Importance of Drinking Moderation

After I had scheduled this post for publication, Marshaln published a post on Caffeine Detox. This is worth reading over. The comments section also includes some personal experiences about overconsumption / overdosing on caffeine.

I suspect the vast majority of the people crazy enough to read this blog and buy tea from the internet started out drinking tea prolifically. Getting home from work or school to a big package of 30+ samples at 6:30PM and starting a five tea marathon session until midnight. Good luck sleeping off that! After a while most of us settle into certain rhythms of when we do or don’t drink tea and end up with fairly different habits than when we first got started into the tea world.

Tea Session.
Tea Session.

Health Benefits!?

Everyone can agree that good tasting tea is a nice thing to have. The health benefits and tea’s effect on the body are an aspect played up in both the west and the east but in fairly different ways. In the west this is most commonly seen in the form of weight loss, antioxidants, detox, whatever. Drinking too much or overdosing is usually an afterthought. After all drinking more tea means more health benefits. Right?

Tea can certainly be a safe and healthy practice. However, this all assumes moderation. An inconvenient and oft-overlooked idea for most tea companies. Tea is definitely possible to over consume. It can negatively impact your sleep, make you agitated, mess up your stomach or even give you heart palpitations. These are not to be taken lightly and a reduction in the quality of sleep can be your body giving you a warning sign to slow down. It’s better to listen to your body and adjust your habits before things get worst.

  • I once heard an exchange involving a few teaheads where one casually remarked “tea is medicine“. The response was an apt and appropriate “not in the quantities we consume“.
Tea Compost Bowl
Tea Compost Bowl.

Caffeine Calculations. What’s a Healthy Amount of Tea Consumption?

Caffeine is perfectly fine with the right dose. It also is an important component in how much we can healthily consume without self combusting.

The healthy or right amount of caffeine will vary, often significantly. People have different constitutions and some people have an iron gut. I’ve seen TwoDog consume what looks like 200g of tea a day. This is way too much for most people. I am a 5’6, 130 pound male with pretty regular and consistent caffeine consumption. My body is probably vastly different from someone that weighs twice as me, or someone that is smaller. My tolerance towards caffeine will also vary from someone who normally doesn’t drink any caffeine at all. I’ve found a good amount to either be a single session at around 6.5-7g or a pair of 5g sessions earlyish in the day. I tend to steep teas I like to death, so I’m probably consuming most all of the caffeine in the dry leaf.

Most caffeine calculations for tea involve the amount per cup. Because most of us are consuming gong-fu that’s irrelevant. While it can vary, tea contains ~3% caffeine in its dry weight. Using basic math, 6.5-10g results in 195-300mg of caffeine consumption/daily. That’s not an insignificant amount and amounts to 2-3 cups of coffee (~100mg/8oz mug). For a person of my size it is probably at the upper-end of normal and safe consumption.

  • There’s really no such thing as decaffeinated tea by steeping it for 30 seconds. This is more or less a total myth. By rinsing for 30 seconds or even longer, you’ll remove 5-20% of the caffeine in the dry leaf. That really isn’t much.
  • Bigger leaves tend to have a bit less caffeine. This makes huangpian or a broader leaf tea more appealing in the afternoon. Still, these aren’t exactly truly decaffeinated brews. There’s still plenty of caffeine in even a big ugly huangpian.
  • Older teas might be more mellow, but I haven’t seen much convincing evidence that caffeine significantly reduces over time.
  • Beyond the caffeine, drinking too many green teas (young raw, green oolongs) may also be tough on your stomach.

My exact rules: Two sessions/day unless drinking with other people. I mainly drink 5 gram sessions with the occasional 6.5-7grams. I almost never drink past 6PM, and don’t start a session past 2 or 3PM. If I’m working out later that day, I may play a bit looser with these, but try not to stray too far from them. If I need more rest, I may frontload the day more, or just do one tea.

A Couple Ways to Cut Down the Excess Energy

So you overdid it? Here’s a couple ways to cut the energy.

  • Eating – Strong tea clears us out and makes us hungry (and angry). When I know I’m consuming a lot of tea on a certain day, I’ll plan my meals and snacks around that. Eat something and get your body back to normal. Eating before tea is also important, especially when drinking strong or greenish teas (young raw, green tea, green oolong).
  • Exercise – Scott Wilson (Yunnan Sourcing) who consumes copious amounts of tea is also an avid and frequent runner. He also runs daily and is a very active person.
  • Drink Early & Before Meals – A lot better to do those marathon sessions early in the day than at 7PM at night.

Final Point on Buying

In the end, we really should be consuming only so much tea or caffeine. No matter how much we love tea, our bodies are human.. No amount of passion can improve the caffeine restraints of our bodies. Where this amount lies probably differs person to person, but many of us probably are buying and accumulating too much (looking at you puheads). If we only have the caffeine for one tea a day, better make it a good one. If you’re going to spend $1k or more on tea this year, spend it well and sip slow. Moderation is important in drinking and buying.

Further Reading:


16 responses to “Importance of Drinking Moderation”

  1. Hi James,

    Great post. I always drink my tea after I have breakfast (post work out) and then usually after one of my two (sometimes after both) lunches. Never after dinner though. I definitely need my sleep ha!

    Anyways, I wanted to say I really appreciate all the info you guys put out there, especially concerning pu-erh and oolong. I have been a Japanese tea drinker (and Chinese greens to a lesser extent) for many years and have expanded into pu-erh in the last year or two and really fallen in love with it. Recently I’ve been trying to take a deep dive into oolongs as well. Your site has been fantastic for me regarding both of those. I’m always amazed at what you discover with tea every day. You really never stop learning. Thank you guys!

