Caffeine is the world’s most popular drug, easily surpassing nicotine and alcohol, and more than 85% of Americans ingest significant amounts of this legal drug on a daily basis—usually via coffee, tea, cola, or chocolate.
While most consumers can easily tolerate 300mg of drug daily, you might want to avoid caffeine up to eight hours before bedtime if you desire a restful sleep.
With tea consumption on the rise, more and more tea drinkers want to know about tea and caffeine. Unfortunately, there is much misinformation that needs to be dispelled.
Here are the top six questions my audiences ask about tea and caffeine:
1. Can I decaffeinate my tea at home in 30 seconds?
No. Many of us in the tea industry were, for years, guilty of touting an at-home decaffeination procedure that gave wide-eyed hope to tea lovers who wanted great taste and less caffeine. We assured audiences that 80% of the caffeine in either a teabag or loose tea leaves is released after a brief 30-second infusion. Consumers were directed to pour off the initial wash, re-infuse the tea leaves with hot water and brew as usual. You could, supposedly, eliminate about 35mg of caffeine from each cup.
I helped sponsor one of the first university studies that measured caffeine content in eight classic loose teas using the latest laboratory equipment. Researchers found that a three-minute infusion removes only 46-70% of the caffeine from a cup of tea. This is a far cry from our old 30-second/80% removal claim. In fact, their trials showed it would take a six-minute soak to remove 80% of the caffeine! You wouldn’t want to drink that second cup.
Researcher testing tea caffeine at Asbury University, Wilmore, Kentucky.
2. Does green tea have less caffeine than black tea?
Not always. A by-product of our university study deflated another popular tea caffeine misconception. Tea internet sites are filled with contradictory assumptions about caffeine content found in the four major tea families. Many claim that green teas have less caffeine than oolong or black tea, and white tea has the least of all. Again, modern laboratory equipment is able to disprove this assumption.
A majority of the teas we analyzed contained around 55 mg of caffeine per seven-ounce cup, regardless of the tea family. Darjeeling black tea and Japanese sencha were almost equally caffeinated. But, one Chinese white tea yielded an astonishing 75 mg of caffeine, nearly as much as an extremely caffeine-rich Assam black tea. Most tea drinkers would suspect those results from a hearty Assam tea (Assamica tea bushes can be 33% higher in caffeine content than Chinese varieties), but few would think a white tea would have such high levels of caffeine. Several tea horticulturalists believe caffeine is more concentrated in the unopened tea leaf bud where it serves as a bitter deterrent to hungry insects.
3. Does tea contain more caffeine than coffee?
No. Coffee contains, on average, three times the amount of caffeine as tea.
4. Is tea caffeine different from coffee caffeine?
Caffeine is the same, no matter the source. Your body reacts to caffeine differently depending on related compounds found in the beverage.
The major caffeine modifier for tea drinkers is the presence of L-theanine. This amazing amino acid has a relaxing effect brought about by increased alpha brain-wave frequency, long associated with a relaxed, but alert, state of consciousness. That is why tea has been used for centuries in meditation.
5. Which tea should I drink if I want a lot of caffeine?
Black teas from the Assam region of India are consistently high in caffeine as is matcha, the powdered tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony.
Simply steeping your tea longer and at a hotter temperature can release more caffeine into the cup as well.
6. What should I drink if I cannot tolerate caffeine?
If your doctor is asking you to cut caffeine completely out of your diet, you should switch to a commercially decaffeinated tea, a fruit tisane, or an herbal such as chamomile, peppermint, rooibos, or tulsi. Remember, caffeine cannot be present in herbals unless they are blended with tea leaves. Read the ingredient list.
A concluding allegory
I received an email recently from a distraught customer who complained that the Decaffeinated Earl Grey she purchased from my website didn’t have the same flavor as the regular Earl Grey. I refunded her money and attempted to steer her toward caffeine-free blends. (Caffeine-free and decaffeinated have unique meanings.) I shared with her an illustration appropriate for my state of Kentucky –
It would be improper for me to go to one of the local distilleries and request their finest bottle of bourbon with the caveat that the alcohol be removed.
I can’t expect bourbon to taste the same once the alcohol has been extracted anymore than I can expect tea to have the same flavor when the caffeine has been eliminated. Both alcohol and caffeine are significant components of the flavor profiles unique to those two popular beverages. Now that’s a sobering thought!