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How Is Tea Decaffeinated? The Bottom Line.

How is tea decaffeinated? There are four decaffeination procedures. Tea can be decaffeinated through methylene chloride, carbon dioxide, ethyl acetate, or water processing methods. Each method affects the taste and texture of the tea uniquely. 

True teas naturally contain caffeine. But what if you are sensitive to caffeine? This is where decaffeinated teas come in. Decaffeinated teas allow you to indulge in tea with hardly any caffeine. 

But, decaffeinated teas still pose many questions for individuals. Does it still offer the same health benefits as a regular cup of tea?

Most importantly, how is tea decaffeinated? We’re here today to answer all of these questions. Let’s get started!

how is tea decaffeinated

What is Decaffeinated Tea?

Decaffeinated teas are teas that go through a decaffeination process. Before packaging, tea manufacturers remove 90% of their natural caffeine.

But don’t mistake this for caffeine-free or herbal teas. These are different. They do not include genuine tea leaves and often never had natural caffeine.

Tea manufacturers extract caffeine by immersing the leaves in carbon dioxide or solvents. The process differs in each company. 

What Is Caffeine?

Before we head onto the technicalities, let’s briefly talk about caffeine.

Tea contains caffeine, which naturally occurs in the Camellia sinensis plant. People love consuming caffeinated beverages because it gives them that much-needed pick-me-up. 

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, caffeine is an FDA-approved medication. Many over-the-counter stimulants, weight reduction aids, and pain medications include caffeine. Energy drinks also contain copious amounts of caffeine.

The bioactivity of caffeine inside the human body induces the production of cortisol and adrenaline. These compounds are “fight or flight” stimulants. When we consume too much, we get adverse reactions.

Hmmm guilty!

People sometimes refer to caffeine as a “legal drug” because it causes dependency. Without it, strong tea or coffee drinkers begin to feel withdrawal symptoms.

different decaffeinated tea leaves

Decaffeinated vs. Caffeine-Free Teas: What’s The Difference? 

Decaf tea or caffeine-free tea is the best option if you want to reduce caffeine intake. No, these are not the same thing. 

The decaffeination method removes the caffeine molecules from the leaves. But, if a plant is “caffeine-free,” it signifies that caffeine was never present in the plant, to begin with. It was not a part of its genetic structure. Good examples of these are rooibos, fruit, and peppermint teas. 

The Different Decaffeination Procedures 

Tea manufacturers decaffeinate tea in a variety of ways. It all boils down to a particular scientific protocol for every procedure.

For the time being, here are the standard ways of decaffeinating teas:

CO2 Tea Decaffeination Method

Only a couple of companies employ the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) approach. The most well-known company using the CO2 process is Clipper Tea from England. Clipper is among the few tea companies that manufacture decaffeinated tea using CO2.

This method is the most natural of the three basic decaffeination treatments. Because it uses no chemical solvents, CO2 is also the most eco-friendly technique. 

However, this process of decaffeinating teas is more costly. CO2 tea manufacturers think that the procedure best retains the tea’s original taste. But due to its high expense, it isn’t the most common and achievable way to decaffeinate.

In the CO2 method, manufacturers infuse the tea leaves with CO2 and heat them to high temperatures and pressures. The CO2 attracts the tea’s caffeine molecules and extracts them. 

The little caffeine molecules draw from the tea leaves by the pressurized liquid carbon dioxide. The more giant molecules retain their flavor.

The Ethyl Acetate Decaffeination Method

Next on this list is the ethyl acetate process. Brands like Twinings and Bulders tea use this decaffeination method. 

The ethyl acetate solvent removes or strips away the tea’s caffeine. Nail polish removers often include this active ingredient in their formulas. This is why this decaffeination process might leave a disagreeable taste of the caustic chemical. 

The process also removes the leaves’ antioxidants, which is a significant drawback. 

Methylene Chloride Decaffeination Method

Chemically, methylene chloride is also “dichloromethane.” According to the US Department of Labor, this is also a chemical employed in paint strippers and metal cleaners. 

In this method, tea manufacturers immerse the tea leaves in methylene chloride. Afterward, they return the liquid into the tea to reabsorb its flavors.

This decaffeination technique retains much of the tea’s natural taste. But, it is not the healthiest. 

Some nations restrict the importation of teas with this kind of treatment.

Water Processing Decaffeination

This process is very known for decaffeinating coffee. But, only very few tea manufacturers use this method. 

The process starts by immersing the tea leaves in hot water to eliminate their caffeine. Next, the solution passes through a carbon filter. This step finally removes the other caffeine remnants.