  2. I too feel it is very necessary to exercise, more specifically do cardio and not weight training in this regard because of having a sustained elevated heart rate and sweating is very important in the teas journey through the body.

    • I’m a fan of drinking lots of tea early and than exercising later. (and then eating ice cream after)

  3. Excellent post, thank you. During the week I’ll drink about 10g, never starting a session after 3. Weekend are a free for all! It is absolutely true that drinking outside my weekday parameters ruins my sleep. I always want tea to enhance my life, never make it harder.

  4. How about the staining of teeth? Green tea seems to leave little amounts of staining in the cup compared to black tea. Does this observation indicate any human health factor?

    • Not sure about that. I pretty much need to use teeth whitening toothpaste to combat the staining.

  5. Recently, I realized that my tea consumption had slowly gone up to a surprisingly high daily average. While sleep was ok, I was frequently tired and slightly nauseous in the mornings. Also, I noticed that teas tasted less, my palate was off. I’d used various estimates of caffeine content for different types of tea, and thought I was on the safe side and drank far less caffeine than average coffee drinker. I do drink a cup of coffee occasionally, but rarely. When I was mainly a coffee drinker, I would drink one or two cups per day. Sometimes I’d quit and get light headaches for a few days, but nothing serious or noteworthy. I decided to quit tea cold turkey, just to compare the level of addiction with previous experiences. This time, I was cranky and had throbbing headaches for a week (very bad for three days, then gradually less so), and was tired and depressed for another whole week. Had a cup of tea after two weeks, and suddenly life was worth living again, brain functions and appetite back to normal. I think this stuff is addictive.

    I’ve found it very difficult to determine even approximate amounts of caffeine in various teas, and now stick to a similar rule of thumb as described here (roughly 3%, so 30mg per gram and 150mg per 5g-to-the-bitter-end-session). However, you have to really steep them out to get all that caffeine into your system. For many everyday shous (as opposed to flying shoes), for instance, I’ll stop at around 8 steeps, while steep times are still relatively short, accumulated steep time certainly less than 5 minutes. Based on the studies I’ve read, I reckon that would extract about half of the caffeine. That’s still 75mg. To be safe, I’ve set daily maximum at 10g of tea, and most days drink between 5g and 7g. I enjoy the teas a lot more, and don’t feel as much of a zombie without it. I do wish there were better studies of caffeine content available, not least to determine how and what to brew for an afternoon/evening fix. Mint infusions just make me want to lick a cake of nice, bitter, camphory sheng, and maybe snort a line of fannings.

    Here endeth the lesson. Stay soaked, kids.

  6. I can’t do too much caffeine. I need to stay away from it in the afternoons. Some days, I just can’t do any. I find that when I drink grandpa style, I tend to overindulge. The CO2 decaffeination process keeps a lot of the flavor. I enjoy several from S&V, especially their Assam and Irish Breakfast (my wife likes their Earl Grey). Another favorite is a roasted oolong from Bird Pick called “Royal High Mountain Decaf”. With each of these, the flavor is magnitudes better than a bagged tea and while they aren’t my favorites, they are good teas in their own right. That said, I’d love a decaffeinated Shui Xian or ripe pu-erh.

    • Thanks for the comment Michael.

      One small note, I’d personally be a bit skeptical of any teas advertising as decaffeinated.

  7. Thank you for this article. I’m really coming to terms with my tea consumption and think I will ruminate on Bob’s comment and try a bit of time off. It’s a good discussion which is still relevant as more and more people get into drinking stronger teas. Especially as vendors, obviously, don’t really touch on the subject.

    • Thanks for the comment Gemma. I just re-read unkle bob’s post again. The amount he drinks is actually extremely close to my own consumption now too.

      Very easy to get over-excited when first getting into tea, but I’ve found that I have a much better idea now of what is good amount to drink.


  8. I think it should be mentioned and I strongly urge everyone to consider that how a tea is grown greatly affects it’s medicinal qualities. Also, how caffeine behaves in ones body is also affected by how a tea is grown. Also, caffeine does not exist in tea as individual isolated molecules, it is bonded to other plant nutrients or exists as what you could think of as the ingredients to make caffeine. (This stuff is way over my head by the way and not trying to come off as having all the answers but suggesting we consider that the idea of “caffeine” is relative).

    But yeah, there’s a big difference in the way a tea affects your body if it is grown industrially with agrochemicals vs “certified organic” vs if it grows wild or feral out in nature. I’m not the first and definitely not the brightest or most learned tea head to suggest this. It’s unusual that one would get jitters or have sleep issues from drinking real quality tea. If drinking tea is giving you the jitters or affecting your sleep then I would consider buying tea that hasn’t had it’s medicinal qualities ruined by human intervention. Because real tea is just fine and dandy doing it’s own thing. It’s the way people farm it that’s the problem.

    I also want to say that this plant is a medicine and what it has to offer you and your health and well being goes way way beyond what you can expect if you treat it as a pastime.

    • Hi Thed,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I’m going to have to push back against some of this. I don’t disagree that the quality of the tea and even farming practices can have some impact on how it may hit your body. But…. I think the idea that people only get jittery or have sleep issues because they’re not drinking real or high-enough quality tea is not well-supported.

      Tea the plant has caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and impacts sleep. These are well-documented.

      You say that tea plant is medicine, but guzzling down a bottle of medicine isn’t what any reasonable person would recommend. Taking the right dosage is an extremely important concept! The dose makes the poison.


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