Verdant Tea

Does Tea Have Caffeine? The Complete Guide to Caffeine in Tea

Does Tea Have Caffeine? The Complete Guide to Caffeine in Tea

Does Tea Have Caffeine? The Complete Guide to Caffeine in Tea

November 2, 2021

Does tea have caffeine? Absolutely!

Every tea brewed with leaves from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) always contains caffeine, but the amount of caffeine in tea depends on much more than just the type of tea you choose. The real science behind tea and caffeine challenges the myth that caffeine content is determined by tea type, and that black tea always has more caffeine than green tea.

Around the world, we drink tea for both its taste and for how it makes us feel. In tea, caffeine works together with L-theanine, EGCG and more for a nuanced and unique effect unlike any other beverage in the world.

That’s why understanding a tea’s caffeine level is just one of the first steps to understanding how tea affects us. To really get a full picture of how caffeine works in tea, we first need to know how a tea was farmed, when it was picked, and how you’ll brew it.


"Every tea brewed with leaves from the tea plant always contains caffeine."


loose leaf Laoshan Black Tealoose leaf Laoshan Black Tea
loose leaf Laoshan Black Tea

Does all tea have caffeine?

Caffeine is nature’s most widely-consumed stimulant, increasing blood flow, heart rate, and general alertness. The tea plant (Camellia sinensis, L. Kuntze) naturally produces caffeine as a defense against insects, and tea’s stimulant effect was used even in ancient times as a meditation aid for monks' early morning rituals. 

Until recently, we thought caffeine alone was responsible for the alertness and clarity you get drinking tea. Now, we know brewed tea contains a complex combination of caffeine, the related stimulants theobromine and theophylline, and the counterbalancing effect from L-theanine and antioxidants. Caffeine alone can cause a jittery feeling, but in tea, the jitters are usually missing thanks to this complex balance. 

the molecular structure of caffeinethe molecular structure of caffeine
the molecular structure of caffeine

All tea made from the tea plant has caffeine, and that amount can vary dramatically:
from about 14 mg up to over 60 mg per cup.

Knowing what causes this variation can help you choose your tea more confidently.

Take note!  Measuring caffeine content in tea (or any brewed beverage) requires specialized lab equipment and serious expertise. Because the caffeine content of tea can vary so widely - from tea to tea and from season to season - it is difficult to estimate the specific mg per cup of any specific harvest.

Take any advertised caffeine content of loose leaf tea with a grain of salt. These are often just general estimates that have not been confirmed by food scientists.

What Factors Play a Role in Caffeine Content?

Caffeine content is not defined by tea type. Black tea, green tea and more can all be made from the very same plants. Caffeine content cannot be increased through tea processing, so tea leaves picked to the same standard at the same time and place will have the same caffeine content, regardless of how they have been processed.

It is a common misconception that black tea has more caffeine than green tea. Instead, we have to look at how the tea was farmed, when it was picked, and how you choose to brew it.

Which teas have the most caffeine? Here are the determining factors:

  • The tea leaves:
    1st picking small buds and leaves grown in the shade produce tea leaves
    with the most caffeine 

  • The water temperature:
    Hotter water
    extracts more caffeine. Cooler water extracts less. Brew with boiling water for the most caffeinated tea. 

  • Tea size and quality:
    Small crushed particles common in tea bags infuse more caffeine faster than whole leaf tea because there is surface area for diffusion

  • Biodiversity:
    Tea produces caffeine to fight off insects and natural challenges. A biodiverse environment stimulates more caffeine production than monoculture farming

Caffeinated Tea: The Breakdown

Once we understand what affects tea's caffeine content, we can make informed decisions to find the most and least caffeinated tea and brew style for each tea type. Let’s cut past the common myths and look at where each tea really stacks up for tea caffeine levels.

How Much Caffeine in Black Tea?

