Approximately 80% of the world’s population consumes caffeine on a regular basis, but what do we actually know about it?
We put the caffeine guidance on each of our tea listings, but why? Simple: it’s because it’s one of the things we get asked about most often. So we thought we would put answers to the most frequently asked questions in one place.
Before we start let’s establish what the guidelines for caffeine consumption are for a healthy adult. Both the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) consider a daily intake of 400 mg of caffeine as safe. This amounts to 2–4 cups of coffee per day. It is further recommended to limit the amount of caffeine you consume at one time to 200 mg per dose. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant women should limit their daily intake to 200 mg.
The Science bit: What is caffeine and what does it do?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant that is produced by plants to act as a deterrent to pests and bugs. In humans, it has a stimulating effect on the brain and central nervous system. Caffeine is water-soluble and is extracted into the brewed cup when preparing tea. When consumed it is quickly absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. Caffeine’s main effect is on the brain where it stops you from feeling tired by blocking the effects of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain. Adenosine levels build up over the day, making you increasingly tired and encouraging you to want to go to sleep. Caffeine connects to adenosine receptors in the brain without activating them leading to reduced tiredness. Much of the research that has been conducted on caffeine and humans refer to coffee as it has higher consumable rates of caffeine per oz.
Does tea have more or less caffeine than coffee?
This is a frustrating question because there is no simple answer! When measuring coffee and tea in their dry forms then yes tea has more caffeine than coffee….but keep reading….when comparing brewed coffee and tea, coffee generally has more caffeine than tea! What?! How does that work? Well, I am glad you asked! Normally we use 2-5 grams of tea per 8 ounce cup, and 10 grams of coffee for the same quantity of water. A 2004 British study looked at 200 cups prepared by consumers going about their normal brewing routines. It found that the average caffeine level in the cups of tea (black English teabag style teas) was 40 mg vs 105mg in the average cup of drip coffee.
While the caffeine in tea and coffee are the same the experience is different. Tea contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which reduces stress and promotes relaxation. In tea, it works in harmony with caffeine to calm the body without reducing caffeine alertness. Tea also contains high levels of antioxidants which slow the absorption of caffeine. Together this produces a gentler increase of the caffeine in the system, a longer period of alertness with no crash at the end.
But that’s not even close to being the whole story. You are on our website so you will hopefully be aware that there are lots of different types of tea. What you may be less aware of is that your tea will have different levels of caffeine depending on the tea you use and the way you prepare them. All true tea starts as a leaf from the Camellia Sinensis plant and all of those teas naturally contain caffeine. It is the processing once they are picked that turns them into black, green, white etc. These processes also influence the caffeine content of the drink.
It is important to note. You can not generalise the amount of caffeine in tea by tea types. Some black teas contain less caffeine than some green teas. Some white teas contain significantly more caffeine than green or black! If tea is blended with herbs, flowers, spices or other ingredients that do not contain caffeine this will naturally reduce the amount of caffeine in the cup. This is why we specify caffeine content for each tea.
How you prepare your tea will also have an impact. Higher temperatures, longer brewing times and more leaves in the cup will all make the caffeine content higher as the caffeine has more time to dissolve into the water. Green and white teas are usually brewed at a lower temperature and for a shorter time, which naturally reduces the amount of caffeine in the cup.
Matcha is always high in caffeine, for two reasons. Firstly, the leaves are selected for their high caffeine content. Secondly, it is made of powdered tea leaves, meaning that you consume the whole leaf. Which in turn means you are consuming all of the caffeine that was present in the leaf.
If I want to reduce or exclude caffeine what should I do?
All of our herbal, fruit and rooibos tisanes are naturally caffeine-free, so that’s good news! All of our tea listings do have caffeine guidelines, so you can make an informed choice and know exactly what you’re drinking. We also sell a decaf version of many of our teas: these will still have a small amount of caffeine but this is negligible.
Like most natural nutrients it really depends on your health and lifestyle as to whether you benefit from caffeine or are hindered by it. If you have a pre-existing medical condition and are concerned about the impact of caffeine on your system we would always recommend that you speak to a medical professional. That is not us, we are enthusiastic about tea but hold no medical qualifications beyond a basic first-aid certificate.