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Tea Notes

Discover the world of tea, from the history of its cultural significance to the science of its benefits and the art of its preparation.

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Tea Notes

Discover the world of tea, from the history of its cultural significance to the science of its benefits and the art of its preparation.

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What's the Difference Between Herbal and Decaf Tea?
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What's the Difference Between Herbal and Decaf Tea?

5 Min Read | May 01, 2020

With so many delicious types of tea to choose from, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the search for the perfect cup. For caffeine-sensitive tea drinkers, distinctions like “caffeine-free” and “decaffeinated” can be confusing since they sound like synonyms but technically mean different things. And as black, green, white, oolong, and herbal varieties are broken down into even smaller subcategories based on the way each blend is harvested, processed, and combined with additional flavor notes, it can be difficult to tell what’s what. So, to help tea enthusiasts understand the difference between herbal and decaf tea, as well as a few other distinctions, we’ve got all the facts right here.

IS HERBAL TEA DECAFFEINATED?

Herbal teas have no caffeine, and scientifically speaking, there’s actually no such thing as herbal tea. The words “herbal tea” are so commonly used together, most people aren’t aware that it’s technically a misnomer. The correct way to describe a tea-like beverage made from caffeine-free botanicals is to call it an herbal tisane. This name game may seem overly precise, but it’s significant for a reason: teas naturally contain caffeine, while tisanes naturally do not. Still, in popular culture, “herbal tea” is the most popular way to describe tea-like beverages that are naturally free of caffeine.

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Put more simply, there are teas (such as black tea, green tea, white tea, and oolong tea), and then there are herbal tisanes. For a beverage to be considered “tea” from a purist’s perspective, it must be made from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, which naturally contains caffeine. This plant gives us tea leaves, which are then processed into many different variations of black, green, white, and oolong tea. Herbal blends, on the other hand, are not made from this plant, but rather are comprised of herbs, roots, seeds, fruits, and flowers -- anything but actual tea leaves.

So, if you’re enjoying a cup of black, green, white, or oolong tea, it either contains caffeine or has been decaffeinated by a tea producer after harvesting the leaves. If you’re drinking an herbal tisane (or “herbal tea”), then you’re enjoying a caffeine-free beverage.

CAFFEINE-FREE VS. DECAF TEA

For those curious about the difference between the terms “caffeine-free” and “decaffeinated” (or “decaf” for short), there’s a slight distinction to be made.

The phrase “caffeine-free” refers to the ingredients, which are unrelated to tea made from the camellia sinensis plant, and it means what it says: a caffeine-free tisane is, indeed, free of caffeine. So, herbal blends comprised only of fruits, flowers, herbs and spices like Wild Berry Hibiscus, Chamomile Citron, and Rooibos Raja Chai, are naturally caffeine-free.

The Herbal Retreat collection is naturally caffeine-free, as it's flavor comes from fruit, flowers, herbs & spices (and no tea leaves).

The word “decaffeinated,” on the other hand, refers to tea leaves that once contained the natural stimulant but underwent a process to remove it almost entirely. This means that decaf teas may still contain trace amounts of caffeine, although it’s usually not enough to affect the heart rate or energy level of someone who isn’t highly sensitive to it. To be called “decaf” or "decaffeinated,” a tea blend’s caffeine content must have been reduced to 2.5% of its original level or less, which usually amounts to about 2 mg. For reference, it’s considered healthy for the average person to consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day.

Our Decaf Breakfast tea is a decaffeinated black tea with classic flavor of English Breakfast, but without the caffeine.

HOW IS TEA DECAFFEINATED?

While herbal blends naturally contain no caffeine, many tea enthusiasts desire decaffeinated black, green, white, or oolong tea. To produce decaffeinated tea, a production process is carried out using water, carbon dioxide or organic solvents before tea leaves are packaged and presented to the consumer.

So, if you’re preparing a cup of decaf black tea, for example, that tea has undergone a decaffeination process somewhere between its harvest and its arrival in your cup. While there may still be a very small amount of caffeine in each serving, again, the amount is minimal.

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To enjoy a sampling of Tea Forté’s finest caffeine-free offerings, explore our herbal blends, offering an expansive array of flavors, colors, aromas and more.

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