Tea Caffeine Be Gone, Part I

Decaf TyphooAs one who lives the “tea life,” I keep a nice tasty cupful within easy reach throughout the day, but the caffeine it contains is always on my mind. There’s decaffeinated tea, but I wonder at how the caffeine gets removed and if that process is safe.

The topic seemed simple when I began. Instead, I 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 I want to do, as an ethical and moral person, is to pile more useless and misleading “stuff” onto the pile. So, I 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 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 Camellia 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, as I will show in Part II.

Meanwhile, happy sipping!

[A list of references for this post.]

For information on that tea you’re sipping, stop by Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

2 thoughts on “Tea Caffeine Be Gone, Part I

  1. Pingback: Tea Quiz: Which Color of Tea Has More Caffeine | Tea Blog

  2. Pingback: Tea Pioneers: Catherine of Braganza « Tea Blog

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