Caffeine of Tea – The Different Levels, Effects & More In Each Tea
Caffeine of tea is more in depth than expected. Some common questions I get is, “How much caffeine is in this tea?” or “What is the best tea for me to drink if I am sensitive to caffeine?” or “is tea caffeine different from other (coffee, energy drinks, etc.) caffeine?”
In this article, let’s explore some of the science behind caffeine, what to caffeine level to expect in your cup, what effects the different levels of caffeine in tea, comparisons of caffeine in tea to other drinks and more!
Science of Caffeine
Caffeine, some people’s best friend, other’s worst enemy. It is the most common drug used (possibly abused?) in the United States. How does caffeine actually work and function in your body or more interestingly your brain?
The human brain consists of many tissues, cells and hormones that all play crucial roles in our bodies everyday functions. Our brain is constantly producing chemicals that alter our moods such as dopamine and serotonin, but the one we care about is adenosine.
Adenosine is the chemical our brain produces that, when accumulated, tells us to sleep and rest. Adenosine builds up and fills receptors thus giving us those sleepy feels. Introduce caffeine to the brain. Caffeine comes in and acts as a receptor blocker for adenosine. Thus, we do not feel sleepy! This feeling (fortunately or unfortunately?) does not last forever.
While caffeine is busy working and disrupting the normal processes of adenosine, the adenosine is not stopping production. Eventually that caffeine stops and in floods the reservoir of adenosine that has been building up. Thus, we experience the dreaded caffeine crash.
Caffeine of Each Tea Type
Just because something has caffeine does not mean it will react with your body the same some other beverage does with caffeine. A big determinant of how a cup of green tea vs a cup of black tea will affect you is based on its concentration.
Caffeine concentration is typically recorded in milligrams (mg). As a reference for the list below, the Mayo Clinic recommends caffeine be limited to 400mg or less per day. Below lists the caffeine level for one serving of different types of tea and other beverages for bonus!
- Herbal Tea: 0mg
- Green Tea: 15 – 30mg
- White Tea: 15 – 30mg
- Oolong Tea: 40 – 60mg
- Pu’erh Tea: 50 – 70mg
- Black Tea: 50 – 70mg
- Kombucha: 5 – 15mg
- Coffee: 90 – 110mg
- Standard Energy Drink: 90 – 120mg
Each of the beverages above have a range. This is predominantly due to variations in the processing and others that will be described below!
Why There Are Different Levels
Caffeine varies from cup to cup when you have black tea or green tea. Sometimes there are even variations from a cup of green tea to another cup of green tea! So what’s the deal? These differences have to do with all these factors: oxidation, steep time, steep temperature, tea grades, farm geography, and style of growing.
Tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, so it should all have the same caffeine content, right? Wrong! When the tea is harvested it then undergoes different processes to turn the leaves into green, oolong, black, white or pu’erh. The major processing step is oxidation. The longer the oxidation the higher the caffeine content. Black and pu’erh are the longest, oolong middle and white and green the least oxidized.
Steep time & temperature
Whether you know it or not, there is a right way to brew a cup of tea! Generally, a cup of tea should be brewed for 3 – 5 minutes. In order to get more caffeine you steep the leaves closer to the 5-minute mark. Temperature also plays a role too! The higher the temperature (~200 – 212 degree F) the more caffeine present. For more details on how to properly brew specific tea’s, check out Fresh Steeps’ “How Long to Steep Tea For” post here!
Tea is classified into different grades. Those types include whole, broken and powdered. Whole leaf is a typical loose-leaf tea you buy. Broken is typically what you will find in tea bags. Powdered is the tea-leaf ground to a fine powder and consumed whole, like matcha! Whole leaves tend to be the least caffeinated, followed by broken, then powdered being the most caffeinated.
Where the tea leaves are grown also has an effect on the caffeine! Assamica tea leaves grown in Assam India typically have higher concentrations of caffeine. Many of these make up black tea, while leaves grown in China are lower in caffeine. Typically, grown for green and white.
Styles of Growing
Tea leaves are grown differently to form and develop our favorite teas. Some are grown in the shade rather than direct sunlight. This forces the leaves to produce more chlorophyll and ultimately other chemicals which lead to greater caffeine content.
Avoiding The “Caffeine Crash” With Tea
If you have ever had a (or 3) cup(s) of coffee you have experienced that caffeine crash making you feel worse than before. Now do the same with tea and you won’t get that. What’s happening?
Obviously, tea generally has more caffeine than coffee, so that plays a role, but many teas also have an added chemical compound that helps. This is known L-Theanine!
This amino acid is commonplace among the tea world. It is know as a nootropic (brain enhancer) and works in ways that give your brain a calm alertness. No jitters, no increased heart rate, just calm focus on the task at hand. It reduces mental fatigue by increasing the production of alpha wave lengths in the brain. These wave lengths promote that calm focus.
Combine this powerful amino acid with the rush of caffeine and your focus is even sharper and clearer. It doesn’t even crash on you like normal caffeine. It gradually lowers you back to a sedative state. Incredible!
The Right Caffeine For You
What have we learned about the caffeine of tea?
Well…caffeine is a powerful chemical that blocks our normal sleepy pathways in our brain allowing us to stay awake longer. Each cup of tea, coffee, or energy drink has different concentrations of caffeine. These different levels are affected by many factors (some of which you can control and experiment with in home!). Tea has a powerful aid in it known as L-Theanine that allows for a calmer focus when combined with caffeine than just plain old caffeine.
Next time you need a caffeine kick, try out tea! Experiment with it yourself and see what works best for your body. Overall, enjoy the experience!