What is decaf tea?

26 01 2009

I think that many of us would like to drink tea all day long, dosing up on all those antioxidants, but the truth is that tea does have caffeine and drinking a lot of it especially in the evening can cause sleeping problems. At some point you might want to consider decaf tea. This was the case for me when I thought about decaf tea for the first time – and I wondered what it means for tea to be decaf, does it change the tea in any significant ways?

There are two ways in which tea can be decaffeinated. The first one uses a solvent called ethyl acetate and it allows about 30% of the polyphenols (antioxidants) to be retained. This method is cheaper, but also less beneficial for us as consumers. 

The second process is called effervescence and is more natural, using just water and carbon dioxide. Here 95% of polyphenols are retained, making this a more desired way of decaffeinating tea.

An alternative way to decaf tea yourself, which I mentioned in an earlier article is letting your tea steep for 30-40 seconds, pouring out the liquid and continue to steep the same tea leaves. The tea you pour off contains most of the caffeine, because it gets released in the beginning of the steeping. You can also choose naturally caffeine-free teas like rooibos or herbal infusions. You want to avoid bagged green tea, because it contains more caffeine then loose leaf and also you get less control of how much tea to brew. 

Since the three main substances in tea leaves (polyphenols, amino acids and caffeine) all affect the taste of the infusion, it is inevitable that the decaffeination process will alter the flavor.

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2 responses

26 01 2009
ryan

Will using your 30-40 second pour off method decrease the health benefit of the tea?

26 01 2009
teatropolitan

Hello Ryan

Out of all the compounds in tea caffeine dissolves fastest in water, so about 80% of it will be eliminated by pouring off the first infusion. The level of antioxidants will also be reduced to some extend (because they dissolve slower) but not as much as caffeine.

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