Caffeine in Tea: The Whole Story

It's time to dispel some rumors about caffeine in tea by answering some basic questions. How much Caffeine is in tea? Does green tea have more or less than red (called black in the West)? And what is decaffeinated tea all about? We'll cover all that in more in this post - so you'll know exactly how to maximize, or minimize, your caffeine consumption in tea.

Does Tea have Caffeine? Learn how tea is decaffeinated, and how to do it yourself.

Does Tea have Caffeine?

All tea has caffeine, as all tea comes from the same plant: Camellia Sinensis. What we call Herbal Teas, are not actually tea, but rather tisanes. So whether White, Black, Red, Green, or Wu Long (Oolong) - if it's tea - it has caffeine. 

And it's no wonder the Camellia Sinensis has caffeine; it is a natural insecticide that protects the plant from bugs. For us, caffeine lends its alkaline bitter taste that's present in tea. 

Coffee has about 100mg of Caffeine per cup. You'd been to drink 4 full cups of Black tea, or 6 full cups of Green tea to achieve that number. This means that your typical green tea has 1/6th the amount of caffeine as coffee. This is a good start, but this number can drop far lower.

What about decaffeinated tea?

It's true. Tea can be decaffeinated. To be considered decaffeinated, the number must be reduced to 99% or more. Chemical solvents such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate can be used by soaking the leaves. As ethyl acetate is naturally found in the leaf, this method is considered "natural." 

For those with severe reactions to caffeine, decaffeination is an effective route but it comes at a cost - namely that 'real' tea is never decaffeinated. Only the cheaper-supermarket stuff.

Real tea is like real wine - just as it sounds silly to drink fine French Bordeaux that is non-alcoholic, it is just as uncommon (if impossible) to find genuine terroir sourced tea that has been fussed within the chemistry lab to remove a property inherent in all tea. 

But, all is not lost - as one can reduce the amount of caffeine in their cup following simple selection techniques and brewing methods.

Choosing the right tea.

There are two general factors that tend to hold true with caffeine in tea. Though, it's worth noting that these are general factors, and can vary.

Factor one: The younger the leaf, the more the caffeine.

New buds have more caffeine per gram than the first leaf, which has more than the second, and so on. This is because the plant invests more nutrients in the newer leaves.

With this in mind, you can go for a green tea like Hou Kui (Monkey King), which is made up of larger leaves, rather than a tea like Bi Luo Chun (Green Snail Spring), made of buds only.

Factor two: The more oxidization, the more caffeine.

Oxidization in tea is the same process that turns apples brown when you cut in to them. Red tea (known as Black tea in the West) is 100% oxidized, and thus (with everything else being equal) will have a higher caffeine content than the green tea version which is 0% oxidization.

A strong red tea will give more of a kick than a green tea, in general. 

Brewing Techniques.

We've seen that the age of the leaf, and how much it's been oxidized has an effect on how much caffeine will be in the leaf. Though, we don't eat the leaf, so your brewing technique will change how much caffeine you actually consume.

Let's think about to our coffee comparison. If we're brewing to minimize the amount of caffeine in our tea, we've already started with green tea - or about 16mg of caffeine per individual cup. As mentioned before, we'd need to drink 5 more cups to get to our 100mg of caffeine in one cup of coffee.

Caffeine is one of the first water-soluble chemicals that leach out during a steeping, and we can exploit that to further minimize the caffeine. By pre-steeping our tea for 30 seconds in hot water, and then disposing of it, we've depleted the caffeine in the cup by a further 50-70%! 

This means our one cup of green tea now has a maximum of 8mg per cup, but probably lower. This is where decaffeinated coffee falls, by the way. It's also less than a Hersey chocolate bar, which clocks in at 9mg per bar.

With correct brewing methods, we can reduce green tea to have less than 8mg of caffeine per cup, which is the same range as decaffeinated coffee. 

In Closing

Whether you want...

  • To maximize your caffeine by drinking younger bud red tea such as our Chuan Hong without a rinse, or...
  • To lower the caffeine content to the point that you'd need to drink nearly 20+ cups to feel a buzz with our leafy Mao Feng brewed with a rinse you can manage your caffeine intake without resorting to fake, and chemically altered flavorless super market teas.

You can manage your caffeine at home without resorting to fake, chemically alerted (and flavorless) teas from your supermarket.

This is one of the huge advantages of tea over wine; you can still visit the Terroirs of distance lands and mountain peaks with your tongue while easily tailoring the active ingredients however you'd wish.

For more information on teas, be sure to join our Chinese Tea 101 Facebook group. We'd love to see you inside!