Tea is one of the most beloved beverages worldwide, providing a range of healing benefits. The most popular tea varieties include green, black, and oolong, with the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis providing the source for two-thirds of all tea.
When consumed in moderation, tea is a healthy choice for the majority of people. But, if you drink too much in a day or a single setting, you could begin to experience negative side effects.
From headaches to heartburn, overconsumption of tea isn’t something your body will react well to. There isn’t an exact science to the ‘correct’ amount of tea to consume, as every tea variety and brand is different, and every person is unique.
To find out what works for you involves learning what causes the adverse side effects of drinking too many cups of tea and how to prevent that. Read on to explore tea’s benefits, overconsumption drawbacks, and just how many milligrams of caffeine your tea selection contains.
Do Some Teas Have More Caffeine Than Others?
Teas have a wide variety of caffeine levels that are often misunderstood or wrongly estimated. Below are the factors that influence the caffeine levels within a cup of tea.
Caffeine-free Versus Decaffeinated
Authentic tea (from the camellia sinensis plant) is rarely caffeine-free; only herbal brews can offer this characteristic. Made from alternative sources however, they can combine a set of caffeine-free ingredients.
Decaffeinated means that tea must have less than 2.5% of its original caffeine content, roughly translating as 2mg or lower per cup.
Tea Type and Brewing Style
Research has proven that brewing style has a much more significant impact on the overall quantity of caffeine in a cup of tea than its type (black, green, oolong, white, etc). A high water temperature, lengthy brewing time, or high concentration of tea leaves can all contribute to a higher quantity of caffeine in your brew.
Tea grades are based on how broken their leaves are. In general, caffeine is faster absorbed from broken tea leaves, such as those contained in teabags. Moreover, the tips and buds of a tea leaf contain much higher quantities of caffeine than the stem, meaning that a white tea made from tips will have a higher caffeine content than a tea containing a high quantity of stems.
Teas such as matcha that come in a powdered form are generally high in caffeine as they encompass a concentration of the entire leaf. Its shade-grown production further fuels matcha’s caffeine content (a process that causes a shift in the chlorophyll and chemicals in the plant from shading it a few weeks before harvest.)
In general, tea blends will have a lower concentration of caffeine as people are likely to use the compound in the same ratio, but the proportion of tea in it is lower.
What Are The Side Effects Of Drinking Too Much Tea?
Tea Can Reduce Iron Absorption
Tannins, a chemical compound residing in many teas, have the health-boosting properties of antioxidants. Conversely, their presence may hinder the absorption of iron. Tannins can bind to iron in other foods and render it useless for absorption, particularly in plant-based food sources.
If you have iron deficiency or follow a vegetarian diet, it may be worth keeping your tea intake to a maximum of three cups per day and consuming them between meals.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, you may want to drink tea with food if you’re experiencing nausea. Tannins hold the ability to cause nausea and digestive issues if consumed on an empty stomach. Affecting different people in different ways, some people would need to consume large quantities of tea to experience this ill effect, while others may feel queasy after as little as one or two cups.
While you may want tannins binding to the iron in your food, it can be helpful for them to bind to proteins or carbs to minimize any irritation to your digestive system.
The average cup of tea contains between 11-61mg of caffeine, depending on its variety and the brewing method you use.
Research has concluded that anything under 200mg of caffeine per day is unlikely to produce side effects; however, we are all different, and our systems process things differently. If you notice that you’re beginning to get anxious, jittery, or agitated, it may be worth decreasing your intake.
Too much caffeine can also be the root cause of sleep dysfunction. If your intake is too great, you may struggle to fall asleep or experience restlessness through the night. It’s thought that caffeine consumed in large quantities can hinder melatonin production, rendering sleep challenging to achieve.
If your sleep cycle is suffering, try cutting down the amount of tea you consume each day, and avoid drinking it 6-8 hours before you sleep.
The caffeine in tea can also sometimes contribute to heartburn or aggravate any underlying reflux issues you already have. Research has suggested that caffeine can release the sphincter. Without the sphincter performing effectively to separate the esophagus from the stomach, you may experience the sensation of acids rising. Additionally, the presence of caffeine may increase the overall level of acid contained in the stomach.
Though some teas can alleviate head pain, caffeine content can at times lead to recurrent headaches if consumed in too large of a quantity.
Is Tea Healthier Than Coffee?
Tea may have some drawbacks if consumed in large quantities but let’s not forget the remarkable properties of this beverage.
Tea leaves contain polyphenol oxidase, which helps prevent your body cells from experiencing oxidative distress, essentially keeping your cells functioning optimally. Various doctors and scientists have researched a correlation between tea drinkers and a decreased risk of cancer and heart attacks. Additionally, polyphenols can kill harmful bacteria and slow down the growth of abnormal cells, keeping you looking younger for longer.
Meanwhile, coffee contains much higher concentrations of caffeine, which can impact the body in various ways, including the ones explored above.
Tea is a healthy beverage when consumed in moderation. Too much, though, and you may start to experience unwanted side effects, caused in the most part by the caffeine and tannins within the drink.
Each of us is unique, and our bodies all function in different ways. While 5 cups of tea a day may be fine for some people, 1 cup a day could cause others to experience headaches, dizziness, or nausea. The most crucial factor is to pay attention to your body. If you begin to experience any adverse symptoms, cut back your tea intake and see if they start to dissipate.
If unsure, keep your limit below four cups a day, and you should be able to enjoy this wonderful beverage guilt-free.
Scott is the founder of TeaMinded. He enjoys tasting and discovering teas from across the globe, with green teas and ceremonial matcha from Japan being among his favorites. He’s grateful to be immersed in the tea community, always learning and sharing along the journey.