More than just a comfortable habit, science has shown that sipping tea throughout the day improves and prolongs creative performance.
Any writer will tell you that tea makes work go more smoothly, but mere anecdote is not enough to satisfy scientists. That is why a group of researchers from Peking University decided to explore more formally the effects of tea on creativity, recently publishing a study called "Drinking tea improves the performance of divergent creativity" in the journal Food Quality and Preference.
Led by Yan Huang of the university's School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, the team arranged two experiments, each with a group of university students who were asked to drink either tea or water upon entering the facility, but did not know that drinking had anything to do with the experiments.
In the first experiment, the volunteers were asked to build something "creative and attractive" out of blocks. In the second experiment, they were asked to come up with a "cool" name for a new ramen restaurant. Results were judged by other non-participating students for creativity and design, and researchers marked the scores on a scale.
In both experiments, the tea drinkers performed better than the water drinkers. The Telegraph reports, "In the block building test, the tea drinkers scored 6.54 points against 6.03 points for the water drinkers. In the name test, the tea drinkers scored 4.11 against 3.78."
It would appear that drinking tea boosts creativity. From the study's discussion section, the researchers wrote:
"We observed the same effect of tea in both the spatial cognitive test and the semantic test. It seems that drinking tea has a solid and consistent positive effect on divergent creativity. More importantly, we found that the effect of tea on divergent creativity performance took place at the second half period of the experiment, revealing that the role of tea is to keep the performance of divergent creativity for a relatively long-lasting period of time."
This prolongation of creativity could be due to the presence of theanine, an ingredient in tea that "facilitates long-term sustained attentional processing rather than short-term moment-to-moment attentional processing."
Interestingly, the researchers purposely excluded the act of preparing tea from the experiment, so as to focus on the effects of the beverages themselves. But as someone who drinks 4-6 cups of tea daily while writing, I suspect that the act of preparation would make tea's benefits even more pronounced.
Tea fuels my entire workday, from the moment I start in the early morning darkness till the late afternoon slump when I'm squeezing the few remaining words from my brain. Having a hot mug to cradle gives my hands something to do when I'm stuck on a concept or searching for a word. Going downstairs to put the kettle on gives me something to do that isn't social media or snacking; it breaks up the day nicely. Lastly, that hot tea warms me physically while I stand in my office on the third floor of a Victorian house. I often get cold up there, even swaddled in sweaters, and tea definitely helps.
Tea, which National Geographic once said is the most popular drink in the world, is known to be beneficial for many reasons, from enhancing calm to inducing a positive mood to improving digestion. So, the idea of boosting creativity is not a huge stretch. It's just nice to know it's now official.