There are few things cozier and more comforting than curling up in your favorite chair on a cold evening with a warm blanket and a hot cup of tea. But as bedtime approaches, you might not want that caffeine buzz keeping you up. If you reach for decaffeinated tea instead, would it impact its health benefits or even be unhealthy on its own?
We'll get to that, but first, let's start with the basics.
Decaffeinated tea has had at least 97.5% of the natural caffeine of the tea removed through a process before it ends up in your hands to brew.
(This isn't the same as “caffeine-free” or “herbal teas." Why? Those don't actually contain tea leaves and typically never had any caffeine in them to remove in the first place.)
The caffeine is removed by soaking it in either liquid carbon dioxide or some other chemical solvent.
All tea is soaked in something to decaffeinate it - the only difference is which liquid is used and the varying effects it has on the tea.
Let's discuss the four ways tea is decaffeinated and which one is optimal for taste and health purposes.
When tea leaves are soaked in methylene chloride, the caffeine molecules bind to the solvent and then get eliminated.
For a long time, this method was the standard for preserving the taste of the tea. But since methylene chloride is considered unsafe for human consumption by many countries, tea treated in it is sometimes barred from importing. Still, this method remains common, and it's not very expensive compared to better, safer methods.
So, do your best to avoid tea decaffeinated this way.
Often called “naturally decaffeinated” tea, this method is done the same as methylene chloride through soaking the leaves in the solvent to draw out the caffeine.
Ethyl acetate is naturally present in many fruits and other plants, but it's much harder to properly remove from the tea leaves. As a result, many find their tea has a chemical taste when treated this way. Still, it's not any less healthy than unprocessed tea.
At very high pressures and temperatures, carbon dioxide becomes a liquid and is extremely effective at removing caffeine from tea.
It's forcefully passed through the tea, where it binds to the caffeine and removes it from the leaf as it exits. This is completely healthy and is generally regarded as the best way to preserve flavor without compromising safety when decaffeinating.
Using water, tea is essentially brewed once. Then, the caffeine is filtered out of the resulting brew, before the water is returned to the leaves to be reabsorbed. This is a healthy way to make decaffeinated tea, but as you might expect, it lessens the flavor you’d expect from the tea.
One reason tea is so treasured by its fans is the great supply of flavonoids it provides!
Flavonoid is a chemical often linked to numerous health benefits. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but it's generally accepted you'll lose most of these beneficial chemicals during the decaffeination process.
However, of the available methods, the water process is best for retaining as many of these polyphenols as possible.
With the possible exception of tea treated with methylene chloride, there’s nothing unhealthy about drinking decaffeinated tea.
Just keep in mind, you're very likely to lose many of the health benefits you enjoy from drinking untreated green tea, making it more like a tasty drink than something you’d go to as part of a healthy lifestyle.
If you’re hypersensitive to caffeine, it's also important to know no process removes all of it. You’ll always have about 2% of caffeine when you brew your cup of tea.
But, if you’re mostly looking to sleep a little better after your evening mug, you might find some benefit from drinking decaffeinated tea instead.
Are you interested in learning more about the health benefits of different teas? We talk about the power of Benifuuki tea for allergies and more in this post.
No. We do not carry any decaffeinated tea. That means you don't have to worry about which process we use in regards to your health benefits.
Our teas are naturally low in caffeine and we do not process any of them for decaffeination!
Are you ready to shop for your new favorite tea or buy Benifuuki tea online? Click here to get started.
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This post discusses everything you need to know about green tea, bubble tea, its history and how to make it at home.