Did you know that the world consumes three billion cups of tea every day? That’s a lot of tea! But can Mormons drink it?
Yes, Mormons are allowed to drink herbal teas but are forbidden from drinking what is traditionally known as tea. Otherwise known as ‘true tea,’ green tea, black tea, oolong, white, and Puerh are off-limits.
So what’s the big deal? Is there that much of a difference between herbal and traditional tea? Let’s take a closer look.
The Word of Wisdom
If you were to ask a Mormon why they don’t drink tea, they would probably start telling you about the Word of Wisdom.
The Word of Wisdom is the religious dietary law that Mormons follow as described in the Doctrine and Covenants.
The Doctrine and Covenants is a book of scripture and contains revelations given to Joseph Smith from the Lord. On February 27, 1833, Joseph Smith revealed the Word of Wisdom in Kirtland, Ohio.
The story goes that Emma Smith, Joseph’s wife, was tired of cleaning up all the tobacco spit in the chapel after their meetings and asked Joseph to do something about it, and that’s how the Word of Wisdom was born.
But the official doctrine is that Joseph had noticed his followers using an excess of tobacco in his meetings and asked the Lord about it.
The Lord revealed the spiritually pure diet Mormons now follow, and tea was up on the old chopping block.
Tea, Coffee, Liquor
The Word of Wisdom says a few different things but, for contemporary Mormons, it boils down to a restriction on certain foods and drinks. Of course, tobacco was no longer allowed.
Apart from tobacco, the faithful would refrain from drinking alcohol and “hot drinks.”
The scripture doesn’t go into as much detail about hot drinks as it does for the other restrictions, but later prophets explained that it meant tea and coffee.
This is usually interpreted to mean that caffeine is unhealthy for you. Herbal teas are caffeine-free, while traditional teas are not. Coffee also has caffeine so it makes sense why people would make this connection.
The interesting thing is that here in the 21st century, we have cold drinks with caffeine, and those are generally considered acceptable.
The irony is that Mormons won’t drink tea because of its caffeine content, but diet coke is okay even though its caffeine content is actually higher. But that’s a story for another day.
Herbal and Traditional Teas
So if Mormons can’t drink true tea, why is herbal tea okay? Mormon scripture says no hot drinks, and the Mormon prophets say hot drinks include tea. But is herbal tea really tea?
Traditionally, tea is hot water poured over the leaves of Camellia Sinensis, the tea plant. Camellia Sinensis is an evergreen shrub native to Asia.
Its leaves are dried and oxidized to different levels, producing different types of tea (white, green, black, oolong, and Pu-erh).
Herbal tea is everything else. You just need to pour hot water over any herb blend except Camellia Sinensis to make herbal tea.
Tea purists claim that herbal tea is not really tea and should maybe be called something different in much the same way that milk purists say that nut milk shouldn’t be called milk.
Wherever you stand on the tea, not tea debate, it’s clear that the Mormon church’s leaders are comfortable with herbal teas like chamomile and rooibos.
One common difference is that herbal teas often do not have caffeine, while true teas do.
To Caffeine, Or Not To Caffeine
The caffeine issue became a public debate during Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012. Mitt Romney is Mormon, and on the campaign trail, he was seen drinking Diet Coke which has caffeine in it.
The public was confused about this because Diet Coke had caffeine in it, and Romney was one of the most prominent Mormon public figures at the time.
This was confusing because the reason Mormons didn’t drink tea or caffeine was supposedly due to the unhealthiness of caffeine.
The issue became so public that the church leaders issued a statement declaring that the church had no stance on caffeine but that it was tea and coffee themselves that were bad.
To put it all succinctly, no Mormons cannot drink tea. Herbal teas are okay, and caffeine is fine, but true tea is off-limits.