Tea companies don’t use this method because it results in a bland taste. 

pouring a cup of decaffeinated black tea

What Is The Best Decaffeination Procedure?

CO2 is a naturally occurring gas. Because of this, many people say that it is preferable to the Ethyl Acetate method. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and ethyl acetate (EA) are natural. However, ethyl acetate is somehow a toxin. 

Even though CO2 decaffeination is often considered the most effective technique, only a few use it. Decaffeination equipment is crazy expensive and needs ample industrial facilities for storage. 

When it comes to overall taste, purity, and effectiveness, the CO2 method takes the cake. But it’s all up to you and your preferences. Know the ways that work for you. 

Can You Decaffeinate Tea At Home? 

A lot of people try decaffeinating their teas at home. People often steep teas two times and think they’ve lessened the caffeine content. Not only is this ineffective, but it is also time-consuming. 

Pros of Decaffeinated Tea

Decaffeinated tea is an option you should consider if you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep due to your caffeine intake. 

Cons of Decaffeinated Tea

Decaf tea has certain disadvantages as well. Most of them aren’t harmful, though. But, it’s still best to take them into account.

fresh tea leaves

Caffeine 

Remember, decaffeinated teas do not remove the caffeine altogether. Most of the caffeine gets stripped out in the process, but it still leaves some doses. So if you are very sensitive to caffeine, this might cause problems for you. 

Taste 

Unfortunately, the decaffeination procedure removes more than just caffeine from the tea. The common belief is decaf teas are often less tasty. Solvents take other components during the decaffeination process, including tastes and fragrances. 

Antioxidants

One kind of chemical known as flavonoids has several possible health advantages. It is also found in high quantities within the tea plant. Antioxidants found in tea are widely praised for their potential health benefits. 

However, a doctor believes that teas lose 70% of their polyphenols during decaffeination. 

How To Reduce Caffeine In Tea 

No matter what kind of tea you’re sipping, there are several methods you can customize the amount of caffeine in your cuppa. 

Steeping Time

If you want to lower the caffeine content of your tea, you can soak it for a longer duration. Researchers at the Journal of Analytical Toxicology came up with some quantified data in their research. 

At 1 minute, 27 minutes, and 5 minutes, A Stash Premium Green produced 16 milligrams of caffeine per 6 ounces of hot water.

Temperature Of Steeping Water 

A hot cup of tea will carry higher caffeine than a chilled one. This is because heat releases caffeine. So, if you want to lessen the caffeine in your true tea, use the cold brewing method. 

The Amount Of Water

If you use more water than tea, you’ll dilute your tea, which reduces the amount of caffeine per cup.

What Is The Healthiest Decaffeinated Tea?

“Decaf tea” would only extend to true teas (green, black, white). For the healthiest “decaffeinated” tea, opt for CO2-treated teas. You won’t sacrifice flavor, fragrance, or health risks.

Buying herbal teas is the best option if you’re looking for a caffeine-free beverage.

a cup of decaffeinated black tea

The Bottomline – How Is Tea Decaffeinated?

There are many ways manufacturers decaffeinate tea. Choosing what kind of method suits you will mostly rely on your circumstances. Decaffeinated tea might include undesired compounds due to the techniques used to make it.

Many people argue about the health effects of chemical processes. 

Moreover, decaf teas don’t provide the same health advantages as traditional tea. If you want to avoid possibly dangerous chemicals while still reaping tea benefits, look for CO2-treated decaf teas. Or, better yet, opt for herbal teas. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is decaffeinated tea healthy?

Decaffeinated tea is a wonderful option if you are reducing your caffeine consumption. However, decaffeinated teas lose their many health advantages in the process. 

Does decaffeinated tea have chemicals?

Yes. When it comes to decaffeination, the most popular approach is soaking the tea leaves in methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. Many tea manufacturers label these as “naturally decaffeinated teas” because the chemical compound used in the process is inferred from fruit.

Is decaf tea completely decaffeinated?

No. There is approximately 2–3 mg of caffeine in decaffeinated tea since decaffeination cannot completely eliminate it.

What is the difference between caffeine-free and decaffeinated? 

Decaf tea refers to true tea leaves that go through the decaffeination procedure.  Caffeine-free, on the other hand, suggests that the tea leaves or plants never had caffeine.

What is the safest method to decaffeinate tea?

The CO2 method. Some global brands use carbon dioxide as it is the most natural technique of decaffeinating.  Additionally, this procedure is the most successful at retaining the tea’s taste and eliminating the caffeine without affecting its potential health benefits.

Happy Sipping!

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