A Tea Myth is As Good As A Mile

I like to answer questions on Quora and other fora.

Apart from the fact that some questions are bizarre , such as Was Jesus a Psychedelic Mushroom? or “What Kind of desserts Do Hell’s Angels Eat? , there are plenty of just plain dumb questions about tea.

And as someone with a profile concerning tea, I get asked 2-10 questions every day. I try to pick one a day to answer.

However, people ask questions all the time in life, on twitter, at markets, all over the place and I try to give the best information I can.

Yesterday, I came across a question on Facebook from someone I know. In fact, it’s the editor of a magazine who have commissioned stories about tea from me, so I’m surprised she didn’t just ask me rather than address the question generally to her (huge) Facebook stream. Here it is:

“Is there such a thing as caffeine free (traditional) tea? My kids are obsessed with sneaking our tea and it would just be easier to give them their own… Bloody English genes.”

Of course, the simple answer is “yes”. Also of course, my answer is/was “yes, but...” , the two ‘buts’ being my fairly standard ones – “but what if the basis for your question is wrong?” and “but what if the true and correct answer fails to disclose additional information which may be important?”.

For example, what if the question was: I have to go bungee jumping but I am 50Kg over the maximum allowed weight. Might I survive the plunge into the icy, torrential river below?”

Then it follows that the answer is “yes” but I would feel an obligation to ask Who the hells says you ‘have’ to go bungee jumping?’ and provide a more detailed answer, i.e. “yes you might survive, but you may well not, or you might end up in a coma, or drown once you’ve survived the plunge”.

So, as of this moment, about 22 people have engaged with the question. I myself have posted to it about 13 times.

My first answer of course, was to ask why decaf was important, and chuck in some mild sarcasm:

Robert Godden Why do you need a decaf version?

 Kelly Noble Unless you’re gonna babysit I’m not giving my 2 & 4 year olds caffeine…
Robert GoddenFair enough if one of them has had a kidney transplant, or a medically diagnosed caffeine allergy, but the slow release of limited amounts of caffeine on tea is unlikely to have a major effect.
So, what else did others say?
  • One person said she had been given tea by her parents as a child and had turned out alright, although very short. As we know, this is not entirely evidence. In fact, I know her in real life and can confirm that does drink tea and may be short: it’s hard to tell as her partner the forensic scientist/barista/future superhero I wrote about in 2012 and he is enormous, so anyone standing next to him looks petite.
  • Two people jumped on the caffeine bandwagon with, to put it politely*, new age wishy-washy hippy tripe. It’s only a matter of time before Big Pharma gets a mention, but let’s just put them to one side.
  • Eight people suggested herbals (half of them rooibos) which I think was well meant, but essential ignored the question,  which I think made it clear we are taking camellia sinesis. One of those people suggested chamomile (although they couldn’t spell it) which probably contravenes some charter on the right of the child not to be given drinks that taste like crap, but I digress.
    • One of the aforementioned eight however, introduced our first myth: “Herbal teas are divine and caffeine free”. I really don’t need to say much, except that my comment on that one was to point out that not all herbals are caffeine free, not of them are divine and some of them be even downright dangerous. I can’t find that comment now, so either it’s been removed or Facebook’s gone weird, or maybe I’ve been blocked.
  • Five people answered the question by pointing out that there are decaf teas available, and suggest brands from five companies. Good on them, they answered the question. However, I have additional information about those companies:
    • Two are massive multinationals with seriously bad reputations for exploitation of poor workers
    • One is an Australian company that blends all it’s Australian grown tea with Indian tea and then doesn’t disclose what percentage is Australian, which I have an issue with.
    • One is a company that makes outlandish claims (you know, the sort of thing Peter Foster went to prison for in the 1980s, but now seem totally acceptable) and don’t have a decaf tea that I can find, only herbals.
    • One I have no issue with at all, generally, but their claim that they decaffeinate tea “without chemicals” is just not true… at the very least, they’ve used our old friend hydrogen monoxide.
  • One person mentioned ‘naturally decaffeinated tea”. I assume they mean either the Carbon Dioxide method (where the tea is put under pressure with superheated CO2) or the Water method (where the tea is soaked and boiled to extract everything, the caffeine is removed then the leaves resoaked in the liquid. Neither of those options sound ‘natural’ to me, but I guess they are more natural than using Methylene Chloride or Ethyl Acetate**.

But all of these leads me to the two that disturbed me the most. Here they are:

“I worked for a coffee company. I asked Madura Tea Company about decaf tea. They told Me to get Deaf [I assume they mean Decaf]. Put bag in cup pour a little hot water over to cover. Leave for a few second. Tip that water out than use bag to make the tea.”


“I read this yesterday and I was at my local tea shop today and brought a really strong tea. The lady explained to me that decaf tea is actually just normal tea that has been rinsed (which is why it always looks used!). Apparently you can make any tea decaf by adding boiling water. Let it sit for a minute and then tossing out the water – then add water and drink … Apparently it should be decaf”

Let me say that (a) I think both these people posted in good faith and (b) they seem to have been let down by our very own industry.

Whilst you could argue that one sentence in the second one is technically true “Apparently you can make any tea decaf by adding boiling water” it does not go on to add “… assuming you have a laboratory, qualifications in chemistry and a carbon filter” which I think is pretty vital information.

When I first started writing about tea, I saw this myth a few times being debunked, and I honestly thought people were making it up to debunk it. I mean, who actually believes that?

Turns out way to many people do.

The question is, what too do about it?

With regard to Kelly’s question, I think it’s really sad. People should be embracing the like of the Persian Princess Moment with their kids. I still remember specific cups of tea I had as a kid. Important moments shared over a cuppa.

I feel that decaf tea in this instance is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I did add this to the discussion:

Kelly, the things I do for you. I’ve just read 6 entire studies on caffeine in Children, conducted between 1980 and 2013. The amounts of caffeine studied varied between about 1-2 teacups per day levels up to about 12 (because that’s what ‘energy drinks’ have in them). I’d say the studies found equally positive and negative effects, but the overall finding is best summed up by this quote: ” Results suggest that caffeine exerts only small and inconsistent effects on the classroom behavior of kindergarten children. These results cast doubt on the importance of caffeine as a variable controlling the classroom behavior of normal kindergartners.” Only Canada has guidelines that I can find for Caffeine in children, and they set the limit at 45mg, which is more than you might find in a cup of tea, depending on the tea.

And then I added:

And of course, I’d argue that if you do limit to one cup per day, why shilly-shally around with cheap shitty teab*g tea? Get a teapot, get your kids some good stuff and make it a ritual. You will get so much more out of it than any imagined negative health impacts.

Hopefully that helped.

But when it comes to countering the myths of tea – how do we do it?

Answers below, please!

(if Facebook allows it and you want to take a peek at the discussion, it’s here)


*”Politely” is a relative term, obviously

**I am so totally going to use “Ethyl Acetate” as a bogus name somewhere!

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