The darker side of Decafs!

POST UPDATED ON 07/15/2016

More than 60 varieties of plants contain caffeine. The better known ones are Tea, Coffee, Cocoa and Kola Nuts. Cocoa is fairly low in caffeine but is high in a compound called ‘Theabromine’ which has a caffeine like effect and explains the ‘lift’ one feels after eating chocolate!

Take a look at this caffeine breakdown (FYI drip filter coffee tops the list)

Drip Filter Coffee     150 mg per cup.

Percolated Coffee    120 mg per cup

Instant Coffee        100 mg per cup

Black Tea               30 to 70 mg per cup

Green Tea              10 to 40 mg per cup

Soda/Cola               45 mg per can

 
In moderation, caffeine is a benefit ­- stimulating the metabolism, increasing brain function and alertness. Because caffeine from tea does not take effect for 10-15 minutes, it provides a subtle lift ­not the sudden jolt of coffee. (Four cups of tea does not allow the caffeine level to go beyond the 250 mg stipulated by the American Psychiatric Association.) 
 

WHY DECAF DOES MORE HARM THAN GOOD

Caffeine is removed from tea using industrial processes and strong chemicals which may be more harmful to health in the long run than the caffeine itself. You may be surprised to learn what the chemicals used in decaffeination are:

 1. Ethyl Acetate–this is nail polish remover

2. Methylene Chloride–by another name it’s a paint stripper

3. Liquid CO2– This method is expensive and the equipment to liquefy the CO2 operates at 300 bars (the pressure in a car tyre is 3 bars). 

Practically all the decaffeinated teas on Supermarket shelves have undergone methods 1 and 2. There is no mention of residuals etc – and the teas taste awful. 

TRUE or FALSE?

Here is a simple home decaffeination method: 

Because caffeine is readily soluble in hot water, if you infuse a regular tea bag or loose leaf tea for 20 seconds, discard the brew and pour fresh boiling water over the partially spent leaves, the resultant cuppa will have 75% less caffeine. It’s that simple to do your own decaffeination! But would the producers of decaffeinated teas tell you this?”

Please note: The above theory has been DEBUNKED by one of my readers  

Please read the following links for clarification:

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400659/Decaffeinating-Tea.html and http://chadao.blogspot.com/2008/02/caffeine-and-tea-myth-and-reality.html

Many thanks for this new information. I am always learning .

I received an interesting question from Sam Donovan on the subject of Salicylates. Never having heard the word before, I turned it over to Larry Brown. I am including the information here as this subject may be of interest to others.
QUESTION: I need to drink decaf because the decaffeination process reduces the salicylates which I am sensitive to. I would like to know if using your method of infusing black tea for a few seconds would also work for me. I find the Yorkshire decaf really tasty myself but I would hate to think I’m ingesting those chemicals. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Also salicylates are present in varying degrees in all plants. Generally the tastier the fruit,veg or herb, the more salicylates it has. It’s a bit tough but at least no more debilitating cramps. 
LARRY SAYS:
The two common decaf methods for tea as detailed above uses Methylene Chloride (also known as Paint Stripper) or Ethyl Acetate (also known as Nail Polish remover). The one that could be classified as completely natural  is the CO2 method but the equipment is expensive to fabricate and operates at a pressure of 30 bars (a car tyre is about 3 bars). Another method that is used for caffeine removal is the Swiss Water method but on tea it removes the taste  as well but apparently it works on coffee alright. Decaffeination also removes the salicylates.
The author of Salicylates Handbook, Sharla Race says that the method of infusing tea for 20 to 30 seconds will reduce the amount of Salicylates in the resultant tea.
The very high salicylate sources (besides Aspirin,Ibuprofen and the like) are Spinach and Rhubarb so Popeye would have been a kidney stone candidate! Tomato and other sauces are high in salicylates so if one has a high sensitivity there are many items that they should avoid  but I’m sure Sam is aware of them already.
Well, at least Ms. Race corroborates that the quick infusion method reduces the salicylates content somewhat.

More interesting facts about caffeine.

READ MORE ABOUT TEA AND HEALTH ON THIS ADAGIO TEA WEBSITE 

Larry Brown

These pearls of wisdom were gathered from Larry Brown, ex Assam tea planter from the “good old days” now retired. He divides his time between the Gold Coast, Australia and Shillong, India. Larry is a walking encyclopedia: the “Google” of tea;  full of serious knowledge, funny stories and interesting trivia. I constantly bother him with pesky questions. 

