What is Gaba Tea?
by Jake Mardell
GABA tea came into being in the late 1980s, when Dr. Tsushida Tojiro discovered that processing tea leaves under anaerobic conditions resulted in the tea possessing large quantities of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Of course, unless bio-chemistry was a particular strong subject at school, this might not mean much to you.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid is present in many food products, including regular tea in very small amounts, but it is also important because it's one of the main neurotransmitters in our central nervous systems. GABA works in tangent with glutamate, a fellow amino-acid, to excite or depress our brains, GABA being the inhibitor in the pair, working to lower the overall activity in our brains. While this may not sound like a good thing to do to our grey matter, small increases in GABA have a relaxing effect and actually help mental focus and activity. Thus many anxiety medications influence GABA receptors, and decreased GABA levels are associated with psychiatric and nervous system disorders. Of course, GABA tea won't cure serious brain imbalances, but it is meant to be a great stress reliever, and producers claim a range of related health benefits for the beverage, from relieving high blood pressure to curing hangovers.
The beginnings of GABA tea
While small amounts of GABA naturally occur in Camellia sinensis (the tea plant), the method pioneered by Dr Tojiro results in a significantly higher GABA concentrations. Freshly picked tea leaves are exposed to a nitrogen rich (and thus oxygen depleted) atmosphere, before being oxidised under normal conditions. Originally pioneered as a natural method for the preserving of food, Dr Tojiro soon realised he was onto a winner with GABA tea. Research continued and Tojiro's team perfected the process, discovering that shading the leaves before picking increased the plant's levels of glutamic acid – the stuff needed to create GABA.
In its native Japan, GABA is now a well established institution. A casual stroll through a Tokyo supermarket will not only provide you with a glimpse of GABA-enriched tea, but also coffee, chocolate, rice and even GABA rich eggs. Ingested in all manner of forms in Japan, GABA tea remains a popular option, being the original and most natural delivery system for the acid. In tea, GABA also works aside L-theanine – the other super compound widely found in tea, and celebrated for its relaxing, mental alertness inducing properties.
Health properties of GABA tea
It is worth noting that aside from its calming effect, GABA tea has also been touted as a wonder beverage by many industries in Japan over the years; variously claiming to aid weight loss, promote healthy skin, and lessen alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It was even adopted by the body building community as a muscle gain booster. But while the scientific jury is still out on all but the generally healthy and calming effects of GABA tea (its blood pressure lowering effects are the most convincing), the tea is also prized for its distinctive flavour.
The taste of GABA tea
Tea undergoing more technical GABA processing is of course dependent on the quality of the underlying leaf, but most people are pleasantly surprised by their first GABA experience. GABA oolongs taste a little different alongside other oolongs, with prominent fruity tones, and sometimes a subtle sweet sourness. This combination of taste and wholesomeness has obviously done wonders for GABA sales in Japan, but the tea has also made headway in Taiwan, where GABA oolongs are widely drunk. Taiwan, with its tech savvy and first rate tea industry, is also now leading the way in growing and making its own GABA tea, with its main export market being, of course, Japan.
Our GABA tea
Our GABA oolong comes from the Jin Xuan tea cultivar, the same cultivar that produces the highly prized Taiwanese Oolongs, including our Jin Xuan tea. The nitrogen rich processing alters the flavour profile of the leaves to create a sufficiently distinct experience in the final tea, something we hope you will be able to appreciate. Of course, the extent to which any tea impacts our health remains largely a question of individual experience, but GABA teas stand every chance of becoming the next big thing in tea after Matcha.