to underestimate The Bottle.

The Bottle may have a few bruises, but isn’t out for the count. And of course, with billions of dollars at stake, this challenger is likely to come back swinging.

Final Thoughts:

I think we are all looking for that magic something that will guarantee us a long and healthy life.

Ever since scientists discovered that antioxidants, including polyphenol, have potential health benefits, we’ve been running after the latest and greatest “antioxidant rich” product.

Yet, right under our noses lays a bounty of antioxidants. In our gardens, farmer’s markets and supermarket produce isles we can find all the antioxidants we need. And yes, they can be found in other plant-based products too like coco, olive oil, wine, and tea.

Tea can certainly be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, but we’ve got to make good decisions as consumers.

A bottled brew now and again can be a special treat. But if we are really serious about wanting “healthy tea” then perhaps we should stick with the good ‘ole home-brewed stuff and save our money.

This is “a girl with tea” signing off once again.

Remember to live, laugh, love and drink plenty of tea.


Photo Credit: arriba – via Flickr CC Attribution License

[box] What are your thoughts about bottled tea?[/box]

5 comments on “Healthy Tea Challenge: The Bottle vs. The Brew

  1. Jeanine Byers Hoag August 31, 2010 1:25 AM

    Awesome post! Beautifully written.

    I think I am unlikely to try new bottled teas because the only ones I have tried did not taste right to me. I’m not sure why.


    • a girl with tea August 31, 2010 2:09 AM

      Thanks Jeanine! I so agree, there are some bottled teas that do taste a bit off, if not totally wrong. I guess it’s hard to bottle nature.

  2. Angie (Losing It and Loving It) August 30, 2010 3:06 PM

    Excellent post on ‘healthy tea’. I knew brew would come out on top but I do still like some of my bottled teas LOL Just like you mentioned once in a while as a special treat is just fine.

    • a girl with tea August 31, 2010 2:07 AM

      Thanks for the feedback Angie! Yep, I like my bottled teas too, as a special treat that is.

Comments are closed.