  • Black tea’s caffeine range:
    as low as 14 mg per cup for larger leaf, cooler brews
    and as high as 61mg per cup for young pickings and hot brews

Black tea has a reputation for being the most caffeinated tea. The old thinking was, the darker the tea, the more the caffeine. It turns out that black tea’s reputation as a high caffeine tea is only observed when the tea is brewed at higher temperatures and with smaller leaf material (crushed tea bag dust). 

If you are looking for higher caffeine tea, you can still reach for black tea. There are many small, early harvest buddy black teas out there (like Jin Jun Mei and more). Look for early harvest, small leaf teas growing with biodiverse competition. Many black teas also stand up well to full-boil brew temperatures for the maximum caffeine.

How Much Caffeine in Oolong Tea

  • Oolong tea’s caffeine range:
    between 14mg and 61mg per cup, depending on brew temperature and growing conditions

Oolong tea is one of the most diverse tea types, with countless growing regions and finishing techniques. The caffeine content in oolong can vary just as much. 

On the one hand, oolong tea is generally made with larger, later season tea leaves. In general, larger leaves and more mature leaf material contain less caffeine than an younger, small buds harvest from the same plant.

On the other hand, high-quality oolong teas grow in tremendously biodiverse microclimates like Daping village in Anxi or the Wuyishan Ecological Preserve. Biodiversity can stimulate more caffeine production, as can shady (misty mountain) growing conditions.

Finally, oolong loves to be brewed at a full boil, which guarantees a higher caffeine extraction than the same tea brewed cold.

How Much Caffeine in Pu’er Tea?

  • Pu’er’s caffeine range: between 14mg and 61mg

Pu’er  tea (普洱) - sometimes spelled pu’erh or pu-er - is finished with as little heat as possible and allowed to naturally age for many years. Some pu’er teas are stored for decades or more. Does pu’er have any caffeine left when it has been aging for so long?

Caffeine is a fairly stable compound; it does not change or degrade over time like many other elements of tea. This means we can expect the caffeine in pu’er tea to stick around.

Like black tea, pu’er will have more caffeine if it is made from young small bud material grown in the shade (high mountain clouds). Unlike black tea, many people prefer to brew pu’er at a lower temperature, which could mean lower caffeine (at least compared to a hotter infusion).

How Much Caffeine in Green Tea?

  • Green tea’s caffeine range:
    between 14mg and 61mg per cup, depending on picking conditions and brew temperature

Contrary to the old myths, green tea can be just as caffeinated as black tea -  if not more! With high-end green tea, there is a strong drive to pick small, early-harvest buds and delicate shade-grown leaves, all of which leads to higher caffeine levels. 

However, green tea is also traditionally brewed at a much cooler temperature than black tea. Compared to a hot infusion, cooler brews extract comparatively less caffeine. Of course, sweet, shade-grown green teas like the He Family’s Laoshan Green can stand up to hot water, so you feel free to experiment with temperature and leaf-to-water ratio.

How Much Caffeine in White Tea?

  • White tea’s caffeine range:
    between 14mg and 61mg per cup

White tea is famous for its silvery, downy buds. These early-harvest shade-grown buds give white tea its distinctively sweet flavor and rich texture. The early picking time also produces higher levels of caffeine. 

Wait a minute - doesn’t white tea have lower caffeine levels than other teas? Not at all!

White teas often have more trichomes - that silvery down - than other teas. Because trichomes are hydrophobic, they require a longer steep time or hotter brew to release the same amount of caffeine. This is why some earlier investigations seemed to show that white tea produced a low caffeine tea, even though other studies consistently contradict this.

Trichomes are not unique to white tea. Black tea, green tea, and even pu’er can all be made with downy bud material.

Of course, like green tea, white tea also tastes great with a cooler brew. This means you have the freedom to play with both temperature and water-to-leaf ratio.

Non-Caffeinated Tea: The Breakdown

What about tea without caffeine? Sometimes you want to enjoy a hot mug without worrying about the caffeine. 

