Monday, September 26, 2011

Caffeine in Tea Myths vs. Facts

I have been asked so many times about caffeine in tea that I thought I should write a short post about some of the myths and hopefully some facts. Let me start out by saying this is a complex subject.

Myth or fact? 
Tea has more caffeine than coffee. 
Fact. Tea by weight has more caffeine than coffee, but per cup it is about 1/3 to 1/2 the amount of a cup of coffee But some teas have more caffeine than some coffee, so not always true.  
White Tea is naturally decaffeinated.  
Myth. White Tea like all tea has caffeine. The caffeine levels decrease as you go farther down the plant. It is thought that caffeine is used by the plant as a natural insecticide, so only the new growth needs this extra protection. So the bud (used to make Silver Needle White Tea) has the most caffeine and the levels drop as you go down.  
White Tea is lower in caffeine than Green or Black Tea.
Myth. White Tea may have some of the highest levels of caffeine. But here comes the complexity. The caffeine levels are dependent on the tea varietal, the growing region, which leaves are picked, amount of sunlight, and I am sure a host of other factors. Shorter steeping time for White Tea & lower water temperature might make it lower than the same plant processed as a Black Tea, but this can't be said across different varietals. So the only thing I say with certainty is that Camellia Sinensis, the name for the tea plant, has caffeine.  
You can decaffeinate tea by washing with hot water for 30 seconds, pouring that liquid off and re-steeping. The tea will now be caffeine free.  
Myth. You are only removing about 10% or less of the caffeine with a 30 sec. steep. About a quarter to a third of the leaf's caffeine is released in a 3 minute steep. Subsequent steeps remove about a quarter to a third of the remaining caffeine in the leaf.

So here are the facts about caffeine and tea, as I know them. Feel free to correct any mistakes I make.
Fact. Tea has caffeine.
Fact. Tea has L-Theanine a calming agent. So the caffeine is balanced by calming agents.  
Fact. Caffeine level isn't determined by how the tea is processed but more by the steeping temperature and steeping time and plant varietals. Caffeine is water soluble and so if you like to over-steep or stew your tea, you are getting more caffeine than someone who does a short steep.  
Fact. Decaffeinated tea still has caffeine.  
Fact. If you want tea with out caffeine you are out of luck.
Fact. Herbal infusions or Tisanes are not made with the tea plant, and many are Caffeine free.
Fact. Yerba Mate has a stimulant in it. Matteine is chemically similar to Caffeine & is a stimulant. Yerba Mate does not contain L-Theanine.  
Fact. If you drink Loose Leaf Tea & re-steep you are ingesting less caffeine than if you use new leaves for each pot.  
Fact. Roasting or baking tea does reduce the level of caffeine in the tea, but again it is not caffeine free & if you start with a really high caffeine tea might only make it the same level as a lower caffeinated tea.  
Fact. Caffeine in tea is complex and there are no hard & fast rules. Like sugar levels in wine grapes, caffeine in tea is weather dependent and varietal dependent.
I think specialty tea is where the wine industry was about 10 years ago. As people become more educated and more sophisticated with their palates, loose leaf tea will be more understood and appreciated. So take a break, make a cup and siptea while you think about how complex tea is and what a gift it is too.


modtea206 said...

Great post on caffeine and Tea. I completely agree that tea is where wine was 10 years ago and I'm excited to see where it is headed!

Alex Zorach said...

One clarification point, "mateine" is just a chemical synonym for caffeine. Wikipedia's page on caffeine clarifies this and gives sources.

But overall, this is a very good post and I appreciate your sharing it. I'm glad to see more people putting forth accurate information about tea and caffeine, and breaking through some of the common myths.

siptea said...

Thanks for the clarification. I was under the impression that Mateine was slightly different chemically. But a stimulant like caffeine. Good to know.

ahnn said...

A very good post to read for all tea lovers. Caffeine Free tea still has caffeine but it's a lot lesser.