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How Is Tea Decaffeinated?

Decaffeinated tea is popular among tea drinkers who want to reduce their caffeine intake. Still, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding how this tea is processed and how it differs from regular caffeinated tea. 

Tea is decaffeinated through various methods such as methylene chloride, ethyl acetate, carbon dioxide processing, and water processing. Black and green teas have to be decaffeinated chemically, but herbal teas are naturally caffeine-free. 

Decaffeinating tea can be a complicated chemical process. There are even some methods of decaffeination that are banned because they make tea unsafe for human consumption. Keep reading to learn more about how tea is decaffeinated and how this process can affect tea’s chemical properties. 

The Process Behind Decaffeinating Tea

Four primary methods are commonly used to decaffeinate tea. Here’s a breakdown of the different methods used during caffeine removal:

  • Methylene chloride method: In this method, tea is decaffeinated by soaking the raw tea leaves in a methylene chloride solution. Methylene chloride is the same chemical used in paint strippers and nail polish remover. While this decaffeination method may a relatively safe record in the tea industry, the United States bans all imports of tea using this processing method.
  • Ethyl acetate: Ethyl acetate decaffeination is similar to methylene chloride decaffeination except the solution uses a natural solvent derived from fruit called ethyl acetate. Ethyl acetate can give tea an unpleasant chemical taste in some cases.
  • Carbon dioxide: With carbon dioxide decaffeination, tea leaves are soaked in highly compressed liquid carbon dioxide gas. This high temperature, high pressure method removes caffeine from the tea without introducing chemical solvents or potential off-flavors, making it the most popular (but expensive) decaffeination method.
  • Water processing: In this rarely used method (also called the Swiss water method), the caffeine in tea is extracted by steeping in hot water. This infusion is then put through a carbon filter to remove the caffeine and then returned to the tea leaves so they can reabsorb what was previously steeped out. This process of decaffeination isn’t popular with tea drinkers since it waters down the flavor of the resulting brew as it lowers caffeine levels.

Ethyl acetate is one of the most common methods for creating decaf tea. Carbon dioxide decaffeination is more popular since it’s the best method for preserving the flavor of the tea, but it tends to make the processing of the tea more expensive for tea producers. 

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Is Decaffeinated Tea Bad for You?

Decaffeinated tea isn’t bad for you. The chemical processes used to decaffeinate tea are generally safe.

However, decaffeinated tea isn’t considered to be as healthy for you as caffeinated tea. The processes used to strip tea of their caffeine can also reduce the amount of polyphenols and other healthy nutrients present in tea, which can reduce the overall health benefits of tea.

How Is Tea Naturally Decaffeinated? 

When tea is advertised as being naturally decaffeinated, the tea is usually processed through either ethyl acetate, water processing, or carbon dioxide decaffeination methods. These methods are considered “natural” because they don’t introduce synthetic chemical solvents to the tea. 

Many types of herbal tea naturally contain no caffeine. These herbal caffeine-free teas, also known as tisanes, come in a wide variety of flavors. These herbs also usually have their own medicinal benefits compared to those you’d receive from drinking green or black tea.

Is Decaffeinated Tea Really Decaffeinated?

Even though tea is considered decaffeinated once it’s been through the decaffeination process, it should still be avoided by people trying to avoid caffeine entirely. This is because there is still a small amount of caffeine left in regular tea even after being decaffeinated. 

The amount of caffeine left in tea after being decaffeinated isn’t enough to affect most people on the level that they’ll notice they’ve ingested caffeine. For people with caffeine allergies or avoiding caffeine for religious reasons, tea should not be consumed at all. 

Why Drink Decaffeinated Tea?

If you normally take your tea fully caffeinated, you may not realize there are several good reasons for drinking your tea without. Even though it’s one of the most socially acceptable drugs in society, regular caffeine ingestion can lead to dependence and over-consumption. 

Dependence on Caffeine

Drinking caffeinated tea every day can be a relaxing routine, but this much caffeine can lead to a physical dependence. If you develop a dependence on caffeine, missing your daily dose of tea can lead to caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as the following: 

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Digestive upset
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression

Suppose you find yourself dealing with the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal after you switch from caffeinated to decaffeinated tea. In that case, one solution is to make your tea fifty-fifty for a week or so and slowly reduce the amount of caffeinated tea you use. This can help you wean off caffeine gradually without suffering from negative symptoms.

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Over-Consumption of Caffeine

For people who like to drink a lot of tea and other caffeinated drinks over the course of the day, drinking too much caffeine can also lead to negative physical symptoms. If you keep your tea consumption to the recommended 3-4 cups of tea a day, you shouldn’t experience any symptoms of caffeine overconsumption. 

Drinking more than the recommended amount of tea and other caffeinated beverages can lead to an overdose of caffeine. If you overdose on caffeine, you may experience the following: 

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Excessive thirst
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Fast heartbeat and respiration 

Most tea contains caffeine in low enough levels that you shouldn’t experience the symptoms of caffeine overdose even after several cups. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, so if you experience any of these symptoms after ingesting caffeinated food or drink, stop consuming it immediately. 

Does Tea Contain a Lot of Caffeine? 

If you’re trying to cut back on caffeine, tea has less caffeine than other caffeinated beverages like coffee and soda. How much caffeine is in tea?  It really depends on the type of tea.  A good option for those who want to cut back on their caffeine without switching to decaffeinated teas is to go with green tea. 

Green tea has less caffeine than black tea and the caffeine is also absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream. This makes the effects of the caffeine in green tea much smoother for those who are sensitive to more strongly caffeinated drinks.

If you’re looking for the low caffeine true tea (from the camellia sinensis plant), take a look at white teas since they have the lowest caffeine content of all the regular teas.

Amount of Caffeine in Different Types of Tea

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but here’s the lowdown on the amount of caffeine you can expect in a cup of tea:

  • Herbal teas like chamomile tea: 0 milligrams of caffeine
  • Decaffeinated tea: ~3 mg of caffeine
  • White tea: 10-15 mg
  • Green tea: 15-30 mg
  • Oolong tea: 30-45 mg
  • Black tea: 60-75
  • Coffee made from fresh coffee beans: 96 milligrams of caffeine
  • Soft drinks like colas: 32 mg of caffeine in a 330 ml can

Decaffeinated Tea Is Safe to Drink

Even though the methyl chloride method of decaffeination has a sketchy reputation for safety, buying tea that has been decaffeinated through any other method is essentially harmless. Teas decaffeinated through other methods have most of their flavor preserved too, so there’s no risk in trying this version if you’re trying to cut back on your caffeine. 

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