While there are a lot of 'caffeine-free' teas out there to choose from, not all are created equal. In this article, we are going to explore the benefits of naturally caffeine-free infusions, over the all too common collection of often chemically decaffeinated options on the market today.
First things first...What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a molecule found in the leaves and seeds of many plants, from coffee and cacao through to the versatile Camellia Sinensis, aka the tea plant. It is used by plants as a natural pesticide to keep all manner of insects from devouring its delicious leaves. Caffeine is widely consumed by us humans as an energy stimulant, with the most delicious version (of course) being one of our blended teas!
So what is Decaf?
Decaffeinated tea or ‘Decaf’ is a tea that has been through an extra level of processing, where either a chemical solvent or carbon dioxide is used to strip the leaves of their caffeine content. Unfortunately, this can also lead to loss of anti-oxidant related benefits as well as impaired flavour.
...and Naturally Caffeine Free?
All of our non-caffeinated, botanical infusions fall under this banner. It essentially means that all of the botanicals, herbs, and other ingredients in the infusion are naturally free of caffeine, and therefore don't need to be processed chemically to remove it, meaning they maintain all of their flavour, nutritional benefits and also remain free of unnecessary chemicals.
The downside of decaf
To obtain decaffeinated versions of normal teas, that is, true teas (black teas, green teas, white teas, etc) from the family Camellia Sinensis, the tea needs to be processed in a solution that strips the leaves of their caffeine, usually this is either a chemical solvent such as Ethyl Acetate or Methylene Chloride, or a form of Carbon Dioxide. It is an important element to consider when weighing up the benefits of drinking decaffeinated tea, taking on board the risk that leftover chemicals could be more toxic than the unwanted effects of the caffeine themselves.
While the jury is out on their exact effects and the level of residue left over after processing, exposure to chemical solvents such as methylene chloride, often found in aerosols and paint strippers, can have links to headaches, skin irritation, dizziness and faintness. Of course, not all decaf is created equally either, some methods like carbon dioxide decaffeination (more common in coffee but gaining in usage for tea as well), are said to be non-toxic and therefore better, but are less cost-effective and are often reported to produce washed out or insipid flavours.
It’s not just the caffeine that's lost.
A 2003 study conducted by the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition found that decaffeinated tea contains only a third of the catechins found in regular tea. Regular tea contains 21 to 103 milligrams of catechins per gram. Decaf contains only 5 to 50 milligrams. Due to a form of Ethyl Acetate occurring naturally in small quantities within tea leaves, manufacturers often label this process as ‘Naturally Decaffeinated’, however, the reality is far from natural, with the process removing significant quantities of the teas nutrients and the chemical residue posing a potential health risk over time.
Why we don’t do ‘Decaf’
First and foremost, we don't think it’s necessary. Like with almost everything in life, the gold standard is to find natures own variations. There are so many delightfully delicious botanical infusions available, naturally free from caffeine and therefore needing none of the potentially harmful processes often involved with decaffeination. There’s simply no need to mess with natures best in order for us to enjoy a deliciously brewed blend without the associated caffeine hit.
Rooibos is a perfect example of this and its spike in popularity around the world has led to some amazingly delicious blends being made available. Our own Terracotta Sunburst blend is a firm favourite with our followers, and always at the top in terms of sales throughout the year.
Taking into account everything above and adding the often associated loss or impairment of flavour with decaffeinated tea and you have a recipe for disaster. In our opinion, we feel its best to stay clear of decaf, and when you do need a brew without the caffeine boost, opt for a well balanced, expertly blended and naturally caffeine-free herbal infusion instead.
You can find out about the naturally caffeine free infusions available on our online store
. We offer a beautifully balanced range of blended teas both caffeinated and naturally caffeine-free and feel there is more than enough on offer for anyone, without resorting to tainting our teas (and your taste buds) with unnatural processing methods.
One final thing to consider when weighing up a decision about decaf is that no matter the method, no decaffeinated tea will ever be truly 'caffeine-free' as there will always be some residual caffeine that remains in the leaves, and that amount can vary from tea to tea. There is also the risk of the toxicity level from residual chemicals left on the leaves after processing, and while this may be low, if you enjoy your tea as regularly as we do, the cumulative effects of the residue can build up in your body over time.
The best way forward, in our opinion and the only way to ensure a brew truly free from caffeine, is to stick to naturally caffeine free infusions, known as tisanes and often referred to as herbal or fruit teas. These blends, of which there are many to be found, contain no caffeine and so need no processing and therefore maintain the maximum flavour and beneficial nutrients, without the added risk from any extra processing.
A little inside knowledge to leave you with…
Studies have shown that the majority of caffeine is released into the water during the first 60 seconds of brewing, while up to 95% of the beneficial Catechin's can be preserved. With this in mind, and as the majority of our loose leaf blends can be brewed several times, you could potentially treat yourself to a reduced caffeine version of your favourite true tea blend. By steeping your leaves for 50-60 seconds, then removing them, discarding the first liquor and infusing again, science suggests you should be able to enjoy your tea with less caffeine while still retaining a good amount of its nutrients. While this won’t be caffeine free, it should have lower levels. We’d love to know what you think of this idea, and if you’ve tried it do let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below or via our profiles on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.