In praise of basic brew
Herbal teas boast health benefits, but English breakfast still does the job
If you believe the latest research, it's curtains for a good old cup of strong, black tea — known as builder's tea in the U.K. Once the go-to for Brits, traditional English breakfast tea has been ousted by its herbal and fruit rivals.
According to a survey by The Tea Group, more than half of people (55 per cent) said their favourite brew was a herbal or alternative tea, while 45 per cent chose English breakfast — a shift from a few years ago when it was the nation's top choice.
Is it any wonder? We're surrounded by teas promising to fix our ailments, improve our health and change our lives. There are teas that claim to help us sleep, teas to improve our skin, detox teas, weight-loss teas ... Kim Kardashian apparently drinks charcoal tea — presumably not for the taste — while it's rumoured that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, prefers mint tea to traditional tea.
Most teas do have some health benefits, from aiding digestion and easing bloating to improving sleep. But when it comes to staving off menopause or magicking up weight loss, many claims are hard to prove. And for others, similar benefits can be gained from a good old-fashioned brew.
Made from a blend of black teas, English breakfast has many of the same benefits associated with those do-good leaves and bags. Like all tea, breakfast-style contains biologically active chemicals including flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties and help reduce cholesterol and blood clotting, as well as improve dilation of blood vessels in the heart.
One study by U.S. researchers found that drinking black tea (which includes English breakfast) could prevent or reverse some types of artery diseases and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Another study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, found that black tea may help lower cholesterol levels in high-cholesterol adults, while a study from the University of California in 2017 suggested that English breakfast tea might aid weight loss by boosting your metabolism — but only when sipped without milk.
Further, scientists at Rutgers University published promising research identifying a compound in black tea known as theaflavin-3-monogallate that caused colorectal cancer cells to destroy themselves.
A study by UCL has suggested that tea could also help limit spikes in the stress hormone cortisol, while another found evidence that caffeine and L-theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in tea, can improve reaction time and memory, helping with focus and concentration.
“Breakfast tea is made using black tea, which is a great source of polyphenols,” explains Dr. Sarah Cooke, who specializes in nutrition. “Polyphenols are brilliant for health, as they have antioxidant properties, helping mitigate harm from UV rays and pollution. Polyphenols have also been linked in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.”
Cooke points out that black and green tea “generally contain the highest concentrations of polyphenols,” and that “herbal teas, such as camomile and peppermint, often contain lower levels of polyphenols. If you want a good dose of antioxidants, then a British cup of tea can certainly help with this,” she continues.
And while some health claims might be true for all teas, nutrition coach and appetite psychologist Dr. Emily Wilkinson thinks we'd do better to look elsewhere.
“There will be things in herbal tea that are associated with health benefits. However, when you have them in tea, they are heavily diluted and often not in a high enough concentration to have any significant effect. With that in mind, drink the tea you like! Life's too short not to enjoy a cup of proper tea.”