In one of our earlier blogs, we covered whether caffeine is good for health. Our findings ended up reaffirming just about everything that makes caffeine (and its various sources, mainly coffee), so popular. Not only is at an extremely effective natural stimulant, but it also packs a variety of health benefits for regular caffeine-drinkers!
Coffee is known as the most potent and common source of caffeine. However, a common question that crops up is "Is there caffeine in tea?" The answer is yes! All teas - be it green teas like matcha or black teas like English Breakfast - contain some level of caffeine. For people looking to switch-up their daily cup of coffee with a cup of tea, or for anyone with a sensitivity to high caffeine intake, tea can be an ideal alternative. In this blog, we'll discuss how caffeine content varies across teas, and compare the exact concentration of caffeine in coffee vs. tea.
A Quick Revision: The Tea Varieties
Before we get into how caffeine content is determined in tea, let's first cover a list of all the different teas that come from the same plant - Camellia Sinensis.
With the highest amount of oxidation, this tea variety is usually astringent and earthy to taste. After picking, black teas are left to dry and oxidize, which gives them their signature dark colored appearance both in the form of tea buds and in the color of tea once brewed.
Pu'erh Tea (Dark Tea)
Originating almost entirely from Chinese Tea traditions, Pu'erh Tea is less oxidized than black tea, but is usually darker in color. This is because it is fermented as opposed to oxidized, which gives it a unique, sometimes mushroom-like taste profile.
Oolong tea (Red Tea)
This is a semi-oxidized tea, often made entirely with whole tea leaves - as opposed to black tea, which is usually made of small leaves and small buds.
This is among the least oxidized teas. Tea oxidation is controlled carefully by skilled farmers who, as soon as the tea leaves are harvested, pan-fire or heat the leaves so that the process of oxidation halts. They are then dried. A cup of green tea is usually golden-brown, and has floral and grassy notes.
Similar to green tea but usually with even lesser oxidation, white teas are known to be the most delicate and mild variety of tea. White tea is usually derived from younger leaves, towards the beginning of the harvest period.
Do Herbal Teas contain Caffeine?
Herbal teas - made with hot water and herbs like saffron, chamomile, jasmine, and more - aren't 'true' teas. This is because they aren't derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Due to this, most herbal teas are naturally caffeine free.
What Affects the Caffeine Content in Tea?
There's a range of factors that can affect the caffeine levels you'll find in your cup of tea, including the tea variety, processing methods, harvest time, brewing techniques, and leaf quality.
We listed the top 5 tea varieties above. These varieties are perhaps the most important and observable factors in determining caffeine content in your cup of tea. It's what you'll see on tea-labels when you're shopping, and can help you get a sense of a tea's caffeine content without knowing anything about the tea's processing methods, geographical origins, etc.
Black tea generally contains the highest amount of caffeine, followed by oolong and green tea. White tea contains a relatively lower amount than all 5. Pu-erh teas, due to their fermentation process as opposed to oxidation, tend to contain less caffeine than black or oolong tea but more than green and white teas.
The processing methods used in tea production play a significant role in caffeine content. Black tea undergoes full oxidation, which can intensify the caffeine levels, whereas green and white teas are minimally processed post harvesting, leading to lower caffeine content. Oolong tea falls somewhere in between since it's neither as oxidized as a black tea nor as little as green tea.
Pu'erh teas are slightly harder to classify - there's both green and black Pu-erh teas, as well as raw and 'ripe' tea. In general however, the same rules apply here: a darker leaf indicates more oxidation (and fermentation) which means more caffeine. Lighter leaves indicate tea that wasn't processed, pan-fired, or sun-dried too extensively, and hence doesn't contain too much caffeine.
The quality of the tea leaves used can impact caffeine content. Younger tea leaves, harvested towards the beginning of the harvest season, are usually considered higher quality. These tend to contain more caffeine than older leaves, and are usually more earthy and astringent to taste.
A more precise measure of tea quality is known as tea grade, which is a scale that considers the type of tea leaves included in a tea blend. For black teas, a common grading scale is from 1 to 7. This includes a measure of the part of the tea plant harvested, the time of the year the tea was picked, and the age of the leaves.
Brewing Time and Temperature
Even white tea, if brewed too intensely or too long, may end up giving you a bitter, surprisingly caffeinated brew. That's why brewing time and temperature is an important aspect if you're trying to keep track of your caffeine intake on a daily basis.
Generally, brewing your tea in boiling water for a longer period will extract more of the caffeine in your tea leaves. Higher temperatures of water have a similar effect. Such brewing conditions tend to increase the concentration of tannins, bitterness, and darken the color of your tea. If you're someone who prefers a milder, balanced cup with floral notes, it's ideal to go for less oxidized teas, brewed for a maximum of 4-5 minutes at lower water temperatures.
Flush and Harvest Time
Tea plants have different caffeine levels depending on the flush (the period when tea leaves are plucked). First flush teas, harvested usually around early spring or late summer depending on the tea, tend to contain more caffeine than those harvested in later flushes. This is because the first flush leaves have been dormant throughout the winter and contain a 'build-up' of caffeine to protect themselves from pests.
Geographic Origin and Terroir
Where tea is grown also impacts its caffeine content. Also known as the tea plant's terroir, a tea's taste and caffeine content is determined by aspects like soil composition, climate, and altitude. The terroir affects how fast the plant grows, the amount of sunlight it gets, the concentration of different compounds, and even the color of the plant once processed.
A popular example of a terroir-specific tea is Assamese Black tea from India. As one of most popular tea regions of India, Assam is known for a unique varietal of the Camellia Sinensis plant - Camellia sinensis Assamica - which, as a result of the region's unique terroir and moist conditions, tends to contain less caffeine and antioxidants than tea from the normal Sinensis plant.
Comparing Caffeine Levels: Coffee vs. Different Tea Types
Let's get into the numbers. In this section, we'll directly compare the milligrams of caffeine found in an average cup of tea vs. coffee.
Caffeine Content in 8 oz. or 250 ml Cup:
Coffee: 70-140 mg
Darjeeling Black Tea: 70-120 mg
Assam Black Tea: 60-90 mg
Pu’erh Tea: 30-70 mg
Oolong Tea: 70-130 mg
Green Tea (Leaves): 20-60 mg
Matcha Green Tea (Powder): 38-176 mg
White Tea: 5-55 mg
As you might have seen, Darjeeling black tea is the closest to coffee in terms of caffeine levels. This is largely a result of the age-old processing and harvesting utilized by generations of tea farmers in the region of Darjeeling. At ChaiBag, we pride ourselves in preparing each blend using first and second-flush Darjeeling black teas - known to be amongst the most flavorful, premium, and high-quality tea varieties in the world. View our collection of authentic masala chai blends here.
For those who're craving a cup of tea but also can't do with an extra bit of caffeine, coffee and tea-hybrids exist! One of the most famous of these blends is a beloved Indian concoction known as Dirty Chai, which mixes a masala chai tea base with instant coffee. This tea and coffee combo gives you the goodness of warming spices, a smoky caffeinated boost, and an earthy base of black tea. This mix leads to an intense, slightly caramel-y, and camphor-like taste profile that's a treat to enjoy all day round! Visit our store to shop a 100% natural Dirty Chai blend.