There are number of factors that play a part a role in caffeine present in tea. If you are sensitive to caffeine, or want to lower your caffeine intake, you should try these 3 ways to decrease caffeine in tea.
Caffeine is naturally found in the true tea plant, Camellia sinensis. It is bitter in taste but has no smell and accounts for 3~5% of tea leaves weight. Caffeine is a mild stimulant to our central nervous system, which is why we experience alertness and energy levels anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours after consuming caffeine. Most people can consume up to 400 mg of caffeine a day but some people are sensitive to caffeine and/or experience restlessness, anxiety, insomnia.
By tea, I am referring to ‘true teas’ from the Camellia sinensis plant. Herbal teas and tisane are made with a combination of spices, flowers, bark and leaves are often caffeine-free. Just make sure to read the label/ingredients to see if they contain any tea leaves from Camellia sinensis if you are concerned about the caffeine content.
It is really tricky to determine the caffeine content of a particular type of tea unless you are in a controlled/laboratory setting. For reference, an average cup of black tea contains around 47 -120 mg of caffeine, green tea has about 30- 70 mg and white tea can vary anywhere from 6-75 mg of caffeine in each cup. A shot of espresso contains about 63 mg of caffeine and a cup of instant coffee between 30-90 mg.
The broad generalization about the category of tea and caffeine content is simply not accurate. Many factors play a role in the determining how much caffeine present in tea. Some of the key factors include:
Tea varietal – All true tea (tea from the camellia sinensis plant) contains some amount of caffeine. Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, indigenous to China tends to be lower in caffeine compared to camellia sinensis var. assamica, indigenous to India.
Harvest time & growing practice – Teas that are harvested in the spring & summer tend to be higher in caffeine than teas that are harvested later in the year. Additionally, teas that are shade-grown like matcha, gyokuro are higher in caffeine. The shading process induces a stress response in the plant, which increases the caffeine, L-theanine, and chlorophyll levels in order to compensate for the lack of sunlight.
Parts of the leaf used – Teas made from young leaves and buds contain more caffeine than mature leaves. Caffeine is a natural insecticide and functions as a defense system against pests and external environment. If the tea leaves are actually consumed (e.g. for matcha where tea leaves are grounded into fine powder and consumed), the caffeine intake is much higher compared to using the leaves to brew tea. Tea stems and twigs contain very little caffeine for example, in Hojicha and Kukicha.
Processing method – Tea leaves that are cut, crushed, or torn tend to produce a more concentrated cup of tea with a higher caffeine level vs whole, unbroken tea leaves. Tea bags contain release more caffeine when brewed because of the larger surface area.
Post-production roasting can alter the caffeine level in tea because caffeine dissolves readily in hot water and evaporates away with water during roasting. For example, roasted oolong and hojicha are lower in caffeine compared to other teas.
There is a common misconception that one can remove caffeine from tea at home by rinsing tea with hot water. While some of the caffeine is removed from tea leaves during an infusion but the time the leaves are left in the boiling water is not long enough to make a significant difference in the caffeine level. Additionally, you lose many of the antioxidants in tea and the resulting brew will be very dull and disappointing. PS. it takes 6 minutes to remove 80 percent of the caffeine in loose leaf teas.
If caffeine in tea is a concern for you, first consider all the factors I listed above and try these 3 ways to decrease caffeine in tea. I have also included a small list of teas with high and low caffeine content.
3 Ways To Decrease Caffeine in Tea
Water temperature – Hotter water will increase the caffeine content of a particular tea. This means that teas like black tea, which tend to be prepared using boiling water, will have more caffeine than other types of tea, like green tea or white tea, that tend to be prepared using cooler water.
For all types of teas tested, the amount of caffeine in a cup of tea brewed at 100C (212F) was at least double the amount when brewed at 80C (176F).
Lower water temperature to brew your tea or switch to the cold brew method. Just remember that using lower water temperature may weaken a teas flavor profile. As always, experiment a little to find the right balance for yourself.
Steeping time – The longer you infuse your tea leaves, the higher the caffeine level will be. Since black and pu-erh teas tend to be steeped for longer periods of time, they tend to be higher in caffeine than white, green, or oolong teas.
Steep your tea for a short time and go for tea with relatively low caffeine such as genmaicha, gunpowder, hojicha, or kukicha.
Amount of tea leaves – General recommendation for brewing a good cup of tea is 2 gram of loose tea leaves per six ounces of water. To decrease the level of caffeine in your cup, use less tea leaves than recommended when brewing the tea.
Here are some teas to try with relatively low caffeine content:
Hojicha – Japanese green tea made by slowly roasting tightly rolled dried tea leaves, stems, stalks, or twigs resulting in a loose leaf tea or a powder. Hojicha has only about 7.7 mg of caffeine per cup and has a sweet roasted aroma.
Kukicha – also known as bocha is a Japanese tea made from the twigs and stems rather than the leaves so it naturally contains very little caffeine.
Genmaicha – Japanese green tea mixed with roasted brown rice kernels (often 50-50 ratio of tea leaves to rice) so naturally, there is less green tea leaves and caffeine.
Gunpowder Green – a classic green tea from Zhejiang province, China is rolled into a small, round pellet that resembles a black powder grain. Good Gunpowder Tea typically uses older tea leaves unlike other varieties of green tea. Pick Gunpowder Green with larger, dark colored leaves as they will have less caffeine compared to small leaves with vivid green color.
Keemun – One of the most popular Chinese black tea, Keemun is cultivated exclusively in Qimen County located in the southern reaches of the Anhui Province of China. Among all the black teas, Keemun has a moderate amount of caffeine.
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