chemical properties of tea

5 Chemical Properties of Tea

September 5, 2023 - Emily Newton

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Tea is deceptively simple — it’s just a bunch of leaves, a few spices, and an accouterment to dress it up, right? The chemical properties of tea are more complicated, as the ingredients interact with each other to provide a unique, delicious tea experience. Herbaceous floral scents happen with the help of naturally lush flowers, but chemical reactions and additions help them become even more potent, colorful, and healthful. 

Whether you’re a tea connoisseur or a curious beginner, these essential components make tea the delicious ritual many have come to know and love just as much as coffee.

1. Flavonoids and Tannins

Flavonoids are plant compounds that include another star in tea — tannins. They are part of a group of compounds called polyphenols, which tout numerous health benefits such as improved digestion and blood sugar regulation. They are known to be primarily beneficial for human health because of their antioxidant properties. The tannins create a somewhat bitter flavor in teas but also in other drinks like wine and coffee.

These are the most prominent flavonoids and tannins and how they assist in the chemical properties of tea to make it a healthful beverage:

  • Epigallocatechin gallate: Reducing inflammation
  • Theaflavins: Improve cellular health
  • Catechins: Higher protection against lipid peroxidation
  • Ellagitannin: Bolstering gut health

Tannins are a natural pest repellent, keeping the plants that produce them safe from insects. They have a natural ease in combining with other proteins and minerals to make even more nutritive compositions.

However, it might depend on the type of tea you drink and how it is prepared. Black blends have varying degrees of flavonoids compared to oolong, for example. Experts must participate in more research to prove the validity of these claims — research is too sparse and inconclusive to make strong determinations.

2. Carbohydrates

These are the sugar molecules in tea that give its potential sweetness. It all happens as a byproduct of photosynthesis. In tea, carbohydrates are essential for enzymatic reactions. It produces monosaccharides, such as fructose. These reactions create the polyphenols above that continue to develop a more enjoyable and layered flavor experience in a cup.

3. Amino Acids

These also create more polyphenols, except the result is a more umami-forward flavor instead of bitterness. Extra light and active photosynthesis produce sugars, but some tea plants are covered in more shade to encourage amino acids to flourish. People making tea don’t want as many polyphenols influencing the flavor or smell, mainly for teas like matcha. 

The most well-known and hard-working amino acid in tea is L-theanine. It’s becoming even more research in the mental health space, as some research explores how it induces calm and relieves anxiety by increasing alpha brain wave activity to manage stress.

4. Enzymes

Tea leaves brown when the cell walls in tea wear down, and the polyphenols brewing in these go through oxidation. The enzymes cause that to happen. It’s a side effect in numerous fruits and vegetables, like avocados. 

The most crucial enzymes for the chemical properties of tea are peroxidase and polyphenol oxidase, which catalyze particular reactions in tea when altered or extracted. They react uniquely when exposed to heat and denied moisture — they stay the same color. The process is vital to green and white tea production, where the leaves want to keep their signature colors.

5. Caffeine

Who would ignore caffeine when it comes to the chemical properties of tea? It varies so widely between brews because everything influences caffeine levels, from soil health to geographic areas. How long you steep a tea bag could also control caffeine density, though this isn’t always the case. It also varies if the tea is bottled or brewed, as manufactured, bottled tea may go through other steps that impact its caffeine content.

The stimulating properties of coffee hit in a short period and release in the body over a staggering 10 hours until it rids itself from your blood. Here is a general guide for how much a cup of brewed tea might contain:

  • Black tea, 47 mg
  • Green tea, 28 mg
  • Herbal tea, 0 mg
  • White tea varies from 10-50 mg
  • Oolong tea ranges from 50-70 mg

Additional Chemical Properties and Ingredients in Tea

Tea contains everything from pigments that give it unique color to volatiles that provide that traditional olfactory experience. However, they include almost 30 other vitamins and minerals in tea leaves. Some are more studied than others, but they can have:

  • Copper
  • Potassium
  • Manganese
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B6
  • Fluoride
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Folic acid

These help with necessary bodily functions like metabolic activity, bone health, tooth strength, and cell growth. The chemical properties of tea are some of the most researched in the beverage world for a reason, primarily because populations with high rates of longevity are cultures that consume a lot of tea.

For example, the Blue Zone regions of the world are known for having long-living populations. One place in particular, Okinawa, Japan, is a place where people drink tea daily. Not only is it one of the oldest regions on the planet, but they have lower risk for common conditions related to aging, such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress and anxiety

The common thread is a lot of green tea, among other variants. Some residents even believe it is healthier than drinking water because of the additional nutrients and impacts it has on the body.

How the Chemical Properties of Tea Influence Taste

Whether you’re a tea connoisseur or health enthusiast, these are the major facets of tea. Every compound and interaction between the ingredients in tea creates that comforting, discernable flavor everyone knows and loves. The chemical properties of tea are complex, and each day research explores the impacts it has on the body. 

Experts will continue experimenting with new blends and chemical compositions to maximize the flavor and benefits of this all-time favorite drink. With a bittersweet aftertaste and caffeine kick, it is ideal for health boons and personal enjoyment. Will you drink more now, knowing it might be a secret to a longer, healthier life?

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.

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