The Surprising Ways Tea Can Make You a Better Writer

Filed in The Healthy Writer by on May 5, 2015 • views: 3529

Tea Cups 2The great C.S. Lewis was quoted as saying: “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

Turns out he wasn’t the only writer who loved tea. Simone de Beavoir couldn’t start the day without a cup of tea. The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant got up at 5:00 every morning and spent the next hour drinking tea and meditating. Stephen King told Rolling Stone that his wife and kids drink coffee, “But I don’t. I like tea.”

You’d be hard pressed to find a scene in any Jane Austen book that doesn’t include tea. Jane’s letters to her sister, Cassandra, confirmed that she, too, was a tea lover:

“I am sorry to hear that there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining till later in the day, when we may order a fresh supply.”
Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra, 6 March 1814

Friedrich Nietzsche worked like a madman, and used tea for fuel. According to his biography by Curtis Cate:

“Returning ‘home’ between four and five o’clock, he would immediately get back to work, sustaining himself on biscuits, peasant bread, honey (sent from Naumburg), fruit and pots of tea he brewed for himself in the little upstairs ‘dining-room’ next to his bedroom, until, worn out, he snuffed out the candle and went to bed around 11 p.m.”

Addicted to Tea

My mom’s side of the family is Irish, from way back.

You can tell, because there isn’t a day that goes by that my parents don’t sit down for a cup of tea, at least five times.

They’re definitely addicted to the stuff.

Tea Service RoseWhen I was growing up, tea either accompanied or followed just about every activity we did. After work or school, one sat down for a cup of tea.

On the weekends, a cup of tea followed morning chores, once all the animals were fed. Tea came after dinner, during the evening television show, and before bed. The stream of teacups went in and out of the dishwasher near continuously.

Anytime someone came over for a visit, we sat down for tea. When we traveled back to see my grandmother in New York, the first thing we did—even though we had spent nearly 48 hours in the car driving straight through from Colorado—was to sit down and have a cup of tea.

It didn’t matter what time of day or night we arrived. Us kids sipped the cups our grandma had brewed for us with our eyes half closed, but we sat, and we had tea.

My grandma's favorite teapot with her watch on the handle.

My grandma’s favorite teapot with her watch on the handle.

When I go home now to visit, the first thing we do, no matter when I get there, is gather around the kitchen table for tea. It’s amazing to me that many of the cups I grew up with are still in the cupboards, waiting for the next serving. (They’re hearty things!)

I used to wonder how my parents and other relatives could stand so much tea, but I’ve come to cherish the way it brings my family together, and how even when I’m not with them, I can sit down and have a cup of tea and feel the connection between us.

I’ve also discovered, through my nearly two decades as a health writer, that it’s hard to find a beverage that’s much better for you than tea.

Every time you have a cup of black, green, or white tea, you’re getting a good serving of protective antioxidants that have shown in a number of studies to help prevent heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Herbal teas have other health benefits, including easing digestion, soothing nausea, boosting the immune system, and supporting liver function.

Tea can also take the place of a snack while you’re working, and may even help you keep the extra pounds off in the process.

Black tea 2

A Tea for a Writer’s Every Mood

If you’re a writer, why not follow in the masters’ footsteps, and discover the magic of tea? Even if you’re not a writer—or you’re already a tea lover—you may be missing out on some of the benefits this versatile beverage has in store for you.

Turns out that for just about every occasion in a writer’s life, there’s a tea that fits right in—in many cases, a tea that makes everything feel just a little bit better.

