Tea offers an abundance of benefits spanning well beyond the wide variety of tastes available. For many people, tea is sought for its unique stimulating, yet calming effect. Say what?
What Exactly Is Caffeine?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring chemical produced by certain plants in defense of predators. Yes, caffeine is nature’s own pesticide. It is naturally occurring in several plants native to Africa, East Asia and South America; think tea, yerba mate, cocoa, and coffee amongst a few others. It is bitter in taste and can also be extracted from relevant plants and seeds for use as a stimulant in other beverages.
Is Caffeine In Tea the Same as in Other Beverages?
The effect of caffeine in tea on the body differs from how caffeine may affect us from other sources. In tea (Camellia Sinensis), the effect of caffeine is tempered by the presence of L-Theanine. This amino acid has a direct effect on the brain wherein it increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing sleepiness. In tea, L-Theanine works synergistically with the stimulant effect of caffeine. Together, they help promote mental clarity, boost metabolism and help to provide a focused energy for several hours without the “jitters” effect often associated with caffeine as found in other beverages like coffee, sugary sodas and energy drinks.
How Much Caffeine is in Tea?
There is a plenty of information circulating in the tea world about the levels of caffeine in tea and how it compares to coffee. While we'd love to give you a simple number or stat, there are far too many variables affecting how much caffeine makes it to your cup. Therefore, we will shall refrain from making a blanket statement about something so complex. Join us below for just a taste of what we're talking about...
Caffeine Level Variability in Tea
A common mistake regarding tea and caffeine is to assign or label caffeine level based on tea type (e.g., white, green, black, oolong, etc.). Caffeine levels vary in tea based on a number of variables including, but not limited to:
The age of the leaf at the time of plucking is a big factor when determining the level of caffeine in tea. Younger leaves have more caffeine as the plant tries to protect its most vulnerable leaves from hungry little critters. These leaves are supple and typically more nutrient-rich than the older, harder and more weathered leaves on the stem.
The level of caffeine can vary up to 33% based on the variety of Camellia Sinensis (tea plant) used to make the tea. For instance, studies have shown that teas made from var. assamica can have more caffeine than those from var. sinensis. (1)
Plucking season (and climate) also contributes to varying levels of caffeine with faster growing seasons (e.g., spring) yielding higher levels than others.
Steeping method is another big factor in regard to how much caffeine is revealed in your cup. Caffeine levels can be dramatically increased by using hotter water and longer steep times. For instance, while green tea leaves from spring-picked, bud and first leaf might actually possess a higher level of caffeine than black tea made from older leaves picked in autumn, the shorter steep time and cooler water used for brewing up that green tea will yield less caffeine in the final cup.(2)
A Few Words About Decaffeination
There may be times when you don’t want the stimulant effect of caffeine. Can’t caffeine be removed to produce “decaffeinated” tea? The short answer is, yes, caffeine can mostly be removed. However, you should be aware that, in many cases, the process is not just removing caffeine but most likely adding harsh chemicals to your favorite beverage along with deteriorating some of the beneficial polyphenols (antioxidants) in the process.
A common myth suggests that “rinsing” tea for 30 seconds will remove 80% of the caffeine. We’re sorry to say that laboratory testing reveals you’ll need about 15 minutes in boiling water to remove all or most of the caffeine from the tea leaf.(1) And what's left after that may not be all that satisfying to taste nor very beneficial.
When buying commercially decaffeinated teas, you should take care to research the method of decaffeination that was used. One of the widest used methods utilizes the synthetic solvents to remove caffeine. However, it has been widely reported that the process of decaffeination removes some or most of tea’s beneficial polyphenols.
At Modern Steep, we do not "decaffeinate" our teas due to many of the reasons cited above and in keeping with our model of sourcing only organic teas. However, we do offer a huge assortment of organic tisanes (herbal blends & botanicals) all without caffeine to suit a wide variety of tastes.
With all of that said, there is far more to learn about caffeine in tea. Should you wish to learn more, there are a number of studies available on the web from sources such as the National Institutes of Health, Food Research International, the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, along with several studies executed by and/or discussed by one of the world’s leading tea scientists, Nigel Melican.