Can caffeine be rinsed from tea?

by Niraj Lama March 31, 2015 0 Comments

A quick rinse of the tea leaf once before making a cup can reduce the caffeine content of the tea. True or false?

If you are a caffeine-sensitive person who loves tea, you might often have been offered this work-around -  rinse the leaves for a quick 30 seconds, and only then use the leaf to make your cup.

Turns out this prescription is erroneous.

I was recently asked again about this practice by a customer, and it was a bit frustrating that I did not know the answer for sure.

Turns out a quick rinse only makes a negligible difference in reducing caffeine from tea.

So I turned to the experts, and I was pleased that Nigel Melican, a tea industry veteran, founder of US League of Tea Growers and currently holder of the honorary chair at the Tea Research Association of India, decided to help me with the answer by pointing out to an article he had written exactly on the same question nearly eight years ago.

Referring to a 1996 scientific study done in Canada, published in Food Research International Vol 29, Melican asserted that the scientists had studied the caffeine extraction in tea and the results were very different than that proffered by "common wisdom."

Authors of the research Monique Hicks, Peggy Hsieh and Leonard Bell had used the High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) method to study the precise time related extraction of caffeine from tea leaf. They used six different teas, including black, green and oolong, three in teabags and three in loose leaf form. The results were published in a peer-reviewed paper, "Tea preparation and its influence on methylxanthine concentration," tea caffeine being one of the prominent methylxanthines.

The results that emerged from the study were as follows.

30 seconds: 9% caffeine removal

1 minute: 18% caffeine removal

2 minutes: 34% caffeine removal

3 minutes: 48% caffeine removal

4 minutes: 60% caffeine removal

5 minutes: 69% caffeine removal

10 minutes: 92% caffeine removal

15 minutes: 100% caffeine removal

This meant that a 30 seconds quick rinse would still leave 91% of caffeine in the leaf. And if you wanted to cut the caffeine strength by half you would have to steep at least 3-4 minutes. Needless to say there would be no "tea" left if the tea was rinsed for 3 minutes! And if you had to get rid of all the caffeine, it seems you'd have to steep for 15 minutes. To make tea after a 15 minutes steep would be a case of dead-on-arrival.

Melican looked at more other studies and they all pointed to the same thing.

The "myth" of getting rid of caffeine from tea by a quick rinse is persistent.

So this practice of rising tea to reduce caffeine is as Melican puts it nothing but an "internet myth". It does sound plausible when you hear it first. But in the light of scientific research it has been proved to be an erroneous idea, just like the other persistent one that black tea has more caffeine than green or white tea.

Niraj Lama
Niraj Lama


Also in Tea 101

Winter Oolongs 2020 from Taiwan
Winter Oolongs 2020 from Taiwan

by Niraj Lama January 18, 2021 0 Comments

There has been growing interest to learn more about Oolong tea and so I wanted to tell you about three lovely winter oolongs from Taiwan we're offering this year. As a tea enthusiast you might wonder what these winter oolongs are all about, their characters and what makes them special?

Read More

What is Pu erh tea? Part 4 - History and growing regions of Pu erh
What is Pu erh tea? Part 4 - History and growing regions of Pu erh

by Niraj Lama April 24, 2019 0 Comments

Yunnan is the home of pu-erh tea, and more importantly it is the birthplace of tea itself. This south western province of China is nestled in the tropical lushness bordering Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos. According to Chinese documents, tea was discovered by the legendary Chinese Emperor, Shennong in 2737BC.

Read More

What is Pu-erh Tea? Part 3 - The science of tea fermentation
What is Pu-erh Tea? Part 3 - The science of tea fermentation

by Niraj Lama April 09, 2019 0 Comments

In this third part of our series on Pu-erh tea we look into the fermentation in pu-erh tea a little closely and the changes it brings about in post-fermented teas.

Read More