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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Decaffeinated

How Do They Make Decaf Tea, Anyway?

by Elena Popec 8. June 2010 11:22

Decaffeinated, which is also commonly referred to as decaf tea, is tea which has undergone a decaffeination process of one sort or another that has removed most of its caffeine. There are many different processes of decaffeinating tea. There are processes that are dangerous and have been made illegal, and ones that are completely safe without any health risks. The different processes in use have an impact on the tea, and can affect its flavor. There is also a process today that still uses a possible carcinogen, so it’s important to learn about the processes of decaffeination which are used on the tea you are buying.

Different decaffeination processes used on tea

Carbon Dioxide
   
Carbon dioxide or CO2 decaffeination is completely safe, and it’s extremely effective at removing caffeine. It’s also excellent at preserving the flavor. It’s the safest process that maintains most of the flavor. It uses highly compressed CO2 in gas form, which becomes a fluid under pressure. The only negative to this process is the cost; it’s expensive.

Ethyl Acetate
   
Ethyl acetate is a compound that occurs naturally. It is found in fruits and it does occur in tea leaves, though in very small amounts. This process is completely safe, but removes a little more of the flavor compared to other processes. However, the ethyl acetate process is inexpensive.

Methylene Chloride / Dichloromethane
   
Methylene chloride, or dichloromethane, is possibly carcinogenic and it is toxic in large concentrations. It is an effective process and does preserve the flavors, but it’s risky. This decaffeination process is legal in the United States and is regulated by the Food & Drug Administration. The low concentration left in decaf tea probably does not pose a large health risk, but there have been analyses of teas in the past which have had levels above the legal limit. It’s difficult to find out which teas come from companies which use this process, as they generally do not make it known due to the negative perception about this process.

Benzene

   
Benzene is a process that has been banned and has not been used for a long time. It is a dangerous carcinogenic chemical that can lead to many health problems and is not safe to be used in a decaffeination process.

Trichloroethylene

This is another chemical that has fortunately been banned and has been ceased to be used. It is unsafe for decaffeination, and was banned due to studies showing that it causes liver tumors in mice.

In Summary:
   
Carbon dioxide decaffeination is the most preferred method. It’s safe and preserves the flavor, though it’s a little more expensive. Ethyl acetate is safe, but doesn’t preserve as much of the flavor. But its decaffeination process is less expensive. Methylene chloride is legal, though it is a little more risky to use. This decaffeination process is regulated by the FDA. Other processes which were used in the past are trichloroethylene and benzene, which have been banned due to the health risks, and are no longer used.

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