Quick Tip: DIY Decaf Tea

cat and tea cup

EDITED  8/6/2014

It appears we have been taken in by a popular Internet myth.  A reader comment  (Thanks, Laura!) brought alerted me to an excellent post on tea myths and includes findings from (apparently) the only two studies to every test this methodology of reducing caffeine levels in tea.  These show that the reduction from a short steeping would be more in the 9-20% range, as opposed to 80%. To achieve 80% the steep would have to be over 5 minutes. It’s an interesting article, worth a read–it also addresses the complex subject of how much caffeine black and green teas actually have.

I’m not sure if this is common knowledge or not– my acupuncturist told me about it years ago–but you can decaffeinate your own tea.

As someone who loves (loves loves) hot black milky tea, even in summer, but who no longer gets along well with caffeine, this is a very good thing. Commercially decaffeinated tea is indistinguishable from dishwater. The DIY version doesn’t taste as good as “real tea”–the undiluted kind– but it’s better than the store bought stuff.

An additional advantage is that you don’t have to stock two types of tea–one type becomes two, saving shelf space. Note that this works best with loose leaf tea, but can be used with bagged tea, too.

All you have to do is brew your tea as you normally would, but start counting as soon as you pour the hot water. After at least 30 seconds but no more than 1 minute you pour off all of what has brewed so far. And yes, that’s all the good stuff. But by doing so, you are pouring off about 80% of the caffeine. It’s sad, but being all headachey and jittery is sad too, so I do it. Then you top off the tea leaves with fresh hot water and start the brew again. This one you drink.

Commercially decaf tea is lower in caffeine than this homebrew–just to be clear.  According to the Mayo Clinic, one cup of commercial decaf black tea can contain anywhere from 0 to 12 mg of caffeine. A regular cup of black tea ranges from 14 to 70 mg.  With this DIY process, a 70 mg cup would be reduced to 14 mg. A cup of regular green tea ranges from 25 to 45 mg, and can be decaffeinated by this method as well.

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  1. Awesome tip! I can no longer drink my beloved Assam or Irish Breakfast due to the caffeine headaches and jitteryness (I like my tea STRONG). Decaf is usually meh… so I’ve changed my tastes over the years because of it. I’ll try this out, Thanks!

    • I love pots of strong black tea too — Irish Breakfast especially. I still miss it–but this is better than nothing.

  2. How interesting!

    I actually brew loose tea from a teabag I generously fill myself. I drink that first brew with 80% of the caffeine first thing in the morning. And I make it just that way: pour in the water, take the bag out within the first minute.

    By the afternoon I’m ready for another pot from the same bag. I pour on the water and I might let it brew for 2 minutes. If I don’t finish that pot what remains goes in a pitcher for the iced tea I drink all day.

    In the evening I usually brew another pot. Yup, from that same bag (I said I stuffed it generously). I steep it longer and even so the color is noticeably paler. Doesn’t matter; it’s a pleasant tea and probably pretty decently suited to the period before bed. As in the afternoon, anything I don’t drink hot goes in the iced tea pitcher.

    I didn’t appreciate why this works for me before but now I do. Thanks!

    • What you’re doing is what my acupuncturist suggested–using the leaves all day long. He’s no fan of caffeine. This method works best with loose leaf tea, which is why it’s working out so well for you.

  3. Does this work with coffee as well? I’d love to have a cup of decaf coffee that doesn’t have that ammonia smell that you get with commercially produced decaf.

    • I knew someone would ask that! I don’t know first hand. I know that there are people who reuse coffee grounds, but I’d imagine there would be a significant loss of flavor. I guess it depends on both the quality of beans you’re using to start with and your personal standards regarding flavor/body etc.

  4. I had so hoped that it was the kitty helping to make the tea that took away the caffeine 🙂

    I make it this way sometimes, but I usually drink my strongest tea in the morning and then a weaker one later one. In the summer I drink iced tea which is a very watered down version of tea and I drink water in the winter.

    I also miss my all day teafest.

    • Well, that’s an idea! But as you can see, Trout did not absorb the extra caffeine–otherwise he’d look perkier!

  5. I only drink iced tea, but have learned to love the Lipton Instant decaffeinated tea. I did brew tea for iced tea, but being alone I cannot/don’t drink it all in one day. Refrigerated tea is gross the next day, but it starts growing things on the surface if left out overnight. Since I do get teabags occasionally, I will have to remember this tip.

  6. I drink green tea most of the time and usually make a very strong brew in a lidded cup in the morning. When I want a drink I pour out about 1/3 and top that up with hot water. I also top up the lidded cup. I use loose leaf tea so I can put as much or little as I like. Works for me. The good thing about green tea is you can drink it hot, warm or cold!

  7. make sure not to dump your first cup down the drain – use it in your garden or plants….
    you can also use it to clean your wood – something to do with the tannic acid i think.

  8. I wish what your acupuncturist was true, but it’s not. You only get rid of a portion of the caffeine, more like 10%, with a 30 sec steep & pour off. To remove 80% you would need to steep for about 5 to 10 minutes. Then do a re-steep to get the reduced level of caffeine & it would probably taste pretty bad.
    It’s a myth that has been debunked, see link, but still persists. Tea has lower levels of caffeine than coffee, and doesn’t effect the body the same way, so you might not be that caffeine sensitive to tea caffeine.

  9. Thank you, Laura. I will edit the post immediately. Good article, too–by the way.

  10. Apart from being introduced to decaffeinated tea which i didn’t even know existed, I wonder why it would taste like “dish water”. While early decaffeination (with coffee beans at least) was done e.g. with dichlorobenzene, a toxic chemical that may have left traces and certainly changed tastes, modern decaffeination uses a clean method: liquefied CO2, carbon dioxide (the method was developed by a German chemistry professor who systematically studied the solubility of matter in liquefied gases), which then can be evaporated. Since CO2 is absolutely tasteless, I would recon it does not alter the taste of tea as little as if nowadays affects coffee. Be that as it may, water does not have the same effect as it is far less discriminatory than liquefied CO2 (but you already covered that in your update. What I would try out though: most people I know that get upset by tea do not react to the “caffeine” (theobromene) but to the tannic acid in it. The darker the tea, the larger the leaves, the later it was harvested, as a rule of thumb, the more tannic acid it would contain (inversely: the more expensive, the less tannic acid, as a rule, like “First Flush” etc.). And many people are almost allergic to high concentrations of tannic acid which upsets their stomach, then causes stress, then stress hormones, then faster heart rate – in the end very similar effects to caffeine but not as pleasant overall!

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