By Mariah Bourne
If you’re sensitive to caffeine, having a cup of decaf tea may seem like your best option. We’ve all heard that decaf tea has the same benefits as regular tea, just without caffeine.
Unfortunately, there’s essentially no such thing as *truly* decaf tea—especially in Japan. But don’t despair – there are many ways to still enjoy a low or no-caffeine brew without compromising on benefits or quality.
Caffeine in decaf green tea may be lower, but it’s still there. Not to mention, the removal process of caffeine from green tea can greatly reduce the benefits and quality of drinking tea.
In this article, we’ll get into the tea decaffeination process for most green teas and how the difference in quality sets Japanese green tea apart from even the highest-quality decaf green tea.
Technically, the concept of decaf tea is a myth. To be considered green tea, the leaves must come from the Camellia sinensis plant. The Camellia sinensis plant naturally produces caffeine as a chemical defense mechanism to protect itself against pests.
Different styles of Japanese tea have different levels of caffeine, but all true green teas will contain at least some caffeine. As for caffeine in decaf green tea, there will always be trace amounts even after the decaffeination process.
Want to know more about caffeine? Check out our article covering everything you need to know about caffeine in matcha and other Japanese green teas.
Still, a few common methods are used to remove caffeine in decaf green tea, and some aren’t the safest. Most decaffeination processes remove about 96 to 98% of caffeine. Teas are often soaked in chemicals such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate or processed with carbon dioxide or water.
Although methylene chloride can preserve more of the original flavor than other methods, it has a reputation for being unhealthy and unsafe. Some countries even prohibit importing teas processed in this manner.
Soaking tea in ethyl acetate is a safer method for producing bagged tea, as this chemical naturally occurs in green tea plants. The CO2 decaffeination process is another natural method that best maintains the tea’s flavor. Producers use pressurized liquid carbon dioxide to extract small caffeine molecules without removing the larger flavor molecules.
Water processing is probably the least common as it leaves the tea with a watered-down taste. Tea leaves are soaked for some time, and the solution is passed through a carbon filter to remove caffeine. After, the water is returned to the tea for reabsorption of oils and flavors.
Even if a green tea plant goes through the decaffeination process, it will never truly be void of caffeine. Decaf tea still contains trace amounts of caffeine, often in addition to harsh chemicals and preservatives.
Now that you understand the decaffeination process, it makes sense why it's pretty much unheard of in Japan. Growing and producing Japanese green tea is a cherished tradition and art form rooted in the highest standards and complex practices.
The decaffeination process significantly alters tea quality, destroying the sought-after flavors and profiles while taking away from the strategies involved in growing and harvesting green tea.
It's possible to still enjoy Japanese green tea, even if you’re sensitive to caffeine. The lowest caffeine teas are commonly made from older tea leaves, roasted tea leaves, and leaves mixed with the stem of the tea plant. Different styles of green tea, houjicha, and some styles of genmaicha made with bancha are naturally lower in caffeine, and the caffeine content is easy to manipulate.
Playing with portions can also manipulate caffeine content. Let’s take matcha, for example. The calming effects of l-theanine, a natural amino acid in matcha, suppresses the caffeine stimulant effect resulting in a sustained energy boost without the anxious feelings commonly associated with caffeine. A few tips and tricks to indulge in Japanese green tea while reducing caffeine content are:
At Mizuba Tea Co., we have a selection of high-quality Japanese green teas that are lower in caffeine, boasting distinctive notes, aromas, and elegant flavors. Some of our favorites include:
Everyone should be able to enjoy Japanese green tea without worrying about caffeine sensitivity. Next time you reach for the decaf green tea in your grocery store, remember there are many options for green tea where you can have your desired caffeine content without compromising on quality or flavor. Give the teas listed above a try!
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