Invigorate Nutrition

Embracing the humble cuppa

We often hear about what NOT to eat or drink, so I love hearing about the value of a food or beverage that is already part of our daily lives. Such is the case with the humble cup of tea. For me, tea brings back fond memories of my grandparents. As I write, looking over a cold and stormy ocean, a cuppa calls me.

Tea is an ancient beverage, originating in China before the birth of Christ.  Did you know that India is the greatest tea exporting country, but even they only export half of their tea due to high local demand!1 In the modern era, tea is grown and consumed all around the world.

New Zealanders also love their tea. Indeed, Dunedin has had a special role to play in the consumption of tea in New Zealand, as the Bell Tea Company supplied the New Zealand market out of Dunedin for over 100 years, from 1898 until 2014. When Bell Tea began operating in Dunedin, New Zealanders were consuming over 3kg of tea per person per year2. Now there are many other beverage choices available, and tea consumption has dropped to around 1kg per person per year, although 77% of New Zealand households still drink tea1.

Should we be in such a rush to ditch our cup of tea? In fact, tea maybe gaining popularity again, with black, green, white, and herbal and fruit teas making a strong claim for our attention. The variety of teas available now provide a wonderful opportunity to experiment, and add valuable nutrients to our diet easily. Of all the beverage options available in contemporary New Zealand, tea is a comfortable, nutritious and low-calorie choice (when you skip the sugar & use trim milk).

Tea has less caffeine than coffee; most herbal or fruit teas have none – but always check the label. Table 1 shows some typical caffeine contents for some beverages.

Table 1: Caffeine content of various New Zealand caffeine-containing beverages:


Mean caffeine content

Range in caffeine content (if provided)

Herbal or fruit tea3

0 if no cocoa (cacao), coffee, tea (camellia sinensis), mate, guarana or kola nut present.

Drinking chocolate powder4


0.27-0.92mg per tsp powder depending on brand

Decaffeinated coffee powder4

1.9mg per tsp powder


Kola-style soft drinks3


25-35mg per 250mL serve depending on brand

Black tea4

57mg per 250mL


Green tea4

31mg per 250mL


Energy drink5


35-120mg per 250mL depending on brand

Instant coffee, from powder4

83mg per 250 mL


Plunger-prepared coffee4

100mg per 250 mL


Café-prepared espresso / short black

www.stclair120mg per single shot4

25-214mg per serve6

Energy shot5


10-300mg per shot (30-120g shot serve size)


White tea has varying caffeine content, similar to that seen in green and black teas.

The Ministry of Health recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women limit their caffeine intake to under 300mg per day (if any) and check with their Lead Maternity Carer before consuming any herbal teas7. The rest of us are advised to consume caffeine in moderation, and limit caffeine intake to under 400mg per day. Due to concerns that children might be more sensitive to the adverse effects of caffeine (anxiety, headaches, trouble sleeping and irritation to the gastrointestinal tract), caffeine is not recommended for them3.

Tea can provide a good fluid source in our diet. If you feel tired and lethargic, you might not be consuming enough fluid. Tea is also a valuable source of particularly strong family of antioxidants called polyphenols. White and green teas contain a high content of a polyphenol called catechin. Black tea has a different polyphenol profile due to different processing, but remains a good source. Polyphenols help our body protect itself against free radical damage, linked to cancer and cardiovascular disease. The production of free radicals increases with age, exposure to pollution, sun damage and smoking. Antioxidants like polyphenols help mop up these free radicals and prevent the ensuing damage. Brewing tea (either fresh leaf or a teabag) for three minutes in boiling hot water maximises the extraction of antioxidants into your cup of tea.

It is worth remembering that food contains the perfect amount of antioxidants to keep your body fighting fit.  Too many antioxidants can have the opposite effect, so get good (impartial) advice before taking any antioxidant supplements. Instead, as the weather cools, tea is ready to rise to the forefront of our minds.  Given that much of the added sugar in New Zealanders diets comes from beverages like soft drinks, fruit juice, cordial and energy drinks, switching to tea to warm those bones is a positive move that many of us would happily make for our health.

Here’s to that cuppa!

Dr Kirsty Fairbairn is a Health, Wellness and Sports Dietitian at Invigorate Nutrition ( Her practice is based at Eclipse Health, Wellness and Performance, 266 Hanover Street, Ph. 474 0030.


1    The Bell Tea Company;

2    Sarah Wilcox. 'Food and beverage manufacturing - Tea and coffee', Te Ara - the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, updated 20-Apr-16.

3    Ministry of Health, 2012. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children and Young People (aged 2-18 years): A Background paper. Partial revision February 2015. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

4    The Concise New Zealand Food Composition Tables, 11th Edition, 2014.

5    Thomson and Schiess, Risk Profile: Caffeine in Energy Drinks and Energy Shots. Institute of Environmental Science & Research Limited, 2010.

6    Desbrow et al. An examination of consumer exposure to caffeine from retail coffee outlets. Food and Chemical Toxicology 2007; 45: Pages 1588-1592.

7   Ministry of Health, 2006. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women: A background paper. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

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