How Do They Make Decaffeinated Tea?

by Elena Popec 26. June 2012 10:00

Some people like having caffeine in their tea, while others don’t. For those that don’t, ESP Emporium has a wide selection of decaffeinated tea available. But what is decaffeinated tea? And how is it made? Today, we’re going to show you how they remove caffeine from tea.


Caffeine is a natural ingredient that is found in over 60 plants. It can be found in the plants that make coffee (Arabica plant), chocolate (cacao tree), and cola (kola nut tree), for example. Of course, it’s also found in the Camellia sinensis plant, from which many types of tea (including decaffeinated black tea) is made.


Removing caffeine from these plants isn’t as difficult as you might think. There are four different ways to remove caffeine from its natural source:


Water processing: This is the most natural way to remove caffeine from plants. However, it is most often used with coffee as opposed to tea. In this method, no chemicals are used, and the caffeine leaches out of the plant after being soaked in hot water for a period of time. The caffeine is removed from the water solution using a carbon filter, after which the water is returned to the plants in order to reabsorb flavors and oils.


Carbon dioxide processing: Carbon dioxide is a natural part of the air and physically harmless. In this method, tea is produced under carbon dioxide high pressure, one of the most modern technologies existing so far. The suitable selection of processing conditions leads to a very smooth and safe decaffeinated quality. Once the CO2 reaches a certain level of pressure, it effectively becomes a liquid, binding with the caffeine molecules and removing them from the plant.


Methylene chloride processing: While carbon dioxide and water processing can remove caffeine from plants, they’re not as effective as using chemicals like methylene chloride. During methylene chloride processing, tea leaves soak in a chemical-based solution. The caffeine is extracted after binding with the methylene chloride. There is also an indirect method of methylene chloride processing in which the methylene chloride solution never actually touches the tea leaves. 


Ethyl acetate processing: As strange as the name may sound, ethyl acetate is actually one of the most natural ways to decaffeinate tea.  Ethyl acetate is found naturally in many fruits, and when placed in a water solution, it binds with caffeine and removes it from the Camellia sinensis leaves.


Of course, even decaffeinated tea has trace amounts of caffeine in it. While each decaffeination method varies in effectiveness, none of these processes will remove 100% of all caffeine from a plant. American federal law does dictate that any tea product labelled as ‘decaffeinated’ must contain a caffeine amount lower than 2.5% of the total product.


What do they do with the remaining caffeine?


All right, now that the caffeine has been removed from the tea leaves, you may be wondering what happens to it afterwards. After being extracted from plants, caffeine is a bitter white powdery substance. The caffeine powder is collected and then used in medicines or soft drinks. In fact, most of the caffeine used in soft drinks comes from decaffeination processing factories as opposed to being naturally sourced from the kola nut.

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