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Which has more caffeine: green tea, black tea or coffee?

Which has more caffeine: green tea, black tea or coffee?

Like most people, I love the smell of a freshly made espresso coffee - the inviting and invigorating aroma that makes you want to wrap your hands around the cup, breathe in the scent and take a long body-and-soul-warming sip.

Much to my dismay, I had to give up coffee a number of years ago due to an increasing sensitivity to caffeine. Even if I had an espresso at 8am, I couldn’t sleep that night, my heart rate would accelerate and I would have the jitters all day.

But, I now drink 6 – 8 cups of tea every day and feel no adverse effects from my tea-related caffeine intake. So, why is this the case?

The purpose and effect of caffeine
According to ‘The Art and Craft of Tea’ (1), caffeine’s presence in the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, serves two purposes: ‘it is a natural insecticide, killing pests that ingest it; and it strengthens the memory of the bugs that pollinate the plant, allowing them to return year after year to pollinate its flowers.’

So it’s a pretty clever alkaloid that has a significant effect on bugs…. and people.

When we consume caffeine, it affects our body in a number of different ways – both positive and negative. It can boost wakefulness, improve our mood, enhance focus, reduce our appetite and increase adrenaline production. But it can also increase stomach acid (causing heartburn), induce anxiety, increase blood pressure and make us irritable and moody. (2)

Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug. It’s no wonder the consumption of coffee and tea is so pervasive across the world when you consider its powerful effects.

How much caffeine am I drinking?
No matter what you might read, it is simply not possible to accurately state how much caffeine is in your daily cup of tea. It depends on a number of factors: how long you steep your tea for, the volume of leaves you use, how old the leaves are when they are plucked, the variety and cultivar of tea plant and the ‘terrior’ the tea is grown in.

To give you an approximate idea though, we often say a cup of tea has roughly a third of the caffeine content of a cup of coffee. The Food Standards AUS NZ website has the following guidance:

Food Caffeine content
Percolated coffee 60-120 mg/250 mL cup
Instant coffee (1 teaspoon/cup) 60-80 mg/250 mL cup
Tea  10-50 mg/250 mL cup

 
Why caffeine in tea makes you feel different
Where it gets interesting is when we look at how caffeine in tea behaves differently in our bodies compared to caffeine in coffee. When tea leaves are infused, the caffeine attaches to the tea’s tannins and this stabilises and reduces its effect. The caffeine is released more slowly and it stimulates our full central nervous system and our cardiovascular system – in an even and regular way. In contrast, caffeine in coffee has a direct effect on blood circulation through the coronary systems, stimulating an accelerating of the heart rate (3) – hence the reason my heart would pound after an espresso.

To put it simply, tea gently stimulates our body and mind and coffee excites it.

Scientists also believe that the combination of caffeine and the amino acid L-theanine found in tea may be the reason behind why tea not only makes us feel refreshed and alert but also calm at the same time.

Does black tea have more caffeine than green tea?
It’s a common misconception that black tea has more caffeine than a lighter style tea such as green or white tea. A study by the Camellia Sinensis tea house found there is no relationship between the type of tea and the level of caffeine. The only exception is matcha – the Japanese green tea where the leaves are ground into a powder that we ingest entirely – which consistently has the highest level of caffeine (as well as other beneficial antioxidants). Out of 31 different teas they tested, the 10 that had the highest caffeine levels were a range of green, white, black, oolong and fermented teas. (4)

And the old tea hack of discarding the first 30 second steep to remove the caffeine is also a myth. The same study also showed a similar amount of caffeine is drawn out of the leaves when you steep the same leaves multiple times. When you throw out the first steep, you also throw out plenty of body-friendly nutrients.

So where does that leave us?
Tea comes from nature and one of the aspects I love about it, is that it's wonderfully complex and can’t be constrained by rules or formulas; it does its own thing in its own way and that makes it both intriguing and at times, frustrating! When it comes to caffeine however, the facts we can feel confident about is that there is no consistency in caffeine content across different tea types; there is less caffeine in tea than coffee, and tea’s caffeine has a gentler effect on your body. But as with everything, you know your body and are the best person to judge what is right for you.

Time for a cup of tea,
Anna


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Note: tolerances for caffeine are different from person to person and people that are sensitive to caffeine may still have an adverse reaction to caffeine from tea.

 

Citations:
1. Uhl, Joseph Wesley. (2016) The Art and Craft of Tea, Massachusetts. Print.
2. Brodwin, Erin; Orwig, Jessica. (26/09/2015) Surprising ways that caffeine affects your body and brain, Business Insider Australia, https://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-caffeine-affects-the-body-2015-8?r=UK&IR=T, accessed 20 March 2018.
3. Keating, Brian R. Long, Kim. (2015). How to Make Tea; The Science behind the Leaf. Lewes. Print.
4. The Camellia Sinensis Tea House. (2014) Tea, Histories, Terriors, Varieties, New York. Print.

6 comments

Nov 02, 2019 • Posted by Luke

Very nice info! A Chinese tea seller was telling me that black tea had the least caffeine and green tea the most, which contradicted what most of us are told about teas. I was confused, but glad to hear that it’s proven that black tea does not necessarily have the highest amount of caffeine. I think the seller was also referring to specific varieties of tea, like oolong and Dahongpao. She said her oolong has a very high amount of caffeine.

Aug 27, 2019 • Posted by Jacqueline

Thanks for the information! I had to stop coffee many years ago.I only ever drank a small amount, which caused bad side effects! I can, and do, drink lots of tea with zero problems and no withdrawal if I do not drink it.

I love the font you are using, it suits your message, can you tell me the name of it?
Jackie

Feb 20, 2019 • Posted by The Tea Curator

Hi Alexis, Valerie and Juj – thank you so much for your comments. I have just realised I don’t get an alert when someone comments on my blog so I missed these – my apologies for the delay in replying. Alexis and Juj – I’m glad you found the blog informative – its quite a fascinating subject isn’t it? And Valerie – you are absolutely right; perhaps I hadn’t had my morning cuppa when I proof-read this! ;) I’ll correct it now. Thanks for picking that up.
- Anna

Feb 18, 2019 • Posted by Juj

Thanks for the information… just precise and helpful… Keep doing what you do!

Jan 04, 2019 • Posted by Valerie

Good information, but check the verb in “When we consume caffeine, it effects our body in a number of different ways…” Affect is the correct verb in this context.

Nov 30, 2018 • Posted by Alexis Edwards

Thanks for the good information!

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