Food Science

Can Tea Make You More Creative? Science Says Yes

January 18, 2018

I’m no stranger to the myriad of benefits that stem from drinking tea regularly. A steaming cup jolts me to life in the morning, or soothes me before bed; I use it to quell a harsh and hacking cough or warm me up after a particularly brusque winter day. But it seems there’s a new reason to drink tea—and it could be a game changer. A new study coming out of China contends that tea can actually boost creativity, and that a cup could be the long-awaited remedy for the dreaded brain sludge or writer’s block.

Researchers at Peking University's School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences conducted tests on a sample size of 50 students who averaged around 23 in age. The participants were divided into two groups: one was given a cup of black tea to drink, the other a glass of water. After sipping, the groups underwent two tests. In the first test, they were tasked with designing an “attractive and creative” shape out of building blocks, while, in the second, they had to develop a “cool” name for a new noodle restaurant. They were then scored by non-participating students for creativity and design. The tests were designed to measure the student’s ability to come up with new ideas around a central topic, to think in novel and different ways.

The criteria "attractive," "creative," and "cool" seem hazy to me, but apparently the tea drinkers were able hit the nail on the head. In both tests they outscored the group who had been drinking water. But what is it about tea that caused this advantage? The obvious answer is that black tea contains caffeine and theanine, compounds that increase cognition and improve general brain function. The research team, however, wants to shift the focus away from the expected. Caffeine and theanine take time to affect the consumer, plus the small cups of tea don't contain enough of either to have had much of an effect. Instead, the research team points to another property of tea that could be at work here: its ability to set a mood. The tea drinking students, they claim, were in a positive mood from the experience of sipping.

According to the report: “This work contributes to understanding the function of tea on creativity and offers a new way to investigate the relationship between food and beverage consumption and the improvement of human cognition.”

The pool of people tested—just 50—feels remarkably low. I’d be curious to see how these findings hold up if more people underwent the experiment. But I do see the whole link between a warm cup and one’s mood. There’s definitely a connection between a nice green tea and my general wellbeing, but could tea really make me write better? Not sure. I guess I’ll have to give it a shot.

What are your favorite teas to drink to unwind? Tell us in the comments.

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.