  1. I Just Got Another Rejection: You definitely need something to chase away the blues. Try saffron tea. It was used even in traditional times to boost mood, and modern science has supported its effectiveness. A 2004 study, for example, found that saffron tea lifted mood just as well as antidepressants (without the side effects).
  2. I Have Brain Fog/Can’t Create: It’s morning and you have 30 minutes to work on your masterpiece, but your brain isn’t cooperating. It’s time for a cup of stimulating, brain-clearing tea. I love yerba mate tea for this purpose. It’s got some caffeine that wakes me up, plus I just enjoy the taste. Turns out I’m not the only one—author Tim Ferris (The Four Hour Workweek) credits yerba mate with giving him the focus he needed to write his book. Even Charles Darwin called it the “perfect stimulant.” If you don’t want the caffeine, you can try rosemary. A 2012 study found that it helped participants perform better on speed and accuracy tests—you’ll be typing like a mad person!
  3. I Can’t Sleep: Sleep is super important for a writer. We have so many things we have to keep up with—the writing, the marketing, the social media—that we can’t afford to be sleepwalking through our days. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, try passionflower tea. A 2011 study found that participants who drank a cup before bed reported significantly improved sleep quality. There’s also quite a bit of evidence that valerian tea helps people fall asleep faster and report more restful sleep periods. Lavender is another good one to try.
  4. Morning TeaI Need to Wake Up: Many writers choose coffee to wake up, but there are some teas that will do the job just as well, or even better. Yerba mate, as mentioned above, is great for jumpstarting your brain. If you just need to get going, good old black tea may be the best choice. A 2011 study found that black tea enhanced alertness and also helped participants to enjoy improved visual and auditory attention. Many people also swear by lemon tea first thing in the morning not only to wake up, but to start the day with a sunny mood.
  5. Before a Book Signing and I’m Nervous: It’s time for some chamomile tea. What you want here is calm, and this tea delivers. In a 2009 study, researchers gave participants with generalized anxiety disorder chamomile tea or placebo for eight weeks. Those drinking the tea showed significant improvements in anxiety and well being. Animal studies have also shown that chamomile may relieve anxiety.
  6. I Have a Lot to Accomplish Today: For all day alertness and attention, you can’t get much better than good old green tea. It has a little bit of caffeine to keep you going without so much you get the jitters, so you can enjoy several cups throughout the day without worrying about overdoing it. The tea is easy on your digestive system, so you’re unlikely to suffer any stomach upset. It also has an amino acid called “L-theanine” that works in the brain to help improve focus. A recent 2014 study found that green tea enhances cognitive function, particularly working memory.
  7. I’ve Got a Cold and I Have to Work: A cold, sore throat, or even a stuffy nose from allergies can make it difficult to work. It’s time to pull out the peppermint tea. It is a natural source of menthol, which helps break up congestion so you can breathe a little better. It’s likely to make you more comfortable while writing or typing. We have some evidence that peppermint also helps ease the respiratory symptoms of allergies.Teapot White
  8. I Have the Munchies but I’m On a Diet: Some teas seem to have the ability to suppress the appetite. Fennel is one of them. I just tried my first cup of fennel tea the other night and I was pleasantly surprised at how satisfying and tasty it was. Ancient populations used it as an appetite suppressant during fasting days. A 2006 study found that participants who inhaled fennel seed essential oil consumed fewer calories than those who didn’t. We need more studies to confirm this action, but it may be worth a try. Licorice root is also said to be good for calming cravings because of its sweet taste.
  9. I’m Have a Q&A and I Have to Be On Top of It! Try a cup of sage tea before you start answering questions. Sage has a long reputation of helping to improve memory and attention. A 2008 study found that the herb helped volunteers perform significantly better on memory and attention tests. An earlier 2003 study found similar results, so drink up and let your rapid-fire brain impress them!
  10. I Got the Contract—Time to Celebrate! Okay, it’s time to indulge in your favorites. One of mine is Chocolate Pu-erh, a black tea that has a little cocoa powder in it. It feels like a treat every time I brew a cup. But you can choose any tea that feels indulgent to you. Dandelion root is another of my favorites—it has a sweet and hearty taste that feels like dessert. Other celebratory teas may include vanilla, orange, spice, or anything else that suits your fancy.

Keep in mind that I’ve only skimmed the surface, here. Many of these teas have other benefits in addition to the ones mentioned, and there are other teas that you could probably add to this list. (If you know of some, please add them to the comments below.)

The fun part is experimenting—finding which flavors you enjoy the most that also work for your various moods and needs.

Happy sipping!

Do you find tea helps you create, or soothes your mood on a bad day? Please share your thoughts.


