Decaf vs Caffeine Free Teas

Decaf vs Caffeine free teas

Do you want to reduce caffeine intake or avoid it completely? Feeling a bit lost on which teas to choose? Should you stick to caffeine-free teas? Or do teas sound like a good option? Are caffeine-free teas and decaf teas the same thing? Decaf vs caffeine-free teas – which should you choose?

Let's first explain the difference.

caffeine free vs decaf tea

What are caffeine-free teas?

Caffeine-free teas are all teas that are naturally . This means, if you were to harvest and dry yourself, you wouldn't need to do anything to remove the caffeine.

All real teas come from the plant, and they all naturally contain caffeine. All other teas – – may or may not be naturally caffeinated. Most tisanes are naturally caffeine free and only some will contain caffeine. Some of the naturally caffeinated plants are South American yerba mate, guayusa, yaupon, cocoa bean, guarana, etc.

All real teas – white, yellow, green, oolong, black and dark will contain caffeine. Almost all tisanes (that is, non-Camellia sinensis) will be naturally caffeine-free. And only some tisanes will contain caffeine.

What are decaf teas?

Decaf teas are real teas made from Camellia sinensis plant that went through a process of decaffeination which removes a naturally occurring caffeine from the tea leaf. Caffeinated tisanes are usually not available as decaf teas. All non-caffeinated tisanes are simply called (caffeine-free) tisanes, rather than decaf tisanes. If you see a word decaf, it will imply there were decaffeination processes involved when making a certain tea.

So why would you want to remove caffeine from Camellia sinensis tea leaves and not from other caffeinated plants? Why is there no such thing as decaf guayusa or decaf guarana? There are many answers to this question.

Decaf vs caffeine-free teas – differences

First, Camellia sinensis is a cultural drink, same as coffee is. It's a healthy drink too, that may offer an entire array of benefits that differ from benefits of tisanes.

1. Health benefits

Potential health benefits of real teas will differ from potential health benefits of tisanes. All real teas will offer similar benefits, with some differences among different types. However, every tisane will have its own traditional use and a distinct set of potential benefits.

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There are different methods of removing caffeine from tea leaves. Some methods will impact catechins more than the others and may significantly reduce the total catechin content in tea leaves. This means that the potential benefits will be lower too.

For example, enjoys a reputation of a healthy drink because of a high catechin content and is mostly a cultural drink. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that black tea is more commonly decaffeinated than green. Decaf oolong is more difficult to find, and decaf white tea is quite an exception. Some studies suggest decaffeination may significantly reduce catechins from tea leaves (1).

Since there is no decaffeination process involved with tisanes, the content of beneficial compounds will stay the same.

Should this be of a concern if you are drinking tea mainly for benefits? Yes, and no, as the total amount of catechins extracted from tea leaves will depend on many factors. Your decaf tea may have more catechins that some other non-decaf tea, and vice versa. It's still good to know which decaf process was used as some techniques are better (and healthier) than others.

Let's get back to the previous example. A native Amazonian plant, guarana, has 4 times more caffeine than coffee bean (2). And that's exactly its main purpose — to provide energy. Guarana is rich in catechins and may provide other benefits too, but because of its bitter flavour, it tastes better when mixed with other ingredients or as a supplement. Coffee is bitter too, and there is still decaf coffee out there. That's because coffee is a world-wide cultural and social drink, just like Camellia sinensis tea, which is not the case with guarana.

2. Flavour differences

The process of decaffeination may change the flavour of tea and some decaf teas may taste blander. Maybe you heard that decaf coffee and teas taste bland, and that could be correct. A study on sensory characteristics of decaf green teas showed that even the most favourable CO2 decaffeination method will impact the flavour (3). The final flavour will depend on the process of decaffeination and tea processing techniques. But if you were to do a blind tasting and didn't know which tea types you are trying, there's a high chance you wouldn't be able to tell its decaf or not.

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Flavour is also a reason for decaffeinating Camellia sinensis teas. For example, many tea drinkers drink black tea only because of its flavour and robustness, and tisanes with a naturally occurring caffeine for its energy boosting benefits or cultural importance, rather than just flavour.

Just like all non-decaf teas, all decaf teas will taste differently. This means that even if you don't like the flavour of one decaf tea, another decaf tea may taste completely different.

3. Number of types

Not all real teas are available in a decaf style, and if you have a specific preference, you may struggle to find the perfect tea. The most commonly decaffeinated teas are black Assam teas, more rarely green teas, and other tea types are almost never available in a decaf style.

That's because the decaffeination process is usually used for black teas. Another reason is that black teas are the more robust, and they contain the highest amount of caffeine. There are thousands of different caffeine-free teas out there – from common chamomile, mint and rose, to more uncommon types such as chrysanthemum, island moss or elderberry flower tea.

Chamomile flowers
© All That Tea

Limited choice doesn't mean that there aren't hundreds of decaf teas out there. On the contrary – there are hundreds of good decaf teas available today. This simply meant that only some types of teas, like Assam, Darjeeling, English Breakfast, Mao Feng and Sencha, are available in a decaf style. Rare teas, like Dan Cong oolong or Rizhao green tea, are unlikely to be decaffeinated.

4. Caffeine content

Words decaf and caffeine free may sound alike, but one is not 100% caffeine free. If you really want to avoid ALL caffeine, then caffeine-free teas are a better choice than decaf teas. There's no such thing as a caffeine-free decaf tea. All decaf teas will contain some caffeine, but that amount will usually be very low, less than a few milligrams per cup.

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Some non-decaf caffeinated Camellia sinensis tea leaves may naturally contain a lower amount of caffeine. If you don't mind a bit of caffeine, try roasted green teas and teas with larger unbroken leaves made from mature plant material. If you are looking for tea with a naturally low caffeine content, Japanese kyobancha and roasted kukicha are both wonderful choices.

There may be a potential advantage of choosing naturally low over decaf teas. For example, no solvents were used to reduce the caffeine content – this happened naturally. Teas that are naturally lower in caffeine are usually made from more mature tea leaves and often roasted.

5. Cultural importance

Rarely any tisane will have such a huge cultural importance as Camellia sinensis teas. Many countries, including China, India, Japan, Morocco, Turkey, and England, have a strong tea culture which includes Camellia sinensis tea. You simply can't replace an English Breakfast tea blend with a cup of chamomile tea – but you can replace a regular caffeinated blend with a decaf one and still enjoy the (same) flavour. The most readily available decaf teas are teas that are the most popular — pure Assam, English breakfast blends, green Chinese sencha and gunpowder tea and Indian Darjeeling tea. Although rare teas are not usually available in a decaf style, it doesn't mean that they don't have a cultural importance. They do, but they are mostly a choice of tea connoisseurs, rather than simply a daily beverage.

Black tea
© All That Tea

Decaf vs Caffeine Free teas recap

Now, when you know the difference between decaf vs caffeine free teas, you can make an informed choice that suits your needs and preferences. If you want to avoid caffeine completely, choose caffeine-free teas, as all decaf teas will contain at least a few milligrams of caffeine per cup. However, all other factors such as flavour and health benefits will solely depend on the tea, not on the type. Both real teas and tisanes may provide many benefits, and many delicious flavours.

The best cup of tea is the one you thoroughly enjoy, and will offer some benefits too, regardless of if they are emotional, physical or social.

Sources:

(1) https://academicjournals.org/journal/JMPR/article-full-text-pdf/4D5793D23342

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4399916/

(3) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19397734/

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