Coffee and tea are both widely appreciated for both their flavor and their caffeine content. Caffeine’s virtues as a stimulant are known and cherished by every coffee or tea drinker, but it’s not an unmixed blessing. Too much caffeine can lead to insomnia, anxiety and unpleasantly jittery feelings, which is why most major brands offer decaffeinated varieties. Tea drinkers also share a widespread belief that it’s possible to make “decaf” tea from regular tea bags. That is a myth, unfortunately, but you can at least reduce the quantity of caffeine in your cup.
The “decaf your own” myth has a number of versions, but they all follow the same pattern. Eighty to 90 percent of the caffeine in the leaf is released during the first 30, 45 or 60 seconds — depending on who you believe — of steeping, the story goes. If you pour away that first brew, then add fresh hot water and steep the leaves again, you’ll have a substantially caffeine-free beverage. Even when taken at face value, this isn’t really decaffeination. It would leave 10 to 20 percent of the caffeine in your cup, while commercially decaffeinated tea loses 98 percent of its caffeine.
In laboratory testing, that “first 60 seconds” theory simply doesn’t hold up. When steeped for one, three and five minutes under controlled circumstances. teas varied widely in their caffeine content. Some test samples did indeed give up most of their caffeine in the first minute, but the majority did not. In practice, pouring away your tea after a minute’s steeping will usually remove no more than 50 to 60 percent of the caffeine and frequently less.
Leaving half or more of the original caffeine in your cup doesn’t leave it decaffeinated, but it does represent a substantial drop. If you’re watching your caffeine intake, and decaf tea isn’t available, you might still opt to try the method. Its downside is obvious: Along with the caffeine, you’ll be washing away much of the tea’s flavor.
If you decide to give the pour-off technique a try, it’s a simple process.
Place a tea bag in your mug, one or more in your teapot, or the usual quantity of loose leaves in your infuser.
Pour in hot water at the appropriate temperature for your tea. Regular black tea, for example, requires water at just under the boiling point.
Infuse the tea for one minute, then pour it out. Heat your water back to its original temperature, and refill the pot.
Steep until the tea reaches your preferred strength.