A bowl of loose leaf Decaf Irish Breakfast tea, next to a steeped cup of Decaf Irish Breakfast tea

Food Safety with Decaf Tea and Coffee

There are several methods of removing caffeine from tea. Two of the cheaper 'chemical methods' are also used for decaf coffee, and this is where there has been some recent controversy. The Carbon Dioxide method is the most expensive, but keeps the teas original flavor the most intact, along with all the beneficial compounds.

Decaf tea or coffee involves removing the majority of caffeine (97%+) using various methods. This is the subject of some recent news items regarding the safety of decaf coffee and tea and some of these methods.


The majority of tea in grocery stores are lower-end teas, and regardless of whether you are drinking tea or coffee in decaf form if the cost of the decaf version is almost the same as the regular caffeinated version, it is almost certain that a cheaper chemical method of decaffeination was used.

Methods of Removing Caffeine

There are several methods of removing caffeine from tea. Two of the cheaper 'chemical methods' are also used for decaf coffee, and this is where there has been some recent controversy.

Ethyl Acetate

This compound already exists in certain ripe fruits and plants, but synthetic versions are used because of the amounts required. Ethyl acetate molecules bind to lift out caffeine, at the cost of lifting out flavors and some of the beneficial antioxidant compounds.


One key thing to note - some packages might say 'naturally decaffeinated'. Natural doesn't always mean better.

Methylene Chloride

This is another chemical, also used for coffee beans that strips out caffeine. It is slightly better at preserving the flavors.

CO2 Decaffeination

The Carbon Dioxide method is the most expensive, but keeps the tea's original flavor the most intact, along with all the beneficial compounds.


In this method, tea is partially moistened and then put into a chamber that is pumped full of CO2. Once the pressure and temperature rise, the CO2 acts as a solvent that binds to smaller caffeine molecules, but not to flavor molecules.


Once the caffeine is removed, the tea is dried and restored to a somewhat original state.

Chemical Method Controversy

There are some health advocacy groups calling for the ban of the methylene chloride method as they say it is not safe for human consumption. Some chemicals that are used for industrial processes are also found naturally (one scare tactic) and there isn't data provided showing that the trace amounts that may be leftover are any more harmful than what is naturally found in water.


However, our recommendation is to simply look for CO2 decaf tea - which will cost more than its regular counterpart but ensures the highest quality tea leaf.ย 

CO2 Decaf Teas

Related Posts