Here at HB HQ, we’re all about the caffeine free tea. Not out of moral superiority, but due to an intense caffeine sensitivity. That’s why we stick to herbal tea: it’s naturally caffeine free, so we can drink as much as we like without worrying about caffeine overdose. That said, some brands do blend their caffeine free tea with green, black or white tea and still call it herbal tea, so make sure you check the packaging carefully before buying. On our caffeine-free travels we’ve encountered a great deal of miseducation about caffeine and in which drinks and foods it is actually found. We thought we’d write a little post about this topic so that you ensure that what’s in your mug is indeed caffeine free tea.

Caffeine has played an important part in the evolution of certain plant species

In many plants, the tea plant Camelia sinesis included, caffeine acts as a pest deterrent, preventing insects from eating their leaves. Clever, right? The coffee plant goes a step further by dropping its caffeine-riddled beans into its surrounding soil to prevent other plants from germinating and thus competing with it for nutrients and soil space. So caffeine has played an important role in the survival of plant species that have become an integral part of human culture. However, as with any sort of drug, consuming it in large quantities can lead to undesirable side effects, as anyone who has experienced the jitteriness of an espresso overdose can attest. Hence the need for caffeine free tea and coffee. Part of managing one’s caffeine intake also depends on knowing exactly where caffeine is found.

Here are five sources of caffeine you might not know about:

Green and White tea do not fall into the caffeine free tea category: 

99.9% of the time we ask the question “what herbal teas do you have?” (usually, when visiting a cafe or restaurant), the first answer we get is “green tea”. And every time this happens, we inwardly cringe, because green tea is not technically herbal tea! Herbal tea is any blend of herbs that only contains herbs and spices. And as Camelia sinesis is not classified as a herb, it can not be herbal tea. (Although, by the same logic, herbal tea wouldn’t be termed ‘tea’ because it doesn’t contain Camelia sinesis, but there you go.) Anyway, green and white teas come from the tea plant, which mean they contain caffeine. Though the levels are usually lower than in black tea, there is caffeine nonetheless. 

caffeine free tea
Any tea that comes from the tea plant, Camelia sinesis, contains caffeine: even decaf. Image credit: Unsplash

Chocolate, in liquid or solid form, contains high levels of stimulant theobromine: 

Most people we’ve spoken to about this are surprised when they find out chocolate has a stimulatory effect due to a chemical called theobromine (which gets converted to caffeine if heated). White chocolate, however, does not as it doesn’t contain cocoa solids. And you’re probably safe to eat a bag of Maltesers or any other chocolate treat that’s diluted with milk and sugar. But as a general rule, the darker the chocolate, the higher the stimulatory effect. Cacao and cacao nibs are another source of theobromine, so watch out for smoothies with nibs in them. Ever noticed how thirsty you get after eating a few squares of dark chocolate or drinking a hot chocolate made with good quality cocoa? That’s the diuretic effect of the stimulants. To avoid a cacao hangover, make sure to keep hydrated (with herbal tea if water isn’t your thing).

cacao beans
Colourful cacao shells: even the shells contain trace amounts of theobromine. Image credit: Unsplash.

Decaffeinated coffee and tea still contain caffeine: 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that decaf coffee and tea contain no caffeine. But residual amounts of caffeine are, in fact, found in decaf coffee and tea. And while this is only a problem if you’re very caffeine sensitive (like me), it’s still worth being aware of. A while ago, we enjoyed a delicious cup of decaf Darjeeling at the London Tea Exchange (well worth a visit next time you’re in Brick Lane), only to emerge high and dehydrated an hour later. Also, it’s worth finding out how your decaf tea or coffee is decaffeinated, as some of the processes involve treating the tea or coffee with solvents.

Matcha: aka Green Cocaine: 

Most of you probably know that matcha is very high in caffeine, but some of the people serving it in one or two cafes we’ve come across weren’t aware. Matcha comes from Camelia sinesis and is made by picking the young shoots of the plant and rendering them into powder form.

Guarana, an Amazonian plant, has a powerful stimulatory effect on the body: 

Guarana is a lesser known plant that is much higher in caffeine than coffee beans. It is often used in some of the “healthier” energy drinks and energy bars to give them their energising properties.

caffeine free tea
Herbs and spice and all things nice: there isn’t a molecule of caffeine in this Rose and Ginger tea

Choose drinks that naturally contain no caffeine

Staying away from caffeine takes organisation, especially when you realise just how often it creeps into food and drink. If you want to avoid caffeine entirely, the best strategy is to avoid those food and drinks that contain any of the above mentioned items and opt for naturally caffeine free teas, such as herbal teas. And because they’re caffeine free, and therefore don’t contain the diuretic properties of caffeine, drinking herbal tea contributes to your daily water intake.

If you’d like to get inspired by some unique blends, designed to be so tasty you don’t even need to add sugar, visit our tea shop. Or, if you’d like a more detailed look at our loose leaf teas, download our herbal tea guide.

Author caroline

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