Sources
Chris Robley, “The opposite writing habits of famous authors,” BookBaby.com, February 11, 2015, http://blog.bookbaby.com/2015/02/opposite-writing-habits-famous-authors/.

“Immanuel Kant,” Philosophers.UK, http://www.philosophers.co.uk/immanuel-kant.html.

Andy Greene, “Stephen King: The Rolling Stone Interview,” Rolling Stone, October 31, 2014, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/stephen-king-the-rolling-stone-interview-20141031.

“Jane Austen and the Drinking of Tea,” Jane Austen Gift Shop, http://www.janeaustengiftshop.co.uk/blogs/articles/11458693-jane-austen-and-the-drinking-of-tea.

Akhondzadeh S, et al., “Comparison of Crocus sativus L. and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a pilot double-blind randomized trial [ISRCTN45683816],” BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004 Sep 2;4:12, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15341662.

Scholey AB, et al., “An extract of Salvia (sage) with anticholinesterase properties improves memory and attention in healthy older volunteers,” Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2008 May;198(1):127-39, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18350281.

N.T.J Tildesley, et al., “Salvia lavandulaefolia (Spanish Sage) enhances memory in healthy young volunteers,” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, Volume 75, Issue 3, June 2003, Pages 669–674, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091305703001229.

Amsterdam JD, et al., “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral Matricaria recutita (chamomile) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder,” J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2009 Aug;29(4):378-82, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19593179.

Ngan A, Conduit R., “A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep quality,” Phytother Res. 2011 Aug;25(8):1153-9, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21294203.

“German chamomile,” University of Maryland Medical Center, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/german-chamomile.

Amanda L. Chan, “Rosemary Brain Benefit: Study Shows Link Between Herb Chemical And Brainpower,” Huffington Post, February 27, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/rosemary-brain-memory-18-cineole_n_1304250.html.

Adam Sinicki, “Yerba Mate for Focus and Creativity—My Review,” The Bioneer, July 21, 2014, http://www.thebioneer.com/yerba-mate-focus-creativity-review/.

De Bruin EA, et al., “Black tea improves attention and self-reported alertness,” Appetite. 2011 Apr;56(2):235-40, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21172396.

André Schmidt, et al., “Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing,” Psychopharmacology, October 2014, Volume 231, Issue 19, pp 3879-3888, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00213-014-3526-1.

Hur MH, et al., “[The effects of inhalation of essential oils on the body weight, food efficiency rate and serum leptin of growing SD rats],” Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2006 Apr;36(2):236-43, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16691041.

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Comments (28)

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  1. Bobbyanne says:

    As a British girl nothing you said in the top part seemed remotely unusual to me – tea is life in Britain! :)
    However you missed one very important tea from your list –
    11. It’s Winter and I need some comforting Christmassy tea – CHAI!! I love Chai, not the horrible, overly sweetened powdered stuff, but tea bags – Tesco finest is our favourite, the Twinings is ok too, if a little weak. I like to make it with all milk in the microwave as a chai latte. Delicious. :) Great post, I’m happy to read anything about tea!
    Bobbyanne
    xxxx
    PromisingBeauty.blogspot

  2. I’m more of a coffee drinker personally, but I do enjoy the odd cup of tea. The only one on here that you haven’t already talked about is echinacea. I usually add echinacea tea of soups to help build up immune systems. (I add tofu, too, and nobody ever knows.)

  3. Alonna Shaw says:

    Hi, Colleen. I just saw a tweet about your tea post. I thought we both had written an October post on tea! I hadn’t considered Chamomile when nervous–gotta try that. (strangely, i think that was our only real overlap. ) I generally call on that favorite in the evening.

