Would You Like Caffeine With That?
When I began working as an Adagio Tea Consultant, I fully expected to spend my days in long debates with customers over the merits of Yunnan Gold vs. Keemun. Instead, I came to realize that the priority for many of my customers was caffeine: does the tea have it, or not?
Buzz or Snooze
It turns out that a lot of people who visit us at Adagio stores want teas to either keep them awake or help them sleep. For example, it's not unusual for a customer to come into the shop and inform me that they want the "most caffeinated tea in the store," never mind how the tea tastes. Similarly, many customers arrive with concerns about too much caffeine, asking for something that will help them to sleep or, at the very least, not contribute to insomnia. While I'm all for helping customers get the buzz or rest that they need, I'd also like them to actually enjoy drinking the tea or tisane that they purchase. With a little probing (and tea cupping) I can usually help customers find a tea or tisane that addresses their needs while also providing them with a great deal of enjoyment.
It isn't uncommon for customers to come into the shop believing that green and white teas have little or no caffeine while black tea is chock full of the stuff. As it turns out, there are a lot of factors that affect the amount of caffeine in a tea, including how it is typically prepared. For example, our Gyokuro (a Japanese green tea) is said to be the most caffeinated tea in the shop. But since it is infused in relatively cool water (170F) for only a minute or two, it may not pack quite the punch of our tippy Assam Harmony, brewed in boiling water for three to five minutes. While the Assam may have less caffeine in its dry leaf than some of our green or white teas, its preparation may result in more caffeine in the customer's cup.
When customers ask how they can tell whether a tea is high in caffeine, I suggest that they try the tea themselves and pay attention to how it makes them feel. Another trick that I teach customers is to actually look at the leaf: If they see a lot of silvery or pale gold "tip" in the leaf, this is often an indication that the tea has relatively high levels of caffeine. This is because those pale, often fuzzy tips are actually tea buds, which are high in caffeine.
Tea Consultants sometimes have to explain to customers the difference between "un-caffeinated" and "decaffeinated": Even decaffeinated teas have some residual caffeine, while most of our herbal tisanes (mate being a notable exception) are completely caffeine-free. Many customers do enjoy our decaffeinated teas, especially our Decaf Apricot Green, and often find that they can get a good night's sleep when they drink them. Our herbals are likewise hugely popular, particularly Foxtrot (a chamomile/mint/vanilla rooibos blend) and "Goodnight Tea," an herbal infusion (available in Adagio's Chicago stores) that contains several botanicals traditionally used to promote relaxation. Rooibos and honeybush are also popular caffeine-free options: naturally sweet, these tisanes are great for curbing late night cravings. Fruit teas are also a hit, particularly for those who want to avoid the calories and sugar in fruit juice, but to also enjoy fruity, caffeine-free hot and cold drinks any time of the day.
Dispelling the "Short Steep" Myth
Many people think that you can do DIY decaffeination by steeping tea for 30 seconds, throwing out the water and then resteeping the leaves. While it is possible to remove some caffeine this way, it usually isn't very much (maybe 9-30 percent, depending on the type of tea leaves and water temperature) and many antioxidants, as well as a whole lot of flavor, get lost using this method as well. Individuals who need to avoid caffeine for health reasons should talk to their doctors about the advisability of drinking decaf tea or switching to un-caffeinated herbal tisanes.