Saturday, September 5, 2009

Shaking off the shakes

Despite occasionally desiring a caffeine-free cup of tea, particularly after dinner or late in the evening, I am wary of decaffeinated teas. The ones I've tried seem to taste flat — I've got a box of Lipton decaffeinated green tea in the cabinet that I was given ages ago and I keep around only in case a guest requires such a thing — and I prefer to keep the processing of my foods and beverages to a minimum, if possible. Sometimes chemicals are involved in the decaffeination process, and when you start throwing around terms like methylene chloride and ethyl acetate, well, thanks but I'll just have the chamomile.

But sometimes I don't want an herbal, I want tea. Fortunately, I found that a simple initial steeping goes a long way toward cutting down the caffeine in a cup of tea. I noticed it first when I began attending tea tastings that were presented in the Chinese gongfu style. Eva Lee in Hawaii did this — she'd put the tea in the pot, pour water over it, then fairly quickly pour it off and discard it. She called this "waking up the tea." Aside from that being every kind of cool, I noticed in this and other tastings that I could sample more teas without getting so buzzed. That's because, as the video below from Bigelow Teas explains quite well, the first thing to come out of the tea when the hot water hits it is the caffeine. If you're drinking quality loose-leaf tea, it can stand up to multiple steepings, so why not let a brief first pour suck out a majority of the caffeine for you? Then you can enjoy the second steep while you watch Craig Ferguson.

p.s. Speaking of Craig Ferguson, the greatest late-night host on TV, he once did a commercial for this God-awful Nestea concentrate. You pretty much have to chug the stuff like he does in that video, just to get it down your throat.


  1. Thomas, I believe this to be an urban myth: "90% of the caffeine comes out of the leaf in the first 30 seconds." I used to say this myself, until Nigel Mellican schooled me. On the Cha Dao Web site, he wrote an excellent and very in-depth article about it, which can be read here:

    Also, do read through the comments, which are thought-provoking.

    I have two blog posts about caffeine, where I put together Nigel's observations found on Twitter and the Web, as well as some data from a scientific tea caffeine study. The posts can be found here:

    Now, as for your experience: You are certainly losing some of that caffeine by washing the leaves, but probably somewhere in the range of 9% or less. In the study, they found caffeine removed from the tea followed this arc:

    30 seconds – 9%
    1 minute – 18 %
    2 minutes - 34%
    3 minutes - 48%
    4 minutes- 60%
    5 minutes - 69%
    10 minutes - 92%
    15 minutes - 100%

    So it's possible that your very marginal sensitivity to caffeine means that even a tiny reduction is enough to change your experience in a significant way. Human body chemistry is interesting.

  2. Dig that Craig Ferguson commercial. I'm not sure what to say about the decaffeination here. From what I understand, different teas probably release their caffeine in different amounts of time. It most likely varies with tea just like every other factor varies. --Spirituality of Tea

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