By: Lesley Williams
You love tea. I love tea. You have probably heard that tea has lots of antioxidants that are good for you. Perhaps you are concerned with the amount of caffeine found in most tea. First of all, what the heck is caffeine? It is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in coffee and cacao beans, cola nuts and tea leaves. It is soluble in water – which explains why it is most often found in drinks.
When ingested, caffeine increases heart and metabolic rates, and works as a diuretic, as well. Its stimulant properties are awesome if you are lagging in the middle of a hot afternoon (but they are not at all awesome if you have a heart condition).
As all true tea comes from the Asian evergreen plant, Camellia sinensis, every cup of tea contains caffeine. Camellia sinensis naturally contains caffeine, even before the leaves undergo any type of process. The teas that are “decaffeinated” still contain a residual amount of this alkaloid after the decaffeination process. Herbal “tea,” on the other hand, does not necessarily contain caffeine, as it is not made from Camellia tea leaves. It consists of herbs, flowers and other ingredients.
Researchers have tried to pin several health issues like cancer, breast problems, and heart disease on caffeine, but there are no solid links of causation, at least not to date. Most of us can blame caffeine with some certainty for jitters and occasional sleepless nights. Experts recommend limiting caffeine intake to no more than 300mg to 500mg, per day.
Several factors affect the level of caffeine found in tea, including the region where the Camellia plant is grown; weather conditions; the leaf’s location on the plant; fermentation level; water temperature; and brewing time. Smaller leaves tend to release more caffeine than larger leaves. Manufacturing processes may also alter caffeine content. Hence, an Earl Grey flavored black tea from Tetley may contain more or less caffeine than one from Stash.
Altogether, this evidence indicates that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact amount of caffeine you are imbibing which each individual cup of tea. No wonder we get confused. It seems that most teas are now given a range of potential caffeine content, measured in milligrams.
Here are the ranges of caffeine in each kind of tea:
- Black Tea (popular kinds are Darjeeling, Earl Grey – my favorite!) – 60-90mg per 8oz cup
- Oolong Tea (generally from China and Taiwan) – 50-75mg per 8oz cup
- Green Tea (popular kinds are Genmaicha, Jasmine, Japanese, etc.) – 35-70mg per 8oz cup
- White Tea (generally fruit flavored) – 30-55mg per 8oz cup
- Decaffeinated Tea (any kind) – 2-4mg per 8oz cup
- Herbal Tea (popular kinds are Chamomile, Peppermint, Rooibos, etc.) – 0mg per 8oz cup
Other food and drinks that contain caffeine are:
- Hershey’s Milk Chocolate – 10mg per 1.55oz bar
- Coke – 35 mg per 12oz can
- Mountain Dew – 55mg per 12oz can
- Monster Energy Drink – 80mg per 8oz can
- Coffee, brewed – 130-200mg per 8oz
- Espresso – 40-75mg per 1oz
So, next time you have a long day ahead of you and need a pick-me-up, you may feel confident about that 16oz cup of Earl Grey you just picked up from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, as long as you remember to unwind after that same long day with a nice steamy cup of herbal, caffeine-free peppermint tea.
*Most caffeine levels taken from Nutrition, 4th Edition by Paul Insel et al., and MayoClinic.com
**Images courtesy of: A girl with Tea and J Wynia