If you’re trying to reduce your caffeine intake and yet still want to enjoy the flavor and benefits of cup of tea, you may have heard some of these common myths about the caffeine in tea. You may even have tried to decaffeinate you own tea at home or shopped for white or green tea, thinking those have less caffeine than black.
Below you’ll discover 5 myths about the caffeine in tea, and finally get (accurate) ideas for how you can have your tea and drink it, too.
Tea can be caffeine-free
The term “tea,” has become a catch-all term for anything steeped in water, milk, or other liquid. But in the truest sense of the word, tea refers only to Camellia sinensis, both the tea plant itself and an infusion of it. Steeping herbs, flowers, leaves, roots, stems, turmeric, or anything else that’s not from the tea plant should really be called an infusion, a tisane, or in a pinch, an herbal tea.
By this more narrow definition of tea, an infusion of Camellia sinensis cannot be free of caffeine–it is one of the primary caffeine-producing plants. Tea may be low in caffeine if it has gone through a decaffeination process or because it’s primarily composed of twigs, stems, and stalks of the tea plant, which have less caffeine (this tea is known as Kukicha).
True tea will always contain some caffeine.
Decaffeinated tea is caffeine-free
Some tea manufacturers offer decaffeinated teas. This means they take Camellia sinensis leaves and subject them to a process involving water or organic solvents, which removes much of the caffeine from the leaves. (There is some speculation that flavors and possibly some of tea’s healthful compounds are also lost.)
After the decaffeination process, somewhere between 1% and 20% of the original caffeine content remains. Thus, even commercially decaffeinated tea still contains somewhere between half of a milligram and 15mg of caffeine per serving.
You can decaffeinate your own tea
A common belief perpetuated on the internet is that by doing a quick 30 second steep of tea, and dumping that water, then your actual cup of tea will have 80% less caffeine. However, a number of studies have shown otherwise.
A paper in Food Research International found that a 30 second steep resulted in only a 9% reduction in caffeine (averaged), and that it took between 5 to 10 minutes of steeping to remove 80% of the caffeine. An earlier study found that even with vigorous stirring, it took 45 seconds to extract 49% of the caffeine.
The flavor and beneficial compounds of tea are extracted at roughly the same rate as caffeine (depending on water temperature), therefore it’s nearly impossible to use a home decaffeination method and still enjoy flavorful, antioxidant-rich tea.
Black tea has the most caffeine
Another common misconception is that black tea has the most caffeine. In truth, caffeine levels vary widely within classes of tea and across seasons, growing conditions, and much more.
For example, a green and a black tea produced on the same day from leaves coming from the same bushes, will have roughly the same levels of caffeine. Therefore, it’s not processing method but rather environmental factors and parts used that influence caffeine content and as such, there’s no way for you to predict how much caffeine a given tea leaf will have.
While you can’t control the environmental factors affecting the amount of caffeine in the tea leaves, you do have some control over the amount that’s infused into the cup. Generally, shorter steeping times, lower steeping temperatures, and the less tea leaf that’s used (such as in loose leaf or tea-herbal blends), will result in a less caffeinated beverage.
Herbs don’t contain caffeine (or other stimulants)
While herbal infusions are often recommended at the caffeine-free alternative to tea, there are some herbs that contain caffeine and other stimulants. Three from the holly species are popular sources of energy: Yerba Mate, Guayusa, and Yaupon. Guarana, kola nuts, and of course, cocoa beans and the coffea seed are other sources of naturally-occurring caffeine.
Some other herbs, though they don’t contain caffeine, can act like stimulants. These include ginseng, gingko, and the Chinese herb, Foti, among others. Therefore, if you’re trying to avoid caffeine or all stimulants, make sure you choose your herbs wisely.
If you’re looking for lower caffeine options for tea, consider these:
- Kukicha, composed of the twigs and stems of the tea plant, has lower levels of caffeine, because most of the caffeine is in the leaves.
- Tea-herbal blends, such as our BeLight and BeBalanced will provide a full flavor profile but with less true tea, and thus less caffeine.
- Steeping your tea for shorter times at lower temperatures will infuse less caffeine, but likely also less flavor.
And if caffeine is a total no-go for you, look for caffeine-free all-herbal infusions.