This is a picture of how The Café Jerk describes a café filled with tea people ...

We commonly associate tea with calm and quiet, taking a break and connecting with others.

But a question that is very frequently asked when talking tea these days is ‘what about caffeine?’.

What about caffeine?

There are a lot myths floating around about tea and caffeine. But it is the case that all tea (that is, tea from the camellia sinensis plant, as opposed to the family of ‘herbal teas’ or tisanes) contains caffeine. It’s what helps the plant grow (and is a natural pesticide).

So how has tea got its ‘Zen’ reputation when it contains something we associate with jitters, something that induces wakefulness and something we have been taught to avoid?

First of all, to briefly address some common confusion about tea and caffeine:

A cup of tea will contain less caffeine than a cup of coffee.
In its dry form, tea may contain more caffeine than coffee, however when turned into a beverage, less leaf is used to make a cup of tea than bean is used to make a cup of coffee. A cup of tea is likely to contain about a third of what is found in a cup of coffee.

A variety of factors determine caffeine content – whether it is black, green, oolong or other is not an indicator in itself.
It depends instead on what variety of tea plant, which leaves (eg. bud or lower leaves) have been plucked, the season, and also the processing.

For a good scientific discussion on this see

But tea has a secret weapon …

Tea contains L-Theanine – an amino acid rarely occurring elsewhere in nature. It increases alpha brain wave activity, which promotes relaxation, and moderates the effect of the caffeine on our system.

In fact, L-Theanine, in concert with caffeine helps us maintain a mindful state of relaxation over a period of time.

According to a recent study, tea ‘taken throughout the day can significantly benefit speed of perception and more consistent levels of simple task performance. L-theanine appears to antagonize the stimulatory effects of caffeine by decreasing seratonin levels that have been artifically elevated by caffeine’. (1)

Buddhism and Tea

It’s no surprise then that monks and nuns have drunk tea over the millennia in China and Japan, and other parts of Asia, to help them maintain a state of mindful alertness for long periods of meditation.

There is a legend in China that the Bodhidharma who brought Buddhism to China meditated for nine years, staring at the wall of the temple. One day he felt too exhausted to keep his eyes open, and fell asleep. When he woke, to ensure this could not happen again, he cut off his eyelids and discarded them on the ground. To his surprise, a tea plant grew where the eyelids had fallen. From that time forward, whenever his disciples felt tired, they would pluck leaves from the tea plant to make the beverage that would revitalise them, and sustain them in their meditation.

Tea became an integral part of daily monastic life, with dedicated tea rooms, and many rituals associated with the preparation and consumption of tea. Most monasteries and temples tended tea gardens on their grounds.

Buddhism first came to China from India, before making its way to Japan. Zen is the school of Buddhism that became popular in Japan, where tea and tea ceremony were also central.

The tea ceremony is based on the principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity.

The tea experience brings us into harmony, which cultivates respect for each other and for nature, it purifies our minds and bodies, and induces peacefulness.

(1) Bryan, Janet. “Psychological Effects of Dietary Components of Tea: Caffeine and L-theanine.” Nutrition Reviews 66.2 (2008): 82-90.

Thank you to

  • Buddhism in Every Step (Buddhism and the Tea Ceremony,
  • Tony Gebely (
  • May King Tsang (