If you do not want to drink caffeine, stay away from chemically-treated decaf tea. These products are not truly caffeine-free and can legally contain up to 2.5% of their original caffeine content. Instead, look for caffeine-free herbal tisanes.

TEA MYTH: Can you decaffeinate tea at home? Although cold brewing can produce a less caffeinated cup than a hot infusion, iced tea does have caffeine. Some people recommend throwing away the first infusion to remove caffeine, but this is also a myth. 

The truth is, even expensive commercialized decaffeination processes cannot remove all of the caffeine in tea. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

Herbal Tea

Many herbal teas do not contain caffeine, but not all tisanes are caffeine-free. Look out for cacao, yerba mate, guayusa and yaupon, which all contain caffeine. Instead, look for dried flowers and fruits, garden herbs like mint, and spices like ginger for caffeine-free sipping.

Some herbal teas in China are actually finished using traditional tea craft to give them the same level of complexity as traditional tea, without the caffeine. These include sweet potato leaf, wild crassicolumna, goji leaf, and jujube leaf.

Why Caffeine in Tea Is Unique

brewing loose leaf teabrewing loose leaf tea
brewing loose leaf tea

Tea is more than its caffeine levels. It is tempting to compare mg/cup to coffee and draw conclusions, but tea is a chemically distinct and complex beverage. In addition to caffeine, tea has the natural stimulants theobromine and theophylline, as well as compounds like L-theanine and EGCG that may counterbalance the effects of caffeine.

In lab studies, L-Theanine introduced alongside caffeine seems to have a counterbalancing effect. Taken together, the speed and focus from caffeine was preserved, but at lower heart rates and less ‘jitteriness’ and anxiousness. EGCG may also have a mild sedative effect. In lab tests, it has been shown to lower anxiety and stress levels. 

Both ECGC and L-theanine are seen in higher concentrations in younger, early harvest teas grown in biodiverse climates.

Interestingly, L-theanine is more water soluble at lower temperatures than caffeine. This means a cup of early spring green tea brewed at a cooler temperature could actually produce a cup with more L-theanine and less caffeine.

This complexity, combined with each person’s own unique body response, means that tea is way more complex than its caffeine content alone. The best way to find tea that makes you feel great is to start with great tea, then try playing with brewing techniques to see how your tea affects you.

making time and space for teamaking time and space for tea
making time and space for tea

Explore Verdant Tea’s Wide Range of Caffeinated and Non Caffeinated Teas

Contrary to popular belief, it’s difficult to guess exactly how much caffeine is in your cup of tea. Instead, caffeine is more dependent on your brewing techniques, the quality of the harvest, and then biodiversity of the growing region. Tea’s complex chemistry - including caffeine, L-theanine, EGCG and more - all have their own effect on your experience. So does the ritual and time you take preparing and drinking tea.

Our advice? Find teas you love to drink from sources that are transparent about the growers, then see how they affect you personally. Over time, you’ll find the perfect brew for every occasion.

This article has been updated from an older post, originally published on September 28th, 2012. 

Join our mailing list for weekly articles, new teas, and more!

New subscribers can join and receive a special coupon for 10% off tea & teaware

  View previous newsletters

 
 

Tea is one of the most affordable luxuries in the world.

Learning how to store your loose leaf tea properly will help you get your full value out of each sip, even months after buying.

It is easy to forget, but real people across China are picking your tea by hand, carefully processing it and making sure that it is packed and sealed to survive the long journey to your teacup. This tea storage guide is here to help you extend the care put into each leaf, all the way up to the moment you take your first sip.

Let’s start with some general rules that apply to storing all teas, regardless of type or processing technique.

 

General Tea Storage

 

. Store tea in a DRY ENVIRONMENT

Keep your teas dry and away from excess moisture. Dampness and humidity can dramatically reduce the tea’s lifespan, and could even cause mold to form.

