Tea & Caffeine

Tea is one of the beverages we adults consume regularly that contains caffeine, coffee and colas being others. For many this caffeine is essential, giving them a bit of a wake-up boost, but for others even the relatively small amount in tea can be harmful. Decaffeinated tea is one solution, so are tea substitutes like Rooibos and chamomile. We did some research and collected up essential information just for you.

Tea Caffeine Be Gone

teavscoffee000
Tea (front) vs. Coffee (back) is a lot about caffeine.

Many of you keep a nice tasty cupful within easy reach throughout the day, but the caffeine it contains is always on your mind. There’s decaffeinated tea, but you wonder at how the caffeine gets removed and if that process is safe.

The topic seemed simple when we began looking into it, but we unearthed a proverbial hornets nest of differing opinions and downright misinformation (sort of like all those unsubstantiated health claims about tea that are floating around these days). The last thing we want to do is to pile more useless and misleading “stuff” onto the pile. So, we searched out several sources backed by real, honest-to-goodness science. (For some strange reason, several people writing on this topic want to totally eschew any call for scientific evidence, thinking it’s unreliable, turning instead to their emotions, folklore, and hearsay. Sigh!)

Getting all of the caffeine out of tea is generally regarded as not possible, but decaffeinated tea should have no more than .4% per the Tea Association Technical Committee (TATC). (I’m referring to true teas here, not the substitutes such as herbals, Rooibos, Honeybush, etc.)

Numerous sites claim that, since caffeine is one of the first compounds to infuse out of the tea into the water, you can remove most of it (about 80-90%) by tossing out the initial infusion (20-30 seconds) and then doing a second longer infusion. However, nowhere did I find anything scientific to support this claim. One site states it could take as long as 10 minutes to remove that much caffeine from your tea using this “washing” method. The caffeine alkaloid molecule (3 methyl groups plus 2 carbonyl groups attached to a double-ringed structure) needs that time to break away from the rest of the tea leaf compounds.

You can purchase pre-decaffeinated tea. The method considered to be the best uses a combination of ethyl acetate and carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, both this and the “washing” method also reduce the components generally regarded as beneficial to your health.

Some people mistakenly recommend white and green teas as a way to avoid caffeine. They forget that these teas also come from the Camellias sinensis plant and so have caffeine, just as oolong and black teas have.

All this talk about how to decaffeinate tea seemed to beg the question: What is the effect of caffeine on us? The real concern isn’t how to get caffeine out of tea but why we should want to do this. There appear to be some fairly legitimate reasons.

Why Take the Caffeine Out of Tea

Caffeine is a substance made by some plants to cause paralysis and death in any bug silly enough to start chomping on them. All well and good, but how does it affect us? We’re a little more complicated physiologically.

As with many things, consuming too much caffeine is the problem. It can cause (in layman’s terms):

  • more than usual visits to the bathroom to relieve yourself of excess fluids
  • that “on a ship during a storm at sea” feeling in your tummy that could result in an upheaval (and even more visits to the bathroom)
  • rapid heart rate (sort of like you experienced in high school when that totally cute and awesome boy or girl happened to glance your way when you were walking past them in the hallway)
  • nervous conditions including anxiety, depression, restlessness, and tremors
  • inability to slip off smoothly into the Land of Nod and dream sweet dreams

Regular consumption of high levels of caffeine seems to create a tolerance that lessens the above effects. However, if you cut back suddenly, you can then have withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, low energy, a less-than-genial disposition, the “blues,” and what I call “foggy brain” where concentrating takes effort. Gender, height, weight, smoking, and pregnancy are also contributing factors. Generally, women are advised to refrain from caffeine during pregnancy to keep it from affecting their baby. What the mother eats, the child does, too, sooner or later.

The next question is: “What constitutes ‘too much caffeine’?” According to one site, 600 milligrams can induce some of the above effects as well as increasing medication side effects, which could be a health risk. The good news is that an article from WebMD shows that U.S. adults average only 170-300 milligrams per day. Based on this, we have to wonder what all the fuss is about (among those of us not pregnant, that is).

Here is a list from the USDA of caffeine amounts (milligrams) in some foods and beverages:

Note that the amount shown above for tea is an average. Tea actually varies due to how the leaves are plucked and other factors too detailed to list here. According to the above list, though, it would take 12 cups of tea a day to consume a risky amount for the average person.

My personal conclusion from all this is that it is a proverbial tempest over nothing. If caffeine is an issue for you, there are many caffeine-free tisanes/herbals. (Some companies specialize in them.) However, if you have been drinking coffee and then switch to tea, you may find that the much lower level of caffeine in a cup of tea is not enough to affect you. Try a cupful or two or three and see how it goes. Of course, when in doubt, consult your doctor, especially if you are planning a “blessed event.”

[A list of references for this post.]

