This site is about ‘tea‘, as well as ‘toast‘ and ‘travel‘. But, it seems lately I haven’t posted much about the actual beverage ‘tea‘. Many people think this is a site about food only. Actually, it was my love for ‘tea‘ and the closing of my tea business which prompted me to start this blog. I think I still had much more to say on the subject but my audience was gone. Well, I haven’t stopped talking about ‘tea‘ yet.
I do realize that I still live in that ‘tea world’, a world in which most people do not live. So when I overhear someone saying ‘yeah, I can’t drink tea because it has too much caffeine‘, or ‘did you know tea has more caffeine than coffee?‘ I have to step away from the conversation, because it still makes me a little crazy. I feel compelled to set the record straight once more … TEA does not have more caffeine than coffee. In the most simplistic of terms … ” A cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”
Not enough information for you? Okay, then here’s my CAFFEINE 101.
Where does caffeine come from? Well, Mother Nature is responsible for caffeine. She came up with a natural way to protect over 60 plants from destructive leaf, nut and seed-eating predators. When these hungry, little insects try to eat these plants they get a mouthful of this bitter organic compound. For the most part, these plants originated from Asia, Africa and South America, which, of course, is where the trees which give us coffee, cocoa and tea originated. At this point, I am assuming everyone knows tea (not herbal beverages like chamomile, mint, rooibos, hibiscus, etc.) comes from the camellia sinensis plant, which originated in Asia.
Now we’ve established that caffeine is natural. It can, however, be ‘manipulated’ and it can also be ‘harvested’. In the beverage we love so much, there are several factors which determine tea’s caffeine content. In today’s modern world, it begins with the propagation of the bush. Plants grown from clones can produce twice as much caffeine as bushes from seeds. Nitrogen fertilizer can also add another 10% to the normal caffeine level. From there, the caffeine content in the plant can vary according to the picking season. Teas plucked in cooler weather might produce less caffeine than those plucked in the fast growing hot months. Also, things as subtle as the location of the leaf on the stem, or whether its an unfurled bud, can also affect the level of caffeine. And let’s not forget that the longer the infusion (the longer the leaves sit in the water), the greater the caffeine content. Did you know that tea bags, which contain broken leaves, fannings and dust, produce an infusion with far more caffeine than loose leaf tea?
Uber-smart Nigel Melican, research scientist and founder of Teacraft, Ltd., says it best “Caffeine varies in the fresh green leaf depending on fineness of pluck. For any tea, be it black, green or white, the caffeine is highest in the bud. Silver needle (white tea) is 100% bud and has the highest caffeine content. If your white tea is 100% bud then it’s going to be one-third higher in caffeine content than green tea made from two leaves and a bud.”
Please understand we’re not talking about astronomically high amounts of caffeine … perhaps a variance of 8-10% (which might be just enough to keep some people up at night). The average tea drinker consumes about 180 mg of caffeine per day as compared to the average coffee drinker’s 330 mg per day (far more if they drink robust coffee such as Starbucks).
Upon drinking this naturally-occurring substance, it is absorbed into the small intestine and within 45 minutes is distributed throughout your body. Yes, it is a stimulant . And, yes, it has been shown to increase alertness and concentration, quell headaches (which is why some pharmaceutical companies ‘harvest’ caffeine) and it does speed reaction time. It also increases digestive juices in the stomach (always served after a meal in Asia). Although it does not dehydrate the body, it does stimulate the kidneys, which helps the body eliminate toxins. If caffeine keeps you up at night, avoid drinking it four to five hours before bed (which is the amount of time it takes for the caffeine to work its way out of your system).
For most of us, caffeine really shouldn’t be a concern. High amounts of caffeine, however, can absolutely have a negative affect on some people. If you are on medication which is affected by caffeine, or if your doctor is asking you to cut caffeine out of your diet, switch to a decaffeinated tea or a caffeine-free herbal. (Remember, caffeine is not present in herbals unless they are blended with tea leaves.) Always consult with your doctor if you have any questions about caffeine’s effects upon your health.
There is much more to say on the subject of caffeine, but I think I’ve gone on enough for the average person. The next time someone tells me ‘tea has more caffeine than coffee’, I hope you’ll realize that, at that moment, I will be doing everything in my power not to go on a rant … as I’ve done here! And, for everyone who may still be confused … ” a cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”
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References: Cha Dao, Coffee and Health, Wikipedia, Villanova University,