. Store tea AWAY FROM STRONG SMELLS

Tea will absorb the aroma of anything stored nearby, which is why we always recommend keeping your loose leaf tea away from strong smells. This may mean that that kitchen cabinet is not your ideal choice for protecting fine looseleaf tea, especially spice cabinets and pantries. Cupboards or bookshelves in living rooms or studies are good candidates, as are clean linen closets away from bathrooms.

. Stay ORGANIZED

Try and keep your teas organized according to a system that makes sense to you.  An unorganized pile of tea bags is not ideal storage. Without organization, you won’t know what you have, or when you purchased it. An organized tea shelf helps you quickly identify your options and make choices based both on your taste preferences of the day, and on what is freshest.

. Keep NOTES

This is related to staying organized. When you buy a tea, make sure to write down the harvest season if that information is available from the vendor. Teas do have shelf lives, even when properly stored, so being aware of the amount of time you have to drink a tea can be very helpful.

 

How to Store
Green Tea and Green Oolong

 

Green teas and greener oolong teas like Spring Tieguanyin have the shortest shelf life of all.

Because these greener teas have undergone only minimal processing, they are not as well protected from changes in flavor over time. That is why these taste taste best within four to six months of picking. While they do not ‘spoil’ when kept longer than four months, they do begin to fade in flavor.

Following a few basic tips will help you keep your green teas and green oolongs fresh for as long as possible.

Keep your tea AWAY FROM SUNLIGHT

Always keep your tea sealed in an airtight container that blocks out all light. Glass jars are not acceptable for tea storage because sunlight over time damages the leaves. Keep the tea in a dark and cool place, like a shelf or drawer out of the sunlight. Sunlight will create heat, subtly changing your teas’ flavor.

Keep your tea SEALED FROM THE AIR

If your tea is sealed in a pouch, make sure that there is as little air as possible when you close the pouch. If you have a vacuum sealer, vacuum-sealed foil bags of tea have the longest shelf life but are not appropriate for every tea. Long leaves that are not curled and rolled can sometimes get crushed under a vacuum. In these cases, be sure to keep your bags sealed between uses, removing excess air whenever possible.

Keep your tea COLD

Can you store green tea in the refrigerator or freezer?

If you have a vacuum-sealer, you can feel free to thoroughly seal your tea in a moisture-free environment, and store it in the refrigerator on a colder setting, or the freezer. This is a contentious point in the tea community, because improperly-sealed tea stored in a freezer will be damaged.

However, all Chinese tea vendors store their green teas and green Anxi oolong vacuum sealed in large freezers. If you have the resources, feel free to do the same. This will extend the freshness of the tea from four months to about a year.

DRINK YOUR TEA

If you are lucky enough to get green teas and green oolongs fresh within a few months of picking, then by all means, drink the tea! Green teas, even fine ones, should not go in the “save for the right occasion” pile. The tea will make the occasion.

Seize the moment: drink your tea and thoroughly enjoy the way the tea wants to be enjoyed.

 

How to Store
White tea, Black tea + Dark Oolong

 

While green tea has a definite shelf life, white tea, black tea, and darker oolongs like Big Red Robe and Dancong can be kept for a much longer period of time.

Many in the tea world actually prefer the taste of aged white tea, aged black tea, and aged oolong. There is a belief that the aging process mellows the tea and lets the flavors get richer. On the other hand, most aged oolongs reflect the amount of years they’ve been processed and aged by their original tea master, refiring and reprocessing every year.

We generally recommend drinking black tea, white tea and darker oolong teas within two years, unless it is a specifically designed to grow over time. However, if you store these teas well, you can feel free to experiment and see how aging changes your teas over time.

Since shelf life is not as much of an issue issue, you just need to be sure to store your black teas, oolongs and white teas in a way that protects them degradation and keeps them organized enough for you to find and enjoy.

. Keep your tea AWAY FROM SUNLIGHT

Use an airtight container that blocks out all light. As with green teas, sunlight and airflow will degrade the tea’s quality over time. Clear glass jars are not an acceptable storage method.

