Decaf Black Tea

Decaf black tea is black tea that has undergone a decaffeination process to remove most of the caffeine that occurs naturally in tea leaves. The result is a very similar product that won't keep you up at night!

Decaf Defined

When tea is "decaffeinated" it means the tea has gone through a process to remove the majority of the caffeine. Decaf teas still contain some caffeine, but in much smaller amounts than their caffeinated counterparts.

Decaffeination Process

Caffeine is naturally occurring in tea and therefore must be removed to create decaf tea. Any real tea (made from the camellia sinensis plant - including black, green, white, and oolong) contains caffeine. "Caffeine-free" means the caffeine was never there in the first place, as in herbal teas.

How Much Caffeine Is In Decaf Black Tea?

For a product to be labeled "decaffeinated," the amount of caffeine cannot be greater than 2.5% of the original caffeine content, according to U.S. regulations. The residual caffeine left over after decaffeination is approximately 2 to 3 mg per cup of black tea. Black tea that is not decaffeinated contains 15-70 mg of caffeine per cup.

No decaffeination method removes the caffeine completely. Find more information on caffeine in tea.

The Most Common Decaffeination Methods for Tea

  • Chemical Solvents: The tea is rinsed with an organic solvent like ethyl acetate. The solvent molecules bind to the caffeine molecules, removing the caffeine when the solvent is drained away.
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2): At high temperatures and pressures, CO2 becomes a solvent that attracts caffeine molecules. It does not attract the larger flavor molecules in the tea.

Lower Your Caffeine Intake from Black Tea

Looking to reduce your caffeine consumption? You can lower your caffeine intake without giving up black tea! Here are some tips:

  • Buy decaffeinated teas. Most tea sellers have a huge variety of decaf black tea available and they are just as delicious as the caffeinated versions.
  • If tea leaves are infused more than once, each subsequent steeping contains less caffeine. You can lower your caffeine consumption per cup by using the same leaves for multiple infusions.
  • Go for flavored blends that replace some of the tea leaves with caffeine-free herbs and spices like mint or chai.

The At-Home Decaffeination Myth

Some websites and other sources will tell you that tea can be decaffeinated at home by steeping the leaves for 30 or 45 seconds and pouring off the water. This method has been disproven.

While it's true that caffeine is water-soluble, it takes much longer than 30 or 45 seconds to remove the caffeine. If you steep your tea long enough or enough times to remove a significant amount of caffeine, you would be left with some extremely watered-down tea.

See Dr. Weill's answer to the at-home decaffeination question.

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