Hands straining tea at a cafe

Can tea keep you awake? These are the best times of day to drink black tea, Earl Grey and herbal blends, according to the experts

Posted by for Nutrition

We’re always talking about coffee these days, but what about the humble cup of tea? There are loads of different teas out there, and some are better at specific times of day, as writer Jess Bacon has been finding out. 

If you’re anything like us, then you’re probably partial to a good cup of tea. It might be a quick brew in-between morning calls or a slow sip of peppermint tea with a good book before bed.

For a lot of people, tea drinking is a daily ritual, and for some of us, drinking tea with a dash of milk (maybe even with a biscuit to dunk) is our main way of staying hydrated. But should we be monitoring how much we have? After all, your milky cup of breakfast tea contains caffeine, albeit at a slightly lower level than your average mug of joe. 

Despite that, however, you don’t hear so many people talking about curbing their tea intake after midday in favour of a good night’s sleep like many do with coffee. And yet, are our post-dinner cuppas keeping us up at night?

There are so many blends out there, all of which provide health benefits. Some refresh, while others are said to aid digestion, provide mental clarity or calm the body ready for slumber.

Choosing a tea blend can and should go beyond whether you’re a Yorkshire Tea or a PG Tips person (though we’re a fan of both). It’s about reaping the goodness that each black, green, white, yellow, fruit and herbal tea has to offer at every stage of the day.

What type of tea should we start the day with?

Nothing tastes quite as good as that first cup of black tea with a splash of milk in the morning, especially if you’re drinking it in bed.

It’s also the ideal way to kick-start the day, according to global tea expert and founder of the Cambridge Tea Consultancy Joyce Maina.

Maina tells Stylist that high quality black teas grown in east Africa will offer the best flavour and colour. She suggests that Ceylon for strength and Assam for a smooth round finish is the key to a great breakfast tea.

To give it an extra lift to shake that early lethargy, Maina suggests adding in a touch of ginger. She continues: “This tea wakes you up and energises you for a prolonged time and kick-starts the day much better than a coffee does.”  

What is the best tea to drink throughout the morning?

As the day progresses, your body needs different teas to complement the fluctuations in your energy levels. For your mid-morning break, it would be worth choosing a lighter blend of tea, such as a refreshing white or light black tea without milk.

Maina usually opts for a Darjeeling or floral white tea, explaining that “they are not only refreshing and keep me going for the rest of the morning, but it is also a little me-time treat; a little luxury, a little indulgence”.

The delicate blends will let you get your warming tea fix without the additional weight of the dairy (or your dairy alternative).   

Should we pair our lunch with a tea?

Wine isn’t the only beverage that can be paired with food. Lunch is another chance to choose a lighter blend of tea full of gentle tones that won’t detract from your food.

Maina suggests: “A green tea with your fish or noodle dishes leaves you feeling lighter and fresher – with fresh breath; it’s great for digestion as well. A mint tea infusion will do the same.”

These teas might not be to everyone’s tastes, but a spin on these classic blends such as jasmine green tea or a seasonal gingerbread green might be more to your liking.  

The best tea blend for an afternoon pick-me-up

Once 3pm hits, that lethargy can resurface and you find yourself counting down the minutes until the end of the working day. When this dip in energy occurs, it’s time to return to a black tea to boost your focus with a small caffeine hit to energise you for the rest of the afternoon.

Maina prefers an Earl Grey accompanied by a shortbread cookie to provide that afternoon lift.  

Which tea is best before bed?

They might be designed to help us relax, but choosing a bedtime tea can be slightly overwhelming. With so many blends available, it can be difficult to know which one will be most suitable.

Non-caffeinated bedtime blends centre around natural herbs such as mint, camomile, rooibos, passion flowers, lime leaves and lavender to help soothe our digestion and wind down in the evening.

There’s also the option of having a decaffeinated version of your favourite blend of black tea. Maina suggests that “decaffeinated teas with added aromatic ingredients like vanilla and nutmeg are great with or without milk”.

It’s worth trying out different herbal teas before bed to see which you prefer (some blends offer a distinctive, pungent, floral taste) and assess how they impact your sleep. It might also be a good idea to test how close to bed you want to have a tea; if you find yourself having to get up for a pee at 2am, move that last cup forward.  

Should you limit your black tea consumption?

Many avid tea drinkers worry about their caffeine intake as they pop to the kitchen to pour their fourth or fifth mug of the day.

However, it is worth remembering that one cup of tea only has around a third of the caffeine found in a cup of coffee. Therefore, tea is the perfect hot beverage for consuming throughout the day.

There is also a whole variety of tea to discover beyond your English breakfast and Earl Grey, there’s Assam, Lapsang Souchong, Ceylon, Darjeeling and Lady Grey. As well as unique blends such as Oolong or speciality floral or herbal teas.  

Maina recommends creating your own repertoire of teas – both caffeinated and decaffeinated. Once you’ve found what you enjoy, alternate throughout the day.

“That’s a great way to discover tastes, aromas, colours and benefits that the wonderful world of tea has to offer. Speciality teas in particular seek to make each tea drinking experience in your day not only enjoyable but also memorable.”

Ultimately, tea drinking can be a creative and enjoyable experience as you discover new blends that suit your digestion, skin, daily routine and sleep.   

Images: Getty

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