Many people are wondering about this question, and you are not alone. How much caffeine is in a cup of tea is as complicated as the subject of tea itself. Factors include:
- Type of tea
- How and when the tea leaves are processed
- Loose tea leaves or tea bag
- Water temperature when steeping tea
So let’s dive in.
What is caffeine?
It’s a dose of encouragement most of us need to get going in the morning. The effect of caffeine – your brain sends a signal to your body to wake up!
Caffeine, as a substance, has a distinct bitter taste.
Amount of caffeine intake per day
So how much daily caffeine is recommended for an average person? About 400 milligrams of caffeine is safe for a healthy adult. That means about 4-6 cups of Black tea (or 2-3 cups of coffee).
Caffeine content per cup
The standard cup size holds 8 ounces of liquid. Here is the breakdown of caffeine content in the most popular hot drinks. Note that coffee beans contain higher caffeine levels than coffee as a drink. The chart below measures caffeine levels in a beverage.
- Coffee contains about 150 – 200 mg.
- Black tea / Ripe Pu-erh tea contains 60 – 100 mg.
- Oolong tea contains 30 – 50 mg.
- Green tea or raw Pu-erh tea contains 30 – 50 mg.
- Yellow tea contains 25 mg.
- White tea contains 25 mg.
- Herbal teas, of course, are caffeine-free.
It’s a misnomer that ripe Pu-erh tea contains lower caffeine.
Now let’s talk about other little-known factors affecting caffeine content in tea.
Parts of the tea plant
In general, a tea leaf of the Camellia Sinensis plant contains about 3% of caffeine by weight. However, younger leaves and newly formed tips/buds contain higher caffeine than older leaves. So naturally, tea processed using leaf stems has lower levels of caffeine.
Harvesting of tea plants
Depending on what time of the year the tea leaves (or buds) are plucked, tea’s caffeine level varies. For example, refined Green teas use only the tips/buds of the tea plant. Therefore, they contain higher caffeine content.
The later in the season tea leaves are plucked, the lower the caffeine content. Caffeine content decreases as the plant matures.
Time of the harvest plays a vital role in tea’s caffeine content.
For the tea-tech geeks out there, you can see in the research table below showing the considerably low caffeine content in Fujian Oolong tea. The Fujian province has been historically a famous tea region in China with renowned teas, including Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea, Lapsang Souchong Black tea, and Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea from Anxi county.
In Wuyi Shan, Oolong tea leaves are harvested around mid-April, a late harvest. These more matured tea leaves contain lower caffeine levels.
Turns out, the fermentation method used to manufacture tea also significantly affects caffeine content in tea, but that is another subject for another day.
How is the tea prepared?
Answers to the following questions change the caffeine content in your tea.
- Are you using loose tea leaves or tea bags?
- What’s the boiling temperature when brewing?
- How long do you steep your tea?
For example, hot water absorbs caffeine more quickly than cold water. And the longer you steep the tea, the more caffeine is released.
Caffeine difference – loose leaves vs. tea bags
Interestingly, tea brewed with a teabag contains higher caffeine than the average cup brewed with loose leaves. Why? Because when you brew tea using tea leaves, you drink over multiple steeps.
Loose Leaves Caffeine Content
I remember tasting Wuyi Oolong tea during my trip to the Wuyi Mountains filming 9 DRAGONS TEA. We enjoyed 10-rounds of steeping in a Gong Fu Cha tea ceremony of the world-famous Da Hong Pao Oolong tea. Amazing to the last cup!
So naturally, the caffeine content in the first few rounds is more potent. As the same leaves are used over 7 to 10 brews in Wuyi Tea, caffeine content gradually gets weaker.
Organic tea (without fertilizer) is better quality tea, as it’s long-lasting. This is why Wuyi Tea can last multiple rounds of brewing. It’s believed the Tang Dynasty poem “7 CUPS” by Lu Tong was inspired by Wuyi Tea.
Tea Bags Caffeine Content
Mass production tea bags contain broken leaves. This gives the tea more surface space to expose to the hot water, maximizing the caffeine release. Also, tea bags are commonly used only once, so the caffeine amount comes out in one cup.
So to wrap up on the subject of caffeine in tea, it is a deep well worth understanding. Bookmark this page now, so you have all the wonderful tea leaves at your fingertips when a friend asks you this question next time.
Who knew tea buds hold more caffeine content than old leaves? Remember the book “Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus?” Coffee is like men – simple and straight: 200 mg of caffeine per cup. Tea is Camellia, a lady from Venus. She gets complicated, and a lot of factors come into play.
This is why I love drinking tea throughout the day. The gentle caress of caffeine keeps me focused, but without the jolt and the dive associated with coffee. Happy sipping…