Low Caffeine Teas

by cazort

Teas that are naturally low in caffeine, including green tea, black tea, oolong, white tea, and naturally caffeine-free herbal teas.

All true tea, from the tea plant, contains some caffeine, but the caffeine levels vary widely from one individual to the next. Growing conditions, the cultivar of plant used, and the processing all influence the caffeine levels in the finished leaf.

The way you brew tea also influences the caffeine content of the brewed cup.

Although I do my best to give accurate info, this information is just my best estimate. Caffeine content can be highly variable; if you have a medical sensitivity, try a small amount of a given tea first, to be safe, or seek out a caffeine-free herbal tea.

How much caffeine are you comfortable consuming?

Different people react differently to caffeine. This poll helps me ensure this page is relevant to the people visiting it.

Research & Sources Available on RateTea

I run RateTea and conducted research in the course of writing their article on the caffeine content of teas, which I maintain.  I recommend visiting that page if you want to see references to studies backing up my points.

This page gives an overview of the subject and points you to types of tea that are naturally low in caffeine.

Photos of Large-leaf Teas and Roasted Teas

Roasted teas and teas made from larger, mature leaves tend to be lower in caffeine.
Hojicha, a Roasted Green Tea
Hojicha, a Roasted Green Tea
Shou Mei (a dark white tea)
Shou Mei (a dark white tea)
Ceylon OPA - Large-leaf Black Tea
Ceylon OPA - Large-leaf Black Tea
Tie Kuan Yin Oolong, Moderate-dark Roast
Tie Kuan Yin Oolong, Moderate-dark Roast

Low-Caffeine Black and Green Teas

A few tricks for locating black tea and green tea that is low in caffeine, especially when buying loose-leaf.

Black and green teas are diverse so it's hard for me to say a lot about them, but here are some tips for locating teas that have less caffeine:

  • Avoid tippy teas.  This includes teas labelled with grades such as TGFOP (the "T" stands for tippy), or labelled things like "Tippy Assam".
  • Try looking for large-leaf grades of tea.  Souchongs, like Lapsang Souchong, are low in caffeine.  Ceylon OPA is a large-leaf grade of Ceylon tea which is sometimes available.
  • Look for cheaper or lower-grades of tea.  Bancha is a low grade of Japanese tea that is very low in caffeine, but still has a very pleasing flavor and aroma if fresh.

Low Caffeine Oolong Teas

Oolong tea is a complex type of tea, somewhat intermediate between black tea and green tea in how it is processed, but also involving roasting.

Although a few of them are high in caffeine, many oolong teas are quite low in caffeine, more so than typical green or black teas.

  • Seek out oolongs with large leaves.  Larger, more mature leaves have less caffeine.  It's hard to tell leaf size with a tea bag, but if you buy loose-leaf, you can tell the leaf size
  • Seek out dark-roast oolongs.  The roasting process destroys some caffeine, so all other things being equal, a dark-roast oolong will tend to have less caffeine than a lighter roasted version of the same tea.
  • Avoid Bai Hao oolong.  This oolong is also called Oriental Beauty or Dong Fang Mei Ren.  It is sometimes just labelled generically as "Formosa Oolong", and is one of the most common types of oolong sold by companies specializing in British-style teas.  Taiwanese oolongs that are not tightly rolled into pellets are often this type.  It tends to be high in caffeine.  Incidentally, it happens to be an oolong made from smaller leaves, with a greater portion of leaf tips, and it tends to have less roast than many oolongs.

Most oolongs, like Dong Ding, Tie Guan Yin, and various Wuyi oolongs (oolongs produced in the Wuyi mountains), as well as other southern Fujian oolongs from Anxi county, tend to be relatively low in caffeine.  This includes most of the large-leaf oolongs that you can buy on the market in the U.S.

Hojicha - Japanese Roasted Green Tea

A mild-tasting tea with a strongly roasted aroma, hojicha is very low in caffeine.

Hojicha is a Japanese green tea that is roasted, quite heavily so (much more so than most oolongs are roasted).  The roasting process destroys a significant amount of the caffeine.  Hojicha also tends to be made from large, mature leaves (bancha) or stems (kukicha), both of which are naturally lower in caffeine than the more delicate tips and leaf buds used to make most green teas.  These factors combine to make hojicha one of the lowest-caffeine of all teas, lower in caffeine even than most decaffeinated teas.

Hojicha has a pleasing, roasted aroma, almost suggestive of coffee, but with a much smoother flavor.  It is mellow and mild tasting.

If you want to seek out hojicha that is lowest in caffeine, I recommend:

  • Seek out darker-roast hojicha.  The darker it is, the less caffeine.
  • Seek out hojicha with more large leaf and stem.  The greater the portion of large leaf and stem, the less caffeine.

Hojicha is quite inexpensive!  The brand Yamamotoyama is available in most Asian markets; Yamamotoyama sells it both loose-leaf and in tea bags.

Low-Caffeine White Tea: Shou Mei and Gong Mei

Large-leaf white teas, darker in color, with a low caffeine content, and a rich aroma of autumn leaves.

Contrary to popular belief (as I discuss below), white teas are not always low in caffeine, but there are two particular types of white tea that are: shou mei, and gong mei, which translate from Chinese as longevity eyebrows, and tribute eyebrows, respectively.

Both are very dark leaves, gong mei the darkest, and are quite low in caffeine as they are made mostly from larger, mature tea leaves.  I love the way these teas taste: they have a rich, smooth, mellow quality, and their aroma is strongly suggestive of autumn leaves, which makes sense, as they are essentially made from large, withered leaves.

