Theanine in Tea


Completely off the Topic of Tea

Theanine in Tea

Postby Salsero » Sep 12th, '09, 13:27

This article about Theanine (L-theanine) from the distinguished British vendor Nothing But Tea seemed important enough to quote in its entirety. I can't find the article on their website. It came to me in their periodic email newsletter.

Theanine in Tea

In our recent article on Caffeine in tea we noted the British Prime Minister William Gladstone's well known verse description of the effects of tea drinking - in summary: warming, cooling, cheering and calming.

These welcome but antagonistic effects are provided by two physiologically active components of tea - caffeine and theanine. Most tea drinkers are familiar with the stimulating effects of caffeine but tea's unique mind enhancing amino acid theanine, discovered as recently as 1949, has important and balancing effects of its own. Yet, tea's ability to refresh body and mind had been recognised for millennia; long before biochemists discovered theanine. Chinese poet Lu Tung Pin described tea's effects thus:

"The first bowl sleekly moistened throat and lips,
The second banished all my loneliness
The third expelled the dullness from my mind, Sharpening inspiration gained from all the books I've read
The fourth brought forth light perspiration, Dispersing a lifetime's troubles through my pores"

Lu Tung Pin, On Drinking Tea (around 780 AD)

We had to wait until the 19th Century to attribute the fourth cup's effect to its caffeine component, and again until the 21st Century to understand that the very welcome effects of drinking the third cup are due to its theanine content.

So what is theanine?
Amino acids are the water soluble building blocks that form insoluble proteins in plants and animals. Nearly half of a tea plant's amino acids is theanine (or more correctly L- theanine, and not to be confused with tannin which is completely different). Theanine is produced by the roots and transported to the young growing leaves where, with sunlight, it converts to the antioxidant catechins that tea is justly famous for.

But theanine is not just a chemical building block in the plant - for the tea drinker it has some very important effects to offer.

    * Theanine stimulates brain alpha wave activity - the alpha state is one of relaxation without drowsiness. In this state of concentration is enhanced and focused thought learning and remembering are improved, and worry is reduced
    * Theanine increases production of a chemical in the brain called GABA (actually Gamma- Amino Butyric Acid). This also relaxes your mental state and creates a sense of well being while reducing anxiety. Note that coffee actually decreases GABA!
    * Theanine also increases dopamine levels in the brain, another natural mood enhancing compound often associated with the pleasure system of the brain, providing feelings of enjoyment and motivation.
    * Theanine can improve your immune system according to some research - for example Bukowski et al, Proc Nat Acad Sci, April 2006 - showing that the body can break down theanine into alkylamine antigens that produce infection fighting antibodies.
    * Theanine also helps improve the taste of your tea - it has a sweetish flavour that off sets the astringency of some teas.
Right, if theanine is so good why haven't we heard of it before?

Well, the big packers are just realising what a wonderful set of natural benefits they have in tea but are still working on promotion of the health benefits of antioxidants and want to keep their marketing message simple. But Lipton for one has run test advertising campaigns on L-theanine.

In Australia they have promoted tea drinking at work with theanine as the antidote to profit reducing "fuzzy thinking" (based on research at Oxford University) and on their website picture an amazing brain cross section showing the alpha wave activity from 45 minutes to 105 minutes after drinking 50 mg of theanine (the amount in an average cup of tea). For this insight click here: and move the slider below the picture.

Returning to the tea bush, we find that the highest level of theanine is concentrated in the youngest tender buds and leaves - and this of course is the fresh material plucked exclusively for making specialty teas - and whether they are processed into green, white, oolong or black tea, all teas from these tender tips contain high levels of theanine.

Older leaf, from further down the stem, contains less theanine and tends to be harvested for tea bag teas.

Theanine content in teas also varies by country:
Japan average 0.86% theanine
North India average 0.91% theanine
Argentina average 1.41% theanine
South India average 1.48% theanine
Malawi average 2.10% theanine

Note the very high theanine levels present in Malawi teas and it is from these very same bushes that Nothing But Tea is pioneering the production of our range of hand made African White Teas. In fact two of the cultivars we currently use for Malawi White Tea production weigh in at 2.2% theanine (Chilwa) and 3.1% theanine (Salima) - way above the norm for the rest of the world's teas. If you are seeking the benefits of theanine these teas possibly give the highest levels in the world.

Chilwa Needles WM05
Salima Needles WM04

And for high theanine plus unique flavour don't forget the, never seen before, heavenly Antlers d'Amour WM07
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby geeber1 » Sep 12th, '09, 14:56

Thanks, Salsero, that's an interesting article. I noticed that they didn't list the theanine amount in Chinese tea, do you know why?
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby Salsero » Sep 12th, '09, 15:05

geeber1 wrote:I noticed that they didn't list the theanine amount in Chinese tea, do you know why?
No, sorry. Maybe there are just too many different kinds of tea from China? The whole idea of listing theanine content by country rather than by type of tea (like Japanese Sencha vs Japanese Matcha) seems wrong.
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby JillDragon » Sep 12th, '09, 15:45

Salsero wrote:
geeber1 wrote:I noticed that they didn't list the theanine amount in Chinese tea, do you know why?
No, sorry. Maybe there are just too many different kinds of tea from China? The whole idea of listing theanine content by country rather than by type of tea (like Japanese Sencha vs Japanese Matcha) seems wrong.


