Drinking tea is undeniably a British commitment, so there is little room for asking a Brit if they prefer their tea without caffeine. It’s a little bit similar to sitting on an exercise bicycle with a blindfold and trying to convince yourself that you’re riding in the park. If that doesn’t give you an idea if decaf tea is better, you might want to learn which teas are better for you than others.
Why tea brands use different decaffeination methods
Just as a spoiler alert, not every brand of tea uses the same decaffeination method. Unlike coffee beans, tea will start to lose its flavor if it comes in contact with water, so the Swiss Water Method (SWM) is off the table. So that leaves three methods that each give your favorite brands of tea with results that are all over the place.
As the Joker from the Dark Knight once said:
Since water is not an option, the three choices are purely chemical. These include carbon dioxide, ethyl acetate, and methylene chloride which are typically used. Each one of them has a different effect on your favorite teas and can even change the flavor significantly. Now, according to US FDA regulations, any tea that is given the decaffeinated stature must contain less than 2.5% caffeine.
Here’s the thing that most people don’t really know about tea. If you’re buying herbal tea that advertises that it’s decaffeinated, you’re getting ripped off! Herbal tea is made with herbs that don’t contain any caffeine to start with. So these blends are mainly herbs and spices. Once you put tea leaves into the category of anything herbal, it’s going to contain caffeine. This is more common in tea shops that are selling herbal tea blends.
The other big problem is trying to find brands of tea that advertise the exact method they use when making their decaffeinated tea. It’s not an easy process to take the caffeine out of tea leaves either, because the leaves are very delicate. Here are the three methods that are used for decaf tea and what it does to the tea afterward.
If you’ve noticed that carbonated water will bubble up when you open the bottle. This is a sure sign that your soft drinks and sparkling water has been treated with carbon dioxide. As you already know carbon dioxide by itself is a gas, but it can be turned into a partial liquid when it becomes pressurized. The tea leaves that contain caffeine have molecules that are smaller than the molecules that store flavor.
Using the carbon dioxide method, the caffeine molecules are washed away naturally and preserve flavors better. The downside is that this method is very pricy and isn’t used by many popular tea brands. There are two well-known brands including Clipper tea from England and Taylors of Harrogate Decaf Breakfast. Oddly enough, Yorkshire Decaf from Taylors of Harrogate doesn’t use this method and uses methyl chloride instead. Carbon Dioxide is all-natural and is the safest method that is used.
If you like using nail polish remover, chances are it contains ethyl acetate. This leaves most people wondering why their tea has caffeine removed using this method. But since it’s also naturally found in fruits, most people like to think this is perfectly fine. Tea leaves are dipped into ethyl acetate and then dried again, so there is still some degree of ethyl acetate left over.
And since most tea companies are using a chemically created ethyl acetate, using naturally occurring ethyl acetate is considered uncommon. Popular brands include Builders Tea, Thomson’s Tea, and Twinnings all use this chemical.
Just like ethyl acetate, this is another decaffeination method where tea leaves are dipped into methylene chloride. This solvent is used in products like hair spray and paint thinner which can leave tea tasting a bit odd. It doesn’t quite work as good for tea leaves but can be better hidden when decaffeinating coffee beans. It’s used by all the major tea brands and is the cheapest method of all of the decaffeinating processes.
If you enjoy drinking King Cole, Marks & Spencer, Rington’s, Typhoo, Yorkshire, Barry’s, Miles, PG Tips, and Welsh Brew, they all use this solvent to decaffeinate their tea. Since they can’t add aroma to this solvent, the taste will be pretty obvious if you try the caffeinated version and the same one with caffeine. So- the choice is yours for drinking decaf tea.