Tea 101
What Is In Tea? – Caffeine

What Is In Tea? – Caffeine

I love the science behind tea. Heck, I’m a chemical engineer by trade & am that one guy who likes organic chemistry! I have always been fascinated with knowing & understanding what I am putting into my body when it comes to foods & beverages. Due to my love for tea, naturally I was drawn to understanding this beverage more.

This is going to be a “what is in tea” where I do my best to break down the science of your cuppa tea. Warning, this may get sciency & we may use big words, but I promise I will do my best to make it easier to understand & consume.

The first topic (or molecule or compound…) that we are going to dive into is caffeine!!!

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine, some people’s best friend & other’s worst enemy, is a natural stimulant found in tea, coffee, & cacao plants. It is actually considered a drug, even 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.

Cool Science Stuff!

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 In Tea

A common question I always get is, “Vince, what tea has the most caffeine?!?” & I always respond…well it depends (& the person is never pleased!). I want to spread the truth & educate people. So this is the truth! You will hear many times that the more oxidized a tea, the higher the caffeine content making white & green tea least caffeinated & black & pu’erh most. This is simply not true. There are many processes at play that all need to be considered.

Oxidation is important when discussing this topic, but so is the region the tea was grown, the time of the year the leaves were picked, & even your brewing techniques. This alone makes choosing a tea for caffeine content quite the challenge!

To put it simply, there is caffeine in tea, but there are many other exciting compounds (that we will get into in this series) that are also in tea that interact with your mind & body. This is why if you have ever had a cup of tea & a cup of coffee you will feel the difference. Yea that is partially due to the caffeine content, but both plants have different compounds that interact differently!

Teas With Most Caffeine

There is no straight answer unfortunately, however I can share with you the teas that give me the biggest boost for my day! Below are the Fresh Steeps top 5 favorite energy boosting teas (in order or most energizing to least)!

Yerba Mate!

  1. Yerba Mate: Not actually a Camellia sinensis derivative, but it sure does give me a kick! This tea makes me wired & ready to take on a workout or busy day at work.
  2. Matcha: A cool, calm, & collected type energy. I love enjoying this to keep me focused & centered.
  3. Pu’erh: While there are many types of pu’erh, I have yet to find one that doesn’t get me amped! After 3 cups I am buzzing & ready to go.
  4. Irish/English Breakfast: Maybe because I love these with breakfast, but this is a delicious way to start my mornings.
  5. Sencha: This green tea is a favorite pick-me-up. Helps keep me focused & recharged.

I am stopping at 5 because I can go on for days about each tea! Want to try each of these? Click the type above!

Caffeine & Tea Fun Facts

Here are a few fun caffeine & tea facts for you to share with your TEAmigos at your next tea party!

  • The recommended daily value for caffeine is 400mg (or roughly 4 cups of coffee).
  • All tea (white, green, yellow, oolong, black, & pu’erh) contains caffeine.
  • Decaf tea still contains small amounts of caffeine (~5mg).
  • Finer cut tea leaves may have more caffeine than bigger leaves. This is because there is greater surface area for caffeine to fuse out of the leaves.
  • Steep your tea for no more than 5 minutes! Any longer & the caffeine in your cup will bind to catechins that seep out of your leaves as well.
  • Younger leaves contain more caffeine than older leaves.

The glorious Camellia sinensis!

Tea, Caffeine, & Me

Caffeine can be a great ally to you & your productivity for the day. A delicious cup of tea can boost your energy & allow you to take on the next challenge whatever that may be! Understand this, caffeine in tea is affected by much more than what most places will tell you!

If you are truly interested in knowing how much caffeine is in your cup, do some research on that specific tea (or ask me!). Otherwise, I love the tried & true method of listening to your body. Make yourself a cup of tea with the intention of seeing how you feel energetically. Does this tea seem to boost or drain your energy? Ask yourself simple questions like that & take note.

I love tea for all its beauty, taste, smell, & science! More to come from this What Is In Tea series! For more on caffeine & tea, check out this post “Caffeine of Tea“. Let me know what you would like to learn more about in the comments!

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