The choices we make regarding our food and drink may be directed towards limiting intake of certain substances that might be considered unhealthy or harmful. One such substance that has come under scrutiny is caffeine. Whilst we can all say that a good dose of caffeine is just the ticket when we’re feeling a bit sleepy and we need to get something done, we can acknowledge that consuming a high level of caffeine on a daily basis is probably not good for us, and can increase our stress levels. So we may be looking for a drink that is lower in caffeine as a healthy alternative to highly caffeinated drinks. Tea may be one such option that people consider to be a healthy and low-caffeine alternative.
So, does coffee contain more caffeine that tea? Ask most people that question and their answer is likely to be ‘yes’. Many people do not realise that, pound for pound and as a dry commodity, tea actually contains more caffeine that coffee. Are you surprised? Most people are taken aback when they hear the true answer. However, fortunately that’s not the full story as far as consumers are concerned. When tea and coffee are prepared as a drink, it is in fact coffee that has more caffeine. Coffee can have over four times more caffeine when compared with tea, depending on which type of tea or coffee you drink, and of course the serving size.
But the story is not that simple. There are at least six different types of tea, all of which have slightly varying levels of caffeine in them. Tea can be categorized according to how it is processed, with black tea and Pu’erh tea being fully fermented teas and white and green teas as being unfermented. In between these varieties, there are the partly fermented oolong and yellow teas. This article will illustrate how much caffeine each type of tea has, as well as the caffeine levels that can be found in coffee and other popular drinks. Whilst exact levels of caffeine in any drink will vary based on individual preparation methods and the individual differences in brands, these caffeine levels we are using for illustration are a good baseline.
Let’s start by taking a look at the average levels of caffeine in popular caffeinated drinks. A double espresso has anything from 45 to 100mg of caffeine in 2oz serving, and brewed coffee has 60-120mg in an 8oz serving, whereas colas have around 34mg per can. As a comparison, green, white and oolong teas are lower in caffeine content compared to these popular caffeine drinks. In a typical teacup, you’ll find Oolong tea has 25mg of caffeine, green tea has 20mg, and white tea has 15mg. Black tea has the most caffeine, with 45mg per 8oz serving. But all teas, once prepared as a drink, are considerably lower in caffeine than coffee is. Rooibos, or Redbush tea has virtually no caffeine at all. Although this is technically a herbal infusion, rather than a tea (as it is not made from the Camellia Sinensis plant), it has become a very popular low-caffeine alternative to coffee.
Tea leaves can be used for multiple infusions and it has been shown that the caffeine levels drop dramatically after the first infusion; as if the caffeine is highly soluble and is infused from the leaf more readily than other naturally occurring substances. Interestingly, in China all semi or fully-fermented teas (oolong, black or pu’erh teas) are “washed”. To do this, the tea is first infused very briefly and the resulting infusion is thrown away. It is held that this is mainly for hygiene reasons, because of the extra processing, or rolling by hand, that fermented teas experience before reaching a consumer. However, if you are looking to reduce your caffeine intake, this ‘washing’ has the additional benefit of considerably lowering the level of caffeine in the infusion that you drink. Most of the caffeine will be removed with the first ‘wash’. Perhaps we should all take a lesson from the Chinese when we prepare our tea if we are looking to lower our caffeine intake.