The health risks of decaf tea

Image by, courtesy of Vicky Sorsby

For those who need to reduce their caffeine consumption, decaffeinated tea is an option. While decaf tea can be a good option for those who enjoy tea, it still contains some caffeine, possibly posing a health risk for some.


Caffeine is a chemical with a bitter taste that acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. It is found in a number of foods, most famously in coffee and tea.


True tea of all types is made from the same plant, camillia sinensis. The tea plant naturally has caffeine in it, so all tea has caffeine. While some teas (such as green tea) have a reputation for being low in caffeine, it is impossible to determine how much caffeine is in a given cup of tea purely on the basis of the type of tea. Several factors, including how the tea was grown, soil, processing, and preparation determine how much caffeine is in a given tea.

Decaffeinated vs. Caffeine=Free

If a tea claims to be "caffeine-free," it is not a true tea, but an herbal tea, known in the tea industry as a tisane. This herbal tisane is made of herbs other than true tea. Since all true tea has caffeine, it must undergo a decaffeination process to eliminate most of its caffeine. While the tea is then called decaffeinated, some caffeine will still remain. The amount of remaining caffeine will vary, but tea prepared according to voluntary standards set by the Tea Association Technical Committee will have less than 0.04 per cent caffeine by dry weight.

Decaffeination Methods

The FDA has approved two methods of decaffeination for tea, one which uses a chemical, ethyl acetate, and another which uses carbon dioxide.

Health Risks

If you have been told to avoid all caffeine for health reasons, speak to your doctor prior to drinking decaffeinated tea. Because there is some caffeine present even in decaffeinated tea, your doctor may prefer that you avoid it altogether. If you do have permission to drink decaffeinated tea, limit consumption appropriately.