/ Food & Drink

National Tea Day: why is it so hard to find decaf options?

Today is National Tea Day and some of you may be partaking in a cup or two or even having an afternoon tea treat. But if you’re caffeine intolerant, indulging in this most English of traditions can, quite literally, be a headache, says our guest, community member Beryl…

It’s National Tea Day, so to mark it, I would like to propose a toast to all those who still associate this delightful ‘pick-me-up’ drink with a good old English tradition and prefer it to coffee and the coffee bars that go with it.

However, it has been widely established that this ‘pick-me-up’ can be attributed to caffeine – ­a substance that if taken in excess can cause symptoms, such as tremors and migraine, in a few susceptible people. These folk invariably have to turn to decaffeinated drinks as an alternative.

But this is not without its social problems, especially when invited to coffee mornings with friends who can only offer caffeinated tea or coffee. When this happens, one is inclined to either decline the invitation, or accept and suffer the inevitable consequences.

You’re met with the same problem in other situations, too. Drinks machines are now appearing in supermarkets, petrol stations and smaller retail outlets, but most only contain caffeinated beverages. Also, to my utmost surprise, during a recent short stay in an NHS hospital, the ward drinks trolley could only offer caffeinated hot drinks.

A healthy choice?

One would expect decaf to be easier on the body, but decaf tea leaves are often soaked in methylene chloride, which bonds with the caffeine molecules. It’s widely considered that this renders the tea unfit for consumption, as it leaves traces of the compound on the tea leaves.

A safer and preferred option is hot water processing. This extracts the caffeine along with almost everything else. The water is filtered through a carbon filter, which catches the caffeine molecules. It is then returned to the tea leaves, which soak up the extracted flavours. This process may explain and be the reason why you usually have to pay more when buying decaffeinated produce.

According to tea makers, by law, decaffeinated tea must contain less than 2.5% of its original caffeine. But due to this and the above limitations in its processing, no decaf tea is actually totally caffeine free. However, it’s presumably low enough to reduce the effects experienced by people sensitised to it.

Whatever your choices, as with most food products containing legalised and potentially harmful substances, moderation is key to be able to enjoy their benefits without repercussions.

So when you raise your tea cup this afternoon, please spare a thought for those whose health could be put in jeopardy by indulging in something as innocent looking as a caffeinated cuppa.

This is a guest post by community member Beryl. All views expressed here are Beryl’s and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

Do you have to avoid caffeine for health reasons? Do you find it hard to find decaf options? What are your tips for surviving in a caffeine-dominated world?

Comments
Member

Its funny that the previous convo was on the joys of coffee but this one is on the “dangers ” of caffeine in TEA . As a confirmed tea drinker may I point out according to the Mayo Clinic brewed COFFEE contains 95-165 mg of caffeine whereas TEA contains ( for the SAME amount ) 25-48 mg so shouldn’t we be condemning coffee ? But no its American and you cant criticise anything American or Donald will sanction you or invade you. I will be sticking to my healthier tea with its antioxidants helping the fight against cancer and helping slow the aging process. At present this country is still a tea drinking nation -long may it continue .

Member

Congratulations on your Convo Beryl 🙂 and highlighting the problems decaf drinkers are faced with.

We have both caffeinated and decaffeinated tea and coffee in our house. Hubby was told to have decaf for health reasons.

He doesn’t drink tea out, but I don’t remember ever seeing decaf tea on offer whereas decaf coffee is widely available.

Why is decaf often twice the price of caffeinated? Okay, it needs additional processing, but for many brands you almost need twice as much tea to get any flavour. He keeps switching brands, but has stuck with Yorkshire Tea Decaf for quite a while now as it seems to be the strongest.

As to how it is processed into decaf……….? 🤔

Member

Thanks Alfa, I too find Yorkshire Gold Decaf the only drinkable alternative – just checked the package and their website which states “a lot of love goes into it’ and “everything’s done proper” also they “plant a lot of trees” but nothing about which method they use in the decaf processing.

Member
DerekP says:
21 April 2018

Where I work, both tea and coffee are still popular as workplace refreshments, but so too is cool filtered water.

Member

I’m trying to drink more water, instead of tea or coffee. This is purely because I put sugar in both and would like to cut down.

As the days are getting hotter I find it easier to drink water!

What’s your preferred drink?

Member

Thanks for the Convo, Beryl. In the manufacture of decaffeinated coffee, the use of methylene chloride (dichloromethane) to extract caffeine has I believe been phased out in favour of liquid carbon dioxide, which avoids the risk of potentially hazardous chemical residues. I hope the same applies with tea.

I am not impressed by the decaffeinated coffee I have tasted, which usually seems bitter and lacks flavour. I am staying with friends and have accidentally been drinking decaffeinated coffee. 🙁 I will try decaffeinated tea out of interest.

Member

You might want to find yourself some caffeine if you want to avoid getting withdrawal headaches wavechange?

Member

I’m afraid we call it decoffinated, for the reasons wavechange describes. Perhaps it is better to drink the real unaltered beverage, but in moderation if you are susceptible to caffeine.

Member

Moderation may depend upon whether you are introvert or extrovert Malcolm, the reason being introverts central nervous systems are naturally overly stimulated, whereas extroverts being more under stimulated, need the extra stimulus caffeine provides in order to function well.

If you are interested to learn how caffeine affects the brain there are plenty of examples on YouTube.com. which clearly illustrate how easy it is for dependency to bulld up.

