How to Decaffeinate Your Tea in 3 Simple Steps


“Real” tea and all its varieties — white, green, oolong and black — contain caffeine. Reason: they all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. An evergreen that grows mainly in tropical and subtropical climates, mostly in mountainous areas, Camellia sinensis is naturally rich in caffeine, especially in its buds and young leaves.

Read More: Is there more caffeine in black tea or black coffee?

Other plants, like chamomile, peppermint or Rooibos that are used to make herbal infusions, also known as tisanes, do not contain caffeine. One notable exception is Yerba maté, a beverage produced from the leaves of the South American rainforest holly tree and which provides small amounts of caffeine.

The reason some plants produce caffeine is unclear. It is believed, however, that its bitter taste acts as a natural defense system, helping deter insects and plant eating animals.

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The different varieties of tea differ in their amount of caffeine. The way the tea is brewed determines how much of that caffeine will be extracted from the leaves. Critical factors: The amount of tea used, the water temperature, steep time and whether one brews loose leaves or a tea bag. The more tea, the hotter the water and the longer the steep the more caffeine gets extracted.

You may have read that you can decaffeinate tea leaves or bags by steeping them in hot water for 30-45 seconds, then discarding the water and re-steeping.

That, unfortunately, is plain wrong.

This brief “wash” will only remove less than 10% of the caffeine. Fact is, to extract 90-100% of the caffeine you’ll need to steep for as long as 15 minutes. Discarding the brew and re-steeping at that point will result in a rather tasteless tea. The reason is that along with the caffeine much of the delicate flavor of the tea, and much of its healthful components, will be lost.

The Solution

Try a quicker “wash.” For most teas this will just about halve the amount of caffeine while still leaving much of the tea’s unique character intact. Here’s how:

1. Steep loose tea or bag in hot water for 3-4 minutes

2. Discard the water

3. Re-steep for 2-4 minutes and enjoy

Footnote: Some teas such as the rare premium Japanese green tea Sencha Ashikubo are particularly high in caffeine and will still have as much as 83 mg of the stimulant remaining in a second infusion. Decaffeinating such teas at home, while still maintaining their unique flavor, is almost impossible.

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