. Keep AWAY FROM SMELLS + DAMP

Keep the tea sealed away from humidity. Drawers and shelves out of the way of the kitchen smells and basement humidity work best.

. Keep WELL SEALED

Unlike pu’er teas, black teas, white teas and darker oolong teas do not need or want an excessive amount of air flow.

Aged Anxi oolong teas does need not be completely sealed from the air; storage in a jar with a piece of cloth underneath the lid usually works well. Most black teas and white teas, however, should be protected from sitting out in the air and the open.

In general, if your tea arrived in resealable bags with food-safe linings, keep using these bags and keep your tea sealed between uses.

. Keep NOTES on your tea

You can find out for yourself if you like black teas better after eight months to a year if you write down your impressions and keep your notes with the tea for later comparison! Your notes will help you form your own informed personal preferences.

 

How to Store Pu’er Tea

 

Pu’er is another world entirely.

People make and lose fortunes investing in pu’er, and betting on this unique tea’s slow fermentation process. Most pu’er does in fact become more complex over time. Astringency mellows out, darker and richer flavors come through. Textural complexities become more pronounced.

Starting with an intriguing young pu’er of high quality with lots of textures and flavors at play will increase your chances of graceful aging. Starting with an overly bitter and dry sheng pu’er or a fishy shu pu’er is not likely to yield the best results, even given a long time to age.

Follow a few basic guidelines and you will be thrilled with the ever-changing and ever-growing nature of pu’er.

.Allow PROPER AIR FLOW

Do not store pu’er in air-tight containers.

If you have only a few ounces, and you plan to drink your tea in eight months or less, airtight pouches are fine.  For long-term investment, slow airflow is needed to encourage further development of the tea’s character. If the tea is looseleaf in a pouch, just leave the pouch partially open, or transfer the tea to a ceramic non-airtight jar.

.Avoid STRONG SMELLS

Keep pu’er away from smells.

Pu’er is a sensitive, growing thing. Any smells you expose it to will be absorbed, and ultimately affect the flavor. This means that wooden boxes (like cigar boxes) are generally not a recommended choice, because they can impart the aroma of their wood onto all of your teas. Cedar chests and storage areas with mothballs, spices, household cleaners, and other strong smells are also not recommended for this reason.

Stabilize HUMIDITY

Keep a relatively stable humidity.

Keep pu’er away from extremely wet or extremely dry environments. Wet air  – like a basement or a bathroom – will cause mold, and very dry environments – stored with dessicants, etc – will slow down the tea’s development. Sudden changes in humidity can disrupt the trajectory of a tea’s development.

Pack it and FORGET IT

For long-term investment, get a big paper or wood box, put your pu’er inside, and forget about it in a closet for a year or two. If your tea is accessible and within reach on the shelf, it is too tempting to drink it all right away. Opened cakes of pu’er can be wrapped in more paper or thin clean cloth if the rice paper wrappers are torn or loose.

PROTECT your tea

For long term storage, it is best to leave your pu’er cakes in cake form. Breaking a cake apart is great if you plan to put it in a jar and drink it over the next two years.  New leaf will be exposed to air, and the tea will be easy to access any time you want to enjoy with friends.  However, if you plan to move your tea around often, leaves can be broken over time. The original cake or brick form protects the tea leaves over many years of storage.

Don’t worry too much!

There are a lot of pu’er fanatics out there that might try to convince you that pu’er storage is a matter of life and death. Well… it isn’t. Pu’er was an accidental discovery to start with- cakes of green tea that fermented under the heat and moisture of mule and camel packs on long journeys. One degree of temperature variation or humidity difference is not going to hurt your tea.

Just try to store the tea somewhere safe, and enjoy it. Remember, you purchased your tea for your own enjoyment.

Keep NOTES

It is extremely fun to start a pu’er logbook for each cake of tea that you have and record the way it changes each year. After several years, you get a full idea of the tea’s trajectory, which will help you understand pu’er aging in general.

 

 

 
 
Copyright © 2013-present Magento, Inc. All rights reserved.