Monday, August 11, 2014

Caffeine in Tea: myths

Have you ever heard that steeping tea for 30 seconds will naturally decaffeinate tea?

Rooibos tea is naturally decaf,
if you're wondering.
(Not my favorite, though--
I have to add milk and sugar
before it's enjoyable, so
no actual health benefits for me.
I had, and I wanted to know if it was true. Based on the research I found (okay, online), this does not seem to hold up. Yes, some or much of the caffeine will be removed, but not enough that what remains could be considered decaffeinated.

I suggest reading through this guest post by Nigel Melican, founder of Teacraft, LTD, from Cha Dao. You'll find some very interesting statistics.

There's also a nifty experiment here, the Asbury College study, that further disproves the 30-second myth.

Furthermore, caffeine content of teas tends to be more reliant on the picking of the leaf than on the type of preparation (so some green teas would have more caffeine than some black teas).

Caffeine varies in the fresh green leaf depending on fineness of pluck. The fourth leaf (Coarse) has about one third less than the first leaf (Very Fine Pluck). Caffeine varies with type -seedling tea (3-5%) has perhaps twice that of clonal tea (1-3%).  

Or switch to sparkling water.
That's decaf, too.
So there you have it: yes, you can reduce the caffeine in tea by steeping it for a short while, but there will still be caffeine in the brew. No, green tea isn't innately less caffeinated than black tea--you use less tea when steeping, and the manufacturing companies can manipulate the tea to have less caffeine, but that doesn't always happen.

In other words, look up the info for each individual tea if you're concerned about caffeine; and be aware even then the seller might have inaccurate information--safest bet is to assume your tea is caffeinated if it isn't a tisane (herbal tea) and treat it accordingly.

If you fully brew your first steeping (steeping it the recommended time for an actual brew), you should have a greatly reduced caffeine content. So if you're reducing caffeine content in your afternoon diet, use a tea that resteeps well; drink your first fully-caffeinated brew in the morning, and resteep your leaves in the afternoon. You might also drink decaf, or brew your first cup(s) for >5 minutes. But if you want to eliminate your caffeine content, you're probably better off switching to herbal.

(Oolongs, in my experience, tend to rebrew very well for several steepings--that would be my personal recommendation, if you like them.)

I suggest single-size servings, if that's your plan. 


  1. Edit: "assume your tea is caffeinated if it isn't a *non-yerba mate* tisane (herbal tea)"

    1. Yikes--good point! Yerba mate has a ton of caffeine.