Decaffeinated vs Caffeine-Free

We’re living in a health obsessed society and caffeine has become a baddy in some food circles. At Mama Tea we have a range of caffeine-free herbal teas, but every so often we get asked if our teas are decaffeinated, so what is the difference between decaffeinated and caffeine-free and is one better for you than the other?

mama tea caffeine free


Decaffeinated is a term we all associate with tea and coffee, it has become commonplace in coffee shops to hear customers ask for decaffeinated, or decaf, drinks, but what does it really mean for something to be decaffeinated? Decaffeination is a process used to remove caffeine from coffee, cocoa or tea. The first commercially successful decaffeination process was in 1903. This process involved steaming coffee beans in a salt water solution and then using benzene, this first decaffeination process subsequently ceased to be used because of concerns over benzene. Since then most decaffeination processes for coffee beans involve using chemical solvents such as methyl chloride or ethyl acetate to strip the caffeine from the beans. There are a couple of methods, the swiss water and the sparkling water, that avoid the use of chemical solvents and use water to remove the caffeine but these are not widely used commercially. Decaffeinating of tea is similar in that the leaves of the tea plant, the camellia sinensis, are soaked and treated with chemical solvents to extract caffeine.

It is widely acknowledged that decaffeinated drinks are not 100% caffeine-free, there are however legal limits in the EU and US as to what percentage of caffeine is removed to allow a product to be labelled decaffeinated (in the EU caffeine content must be under 0.1% and in the US it’s 0.3%). A typical cup of decaffeinated coffee can have anything from 3mg of caffeine up to about 30mg of caffeine and a typical cup of decaffeinated tea anything up to 15mg of caffeine (figures vary depending on brew time and strength of original beans/leaves before decaffeination and other factors).


At Mama Tea all our teas are caffeine-free. This means they are made from herbs and leaves that do not contain caffeine to start with, therefore they do not undergo a decaffeination process, many (but not all, see here) herbal teas are caffeine-free. As the name suggests caffeine-free products have 0mg of caffeine. Caffeine-free has the natural advantage that it has not been subjected to any form of chemical process, we may be biased but in our opinion this reason alone is enough to convince us that caffeine-free is the healthier option.

The world of health eating is confusing and there is conflicting information out there but caffeine-free always means no caffeine and decaffeinated always means a caffeine product that has been treated to remove as much caffeine as possible. In other words caffeine-free and decaffeinated are different but they are very often competing in the same marketplace for the same health conscious customers.


4 thoughts on “Decaffeinated vs Caffeine-Free

  1. thanks for clarifying! I know I asked this question last week and immediately felt like a ninny! I want to find a tea that is caffeine-free but that tastes like normal tea, ie breakfast tea or earl grey… My reasoning: to drink tea in the afternoon without being kept awake at night! Do they exist or is the only option a decaf tea?

    • You’re not the first to ask by any means, we regularly get asked but you asking made us realise we should write a blog post about it to clarify for everyone- sometimes when you work in the industry you assume everyone understands the difference. There are no direct caffeine-free substitutes for breakfast tea or earl grey but I would recommend trying a Rooibos tea, maybe our Glowing Mama ;). In South Africa they drink rooibos tea like we would drink breakfast tea in this country, they even add milk and sugar, Rooibos is caffeine-free and high in anti-oxidants (there’s even research going on in SA as regards it’s cancer fighting properties!).

  2. Pingback: Health Effects of Caffeine « My Perspective on Loving, Living, Learning and Laughing

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