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35 thoughts on “The darker side of Decafs!

  1. I thought decaf tasted awful until I discovered some wonderful decaf leaf tea, which was really flavoursome. I then found that Cafe Direct and Twinings both produced decaf teabags that had some taste, unlike all the other brands I’d tried. I don’t drink caffeine in the evening because I have found it to keep me awake, which was why I switched to decaf. I hope it’s not doing me any harm, but I’m pretty sure I sleep better for it.

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      1. Hi tea buddy, I need to drink decaf because the decaffeination process reduces the salicylates which I am sensitive to. I would like to know if using your method of infusing black tea for a few seconds would also work for me. I find the Yorkshire decaf really tasty myself but I would hate to think I’m ingesting those chemicals. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Also salicylates are present in varying degrees in all plants. Generally the tastier the fruit,veg or herb, the more salicylates it has. It’s a bit tough but at least no more debilitating cramps. Thanks! Sam

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        1. Hi dear Sam,
          Hooooey! You have posed a most technical and interesting question. Let me round up my trusty tea experts and see if they have something to add to this. Stay tuned!! 😊 Shona

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          1. Hi Sam, I posted the answer to your question in the main body of this article as I think the subject of salicylates may be of interest to others who have the same issue. I hope this helps. Thanks for your very relevant and interesting question. I learned something new today!

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  2. Although the chemicals you mentioned are not the sort of thing you’d naturally want to ingest, they are present in very small amounts in decaffeinated tea. I agree that, even so, you might not want to consume them, but then how many other nasty chemicals do we ingest without thinking about it? I’m not sure if processed foods might be far worse for us than decaf tea. Having read a bit about this elsewhere after reading your original post, I would like to find some tea that’s been decaffeinated using CO2, to see how it tastes, as that would certainly be preferable to the chemically decaffeinated teas.

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    1. True, decafs for all I know may be a lesser evil than processed foods. The thing about food modification (low fat etc) when you take something out you gotta put something in. It’s the “something” that is suspicious. Oh hey, we’re all gonna die anyways. I just hope I die drinking regular tea, not decaf!

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    1. Thanks for the link. The funny thing about organics is that it may not necessarily taste great. There is a lot that goes into making fine teas – the stock of the tea plant itself, selective plucking, experienced tea processing, tasting and blending. It’s a complex art and science like wine making and requires serious expertise and know how. Just organic won’t do it. I think the whole organic hoopla is a lot of marketing bull anyway and an excuse to peddle sub-standard products. I am waiting to be proved otherwise. Here’s my theory: when you make an alternative-energy car that is stylish and efficient as an Apple computer, I will buy it. When organics become better tasting than the regular “baddies” on my grocery shelf, I’ll eat/drink it. Till then I am going to snap my fingers and whistle at the sky.

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  3. Wow glad to learn this information..I will certainly stop drinking decaf soy latte’s what is the point anyway….ick I just finished one after my detoxifying workout. Thank you for reposting this I hadn’t read the first time around!

    Steph

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  4. I’m not a fan of decaffeinated tea or coffee, because one of the main reasons I drink them is the lift, but I accidentally purchased a decaf tea a while back, and it was awful! I couldn’t even drink it. It surprised me how terrible it tasted.

    Now I know why. Paint stripper and nail polish remover? What mad scientist thinks of these things in relation to our food? Especially when the home method you describe is so simple?

    Thanks for posting this, Shona.

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    1. Ethyl acetate naturally occurs in green tea leaves (in much smaller amounts than are used to “decaf” them though) as causes some species of tea leaves to have a lower caffeine content to begin with. That’s why that method is sometimes referred to as “Naturally Decaffeinated” in advertising.

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  5. Shona,
    I’m an admitted coffee snob. The idea of decaffeinated anything, makes as much sense as non-alchoholic beer, or low-fat milk, or artificial sweetener. What’s the point in partaking of any of this stuff? I do have to limit myself to 6 cups a day however…

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  6. Hi Shona,

    I am interested in how decaf is made because I drink mainly tea and am somewhat sensitive to caffeine (itself a methylxanthine). Having read a bit about it and tried different teas it my impression that the CO2 process used by, for example, Clipper & Twinings, are the better option. I believe that the residues of ethyl acetate and methyl chloride are probably pretty small and ethyl acetate occurs naturally in wine and passion fruit juice for example but there will be zero residues from the CO2 process and I believe it retains more of the taste. Methylene chloride does not occur naturally in any food as far as I know but exposure to it can occur in chlorinated swimming pools and from smoke. As to your suggestion for DIY decaffeination the 75% reduction you suggest seems impressive except that bought decaf should have a reduction greater than 90% (probably more like 95%) but it is an option. Lastly, tea companies don’t often make it clear what decaf process they are using and I think it should be mandatory to state the process used so that consumers can decide based on full disclosure.

