Can Tea Upset Your Stomach?
Recently I had a friend tell me that thought tea was upsetting her stomach. (We’ll call her Marie to protect the innocent.)
She told this to me like it was a dirty little secret. Maybe because she knew she was talking to a tea lover.
Marie said each time she drank tea she felt queasy afterwards. She gave up on drinking it.
Because I think there’s a tea for everyone, I wanted to know more.
I questioned her like a doctor attempting to diagnose the problem. I’ve dubbed it, “Tea Tummy.”
“What kind of teas have you tried?”
Black tea-bagged tea. (Bits of tea, not the larger leafs. It’s called CTC for the crush, tear, curl process it goes through to make it tiny bits.) And I’ve had tea made for me in a kettle too at a coffee shop.
“Was your tea astringent or bitter – did you pucker your mouth when you sipped it?”
“Did you drink it on an empty stomach?”
“How long did you brew your tea?”
I left the tea bag in as a drank it. Not sure how long the coffee shop brewed it.
“Did you put anything in it?”
She made some of the same snafus with black tea I’ve made over the years.
Tea isn’t a part of American culture the way coffee is (yet), so most of us don’t know what tea should taste like. I sure didn’t, back in the day.
What we do know is how tea makes us feel. Tea upsetting your stomach? It’s easy to say, “Bye-Bye,” if it is, and then never try it again.
Marie could try a few things to improve her tea experience.
What causes bitter tea in the first place?
Why can tea upset your stomach?
Specifically, it’s about tea chemistry.
Tea leaves contain complex compounds like caffeine, polyphenols, amino acids, minerals, etc. These compounds undergo changes when tea leaves are processed into the tea we drink changing them into green, white, black, oolong, etc.
Polyphenols (these include tannins and flavinols like the super healthy ECGC and catechins) are a big part of why a tea may taste bitter. They’re (healthy) plant metabolites that plants have evolved to defend themselves against predators like insects and other animals. Fortunately for us humans, tea plants have evolved to have lots of desirable compounds like caffeine and antioxidants. We just have to learn to brew our cups better.
If tea isn’t brewed right, the astringency and bitterness increases, and that doesn’t always play well with our stomachs. That’s what causes tea to upset your stomach.
4 Ways to Keep Tea from Upsetting your Stomach.
RULE #1: Don’t steep your tea longer than directed.
Marie told me she didn’t look at the steep time on her tea packets, and she didn’t know how long the barista brewed her tea.
Before I became a loose leaf tea fanatic, I brewed tea by plopping a tea bag in my cup, pouring hot water over it, then leaving it in as I sipped. It’s the low maintenance school of tea perfect for law students too busy to think about that sort of thing. I thought tea was supposed to taste bitter.
Take the bag out before you start sipping.
And based on my experience of cafes, even the ones that claimed to know tea either brew it too long or in water that’s too hot.
(As a side note, I’m the most high maintenance tea drinker you’ve ever seen at a cafe. They say, “We’ll bring your $5 cup of silver needle tea to you when it’s finished brewing.” I say, “I’ll take it from here, thanks.”
When you’re paying for delish tea you don’t want a well-meaning barista destroying it.
Let’s move on to the next necessity
RULE #2: Steep loose leaf tea.
The CTC (bits ‘o’ tea) you most often find in bagged tea lends itself to becoming bitter because it’s so easy to over-brew. The tea leaves are purposefully cut to bits to decrease the brew time. The trade off is that although it’s quicker to brew, it loses the flavor (and potential health benefits) of its leaf counterpart. Whole and partial leaves contain more of the tea leaves’ natural oils and those contain complex flavors and nutrients.
Loose leaf teas are rolled and shaped to break up their natural oils and create the flavors and aromas you taste.
A good gateway loose leaf tea is anything you’ll drink. So if you like tea blends with herbs and spices to cut the flavor, try those. (If you’re looking for a good one, click here to discover hand-blended organic tea blends. I’m biased, but they’re super delish.)
Want to learn how artisan tea-makers create some of the most amazing teas in the world? You’ll learn more in the 14 Day Tea Tour. You’ll be walked step-by-step through how each kind of tea was produced.
RULE #3: Consider eating before drinking tea.
I often drink loose leaf tea on an empty stomach, but not everyone can. I believe the kind of tea you drink on an empty stomach makes all the difference though.
If you notice yourself feeling queasy after a cup of tea, ask yourself if you’ve had anything to eat. If not, then stop sipping and eat something. Our bodies are amazing at telling us what it needs. We just have to take a moment to listen.
(Like right now my stomach is rumbling, so I feel obliged to eat after writing that sentence. BRB.)
As far as sweeteners go, each of us is different. If you notice your stomach is fine without sugar in your tea but isn’t when you add sugar, you know what to do.
RULE #4: Don’t take tea when you’ve just taken your meds.
When I returned to trial work after my medical leave, I started taking the cancer medication tamoxifen. I still hadn’t quite worked out whether I would take my meds in the morning or at night. One morning, I decided to take my new meds just before starting a trial. I took it with a banana and a daily cup of CTC bagged tea. (This was my pre-loose leaf tea days.)
As I sat in my supervisor’s office talking about trial strategy, I felt my stomach churning. I’m pretty sure my supervisor thought it was nerves, but I was going to be sick. Had to excuse myself. I was super embarrassed, but there’s no way I was going to be able to hold it together through that convo.
Sure enough, I went to the ladies’ room and was sick. That’s never happened before or since, so I know it was the meds, tea, banana combo.
Moral of the story? Don’t drink tea with meds. Blech.
Can Tea Upset Your Stomach?
The short answer: yes.
But there are 4 ways to prevent tea from upsetting your stomach.
- Don’t steep your tea longer than directed.
- Steep loose leaf tea.
- Don’t drink tea on an empty stomach.
- Be mindful of taking tea with your medications.
1. How long are you brewing your tea?
2. What kind of tea are you drinking (CTC or loose leaf?)
3. Are you drinking on an empty stomach?
4. Are you taking any meds/supplements with your tea?
By asking yourself these questions, you can diagnose what the problem is. You can also try drinking different teas. Oolongs are famous for being easy to drink. Maybe black tea just isn’t your jam.