Caffeine is a type of methylxanthine, an alkaloid that occurs naturally in plants including tea, coffee, yerba maté, among others. In Camellia sinensis (the tea plant), caffeine acts as a natural pesticide to keep pesky critters from nibbling on its leaves. Caffeine is a stimulant that is widely used to improve energy, alertness, mental focus and clarity; however, consuming caffeine can sometimes have negative effects on the body, including: jitteriness; raised blood pressure; rapid heartbeat or fluttering; insomnia; among others.

There are many factors that affect the amount of caffeine in a cup of tea and it is impossible to determine the exact amount of caffeine in a given cup. Please note that it has been traditionally understood that tea type, in particular the oxidation level of the leaves, is the primary factor in determining the relative amounts of caffeine in tea. For example, black tea has the most amount of caffeine and some claim that white tea has hardly any caffeine at all. This, however, has been proven to be incorrect and those typical "Caffeine in Tea" charts that are so prevalent should be disregarded. Among the factors that do affect caffeine content are:

  • Age of leaf when plucked – the younger the leaf, the more caffeine. Tea buds, the unopened leaves, have been shown to have very high levels of caffeine. For example, Silver Needle White Tea has been shown to have as much, if not more, caffeine as black tea.
  • Growing conditions – amount of sunlight, rain, etc. will affect the levels of nutrients in the tea leaves. For example, shade-grown teas like Gyokuro, a Japanese green tea, are higher in caffeine than teas grown in the full sun. If there are draught conditions, caffeine and other nutrients are more concentrated resulting in higher levels; conversely, if there are very rainy conditions, caffeine and other nutrients are less concentrated resulting in lower levels.
  • Ratio of tea leaves to water – the more tea leaves you use, the more caffeine will be extracted into the infusion.
  • Temperature of the water – water is a solvent and the hotter the water, the more nutrients can be extracted from the tea leaves. Since black teas are best when prepared with boiling water and green teas are best when prepared with water around 175 degrees, more of the caffeine may be extracted from the black tea leaves.
  • Length of time the leaves were steeped – the longer your tea steeps, the more caffeine will be extracted from the leaves and the more bitter the infusion, since caffeine is a bitter compound.

The average 8 oz. serving of brewed coffee contains 95-200mg of caffeine. It is a commonly held belief that the caffeine content in tea is at most half the amount as that in coffee; however, studies have shown some teas to contain up to 120mg of caffeine per 8oz. serving. Please note that tisanes are generally caffeine-free, with the exceptions of yerba maté and guayusa.

Caffeine & Theanine

The caffeine in tea may affect the body differently than the caffeine in other beverages. This is primarily due to the theanine that is also present in tea. Theanine, also known as L-theanine, is an amino acid that stimulates calm and relaxation. In addition, it counteracts some of the negative effects of caffeine, such as the "jitters". To date, tea is the only known plant that contains both caffeine and theanine – making it truly unique. Unfortunately for some people who have an elevated sensitivity to caffeine, the theanine is not enough to reduce the negative effects of caffeine. One interesting point to note is that the teas with the highest levels of caffeine may also tend to have higher levels of theanine, keeping everything in balance.

Decaf vs. Caffeine-Free

The word 'tea' is generally used to refer to any infusion that is prepared by pouring hot water over leaves and/or other ingredients. All 'true' teas come from the Camellia sinensis plant and encompass black, oolong, green, white, yellow, and Pu-er teas. These "true" teas all have caffeine, but they can be decaffeinated to remove some of the caffeine. However, these decaf teas will still have a small amount of caffeine, since only about 96% of the caffeine is removed.

Tisanes, which include herbal infusions, fruit blends, rooibos, honeybush, yerba maté, and guayusa are not 'true' teas, but are prepared in the same manner and have many similar health benefits as tea. All of these infusions are naturally caffeine-free, except for yerba maté and guayusa.

The Decaffeination Process

There are two main processes used to reduce the caffeine content in the "true" teas: ethyl acetate and super critical carbon dioxide (CO₂). Ethyl acetate is widely used in mass-produced teabags because it is a cost-effective way to reduce caffeine; however, it may leave residue on the tea and remove flavor, along with most of the healthy nutrients (up to 80%). The CO₂ method is a more expensive process, but a much better way to reduce caffeine content and preserve the original quality of the tea leaves. This process does not leave any residue and retains most of the flavor qualities and healthy nutrients (removing only about 10%-15%). Our decaf teas, as with all good quality specialty loose leaf teas, have been decaffeinated using the CO₂ method.

Reducing the caffeine in tea*

You can reduce the caffeine levels in your tea by up to 30% by following the steps below.

  1. Prepare hot tea according to the instructions provided on your package, but only steep for 30 seconds
  2. Discard this first infusion
  3. Pour more hot water over the leaves and steep for the full recommended time
  4. Enjoy!
*It is recommended that you try this method for the first time early in the day to see if enough of the caffeine is removed for you.

Click here to be directed to A Brief History of Tea.

Click here to be directed to Tea's Healthy Compounds & Health Benefits.