    I do allow myself some good ordinary leaf tea but unfortunately I have to limit the caffeine and must also drink the decaf variety!

    Enjoy your brews and thanks for raising the topic.
    E.

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    1. Hi there,
      I am forwarding your query to my tea/decaf expert and let’s see what he has to say. Decaffeination is an interesting and controversial topic not often discussed. I have (probably genetic) a high caffeine tolerance, so I have not bothered to delve into this subject in depth, but I am curious. Perhaps others reading this post may have some intelligent answers.

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    2. Here is a little more on the subject from my friend Larry Brown:
      “The two most popular procedures for decaffeinating tea are: (a) Using Methylene Chloride (also used in Paint Stripper) and (b) Ethyl Acetate (also used as a nail polish remover). Less widely used is the CO2 process because it is more expensive. The equipment too is costly and it operates at a pressure of 300 bars-a car tyre is 3 bars. If a packer is using the CO2 method they will generally note this on the packet. However, if ‘E’ wants to know what method the packer uses he should write a letter and ask them!
      The point about using the “Home Decaf Method” is that it is clean and easy to do and will still give a cuppa that tastes like tea, whereas bought Decaf tea with a reduction of 90/95% tastes awful!
      Tea is made from the fresh shoots harvested from the camellia sinensis or camellia sinensis var assamica. The tea shoot of ‘fine plucking’ is called “two and a bud” that is, a bud with two lower leaves. The bud contains the most caffeine (3% to 5%) but also contains the most ‘quality’ – the next leaf down has less caffeine and the caffeine content gets less the lower one goes down the stem. A shoot that has 3,4, or more leaves on the stem is classified as ‘Coarse Plucking’ and this will make a poorer quality tea and contain much stalk and fibre-have less caffeine but taste is sacrificed.
      It is interesting to note that purely stalk and fibre, with no black tea leaf present, will give a “lovely looking coloury liquid” in the cup but will have little or no tea taste. It’s a bit like Rooibos tea, made from aspalanthus linearis which is not real tea as we know it- it is lovely looking in the cup but the taste does not come even close to a good cup of Assam tea!”

      Thank you Larry!

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      1. I wish I had your tolerance for caffeine! Meanwhile I shall continue with my real leaf tea once a day and my decaf tea (based on CO2 method of course) at other times. The latter in the case of Clipper is at least as good as ordinary tea bag tea from a quality point of view in my opinion.
        I have contacted tea companies about their decaf process but it is time consuming and inefficient, much better for them to state it on the packet. As Larry indicated though if they don’t specify the process used it is probably not based on the CO2 approach.
        An interesting possibility is the plant Camelia ptilophylla Chang which apparently makes a decent black tea and has no caffeine in it at all.

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    3. I have emailed twining and they use the methylene chloride process as they answered to me with this:

      “The decaffeination process used for our tea is a chemical extraction by methylene chloride, as this ensures more of the taste of the tea is retained, due to the use of less harsh conditions of temperature, time and pressure.

      Methylene chloride is an extraction solvent which is permitted for use under European legislation to decaffeinate tea and coffee. As with all food additives, methylene chloride has undergone rigorous safety assessments before authorities will approve them for use on foods and have enforced legal limits for safe consumption. These limits are established by the authorities taking into consideration typical levels of the food product that might be consumed.

      In order to carry out the process, the tea is put in to a large vessel with the solvent and mixed under high pressure for several hours. The caffeine dissolves into the solvent, which is then recovered from the vessel for use in the pharmaceutical industry. The remaining tea is ready to pack after a period of ‘drying off’, where any residual solvent evaporates.”
      The only ones that I have found so far that use the CO2 method are the Clipper and the Sir Winston Tea.

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  7. Hi there,
    I live in Perth, Western Australia and recently my doctor said that I drank far too much tea, which should be limited to 6 cups per day, an impossibility for me! After trying different brands of decaf, all of which were pretty disgusting, I found a UK company called Yorkshire Tea who produce a decaf tea by the CO2 method, which tastes as good as normal tea, but only Coles supermarkets appear to stock it. I hope this helps!
    Pauline

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