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The Buzz About Tea and Caffeine

Tea drinkers in colonial Boston looked forward to the lift brought about by the caffeine found in their teacups. Today, caffeine remains the world’s most popular drug, easily surpassing nicotine and alcohol. And more than 85% of Americans ingest significant amounts of this legal drug on a daily basis—usually via coffee, tea, cola, or chocolate.

While most consumers can easily tolerate 300mg of drug daily, you might want to avoid caffeine up to eight hours before bedtime if you desire a restful sleep.

With tea consumption on the rise, more and more tea drinkers want to know about tea and caffeine. Unfortunately, there is much misinformation that needs to be dispelled. Here are the top five questions my audiences ask about tea and caffeine:


1. Both green and black teas were tossed into Boston Harbor. Does green tea have less caffeine than black tea?

Not always. Tea internet sites are filled with contradictory assumptions about caffeine content found in the four major tea families. Many claim that green teas have less caffeine than oolong or black tea, and white tea has the least of all.  Modern laboratory studies disprove this assumption.

In a study I commissioned five years ago, a majority of the teas we analyzed contained around 55 mg of caffeine per seven-ounce cup, regardless of the tea family. Darjeeling black tea and Japanese sencha were almost equally caffeinated. But, one Chinese white tea yielded an astonishing 75 mg of caffeine, nearly as much as a extremely caffeine-rich Assam black tea. Most tea drinkers would suspect those results from a hearty Assam tea – Assamica tea bushes can be 33% higher in caffeine content than Chinese varieties – but few would think a white tea would have such high levels of caffeine. Several tea horticulturalists believe caffeine is more concentrated in the unopened tea leaf bud (white tea) where it serves as a bitter deterrent to hungry insects.


2. Tea first became popular in Boston via coffee houses. Does tea contain more caffeine than coffee?

No. Coffee contains, on average, three times the amount of caffeine as tea.


3. Is tea caffeine different from coffee caffeine?

Caffeine is the same, no matter the source. Your body reacts to caffeine differently depending on related compounds found in the beverage.

The major caffeine modifier for tea drinkers is the presence of L-theanine. This amazing amino acid has a relaxing effect brought about by increased alpha brain-wave frequency, long associated with a relaxed, but alert, state of consciousness. That is why tea has been used for centuries in meditation.


4. What tea should I drink if I do want a lot of caffeine?

Black teas from the Assam region of India are consistently high in caffeine, as is matcha, the powdered tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony. Simply steeping your tea longer and at a hotter temperature can release more caffeine into the cup as well.

Tippy Assam
Assam tea gardens were first planted in the mid-1800s

5. The patriotic ladies of New England boycotted George III’s taxes by swearing off teas from the East India Company. They filled their teapots with herbs or fruits from their gardens to make caffeine-free “liberty teas.” What should I drink if I cannot tolerate caffeine?

If your doctor is asking you to cut caffeine completely out of your diet, you should switch to a commercially decaffeinated tea, a fruit tisane, or an herbal such as chamomile, peppermint, rooibos, or tulsi. Remember, caffeine cannot be present in herbals unless they are blended with tea leaves. Read the ingredient list to be sure.

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Bruce Richardson

MSN calls Bruce Richardson "A leading tea expert involved in tea's American renaissance for over 30 years." The native Kentuckian is a writer, photographer, tea blender, and frequent guest speaker at tea events across the globe. He can often be found appearing on television and radio talk shows, or as a guest speaker at professional seminars such as World Tea Expo or China Global Tea Fair. He is the author ...

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