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Teas Without Caffeine Explained: Get More Flavor With No Side Effects

By The Whistling Kettle September 17th, 2021

Most people assume caffeine-free teas are mild. But beyond your typical grocery store selection is a whole world of teas without caffeine that are bursting with flavor. The key is to choose loose leaf teas that use high quality herbs and spices. In our list of favorites you’ll find everything from tangy and vibrant hibiscus to roasty and spicy chaga mushroom tea. We’ll introduce you to teas without caffeine that satisfy your cravings and fit seamlessly into your daily routine.

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a chemical compound found in certain plants. It works as a natural insecticide that can kill or impair pests trying to eat the plant. Interestingly, some flowers such as citrus contain a small dose of caffeine in their nectar that is addictive to bees. It keeps them coming back to pollinate, like a tiny bee café. Humans have been harvesting these plants for millenia because caffeine has a stimulant effect on humans.

Common plants containing caffeine include:

  • Camellia sinensis leaves (tea)
  • Coffee beans
  • Cacao pods (used for chocolate)
  • Citrus flowers
  • Yerba maté (an herbal tea)
  • Guayusa (an herbal tea)
  • Guarana (in some energy drinks)
  • Kola nuts (used in original Coca-Cola/Pepsi)

From tea to chocolate, humans have long been enjoying the energizing and
mood-boosting effects of caffeine. Pure caffeine compounds
(trimethylxanthine) look like white powder or needle-like crystals.
Because it is water soluble, tea and coffee have long been the most
popular way to consume caffeine. It is naturally bitter in taste, so
many caffeinated beverages are sweetened.

Why Go Caffeine-Free?

Whether or not caffeine is healthy depends on the individual. In general, moderate doses of caffeine are considered safe and even beneficial. However, there are many reasons some choose to avoid caffeine. Children, pregnant women, and people with anxiety disorders are usually advised to avoid caffeine unless otherwise directed by a doctor. There are also many medications that require limiting caffeine intake. Some choose to avoid caffeine if they experience side effects such as headaches and trouble sleeping.

What Teas Contain Caffeine?

There are three main categories of tea when it comes to caffeine. True tea from the camellia sinensis plant, decaffeinated tea from the same plant, and herbal tea which includes any other plant. Teas without caffeine are either decaffeinated true tea or herbal tea. But there is an exception with caffeinated herbal teas, such as yerba mate. It might sound confusing at first, but we’ll break down all the details so you know exactly what you’re steeping.

True Tea

Camellia sinensis is a shrub that was first cultivated in China, and has become globally known as the true tea plant. Since it contains caffeine, all tea varieties made from this plant will contain caffeine. This includes popular teas such as:

  • Black tea
  • Green tea
  • Oolong tea
  • White tea
  • Pu-erh tea
  • Matcha tea
  • Earl Grey
  • Chai

These ‘true teas’ are varied in taste and appearance, but all have the same main ingredient. The difference in flavor comes from how the tea is grown, harvested, and processed. For example, black tea is fully oxidized which makes it darker and stronger in taste. Pu-erh tea is fermented, giving it a complex flavor profile similar to chocolate or wine. Green tea is unoxidized and usually pan-fried or steamed to preserve it’s refreshing, vegetal flavor. All of these varieties contain caffeine.

Decaffeinated Tea

There are many ‘decaf’ teas available that are decaffeinated versions of true tea. This means they still come from the camellia sinensis plant, but have gone through a process to remove the caffeine compounds. The two most common ways to decaffeinate tea are with ethyl acetate or CO2.

  • Ethyl Acetate Method – A chemical solvent containing ethyl acetate is applied to the leaves. It dissolves and chemically changes the leaves to no longer contain caffeine. Unfortunately, it also chemically changes many beneficial compounds in the tea leaves such as antioxidants. Because of the residual chemicals and altered compounds, this is a less healthy choice.
  • CO2 Method – At high temperatures and high pressure, the CO2 binds with parts of the caffeine molecule to change the structure. It removes the caffeine without any residue. Although it does affect some of the antioxidants, it is to a lesser degree than the ethyl acetate.

Although both methods remove caffeine, CO2 is a better choice for health and flavor. Unfortunately, neither has quite the full flavor profile of caffeinated tea due to the chemical processes used. The best choice is naturally caffeine-free herbal tea that doesn’t need any treatment.

