The Truth about Tea and Caffeine
Coffee vs. Tea, the age old opinionated battle hits as close to the heartstrings as cats vs. dogs. Many coffee drinkers are adamantly “coffee only”, and would only consider drinking tea during an illness. While the health benefits of tea cannot be denied, Coffee drinkers love to condemn tea, claiming it has more caffeine than their beloved coffee.
So what is the truth? Set aside your prejudices and let’s uncover the facts….
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By weight, tea does have more caffeine than coffee. Now before the javaholics say “I told you so!” – let’s talk about weight. It is really just the simple illusion of density. If you measure out one ounce of coffee and one ounce of tea on a scale and test the caffeine levels of each, tea will have more caffeine. BUT, let’s brew them in a cup. It takes 14-28 grams (1-2 Tablespoons) of coffee grinds to make a six ounce cup of joe. To make one cup of tea, the recommended amount of loose leaf tea is 3 grams. That means it takes almost five times the amount of coffee to make a single cup. So with this in mind, we can deduce that a cup of brewed coffee has much more caffeine than a cup of brewed tea.
Curious about the actual numbers? Read this great article from RateTea.com Caffeine Content of Tea
The Oxymoron of Caffeine-free Tea
To be honest, there is no such thing as a truly natural, decaffeinated tea. True teas come from Camellia Sinensis, which contains naturally occurring caffeine. You can extract the caffeine from the tea leaves but this is only through an expensive process that compromises the flavor of the tea and reduces the levels of tea polyphenols (the amino acids that impart many of the health benefits of tea, i.e. antioxidants). Some herbal teas are caffeine free, but they are not true teas by definition. The same is true with Rooibos. However, if you are looking for a hot, comforting beverage with low caffeine, these options are your best bet.
Tea’s Secret Weapon Against the Caffeine Jitters
Camellia Sinensis has a naturally occurring amino acid called L-Theanine. L-Theanine actually counteracts the jittery effects of caffeine, helping you feel relaxed and focused, yet not drowsy. The effects of L-Theanine are so powerful that it is even used as treatment for anxiety and stress. While it has this effect on the brain, it also enhances brain functions to increase attentiveness. Somehow, this protein will make you more alert and focused, while not giving you a buzz. Isn’t this what we all need more of?
So what types of tea have the most caffeine?
If you are still concerned about your caffeine intake, you have options. There are many variables that affect the caffeine content of tea – the growing conditions, harvesting season, picking criteria, processing and other factors all have an influence. Generally, large leaf varieties of Camellia Sinensis have higher caffeine content. This variety is mostly produced in Yunnan or An Hui Province (Black Tea, Pu-erh Tea). The terroir in these regions and other factors contribute to the high caffeine content as well.
As the plant grows, it produces new, small buds at the top of the stem. These young buds are highly concentrated with caffeine. The buds contain so much caffeine that it acts as a natural pesticide to repel insects (apparently bugs don’t need the extra caffeine boost that us humans require in the mornings). Teas like Silver Needle, are only made of the youngest leaf buds. Therefore this type of tea contains more caffeine than other varieties that have a mix of leaves and buds.
So knowing all these factors, we can confidently say “Yes, tea has caffeine, BUT…”
– Tea is a low-caffeine alternative to coffee
– Tea comes equipped with L-Theanine to relieve any side effects of consuming caffeine
– Some teas have more caffeine than others, so we can make educated decisions about our caffeine intake yet still partake in the incredible health benefits of tea
So next time your java-junkie friends try to bash your favorite tea – let them know the facts! One day we will make believers out of them!