How Much Caffeine Is Really in Your Cup?

TWEET: What you think you know about caffeine in tea might be all wrong.

When the Wrigley Company pulled its Alert Energy Caffeine Gum from the market two weeks after launch, it was in no small part due to a newly announced investigation by the Food & Drug Administration into caffeine in our nation’s foods and beverages. Consumers are increasingly conscious of their caffeine intake and they will expect tea sellers to be able to communicate clearly about how much caffeine is really in their cups. The good news is that more research is being done to give us those answers. The bad news is that we’re seeing that clarity may be a harder standard than we’d expected.

There are many myths about caffeine in tea that continue to be perpetuated. You cannot “decaffeinate” your tea by throwing out the first 30 second steep. Black tea does not necessarily have more caffeine than green tea. White tea is not low in caffeine. If a tea is promoted as “caffeine-free,” it is an herbal; Camellia sinensis will always yield some caffeine.

Research commissioned by Camellia Sinensis Tea House in Montreal and published in Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties (Kevin Gascoyne, Francois Marchand, and Jasmin Desharnais – Firefly Books, 2011) examined the caffeine content of more than thirty teas, steeped as one would for drinking. The studies bore out the belief that matcha had the most caffeine, since the entire leaf is consumed. But after that, all bets were off. Five of the seven teas with the most caffeine were green teas, but so were five of the seven teas with the least caffeine. Few broad statements could be made about caffeine by type.

Because there is such variability within categories, it is useful to consider these factors which affect caffeine quantity. Chinese teas (Camellia sinensis sinensis) have less caffeine than Indian teas which are typically Camellia sinensis assamica. Shade grown teas tend to have higher caffeine levels, as do teas plucked during hotter seasons. Steeping style also makes a difference. Teas that steep for shorter times or in cooler water yield lower caffeine contents.

It may not be easy to assess how much caffeine is really in your cup, but you can at least make sure that you’re drinking good tea.

Katrina Ávila Munichiello

©Mystic Media 2013

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