  4. Anne Ardina says:

    Thank you for your very helpful article! I told my brother about Saffron, and might try it (and others) as well.
    I used to be an exclusive tea drinker, until I went to Vietnam and fell in love with their coffee. But I do grow my own herbs, which I use regularly for tea. Tarragon tea helps with my insomnia (a great diuretic, too!) and is said to be a good antioxidant and source of minerals. Lemongrass alleviates pain when I have a kidney stone. (I hope it flushes it out as well.) – A Filipina tea lover (most Filipinos prefer coffee…thus, the Starbucks rage in our country)

  5. June says:

    Thank you for a great article on my favorite beverage! I first fell in love with drinking tea when I traveled to England for the birth of my granddaughter. Waiting in the English hospital, a volunteer set up for tea. We went through the line and after settling in for a long wait for my sweet granddaughter, I took my first sip of English Breakfast Tea and fell in love. I’ve been an avid tea drinker ever since. I have to admit though, no Cuppa has tasted quite as wonderful as that first right before little Jessica was born 23 years ago.

  6. Gina Scott Roberts says:

    Growing up in the South, with older parents who grew up in Alabama during the 20’s and 30’s, tea was a staple at every meal. And when I got married, I kept a pitcher of tea in the fridge 24-7–nothing fancy, just good ole Lipton sweetened.

    THEN my husband found Earl Grey thanks to Jean Luc Picard on ST: TNG and poor ole Lipton just fell by the wayside. I have since experimented with many herbal teas, finding ginseng delicious and great for headaches.

    The lady whose Indian schoolmate’s mother introduced her to chai tea reminded me how I shocked my Indian boss when he saw me add milk to a cup of tea like my mother did. Seems I was the first American he’d ever seen do that.

  7. Yerba mate for the win! Another benefit is that it helps you stay up late at night, without the jitters you get from coffee. (That’s how I made it through university.)

  8. jan says:

    Lots of great info on teas! I drink tea all day long – Pomegranate Pizzazz to wake up my stomach, Earl Grey to wake up my brain and Sweet Dreams (chamomile and mint) to sleep. I’m going to try the yerba mate and fennel. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Colleen says:

      Oooo! Pomegranate Pizzazz! That sounds yummy. Have to try that one. Thanks, Jan!

  9. Mmmm…you’ve given me a distinct craving. I’ll have to go make some tea now–although I prefer Celestial Seasonings’ Vanilla Sleepytime :). Great post!

  10. Mary Moore says:

    “Which flavor helps you focus?” For me, the answer is coffee! But thanks for a fun and informative article.

    • Colleen says:

      Ha ha. That works for me too, but have to say yerba mate feels a little better on the tummy with the same increase in focus. So many options—thanks for sharing, Mary!

  11. Chere Hagopian says:

    I have a weakness for chai tea. One of my best friends in high school was from India, and her mom made (and still makes) the BEST chai, from whole sticks of cinnamon and cardamom pods (or whatever the technical term is). I also love English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast when I need a kick in the pants to start my day. My husband could live on nothing but Earl Grey. Tea is so much fun! I like white tea at night, and sometimes mix it with fruity herbal tea or dried fruit for extra flavor. I used to be a coffee drinker, but my husband introduced me to the joys of tea when we were dating. Now coffee gives me the jitters.

    • Colleen says:

      Wow, you had the real stuff! I like all the flavors you mentioned, too, but haven’t found a chai I like. Will have to keep looking.
      Thanks, Chere!

  12. I’m raising a cup of ginger flavored green tea in your honor, Colleen! That was an inspiring post.

  13. My husband and I went to a 60th birthday party once and the venue was so cold we drank cups of tea instead of alcohol (well not the whole night) but we laughed so much at ourselves. It warmed us up until the dancing started!!

    • Colleen says:

      I’ve had evenings like that, Gloria! I’m remembering some particularly cold/breezy firework celebrations. Tea definitely does help keep you warm. Thanks for stopping by. :O)

  14. All those special teas sound lovely, but it’s hard to beat good old English Breakfast. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

  15. Kate says:

    My mother-in-law is from England and she’s like your parents – at least 5 cups of tea a day. She likes her black tea strong enough to hold up a spoon in the cup. And it’s always tea time when I arrive. It does add a nice touch to every visit, doesn’t it?

    • Colleen says:

      Ha ha. I remember my grandma really working the tea bag with her spoon, around and against the edge of the cup to squeeze it out, around and squeeze, many times before she finally took it out. Brings back fond memories now. :O) Thanks, Kate!