Tea Quiz: Which Color of Tea Has More Caffeine

Time for a tea quiz: which of these teas has more caffeine? Rank them high to low.

caffeine-by-color

Darker colors of tea liquid are often taken to indicate that something is stronger in flavor or more such-and-such. So, it’s only natural that this gets applied to tea when it comes to caffeine. That is, darker tea liquids are thought to have higher caffeine content.

One source claims: “…white tea has a little caffeine (about 15 mg per 8 oz), green tea has more than white (20-40 mg), oolong has more than green (about 30) and black has the most (40-70).” Another states: “…green tea in the form of a brewed beverage…One cup of tea contains approximately 50 milligrams of caffeine…” Yet another says: “According to the USDA loose leaf green tea has about 32 mg/100ml of caffeine.” Don’t worry about such contradictory information.

One of the best sources on caffeine in tea states:

  1. Caffeine level varies naturally in types of tea and levels in one type may overlap with another type
    2. Black and green tea manufactured from leaf from the same bushes on the same day will have virtually the same caffeine levels (within +/- 0.3%)
    3. For a given bush, the finer the plucking standard, the higher the caffeine level

Actual caffeine level in tea is highest:

  • when the tea is derived from buds and young first leaf tips (thus white tea has a high caffeine level)
    • when the bush is assamica type rather than sinensis (can be 33% higher caffeine, thus African black tea tends to be higher than China black tea)
    • when the bush is clonal VP rather than seedling (can be 100% higher caffeine, thus new plantings in Africa are higher than old seedling plantings in Asia)
    • when the plant is given a lot of nitrogen fertilizer (as in Japan)
    • during fast growing seasons.

Considering some of the dire effects on the human body attributed to caffeine, knowing which ones have how much is a rather handy bit of information to tuck away in your memory.

Oh, and let’s not forget the quiz answers:

  1. Assam TGFOP – one of the highest
  2. Golden Heaven Yunnan – one of the lowest
  3. Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling – one of the lowest
  4. Ti Kuan Yin Iron Goddess – one of the lowest
  5. Gyokuro – one of the highest

Is Caffeine a “Drug”?

Disclaimer: We are not doctors, chemists, pharmacists, etc., so this is just our lay opinion.

An article online called caffeine an addictive drug. But is it? Time to start with the basic info.

What Is Caffeine?

Definition from Webster’s Online Dictionary:

  1. 1. A bitter alkaloid found in coffee and tea that is responsible for their stimulating effects.[Wordnet]
    2. A white, bitter, crystallizable substance, obtained from coffee. It is identical with the alkaloid theine from tea leaves, and with guaranine from guarana.[Websters].

There are lots of other definitions, some containing the claim that caffeine acts as a diuretic. However, a number of sources, including this one, show that the diuretic effect can be mild and does not lead to an overall fluid loss. That is, you can drink a cup of tea and the amount of fluid outflow will be less or equal, but not more. Diuretics cause you to have more going out than coming in, fluid-wise.

What Is a Drug?

Definition from TheFreeDictionary.com:


  1. a.
    A substance used in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a disease or as a component of a medication.
    b. Such a substance as recognized or defined by the U.S. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
    2. A chemical substance, such as a narcotic or hallucinogen, that affects the central nervous system, causing changes in behavior and often addiction.

There are other definitions, but I presented one that seems pretty average. And since addiction seems to be part of the reason people get concerned about caffeine, It makes sense to look at that, too.

What Is Addiction?

Definition from Wikipedia (a bit long, so I present an abridged version):

…the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences, or a neurological impairment leading to such behaviors. … Classic hallmarks of addiction include impaired control over substances or behavior, preoccupation with substance or behavior, continued use despite consequences, and denial. … Physiological dependence occurs when the body has to adjust to the substance by incorporating the substance into its ‘normal’ functioning. … Tolerance is the process by which the body continually adapts to the substance and requires increasingly larger amounts to achieve the original effects. Withdrawal refers to physical and psychological symptoms experienced when reducing or discontinuing a substance that the body has become dependent on.

I can easily see that tea can be addictive but not necessarily physiologically nor due to caffeine. It can become psychologically addictive in that you feel a strong need for a break and a cuppa. For many Brits this is almost genetic, some kind of internal clock that goes off around 4 p.m. every day.

Conclusion

Who cares? Tea tastes good and generally has a very low level of caffeine. There are decaffeinated teas and things like Rooibos, honeybush, chamomile, and other herbals that can serve for those who are super-sensitive to the effects of caffeine. So whether caffeine is classified as a drug or not is immaterial. For now, also, it is not a controlled substance. Hurray!

A cuppa Sylvakandy Estate is a drug I can really like.
A cuppa Sylvakandy Estate is a drug I can really like.

© 2017-2021 World Is a Tea Party photos and text

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