General Question

La_chica_gomela's avatar

Why does tea taste so good but tea leaves taste so bitter?

Asked by La_chica_gomela (12493 points ) February 3rd, 2009
Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

7 Answers

Vinifera7's avatar

They’re fermented leaves. They’re meant to be brewed, not eaten.

laureth's avatar

Tea leaves contain tannins, which are a bitter compound. Tea is brewed long enough to steep out the tasty parts, but are generally removed at the five-minute mark (which is when the tannins come out into the tea water). If you leave the tea bags in the tea much longer, then the tea will be bitter like the leaves.

marinelife's avatar

La Chica, honey, don’t bite the leaves! :)

cwilbur's avatar

Laureth has it right on—the compounds that make the tea bitter are not brewed out of the tea leaves when the tea is made.

Of course, the bitterness of tea, like the strength of the tea in the first place, is a matter of preference—some of us do not mind a bit of bitterness, but we stop short of chewing on the actual leaves.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

I tried them again tonight, and I actually found them quite tasty.

@Vinifera7, actually, only black tea leaves are fermented. Green tea leaves are just dried, so pretty much straight from the bush. I think most people would find green tea leaves equally as nasty as black tea leaves, but from your responses, I gather that normal people do not eat tea leaves, whether they be green, black, or polka dotted.

These were oolong, which are fermented, but not to the extent of black teas. I decided that the leaf itself tasted like a combination between brewed tea and collard greens, and that it was, in fact, the stem-like vein running through the middle of the leaf that tasted terrible.

My instincts tell me there’s also quite a caffeine kick in eating the leaves. I don’t have any hard evidence, but I did perk up quite a bit very quickly (maybe 30 seconds) after I ate it, which I hadn’t been expecting. I think absorption through the tissues of the mouth is a possibility, similar to absorption of nicotine from chewing tobacco or coca and caffeine through coca leaves.

Vinifera7's avatar

Interesting. Though you could have just been expecting to perk up after eating them directly. The placebo effect.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

I wasn’t expecting it though. It didn’t occur to me until after I ate them. Besides that, it’s well-documented that chewing tobacco or coca leaves has a physical effect directly through the gums, tongue, and other flesh of the mouth. I don’t think it’s that hard to figure out that tea leaves would too.

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