August 2000 Issue
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How 'Bout a Nice Cuppa' Pill?

by Ric Rhinehart


The last few years have been chock full of news regarding tea and health. A variety of studies point towards a broad range of potential health benefits associated with the regular consumption of tea. Tea producers and marketers have gleefully begun to exploit the news to promote tea drinking as a healthy habit, and have looked forward to a great upswing in sales. And to some degree, their dreams have come true; at least green tea sales have been surging. But a strange thing happened on the way to the bank.

You or I might react to this good news by putting on the kettle and preparing a nice pot of tea, and then sitting back and enjoying a cup while patting ourselves on the back for being such bright and healthy individuals. I know I did. Alas, it looks as though I was one of just a few. The majority of those responding to the headlines went to the store not to pick up a nice green tea, but a nice PILL compounded from naturally extracted green tea catechins, and boosted with organic ginseng powder and echinacea. Take two pills a day, and not only will you live forever, but you'll keep your own teeth for the whole time.

Our convenience based society makes incorporating a healthy pastime into our lives seem crazy, but has us racing out for the latest pill shaped panacea. And it's not enough to get medicinal benefits from three to four cups of green tea per day. Far better to get a standardized dose at 20, 30, or 40 times the potency of a single cup! Combined with my garlic and red wine supplements, not only will I be a healthy centenarian someday, but with any luck at all I'll never have to taste anything like wine, food, or tea again.

All kidding aside, let me say that I am in favor of any kind of research that might lead to advances in the battle against cancer, heart disease or any of the killer diseases that plague us. And frankly, if green tea pills can help to win these battles, lets crank up the pill factories and get them out to everyone. But for me, and I imagine many other tea drinkers, there is much more to the experience of tea than any potential health benefits produced by tea's unique chemistry.

Let me throw out a few thoughts for you to consider. First and foremost. regardless of the chemistry involved, I believe that regular consumption of tea promotes good health because it requires taking a break. The ritual of making and enjoying tea demands that some time be taken away from the pressing concerns of life. This five-minute reduction in stress alone is good for you. Secondly, although catechins have been identified as potent warriors in the battle for good health, who knows what other components also promote well being. Why discard the majority of tea's composition in favor of just one component? And finally. how do you savor the exquisite flavor of a tea pill? Tea has been enjoyed for centuries for its beautiful aroma, flavor and taste. I know that I like to taste things, that I like to have the foods and beverages I consume connect me in some fashion with the land and people that produced them, and relish the opportunity to appreciate things that are prepared well. Somehow, a pill falls short.