Obligatory disclaimer: I am not an expert on the subject and am certainly not speaking as a health care provider. You should seek medical attention immediately if symptoms last more than two weeks. This is simply my opinion and personal experience.
We have all heard many wonderful claims on the health benefits of tea ranging from weight loss to cancer prevention and all points in between. I don’t have a clue if any of the claims can actually be backed up with evidence and it doesn’t really matter to me. What I do know is tea tastes good and I enjoy drinking it. I also know drinking tea can become a source of heartburn.
At one point, a few years ago, I thought I was going to have to give up drinking tea. It and dark colored colas were giving me a great deal of trouble with acid reflux. Rather than giving up, I decided to fight back. Following is my experience and what worked for me. It might work for you as well.
My wife has to avoid caffeine from all sources because it amplifies acid reflux in her system. This is apparently a concern for many people. Caffeine does not seem to affect me in this manner. It is not the source of my tea or soda drinking reflux. If caffeine is the source of your problem, the simple answer is obvious - switch to decaf. You have my sympathies.
The problem for me with dark colored sodas, Diet Coke being personally the worst offender, may be due to the acid or the dyes but I am sure it is not the caffeine. I know this because Mountain Dew has more octane than Diet Coke and yet it never gives me heartburn. I can chug it all day long and it doesn’t affect me doesn’t affect me doesn’t affect me (silliness intended). Today, dark soda will still light me up on occasion, even with limiting my use of it.
I also learned, through experience, that if I overdo black teas, for any length of time, I will suffer heartburn. The problem first began years ago with Bigelow Earl Grey. Back in the day when Bigelow came in generous 2g bags, I was drinking this tea by the pot full on a daily basis. Apparently I was enjoying this tea way too much. The problem was not with Bigelow. It was with me having no self-control.
In addition to the heartburn, I developed some urinary tract issues (sorry for sharing, but it is part of the story). Bigelow uses actual oil of bergamot in their Earl Grey. Real oil of bergamot tastes really good, but the bergamot (at least Bigelow's bergamot) forms an oily film on top of the tea. It appears drinking such large quantities also caused the oil to build up in my system.
I knew it would be best if I only occasionally drank tea with the actual oil of bergamot. The trouble being I was an Earl Grey addict. How was this junkie supposed to get his daily fix? The solution was pretty simple. I switched to Twinings Earl Grey. It is a bergamot-flavored tea. The hope was to eliminate the tea drinking related problems. It did relieve the kidney issue but did not stop the acid reflux. See, I told you it wasn’t Bigelow’s fault.
Not being willing to give up Earl Grey, I decided to switch to Twinings Earl Grey Green tea. With this simple change my reflux problems disappeared completely. I could now drink tea by the pot full once again. If your tea addiction is causing you pain, try making the green tea switch. It is of interest to note green tea is often cited as being lower in caffeine than black tea. Some scientists researched the claims and it turns out not to true. If your reflux is sensitive to caffeine changing to green tea may not help.
I was fearful that changing would be difficult, as at the time I thought I wouldn’t like green tea. What helped was to accept green tea is not black tea. They do not taste alike and they never will. I adopted an attitude of learning to appreciate the difference.
I also quickly discovered not all green teas are the same. There is a wide range of flavorful difference. Of course I got lucky that one of my first green teas was one I actually did enjoy. So when I could no longer find my Twinings Earl Grey Green I was heartbroken but determined I would find another tea. I did. I began to drink Ahmad Earl Grey Green, which I liked even better.
I bought Ahmad by the case, as it became my absolute favorite tea. Even so we all need a little variety once in a while. What I discovered was after my system recovered from the abuse I had given it, I could drink black tea once again in moderation, even Bigelow Earl Grey. I could even occasionally drink it in excess without trouble. I just no longer made a daily habit of doing so.
I always keep 6 or 7 teas I really like around as my go to teas for daily consumption. In addition there is always a stack of various teas around for occasional use and while looking for that ever elusive next favorite. I enjoy several cups a day and cannot recall the last time I had heartburn from tea. If you are contemplating giving up tea, try shaking things up a bit first. Maybe, like me, by adjusting your habits just a little, you too can conquer tea related acid reflux. Today, I am drinking a larger variety and greater quantity of tea than ever before, and all pain free!
Since first publishing this article I discovered some interesting thoughts by others that inspired me to go a little further here. As mentioned early in the article I was not going to give up tea without a fight. Green tea, as mentioned was an option. White tea is another. Made from young leaves and buds it does not contain the high levels of tannin found in other teas. As I understand it, tannin is the main source of the heartburn. White tea, to me, is a lot closer to black tea in taste than green (especially bagged white) so it could be a really good starting point.
A likely source of your reflux problem may be the way you are brewing your bagged tea. The label usually says something like steep for 2-4 minutes. How long do you leave the bag in the cup? Let’s be honest, most people leave the bag in the cup until they finish it. Right? Removing the tea bag at the proper time may solve your problem. It is highly possible this was a big part of my own recovery.
If you routinely sqeeze the bag to get every last drop of tea, you may actually be aggravating the problem. I know how hard it is not to squeeze, but by doing so you are releasing even more reflux causing oil and tannin into the cup. I understand you feel wastfull if you don't squeeze so try removing the bag and squeezing it over another cup. Once you realize how little tea is actually being held hostage by the bag you may find it easier to stop.
According to the loose-leaf crowd (which I am quickly beginning to join), the source of the problem is that you are using the bag in the first place. The problem, they say, is the tiny pieces of leaf usually found in the bag releases far more tannin into the brew than does whole leaf tea. Tannin makes tea bitter and can cause the acid in the stomach to be released into the esophagus. My personal experience and opinion is this problem is greatly reduced if you simply follow the steeping time on the bag as just mentioned. Remember, because it uses smaller pieces of leaf, bag tea does not take as long to reach full strength as does loose leaf. Of course attempting to resolve your acid reflux may just be the motivation needed to inspire you to see if the art of brewing with loose-leaf tea is for you. Good luck!