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Decaf tea

Decaf tea is a great addition to the tea tin.

There are times when you don't need a pick-me-up, just a great tasting cup of tea. In fact, having tea often means the very opposite - taking a few minutes to relax, clear your mind and let the cares of the day flow away. A cup of decaffeinated tea can fit the bill very nicely.

In the past few years many have touted decaf coffee and tea as a healthier alternative. But that view is only partly correct. It's true that excess amounts of caffeine can make a person jittery, that it can affect blood pressure and may cause stomach upset.

But decaffeinated green tea has been shown in more than one study to be less effective as an antioxidant than the caffeinated variety. That reduces tea's natural cancer prevention ability.

The process of removing caffeine can have other health implications, as well. There are a number of common decaffeinating methods, but two are used most often: Direct and CO2.

In the Direct method, tea is steamed then rinsed with ethyl acetate for several hours. The organic solvent is then rinsed away with water. No one need to worry about any remaining chemicals in the tea, the process is very efficient. But the polyphenols that are responsible for many of tea's health benefits are 70% removed by the process.

In the CO2 method, the leaves are soaked in a bath of carbon dioxide and run through water in a process called 'effervescence'. CO2 in water makes carboxylic acid, the bubbles in soda that makes the tangy feeling on your tongue. Hence, the term. The CO2 method leaves 95% of the polyphenols intact, while removing most of the caffeine.

There's a home-brew method for removing the majority of caffeine from tea as well. Steep the tea in hot water, then pour off. Steep again, this time retaining the result to drink. Much of the caffeine will be removed in the first pass, with a minor reduction in taste for the second cup.

To get a true decaf tea, purchasing a quantity that has gone through the CO2 method will give you the most benefits. But tea varies naturally in the amount of caffeine present, so there is another alternative to review. The average is about 40-50 mg per cup. Some teas will naturally have more or less of that. Decaf often still has some, typically around 5 mg.

The leaf processing, called fermentation, generally has little effect on the amount assuming no deliberate decaffeinating process has been employed. But the amount present in the original plant varies from one type of tea to another. Rooibos is lower in caffeine than others, though not so low as green tea. White tea is the lowest of all.

So, whether you want a decaf tea comes down to several factors. Some simply prefer the less bitter taste of a decaf, others want that extra soothing quality of a fine no-caffeine herbal. Add some to your collection of fine teas and enjoy it the way you like.