How do we decaffeinate our teas?

What is Caffeine

Let’s begin by understanding that caffeine is a natural product that occurs in tea. In moderation, caffeine is not a problem for most people. This is especially true for tea rather than coffee, as the absorption of caffeine and its effects on the body are different with tea than coffee. If you drink 5 cups of regular tea a day and suffer no side effects then I would not worry. For those who are a little more sensitive or who have other medical conditions that react with caffeine, decaffeinated teas can help you to enjoy a regular brew without the side effects. We have a blog all about caffeine if you want to know more.

What’s the difference between decaf and caffeine-free?

Excellent question! Caffeine-free teas are not tea at all. They are drinks that have not ever contained caffeine. These include herbal teas, rooibos and fruit teas. Tea leaves that have gone through decaffeination can not be described as caffeine-free as they will still contain trace amounts of caffeine. 

How is tea decaffeinated?

Tea is mostly decaffeinated in one of 4 ways. Stand by for the technical bits….

  • Methylene Chloride:
    Caffeine is removed directly by soaking tea leaves in methylene chloride or indirectly, by soaking the water (used to remove the caffeine) in methylene chloride and then returning the water to the tea for re-absorption of flavours and oils. It is a decaffeination process by which the molecules of caffeine bond to molecules of methylene chloride. There are some questions about the safety of this method and this process is not licenced for tea in the USA but is in Europe. Most commercially produced European decaffeinated tea is produced by this method as it is the cheapest. 
  • Ethyl Acetate:
    Same process but a different chemical used. Tea processed using ethyl acetate is often, misleadingly,  referred to as “naturally decaffeinated” because ethyl acetate is found naturally in tea. The issue with this method of decaffeination is the fact that ethyl acetate is stubborn to remove after the decaffeination process, this often leaves a chemical taste to the tea.
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Tea Decaffeination:
    This is the method that we use here at the Tea Enthusiasts. We find that this method helps to retain the most catechins and polyphenols, these are the molecules that give tea many of its health benefits. It also still retains the tea flavours. At high pressure and high temperature, carbon dioxide reaches the super-critical state where it becomes a solvent and with its small, non-polar molecules it attracts the small caffeine molecules and removes them from the tea leaves. 
  • Water Processing Decaffeination
    : Caffeine extraction with water is not common in tea decaffeination. It is more popular as a coffee decaffeination method, although a small number of tea products are decaffeinated using this method. After the caffeine is removed from the tea by soaking the tea in hot water for a period of time, the solution is passed through a carbon filter for caffeine removal. The water is then returned to the tea for re-absorption of flavours and oils. We have found this method leaves to a watered-down flavour. 

So how do you know what method was used for your tea? Well if you order from us it is CO2, every time! If it does not say… it’s probably the methylene chloride method as this is the cheapest method. 

A final note:

There is a “fact” on the internet suggesting that you can home decaffeinate your tea by washing it before you brew your cuppa. Unfortunately, the science does not back this up. I am going to quote directly from the expert in the field  NIGEL MELICAN, as he said it best. Hicks et al measured the caffeine (plus theobromine) content of six different teas (three bagged and three loose-leaf, including black, oolong and green types). They measured caffeine-extraction in boiling water when steeped for 5 minutes, 10 minutes and 15 minutes. They replicated all their extractions three times to eliminate experimental error. Extrapolation of their data gives the following caffeine-extraction percentages below 5 minutes (averaged over all tea types and formats); note that while loose tea extracted marginally more slowly than tea-bag tea, it made only a couple of percentage-points’ difference:

30 seconds: 9% caffeine removal

1 minute: 18% caffeine removal

2 minutes: 34% caffeine removal

3 minutes: 48% caffeine removal

4 minutes: 60% caffeine removal

5 minutes: 69% caffeine removal

10 minutes: 92% caffeine removal

15 minutes: 100% caffeine removal

If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team and we will be happy to answer any questions! In the meantime, if you would like to be the first to know about new products please take a moment to sign up for our mailing list. You can also explore our selection of Decaffeinated tea here 

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