A seemingly innocuous question with a surprisingly complicated answer, we both relish and dread the frequently asked: "how much caffeine is in X tea?".
We relish this question about caffeine in tea because the answer is fun, but we dread it because the answer is anything but straightforward. In a day and age when you can pull out your phone, google "how much caffeine is in black tea versus green tea," and have a conversion chart pop up on your screen, most people just want a number.
We've compromised over the years and developed a chart with a caffeination range for each type of tea (below). But if you want the whole story about how much caffeine is in your daily cuppa, keep reading.
How Much Caffeine is in Tea?
How much caffeine is in your tea is a complicated combination of factors, not the least of which are: brew time, water temp, quantity of tea, and amount of water used. There's also some really cool science stuff to do with how the caffeine molecule in tea binds with a specific phenol that we will get to in a bit.
Why we beat around the bush about how much caffeine is in your tea
If a guest asks us which tea to buy to get the most caffeine, the answer is easy: Matcha. Since matcha is powdered green tea, you're consuming the entire tea leaf and ingesting all of its amazing nutrients, antioxidants, and - yes! - caffeine molecules. Ergo, matcha has similar amounts of caffeine as coffee!
When it comes to how much caffeine is extracted by infusing tea leaves, however, the story gets a bit more complicated.
How much caffeine is in any particular cup is going to be very dependent on the strength of your cup: ie., brew time, temp, quantity of tea, and amount of water used.
A few obvious notes about tea and caffeine:
- More tea = more caffeine
- Longer steep = more caffeine
- Second steep = less caffeine
Just those few variables can make quite a bit of difference in how much caffeine is in your tea. And don't even get us started on cold brew versus hot brew iced tea! (Hint: Cold brew tea has less caffeine and mellower tannins.)
But honestly? That's not even the most interesting reason we hesitate when it comes to telling you how much caffeine is in your tea. (See below: the cool science stuff about how your body processes caffeine in tea.)
A few less obvious notes about caffeine in tea:
Growing, harvesting, and processing techniques also all play a role in how much caffeine is in your cup of tea.
- Green and white teas made from early buds and leaves = more caffeine in laboratory tests
- Roasted tea = less caffeine
- Stem tea = less caffeine
- Added spices and herbs = less caffeine
For this reason, pu erh (aged) teas and oolongs are generally lower in caffeine than green and black teas. Scented teas will also be lower in caffeine simply because there is less tea per volume in your cup.
Why the amount of caffeine in tea might not correspond to how your body processes it
Caffeine in tea is processed differently in the body than the caffeine in other drinks like coffee because tea contains an antioxidant called catechin.
Catechins have a lot of awesome properties, but the most interesting is how they bind with caffeine in tea. This bound molecule is much harder for your body to digest than regular caffeine, which is why many people report that the caffeine in tea does not make them jittery, improves focus, and lasts longer than a cup of coffee.
Even more interesting, different teas have varied levels of catechins. Green teas have much more catechin than black teas because oxidation breaks down the catechins and creates a more complex polyphenol. These new polyphenols in black tea do not bind to the caffeine in the same way, making the caffeine much more easily digestible.
For this reason, even though a green tea may test higher in caffeine in a laboratory setting, you may not notice its effects in the same way you would the more easily digestible caffeine in a black tea that tested lower in caffeine. In fact, you are more likely to report that green tea improved your focus for a longer amount of time because your body took longer to process the caffeine.
Finally, a chart on caffeine in tea
Because there are so many variables contributing to how many milligrams of caffeine there are in any given cup of tea, not to mention how your body processes it, we have put together a chart with caffeine ranges for each type of tea.
As a general rule of thumb, tea has much less caffeine than coffee (with the notable exception of matcha). Green and black teas will have comparable levels of caffeine, but your body will process the caffeine differently, so it may seem like black tea has more caffeine per cup in terms of how you experience the effects of caffeination.
If you're looking for caffeine free options, check out our naturally caffeine-free herbal tisanes! >>
*Caffeine Content range based on liquid chromatography-UV of teas infused in a teapot with 2 cups water; matcha was whisked in a bowl with 1/2 cup of water.