I am tempted to try rooibos Fiona if it provides all the nutrients you say it does. There is a tiny tea shop that just sells different teas in my nearest town. I have passed it many times but never seen anyone in there, so I may pop in and have a little chat with the owner who always seems to be hiding away in the little room at the back. Should be quite interesting, you never know I may leave with a few free samples! Will keep you posted 🙂

Member

Alfa mentions headache caused by withdrawal of caffeine, and drinks containing caffeine can cause headaches in others. I’m lucky and don’t have either problem. I wonder why some are affected and not others.

Member

If you drink a lot of caffeine and frequently, you are less likely to suffer withdrawal symptoms.

Caffeine normally induces vasoconstriction of the blood vessels in the brain and a sudden lack of it leads to vasodilation (ie the blood vessels swell) giving you a pounding headache (migraine) which is relieved as soon as you have some coffee.

Caffeine is also contained in some pain killers that can lead to the rebound effect and addiction when taken to excess. As with any addictive drug, tolerance builds up and you need more of it to reach the desired effect and are therefore less likely to suffer withdrawal symptoms, but unfortunately, by this time you are most likely into addiction.

Member

It must depend on individuals, Beryl. I tend to drink a lot of coffee when I’m at home but when I’m on holiday I often drink very little. I very rarely get headaches, though having had four very unpleasant migraines in my early 20s I have the greatest sympathy for regular sufferers. I don’t know if there is any relation but drinking alcohol does never gives me a headache either.

I drink coffee because I enjoy it, though in hot weather I prefer tea.

Member

Migraine, like asthma is diverse and complex in character, as I am sure you are aware Wavechange. There is currently a lot of ongoing research into the intriguing relationship between allergies and autoimmunity, and in the case of asthma, the autoimmune hypothesis is further indirectly supported by the response to immunosuppressive drugs.

My sister-in-law has suffered from asthma all her life and also suffers from chronic headache, but despite years of specialist treatment, the only relief offered to her is a cocktail of drugs to ease the pain.

There is increasing evidence that autoimmunity is responsible for a number of chronic diseases that have been passed down through generations of inherited genetic predisposition, but there is one school of thought that suggests there has to be an environmental trigger for any underlying inherited disease to develop. It may be caffeine, stress, or some other substance, mostly dependant upon the individual persons own reaction to it.

The bottom line is, you avoid anything that causes you pain or discomfort that your forebears may have passed down to you, then forgive them for doing so (very important!) and adjust your life accordingly.

This topic is supposed to be about tea but once again, inquiring scientific minds have taken us into realms that
go beyond the call of the subject under discussion 🙂

Member

I suspect we could have an interesting discussion on individual differences and autoimmune disease but as you say that would be off-topic, Beryl. 🙁

Member

Thank you Wavechange, A tea connoisseurs website advises:

For the sake of caution, look for the tea sellers that are transparent about their decaffeinated methods and buy from the ones that use the carbon dioxide or water methods

It would be helpful therefore, if tea produces included this info on their packaging. Which? could take this up with suppliers perhaps?

It is claimed the decaffeinated process also removes antioxidants, that are to be found in tea which slows the aging process brought about by free radicals, so decaf may not offer the same health benefits as caffeinated, but for insomniacs a good nights sleep is almost guaranteed if you switch to decaf at bedtime. A spoonful of sugar helps the decaf go down if it tastes too bitter Wavechange 🙂

Interestingly, green tea, much revered for its high concentration of antioxidants, also contains caffeine which may explain its popularity amongst the Japanese?

Member

Whatever the manufacturers may claim, extraction methods cannot selectively remove caffeine without removing some of the flavour components and other chemicals.. I agree that the manufacturers should explain which extraction methods they use, Beryl. Dichloromethane (methylene chloride) is no longer permitted for use in paint strippers sold to the public so I don’t think it should be permitted for food use.

My water is fairly soft at the moment (it varies, being a blend of soft river water and very hard water), so I’m happy to drink tea, which is more refreshing than coffee in hot weather. I will have some green tea this morning and drink your health.

Member
Fiona says:
21 April 2018

I gave up caffeinated tea 6 years ago on my first pregnancy and I rarely drink it now. I prefer rooibos (red bush tea), which is naturally caffeine free and therefore doesn’t require any decaffeination process. My brew of choice is Dragonfly Tea Earl Grey. But it is difficult to find it when out and about. But if you ask they often have it, just not on show. And, I concur, you can’t get it in NHS hospitals. Not even on the maternity/postnatal wards!

Member

I put the kettle on when ever I want. I’ve never actually felt any caffeine rush, addiction, or indeed any effect except the enjoyment of a pleasant drink that’s good to come home to. I like Earl Grey, but usually stick to a Fair Trade brand. I have a tea pot and strainer for posh occasions, but usually slum it with a tea bag. Tea is just one drink in many for me, there is nothing extraordinary about it except its diuretic properties if over indulged after a second mug.

Member

Nespresso claim to use the water based method and Clipper use carbon dioxide, I couldn’t find any info on PG Tips or Yorkshire Tea (Taylor’s of Harrogate).

Undefined phrases such as ‘water alone increasingly being used’ or ‘methylene chloride being phased out’ are neither here nor there and not really acceptable. I also would like to see the decaffeinated method used printed on all coffee and tea packaging and jars.

Member

I suspect that ‘methylene chloride is being phased out’ means that it is still in use. 🙁 I agree that where questionable methods are permitted in food preparation, they should be declared.

Member
Mike Mundy says:
4 November 2018

Decaf teabags are common. Try finding decaf loose tea.

Member

Well you wont find it in the De-caffee shop –sorry MIke couldn’t help it .

Hang on its available in –of all places America –
https://www.republicoftea.com/decaf/c/126/filter/100000000567eq100000000569/ and in the UK-
https://www.brewteacompany.co.uk/products/co2-decaffeinated-tea-100g-loose-leaf-tea
I am an avid tea drinker love the stuff its my one “addictions”.