I recommend buying Shou Mei from Upton Tea Imports; it has the best selection of Shou Mei white teas that I've been able to find from a US company, including one of my favorites that is organic certified.

Decaffeinated Tea

I recommend against drinking decaf tea because it tends to be bland.

I'm someone who cares greatly about taste.  I drink tea because I enjoy the flavor and aroma of a good cup of fresh, high-quality tea.

Decaffeinated tea is tea that has had the caffeine removed with a solvent.  There are two reasons I recommend avoiding decaf tea:

  • Health - In the U.S., it is still legal to use methylene chloride, a chemical thought to be a possible carcinogen, to decaffeinate teas.  When a company does not explicitly state that they use one of the two safer processes (CO2 or Ethyl Acetate), to be on the safe side you must assume that it is possible that they still use the methylene chloride process.
  • Flavor - Even the best process (CO2 is the best among the safe processes at preserving flavor) for removing the caffeine from tea also removes a great deal of the tea's flavor.  Although buying high-quality decaf tea can mitigate the loss of flavor somewhat, decaf tea will never taste as good as the real stuff.

For this reason, if you want to reduce or eliminate your caffeine intake, I recommend drinking caffeine-free herbal teas, discussed below, rather than decaf teas.

Herbal Teas that Taste Like True Tea

I recommend rooibos, honeybush, and red raspberry leaf as the caffeine-free herbs that taste most like tea.

There is no herbal tea that tastes exactly like true tea from the tea plant.  However, there are quite a few plants which produce brews which in some way or another resemble tea.  In my opinion, the closest of these are rooibos, honeybush, and red raspberry leaf.

  • Rooibos - Also called "red tea", rooibos is an herb native to a small region of the southwest coast of South Africa.  Traditionally processed rooibos has a bright red color, and produces a caffeine-free herbal infusion with a deep red color and a smooth, early flavor which
  • Red Raspberry Leaf - Although it is best-known as a medicinal herb, used to promote women's health, red raspberry leaf is a mild medicinal herb and is completely safe for beverage use as well.  It produces a caffeine-free herbal tea which has a color, flavor, and aroma that closely resembles black tea.
  • Honeybush - A close relative of rooibos, also grown in the same region, honeybush has a similar color, flavor, and aroma, but is slightly different.  Its effect on the body is also slightly different; people who find that rooibos does not agree with them may wish to try honeybush.

Both rooibos and honeybush are available in red (traditional) and green forms.  The green forms are produced through a process analogous to the one used to produce green tea: the leaves are heated in order to stop the oxidation process that turns them red, just as green tea is heated to stop the process that turns it into black tea.  Green rooibos is becoming relatively widely available, and it is the caffeine-free herbal tea that I think is closest in flavor, aroma, color, and overall qualities to green tea.

Myths and Scams About Tea and Caffeine

Don't believe everything that you hear or read about the caffeine content of various teas.

Here are some widespread myths about the caffeine content of tea:

  • Green tea is not necessarily lower in caffeine than black tea.
  • White tea is not necessarily low in caffeine, especially silver needle and white teas made out of tips or leaf buds.
  • Black tea is not always high in caffeine.

Don't just believe anything that a tea company tells you while trying to market their product.  Unfortunately, I have seen misinformation perpetuated by larger and more mainstream tea companies, including Teavana and Republic of Tea.  I explore this issue in depth on my article White Tea and Caffeine - Myths and Reality.

However, the worst myths are perpetuated by dietary supplement companies and scam tea companies trying to push low-quality tea as a health or weight loss product.

These Tippy White & Green Teas are High in Caffeine!

Don't believe myths about green and white teas, mild-tasting teas, or teas made from leaf buds being lower in caffeine; the opposite is true!
Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yinzhen) - White Tea High in Caffeine
Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yinz...
A Tippy Green Tea - High in Caffeine
A Tippy Green Tea - High in Caffeine

Did you learn much here?

More Tea Info

Learn more about tea on these Wizzley articles that I maintain:
All about tea: types of tea, tea companies and places to buy tea, how to select the best tea, etc.
The amount of caffeine tea is highly variable; this page gives listings of some teas that tend to be naturally highest in caffeine.
RateTea is a social and community website where anyone can rate and review teas.
Updated: 07/17/2013, cazort
 
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cazort on 07/05/2013

Thank you! I think most people don't really need to think or worry much about the caffeine content of tea, because it is much lower than coffee and it's a very safe amount for most people.

I find it helpful though to have some lower-caffeine teas on hand for the times when I want to drink tea in the evening, or when it's the hotter part of summer (like it is now) and I'm drinking volumes of iced tea.

For example, today I made up a big batch of bancha, which is low in caffeine, and drank four cups worth of that in addition to a hot cup of more highly-caffeinated Darjeeling first flush tea. It was nice to be able to drink a big volume of tea without ending up overly caffeinated.

WriterArtist on 07/05/2013

I love tea and take it regularly in the morning and evening. As long as my intake is less, I do not worry about the amount of caffeine in tea. However; I can still make use of these wonderful tips given in the article. I would also like to experiment with some of the flavours you have mentioned.

katiem2 on 02/03/2013

I tend to have a high tolerance (and need) for caffeine and yet I do like to keep my intake within a healthy amount. BUT I love Love LOVE tea and drink it all day long, hot in the winter and iced in the summer. Thanks for the helpful guide as to how I can enjoy lower caffeine without using those yucky decaf teas. :)K

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