Decaffeination, Green Tea and Benefits

While we have talked so many times about tea and decaffeination, I am compelled to revisit the issue (previous decaffeination article). I recently came across a printout of a question and answer that was posted on the Mayo Clinic website back in 2003. A woman in Virginia wrote, “I’ve heard about the benefits of drinking green tea. Does it matter if the tea is decaffeinated?” The answer, a resounding ”Yes!

Several studies have linked green tea consumption to a decreased risk of cancer and heart disease. It’s the naturally occurring chemical compounds called polyphenels that are suspected of giving green tea its health benefits. The main polyphenels in tea are catechins, pronounced “cat e kins”, which include EGCG, the compound epigallocatechin gallate. EGCGs seem to inhibit unhealthy cell growth and play a role in programmed cell death, both appear to be important in the prevention and control of cancer. Other polyphenels are potent antioxidants and help prevent damage to healthy cells as well as preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol caused by free radicals. These preventative functions seem to inhibit the formation of plaque in the arteries or atherosclerosis.

The decaffeination process affects the amount of polyphenol substances in tea, including catechins. The two methods utilized for decaffeinating teas imported into the US are ethyl acetate and CO2. Ethyl acetate, the most commonly used method, is a chemical solvent that is applied to tea extracting the caffeine. The tea is then left with a residual of the solvent, which is deemed at levels safe for human consumption. Green tea decaffeinated using ethyl acetate retains minimal benefits, about 30% of EGCG and other catechins.

CO2 processing consists of carbon dioxide and water (effervescence) to remove caffeine. Teas decaffeinated with CO2, the only type we sell, keep more of the polyphenels and catechins intact, about 95%. Having said that it’s still uncertain whether CO2 processed decaffeinated green teas actually deliver the same health benefits as green tea in its natural state. Although the CO2 method preserves more polyphenels and catechins, tea composition is very complex. It is unclear whether or not additional compounds in green tea play a part in delivering its health benefit and if so how those additional compounds are effected by the decaffeination process.

Most decaffeinated teas do not state which type of process is utilized. Many tea packages contain language like “naturally decaffeinated” a term that can mean ethyl acetate was in fact utilized as the process to decaffeinate. Because trace amounts of naturally occurring ethyl acetate exist in tea leaves, it is not a false statement although what actually happens is a lot different then what is being implied.

We have made a conscious decision not to sell any decaffeinated green teas. The only decaffeinated teas that we do sell are black teas, all of which are CO2 processed. You can keep your caffeine consumption to a minimum by closely following the brewing instructions on the back of all of our packages, which are written specifically for each tea. All tea, from the plant camellia sinensis, has caffeine. Here are some ways to lower the caffeine in your cup;

Start with a good quality, fresh, loose leaf green tea.
Green tea is best in water that is about 170º, significantly lower than boiling, which is 212º. Refer to the specific brewing instructions on the back of each package of Teas Etc tea. More Tips on Water Temperature.
Experts agree that caffeine in moderation, between 200 - 300 milligrams per day is o.k. An 8 ounce cup of coffee is approximately 140 milligrams of caffeine. On average an 8 ounce cup of green tea, brewed according to our instructions, has between 8 - 20 milligrams of caffeine, a lot less than most people realize.

As someone who is sensitive to caffeine, I have a lot of experience monitoring my intake. In part, I determine what type of tea to drink based on the time of day and when I want to go to sleep. If I want to drink green tea in the evening, I select a Japanese green tea like Kukicha. While I can’t explain exactly why, I have found, like many other people, that Japanese green teas are naturally lower in caffeine.

If you absolutely can not tolerate any caffeine, I would suggest drinking something naturally free of caffeine like Rooibos. Many people really enjoy Rooibos and some even think it taste similar to black tea. While Rooibos won’t deliver the same EGCG benefits as green tea (no matter what the marketing people say) there is an antioxidant called SOD found only in Rooibos. To learn more about Rooibos.

Teas Etc - Tea Blog

As a side note, for months Newman has been trying to get me to utilize the Teas Etc blog. At the very least I have been slow to start but with my upcoming trip to China and all of the other things “tea” I want to share, I have started “blogging”. So if you are interested in;

Health information.
Tea recipes.
Sharing your tea news or favorite teas.
Asking a tea question.
Sorting out fact from fiction when it comes to tea.
Traveling with me in China for the 3 week trip viewing the tea gardens and spring tea productions.

Visit the Teas Etc Blog!

In closing, I personally would not drink decaffeinated green tea. There are so many low caffeine tea and herbal alternatives including drinking properly brewed, healthy green tea just as nature intended.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beth Johnston, a tea importer and noted tea expert, publishes an informative monthly newsletter on tea, tea history, health and lifestyle enhancements. To learn more about the world of tea, join her free newsletter at http://www.TeasEtc.com/Newsletter.asp or visit http://www.TeasEtc.com.

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