The Buzz About Tea & Caffeine

Tea & Caffeine
Text by by Bruce Richardson

With tea consumption on the rise, more and more tea drinkers want to know all about tea and caffeine. Unfortunately, there are a lot of caffeine myths that need to be unlearned. Here are a few of the questions I am often asked about caffeine:

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 percent of the caffeine in either a tea bag 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 35 milligrams of caffeine from each cup. But if it were that easy, there would be little use for all the effort and money expended to commercially decaffeinate tea.

I helped sponsor a recent university study using the latest laboratory equipment to measure caffeine content in eight classic loose teas. Researchers found that a three-minute infusion removes only 46 to 70 percent of the caffeine from a cup of tea. This is a far cry from our 30-second/80 percent removal claim. In fact, these trials showed it would take a six-minute soak to remove 80 percent of the caffeine! You wouldn’t want to drink that second cup.

Does green tea have less caffeine than black tea? Not always. A by-product of our university study deflated another popular tea-caffeine misconception. Internet tea 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 teas and that white teas have the least of all. Again, modern laboratory equipment is able to disprove this assumption.

Most of the teas we analyzed contained approximately 55 milligrams of caffeine per 7-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 milligrams of caffeine, nearly as much as an extremely caffeine-rich Assam black tea. Most tea drinkers would expect those results from a hearty Assam tea (Assamica tea bushes can be 33 percent 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 bud.

Does tea contain more caffeine than coffee? No. Coffee contains, on average, three times the amount of caffeine found in tea.

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 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.

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.

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 fruit infusion or an herbal such as chamomile, peppermint, rooibos, or tulsi. Remember, caffeine cannot be present in herbals unless the herbals are blended with tea leaves. Read the ingredient list if in doubt.

Contributing Editor Bruce Richardson is the owner of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas and Benjamin Press. Follow his blog at

From TeaTime July/August 2011


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