I’m a strong believer that we don’t all need caffeine as much as we think we do. Placebo effect is real! For me personally, it’s not the caffeine I crave in the morning, it’s just the aroma of coffee, the hot beverage, the way it soothes me first thing in the morning. Whether it’s caffeinated or decaf, it doesn’t make too much of a difference for me. The only thing I do notice is that if I have 2 to 3 cups of caffeine I start to get jittery and anxious, but not necessarily more valuable energy. With that said, since I was drinking so much decaf I decided to look into how it’s made, and it’s not always pretty…
Coffee beans are soaked in either hot water along with ethyl acetate, methylene chloride, or activated carbon… OR they’re steamed and rinsed with those same solvents. Then of course, left to dry out. These chemicals literally dissolve the caffeine that is naturally occuring in the beans, leaving us decaffeinated beans.
But what about when it says “naturally decaffeinated”? Well, the term “natural” holds no standard in anything food or beauty. It’s just a marketing trick. Basically, ethyl acetate is considered ‘natural’ since it occurs in fruits and veggies. So the non-natural process of rinsing beans with ethyl acetate is allowed to be called “naturally caffeine-free” post-processing.
Same thing for tea: ethyl acetate is used to remove the caffeine in tea leaves. They are soaked in water and rinsed/dried to create new (almost) completely caffeine-free tea leaves.
According to the FDA, the solvents used to make decaf tea/coffee are limited to an amount that is harmless to consume. However, think about this: if something has to be regulated so that we don’t over consume – it can’t be good for us. And who’s to say how much you’re consuming? The health benefits are not worth the risk, IMO.
There are clean ways to decaffeinate tea and coffee:
- The Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Tea Decaffeination Method maintains flavor and health benefits of the tea despite removing the caffeine. In this process tea leaves are placed with naturally occurring CO2, at a high pressure and temperature, which liquifies the CO2. The caffeine molecules bind to this liquid CO2 and thus are removed from the tea. Flavor remains unchanged because flavor molecules are larger than caffeine molecules, so they don’t bind the same way. This is a win!
- The Swiss Water Method is more commonly used for coffee (this is the only decaf coffee I drink). It dissolves the caffeine by soaking coffee beans in hot water. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work as well with tea leaves and many brands avoid this method because it can make the tea too watery.
So the winner for tea is the CO2 Method. Here’s some tea brands I found that use CO2 Decaffeination:
- Arbor Teas
- Tattle Tea
- Choice Organics
- Here is a great resource that outlines the pros and cons of various tea brands, not necessarily all organic but great to get an overview of various brands.
Another great option is that you can always opt for a tea that is naturally lower in caffeine, such as white tea. Or, if you want a tea that is *actually* naturally caffeine-free, then choose herbal teas. These are tea leaves that never contained caffeine to begin with, thus no chemical process was involved to alter the leaves.
For coffee, here are some great decaf options that utilize the Swiss Water Method:
- Allegro Coffee Organic Espresso Medium Roast
- No Fun Jo Organic Medium Roast
- Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC Organic Medium Roast (Fair Trade)
If you do drink caffeine, check out my blog on the 4 things you need to know about caffeine!
When I’m out and I order decaf coffee I’m 99% sure that it uses a chemical solvent, but that’s when you just need to let go and know that you aren’t always in control :-) My method is always to control what I can, in my home and in my kitchen, and let go of the rest of the time and just do the best I can! To summarize, is decaf tea bad for you? Most of the time, yes, because most brands use a chemical solvent. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be if you choose cleaner methods of decaffeination :)