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Updated: Nov 20, 2023

The cup of tea is a bonafide British institution. However, most people don’t know how it becomes decaffeinated and what that means when it comes to health benefits.

Tea contains naturally-occurring caffeine. Caffeine sensitivity varies from person to person, taking in factors such as body weight, the type of food consumed and the body’s metabolic rate. Someone with a sensitivity to caffeine can feel the effects from as little as 10mg, meaning even a small, caffeinated drink can cause a variety of unwanted symptoms.

Decaf can be important for people who suffer from caffeine sensitivity. Too much caffeine can interrupt the sleep cycle and cause side effects including nausea, upset stomachs, bladder irritation, aggravate acid reflux, trigger migraines and even weight-gain. However, we need to bear in mind that the decaffeination process can deplete polyphenols and some antioxidants, but studies have shown there should still be enough to offer health benefits.

There is a significant difference between caffeine-free teas and those which are decaffeinated. Caffeine-free teas don’t contain any amount of caffeine due to their natural composition (eg. mint, chamomile), while decaf teas contain caffeine which is later removed. It must be noted that decaffeinated tea is not caffeine-free. By law tea labelled as “decaffeinated” must have less than 2.5% of its original caffeine level. This amount varies depending on the method used and the quality standards of the company that removes it.

There are four different methods used to decaffeinate the tea using either chemical solvents, carbon dioxide and water. Each method produces a different effect on the flavour and consistency of the tea. Different tea makers use different decaffeination processes. Methods well known to use toxic chemicals have been banned, but that doesn’t mean these four used currently are safe.

  1. Carbon dioxide is effective at helping the tea keep its flavour and removing the caffeine without altering any potential health benefits. It is usually more expensive, but it is non-toxic and good at preserving the composition of the tea.

  2. The process of removing caffeine by using ethyl acetate is often marked as “naturally decaffeinated” since this solution occurs naturally in tea leaves. It has a low toxicity and is cheaper than alternative methods but is known to alter flavour profiles of tea, leaving it with a slightly bitter taste.

  3. Tea decaffeinated using methylene chloride (widely used) maintains the natural taste better than ethyl acetate but unfortunately there can be residual amounts of this chemical left on the tea. This method and its safety are in much dispute, though it is largely used. Methylene chloride has also been linked to cancer and birth defects and some countries ban the importation of teas decaffeinated using this method.

  4. Water processing is often used when decaffeinating coffee beans, but some tea brands are using it for loose tea too. It can reduce the flavour and potency of strong teas.

N.B. There are still many debates as to the health consequences of the chemical processes.

For the sake of caution it’s probably best to opt for brands who are clear about their decaffeination methods and buy from brands that use the carbon dioxide or water methods. All these methods are also used to decaffeinate coffee so caution is also required when choosing these brands too.

For further advice and tips on the best ingredients for a healthy lifestyle, book an appointment with me -

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