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DIY Decaf Tea? Don't Bother

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2015

Most decaf teas are generic blends that lack complexity, so many tea lovers try to decaffeinate high-quality tea at home. But is it worth it?

Most decaf teas are generic blends that lack complexity, so many tea lovers try to decaffeinate high-quality tea at home. The most common method is to steep the leaves for a few minutes, discard the infusion, and then steep it again to produce a supposedly caffeine-free cup of tea. When we tried this method using loose-leaf white, green, oolong, and black teas and sent the teas to an independent lab for analysis, we learned that, in the main, the second infusions did not contain significantly less caffeine than the first, and in fact the green and oolong samples contained more. The exception was the black tea; this second infusion contained about 40 percent less caffeine than the first. Generally speaking, it was the third infusion of each tea that showed more impact on the caffeine content. White, green, and black all showed a marked drop from their original caffeine content (the oolong, however, actually contained a little more, likely attributed to the fact that these leaves are tightly rolled and it took the first infusion to start to open them up), but tasters found the tea at this point to be noticeably weaker in flavor and body.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Given how much the flavor suffers and the effort (and waste) required to notably decrease the caffeine, we don’t think it’s worth it.