Can You Really Decaffeinate Your Own Tea?
By Heather Callaghan, Editor
I just bought a bulk box of green tea – then promptly decided to quit caffeine. As the hurricane talk swirled, did the idea of being without caffeine bother you? Personally, the idea of being that dependent on a chemical annoys me, so I wanted out.
I know we and other health websites tout the benefits of coffee and tea, but if you think about it, it’s weird that we promote these things, but simultaneously dose ourselves with a drug called caffeine. A drug that is hard on the kidneys, changes our brain, deflates our immune system and dehydrates us! Additionally, caffeine affects blood pressure, central nervous system, REM and its dependency can cause mood swings.
It’s not all bad! I just didn’t like being grumpy until I got my hit.
Caffeine is incredibly difficult to nip. In fact, if you get a sense of impending doom and despair, you might want to ask yourself when you last had caffeine.
So, Can you Decaffeinate Your Own Tea?
Short answer: No, but, yes!
There’s a long-time myth that you can steep your tea for 30 seconds, dump that infusion, and brew again.
Legend has it, that this steeping/dumping method will remove about 80% of the caffeine in that first steeping. I still use this method and I’m going to tell you why in a second.
But it’s not true. Thirty seconds of steeping, then dumping and brewing again will not remove that much caffeine. If it were true, then Lipton would have used this very cheap method all along! At least that’s what one of the world’s biggest tea authorities points out in his treatise about caffeine and tea.
According to Nigel Melican, founder and Managing Director of Teacraft Ltd, this is what it actually takes to decaffeinate your tea. He is quoting a study where the team steeped tea and measured the amount of caffeine infused out of the tea :
30 seconds: 9% caffeine removal
1 minute: 18% caffeine removal
2 minutes: 34% caffeine removal
3 minutes: 48% caffeine removal
4 minutes: 60% caffeine removal
5 minutes: 69% caffeine removal
10 minutes: 92% caffeine removal
15 minutes: 100% caffeine removal
At 15 minutes, your tea would likely be more or less a flavored water. It would take at least 5 minutes of steeping to achieve 80% caffeine removal. The team had used both bagged and loose leaf tea, and chose black, oolong and green teas. They repeated the process three times to check for errors.
If broken, small pieces of loose leaf tea were steeped in a teapot at a steady temperature of 176 degrees Fahrenheit, one might get these readings, according to a different study :
30 seconds: 20% caffeine removal
1 minute: 33% caffeine removal
2 minutes: 64% caffeine removal
3 minutes: 76% caffeine removal
4 minutes: 85% caffeine removal
5 minutes: 88% caffeine removal
10 minutes: 99% caffeine removal
15 minutes: 100% caffeine removal
While those numbers are more hopeful, it still requires a lot of wash as Melican points out.
So really, if you’d like 80% or more decaffeination of your tea, you would:
- Place your leaves in a stove pot
- Cover your leaves in just enough water to cover them
- Heat to 176 degrees and keep it at that steady temperature for 5 minutes, stirring
- Dump the water from that infusion
- Brew again as normal
Doable? Yes. Convenient? No!
But you could settle for 30 seconds to a minute for partial removal of caffeine.
Decaffeination has come a long way
Many companies use chemical methods that contain carcinogens – you will definitely want to avoid these. Some of the harsh chemical solvents include benzene, ethyl acetate and methylene chloride.
Caffeine is water-soluble so it makes sense that natural decaf methods – including the DIY steeping method – use water. The newest and best method to come around for some time is the CO2 method. The tiny molecules of the carbon dioxide attract the caffeine molecules, link up, and get filtered out, while leaving the benefits from the tea.
Why I still use the steeping method to decaffeinate my own tea
I now steep my green tea bag for up to 2 minutes, and dump that infusion. I brew again. It’s easy and convenient for me and it cuts my caffeine down significantly. After all, a green tea is only 15mg to 20mg of caffeine. For the rest of the day I drink decaf green tea (1-2mg of caffeine).
Whether I’m cutting 34% of the caffeine or 64% I have no idea. All I know is that I’m getting some of the caffeine out and that my caffeine headache screamed at me when I first did it.
That means I was definitely in a state of withdrawal. I used this method to help me ween off caffeine and because of the withdrawal headaches, I believe a significant amount of caffeine was removed.
Allegedly, a research study in Alabama noted that the Chinese discard the tea water from their first tea infusion. Does anyone know if that’s true?
If true, I’m happy to join the practice. I have to be honest here – dumping my infusion tastes better than decaf, so I may have to hold off on my caffeine-free life for now.
Do not attempt to use the steeping method if you are already off caffeine, sensitive to caffeine or have a heart or kidney condition.
Will I lose the benefits if I use the steeping method?
It’s hard to say for sure, because the DIY method hasn’t been studied. Natural decaf methods like CO2 have been shown to maintain the polyphenols, relative flavor and antioxidants.
Tea isn’t as bitter when I use the steeping method and much easier on my stomach. I do have to admit that some of the flavor washes out but I’m really happy with the results of less caffeine.
The highest quality teas I recommend are first: Choice Organic – they are top notch in quality, flavor and affordable price. They use the natural method of decaffeination for their decaf varieties. Plus they come in convenient tea bags.
As for ordering loose leaf tea, Tea Haus in Ann Arbor, MI offers natural, decaffeinated flavors using the CO2 method.
Lastly, I’ve ordered many teas online in the past that were stale – but not with Wild Orchid Teas. Wild Orchid Teas offers the most exquisite, hand-mixed teas that are stored so airtight, you never have to worry about flavor. While they don’t have many decaf flavors available, there are many wonderfully flavored green teas.
So, what do you think – have you tried this method? Let us know if you enjoyed it!
 Food Research International (Vol 29, Nos 3-4, pp. 325-330)
 “Tea and the Rate of Its Infusion” (Chemistry in New Zealand 1981, pp 172-174, accessed and provided by Melican)
DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.