What is all the buzz about caffeine levels in tea?
If your perfect cup of tea lifts your spirits and gets you going, that is likely in part due to the caffeine it contains. Caffeine, it so happens, is the world’s most used psychoactive drug – a chemical substance that can alter mood, consciousness, behavior, or perception. It’s no wonder then that tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water!
Caffeine in tea vs. coffee - L-Theanine makes all the difference
Caffeine is naturally occurring in about 60 plant species, most notably coffee and tea. But unlike coffee, tea also contains the amino acid L-Theanine which when paired with caffeine, essentially pumps you up without the jitters. This does not come with the sudden but inevitable betrayal of the coffee crash. Rather, the caffeine from tea – and matcha green tea especially – releases more slowly into the system for a longer, calmer energy boost. The L-Theanine + caffeine duo is also known to improve focus and cognition and reduce stress. It’s a super beverage!
On average, a cup of tea contains one-third to one-half as much caffeine as a cup of drip coffee. Why the varying amounts? Here are some of the factors:
- The tea itself: The amount of caffeine in the leaf when plucked can vary based on the varietal; growing conditions (shade vs. sun, altitude, etc); age of the plant and the leaf (the newest growth – top two leaves and bud – hold more caffeine than older leaves and stems); and many other factors.
- The tea type: Notwithstanding all the other factors, black tea generally has more caffeine than green and white teas.
- The cut: A tea bag containing finely cut tea compared with full leaf tea in sachets or loose will extract more caffeine. More surface area in contact with the water results in not only stronger flavor, but also more caffeine.
- The steeping: Caffeine is soluble in water, more so in hot water. And more extraction will occur over time. Infusing tea in cooler water – even slowly at room temperature or cold infusing – will extract less caffeine.
Decaf vs. caffeine-free
Bottom line: there are many variables affecting how much caffeine ends up in your cup, making it impossible to make generalizations about caffeine and tea. The tea itself, how much tea you use, and how you steep it all factor in, so we can’t give you any exact answers. If you know caffeine isn’t for you though, here are some things to note when it comes to “decaf” vs. “caffeine-free”:
- Even decaffeinated tea contains small amounts of caffeine, as the extraction process is not complete.
- Herbal infusions or tisanes, however, contain simply herbs, spices, and fruits – not tea (from the Camellia Sinensis species), so they are naturally caffeine-free. “Red Tea” from the Rooibos plant grown in South Africa is not actually tea either and thus is caffeine-free. Many people find Rooibos a nice caffeine-free alternative to black tea, due to its earthy flavor and amber color.
- There are, however, other caffeine-containing leaves used to make “tea”: Yerba maté and guayusa leaves contain caffeine and are particularly popular beverages in South America.
When it comes to caffeine in tea, it’s just another example of how complicated and nuanced this simple beverage is. And we kind of love that. Don’t you?