*chuckles* Well obviously they want to make it seem like their teas are the best ones out there so they list the theanine levels in a way so that their's look that much better in comparison.
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby woozl » Sep 12th, '09, 15:50

The type of tea would make more sense than origin.
Taiping Huokui is a chinese green high in theanine.
I believe shade grown Japanese teas are also high theanine.
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby geeber1 » Sep 12th, '09, 20:28

JillDragon wrote:
Salsero wrote:
geeber1 wrote:I noticed that they didn't list the theanine amount in Chinese tea, do you know why?
No, sorry. Maybe there are just too many different kinds of tea from China? The whole idea of listing theanine content by country rather than by type of tea (like Japanese Sencha vs Japanese Matcha) seems wrong.


*chuckles* Well obviously they want to make it seem like their teas are the best ones out there so they list the theanine levels in a way so that their's look that much better in comparison.


That's what I was thinking, too!
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby TomVerlain » Sep 12th, '09, 21:15

interesting stuff -

It would be fun if we could simply check our favorite teas for theanine content. For tea with multiple infusions, when do you extract the maximum amount ? Since bag tea is not really used for more than one infusion, does the CTC process free it all up quickly ? Lu Tung Pin seems to get more than one cup from his tea bag.

Since I am a fan of pu'erh, I wonder what the effects of Wu Dui are on theanine ? Or if Camellia sinensis var. assamica is rich in it, or there is something else that gives a similar feeling.

I will have to look up the Bukowski reference - I must have missed it in my reading of his other works 8)
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby JillDragon » Sep 13th, '09, 02:15

geeber1 wrote:
JillDragon wrote:
*chuckles* Well obviously they want to make it seem like their teas are the best ones out there so they list the theanine levels in a way so that their's look that much better in comparison.


That's what I was thinking, too!


That's marketing for you, I guess. ;)
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby teacraft » Sep 14th, '09, 06:26

A word from the author - Nigel Melican of Teacraft.

Oh, you suspicious lot! The reason I put in no Chinese tea data is that I do not have any. However, as African version of assamica is typically richer in theanine than sinensis I would expect China teas to be close to Japans. True that shading increases Japan tea's theanine - approx 10% according to T.Takeo, but cultivar has more significant effect. Izumi is highest, with the predominant Yabukita second. Benihomare has only half of Yabukita theanine. Even so, the highest theanine level in the data of Anan & Nakagawa (for shaded tea harvested 1st week of May) is still less than Malawi cultivar Salima.

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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby silverneedles » Sep 14th, '09, 07:32

Nigel ! Nice to see you here

is there data on how a "normal" infusion (3g in 6oz for 3 min or thereabouts) would have what levels of theanine in resulting tea liquor?
(i'm thinking most of the data is likely gathered by HPLC of ground up tea boiled for 5 min)
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby Salsero » Sep 14th, '09, 09:07

Nigel, it is a thrill to see you post here!
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby Chip » Sep 14th, '09, 09:15

teacraft wrote:A word from the author - Nigel Melican of Teacraft.

Oh, you suspicious lot! The reason I put in no Chinese tea data is that I do not have any. However, as African version of assamica is typically richer in theanine than sinensis I would expect China teas to be close to Japans. True that shading increases Japan tea's theanine - approx 10% according to T.Takeo, but cultivar has more significant effect. Izumi is highest, with the predominant Yabukita second. Benihomare has only half of Yabukita theanine. Even so, the highest theanine level in the data of Anan & Nakagawa (for shaded tea harvested 1st week of May) is still less than Malawi cultivar Salima.

Nigel at Teacraft

Welcome to TeaChat, Nigel.

Can you please quote sources with links for this information mentioned in the article so we can examine it as well? Also for the information in your post. Thank you. Any information on actual extraction during brewing of these same teas?

So, should I give up my beloved Sencha from Japan? And buy only from Nothing But Tea which seems to be the beneficiary of the article?

"Suspicious lot," well most certainly leery of rampant marketing hype on the health benefits to weight loss of tea by many seemingly unscrupulous vendors and manufacturers. We would be fools to not question spoon fed info from marketing gurus.

I for one truly believe tea is very healthful, but unsubstantiated numbers as those in the article only add fuel to the flames of suspicion. Can you blame those who are exposed to it the most, such as members of a tea forum?
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby depravitea » Sep 14th, '09, 10:39

TomVerlain wrote:interesting stuff -
Since I am a fan of pu'erh, I wonder what the effects of Wu Dui are on theanine ?


I was wondering this too.
Does the aging process decrease the amount of theanine in tea over time? Does the aging of tea have any effect at all on theanine?

Really interesting read though, thanks for posting it Sal.
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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby teacraft » Sep 15th, '09, 07:28

Chip - I did not post the article to TeaChat - I discovered it here. It was written for an entirely different audience - the customer database of Nothing But Tea who in the main do not seek citations for quoted data nor would thank me for their inclusion - it was a selling piece plain and simple directed to an audience who trust the company to provide truthful marketing.

I would certainly not endeavor to expose members of a tea forum to rampant marketing hype or unsubstantiated numbers - those who know my postings on other fora can vouch for this. Having said that I will in another post rectify the lack of attribution - as a scientist and not as a "marketing guru"

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Re: Theanine in Tea

Postby Chip » Sep 15th, '09, 12:20

Nigel, I am quite aware that the poster was Sal, although you do mention some claims in your post as well.

I meant no offense by my post, nor was anything personally directed at you. You kind of set a tone by the "suspicious lot" comment which I felt required a measure of defense of my fellow TeaChatters.

The fact however does remain that this industry is wrought with false or grossly exagerated marketing. Thus providing any available attribution regarding claims would be most helpful regardless of the original poster. This is our perspective. Thank you for offering to provide us with this useful information.

So, the original article was actually a selling piece for Nothing But Tea ...

Sorry. I just post it as I see it. Again, nothing personal.
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