Health

Sip, Swallow, Exhale: How Aromatic Compounds Play a Role in Relaxation and Tea Drinking

Do the aromatics of tea really play a role in helping us relax when drinking tea? We answer this question in our IFAQ. Still, let’s investigate deeper into how we can use the aromatics of tea to improve the experience.

From, our IFAQ

Q: Can just the aroma of freshly brewed green tea induce relaxation?

A: The short answer is: yes. Now for the long answer

While we know that green tea is rich in L-Theanine (an amino acid). L-theanine which increases the alpha-wave production in the brain. This results in a relaxed state of mind. People also report being relaxed just by the aroma of tea. So, what is going on here?

One of the components of the aroma in green tea is Aoba alcohol (xylopyranosyl-(1-6) glucopyranoside). Aoba means “green leaves” or “fresh leaves”1 and we suspect that the Aoba alcohol found in tea eases stress and stimulates the circulation of blood. By breathing in the aroma of the tea, the olfactory receptors would transport it to the brain very quickly and this could result in a sense of relaxation. We find this is especially true for houjicha, which is a roasted green tea. As it is roasted, houjicha develops something called “pyrazine“.

(From left to right) Houjicha Gold, Houji-Genmaicha, and Houj-Kukicha.

Pyrazine is an aromatic organic compound with some special benefits. Pyrazine is known to improve blood flow within a blood vessel and overall blood circulation in the body. This could help prevent the formation of blood clots. Additionally, studies have concluded that pyrazine actually has anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antibacterial, antiparasitic, and antioxidant properties.2

Administration and dosage would probably be quite different than pyrazine studied here. The pyrazine present in houjicha is of varied amounts and could be considered to come in a nutrient package with other antioxidants that are present in roasted tea. There is more research to be done in this area but it looks very promising. As a bonus, Houjicha also has quite a relaxing aroma.

Aromatherapy

However, we also know that the hard science defining the health benefits of aromas is still being developed. One study from PubMed found that clinical aromatherapy can be beneficial for managing symptoms of generalized pain, nausea, vomiting, preoperative anxiety, critical care, anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia, respiratory issues, dementia, and oncology. In general, aromatherapy can promote the overall well-being of a person. As tea drinkers who know this personally to be true.

There is another possible explanation of why the smell of tea can help us relax. Our sense of smell is highly developed and aromas are very powerful in invoking memories, both pleasant and not so pleasant.3 Tea time can be a time of relaxation for all of us and the aroma of tea is a signal that it’s time for tea. By conditioning ourselves to it, we may start to relax just by inhaling the vapors and overall smell of freshly brewed tea.

Also, a tip from us: after you swallow your tea, gently exhale. You might already have exhaled because you feel a lot more relaxed but gently and consciously exhaling after you swallow will bring some of the flavor compounds of whatever you are eating or drinking up into your nasal cavity, where they hit olfactory receptors. This is called retronasal olifaction and is a common technique of tea tasters (and probably tasters of other wine and coffee as well).

Also, try smelling the leaves and the lid of you brewing vessel after you are finished with your brew. The lid will be a little lighter in its smell, allowing you to pick up more detailed notes. Smelling the hot leaves themselves might provide you with more aromatic compounds yet simultaneously burn the walls of your nasal cavity. Ouch. Better to wait until the leaves have cooled down.

Some day we may understand all the benefits of tea, including its aroma. Until then, let’s all take time to relax and enjoy our tea break. Follow our instagram and tiktok for more content and feel free to subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address in the designated space at the bottom of any page of our website.

  1. Nihongo Master. 2024. Meaning of 青葉あおば in Japanese. Nihongo Master. www.nihongomaster.com/japanese/dictionary/word/60385/aoba-青葉-あおば ↩︎
  2. Chen, Guo-Qing, et al. “Natural Products-Pyrazine Hybrids: A Review of Developments in Medicinal Chemistry.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5 Nov. 2023, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10649211/.
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  3. McDonough, Molly. “The Connections Between Smell, Memory, and Health.” Harvard Medicine Magazine, 23 Apr. 2024, magazine.hms.harvard.edu/articles/connections-between-smell-memory-and-health.
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