Herbal Tea

Herbal teas are also referred to as tisanes or infusions. They can be made from any plant besides camellia sinensis, so there is quite a variety! Herbal teas are not always just from leaves either. Some tisanes include dried fruits, flowers, roots, nuts, and even mushrooms. In cultures all around the world, infusions are used for both medicine and delicious beverages. These vary widely in flavor since every plant has a unique collection of chemical compounds. Common types of tisanes include:

  • Single herb teas (such as peppermint)
  • Herbal blends
  • Fruit tisanes
  • Root decoctions
  • Medicinal infusions

All of these are teas without caffeine with the exception of caffeine-containing herbs such as yerba maté and guayusa. Some herbal blends may also include cacao beans or chocolate, which will give it a small amount of caffeine. For this reason it is important to check the label of any herbal tea you buy to confirm whether it is caffeine-free.

The Best Teas Without Caffeine

Let’s get to the fun part – choosing your caffeine-free tea. With so many options it can be hard to know where to start. We’ll walk you through some of the most popular teas without caffeine that are bold in flavor. As we mentioned earlier, the only taste that comes directly from caffeine is bitterness. So all of the other delectable flavors you love in tea will still be wafting up from the steam of your cup.

Rooibos Tea

Rich and nutty, rooibos is an herb that tastes similar to black tea. It’s a great alternative to English Breakfast in the morning, or try a spicy version like our Rooibos Chai.

How To Brew: 2 tsp of loose leaf tea per 8oz cup. Use boiling water and steep for 7 minutes.

Hibiscus

This beautiful flower makes a bright red tea. It is tangy and sweet, and especially good iced. We love it blended with coconut in our Lotta Colada tea.

How To Brew: 1 tsp of loose leaf tea per 8oz cup. Use boiling water and steep 5-7 minutes.

Chaga Mushroom

Chaga brews a bold, dark tea similar to the flavor of coffee. Chaga tastes strong and earthy, and works well with a splash of milk. Try our Comfort Chaga blend with warming spices for an invigorating cup.

How To Brew: 2 tsp of loose leaf tea per 8oz. cup. Use boiling water and steep 7 minutes.

Fruit Tisanes

For the sweet tooth, fruit blends are the way to go. You can find tart blends like our Raspberry Cherry Compote, or try our bright and zesty Blood Orange. Look for dried berries, apple, mango or any other fruit you love.

How To Brew: 2 tsp of loose leaf tea per 8oz. cup. Use boiling water and steep 7-9 minutes.

Peppermint

Need to wake up and focus? Peppermint is a great morning tea to refresh the senses. Its cooling flavor is especially good in the summer months for iced tea.

How To Brew: 1 tsp per 8oz. cup. Use boiling water and steep 7 minutes.

Chamomile

The classic bedtime tea, chamomile is relaxing and gentle. It pairs well with aromatic herbs like lavender or rose petals. Our Chamomile Bilberry Bliss is the ultimate blend to unwind after a long day. Try it with a bit of honey in the evening.

How To Brew: 1 tsp per 8oz. cup. Use boiling water and steep 7 minutes.

Ginger

When you’re feeling spicy, ginger is the best choice. It can add zing to fruity blends or add warmth to blends with cardamom and cinnamon. Our Stimulating herbal tea is packed with ginger and complex spices.

How To Brew: 1 tsp per 8oz. cup. Use boiling water and steep 7 minutes.

Licorice

Licorice is a sweet herb that turns any blend into a dessert. It can soften spicy herbs like ginger or mint for a balanced brew. Try our Anti-Strain blend with licorice, cinnamon, and orange peel.

How To Brew: 1 tsp per 8oz. cup. Use boiling water and steep 5-7 minutes.

Benefits of Teas Without Caffeine

The best part about teas without caffeine is that they can be sipped at any time of day. If you are the kind of person who loves to curl up with a cup of tea before bed, you can still enjoy a restful sleep. Another advantage is that teas without caffeine can be steeped for as long as you want. While caffeinated tea gets bitter after about 3-5 minutes, herbal tea just gets stronger in flavor. If you love a hearty cuppa, try steeping your tea for 10 minutes for maximum strength. Most importantly, choose loose leaf herbal tea to get the most flavor in your cup. Tea bags are much weaker and usually lower quality. Regardless of your reasons for limiting caffeine, there is sure to be a good option for you. There are so many teas without caffeine to choose from, you might never look back!

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