Caffeine, often called America’s favorite drug, can have negative (and sometimes hilarious) effects on the body and the nervous system. Yet significant amounts of this pharmacological agent occur naturally in the 2 most popular beverages in the world (besides water), tea and coffee. Large doses are added to soft drinks and even bottled water. Like many good, naturally occurring substances found in nature, commercial production has perverted our relationship with caffeine, leaving us addicted or scared or both.
It is my opinion that because caffeine is present in these plants in the natural world (it acts as a natural pesticide), and we have been drawn to consume this substance for all of recorded history, it must provide something of benefit to our bodies beyond simple alertness.
While the health benefits of tea have been well documented, science is still debating caffeine’s health benefits, including the potential to prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and we have certainly seen study after study that contradict what came before. Many sources I respect warn against any caffeine consumption but I still believe that, in moderate amounts and when consumed as a whole food, most naturally occurring substances are harmless to beneficial.
As Kombucha is made from tea (Camellia sinensis), it contains caffeine. However, the amount of caffeine present in a glass of Kombucha will vary widely, as should be expected. After all, Kombucha recipes vary endlessly and several factors such as type/quality of tea, steep time and fermentation cycle & temperature must be accounted for.
Still it is clear that properly fermented Kombucha contains only small amounts of caffeine and, even more importantly, we can control the amount of caffeine present through some very simple choices and techniques. Perhaps most exciting is learning that the caffeine present in Kombucha is paired with a natural amino acid that slows it’s absorption into the bloodstream, l-theanine, with great side benefits.
Caffeine (C8H10N4O2) …was first isolated by the German chemist Friedrich Ferdinand Runge in 1819 (and)…In humans, it stimulates the central nervous system, heart rate, and respiration, has psychotropic (mood altering) properties, and acts as a mild diuretic…A normal dose of caffeine is generally considered to be 100 mg, which is roughly the amount found in a cup of coffee. However, more than half of all American adults consume more than 300 mg of caffeine every day, which makes it America’s most popular drug.
L-Theanine: Tea’s Relaxation Effect
An important distinction has been made between caffeine in tea and caffeine in coffee. Tea has been observed to create a calming effect on the drinker, as opposed to coffee which tends to raise anxiety. These contradictions piqued the interest of researchers who have been studying caffeine’s effects on the body for over 100 years.
Studies have found that tea contains an anxiety reducer called l-theanine which acts “antagonistically against the stimulatory effects of caffeine,” producing a calming effect 30-40 minutes after ingestion. It does this by stimulating alpha brainwaves, which calms the mind in a way similar to meditation, and by ticking up the body’s production of dopamine and serotonin (yes please), resulting in improved memory and learning ability in addition to relaxation.
Further studies show that when taken together L-theanine and caffeine improved “cognitive performance and mood.” It is also speculated that poly-phenols present in the tea not only deliver health benefits but mitigate negative effects that caffeine may have when consumed alone.
Kombucha Caffeine Content
Kombucha is generally considered to have about ⅓ the amount of caffeine as the tea it is made with, so for example black tea, which might have 30-80mg of caffeine per cup may yield a glass of Kombucha with 10-25mg of caffeine. Green tea Kombucha might have just 2-3mg of caffeine. The range is extremely broad!
Can I Make Decaffeinated Kombucha?
For most healthy people, the small amounts of caffeine in Kombucha are no problem and may provide benefits. If you fall into the category of those most sensitive to caffeine, there are simple ways to control, reduce and even eliminate the caffeine in your Kombucha.
However, you should NEVER USE most store bought decaffeinated teas as they have been treated with a chemical process (even “naturally decaffeinated” ones) which leaves them damaged and covered in toxic residues.
Instead, try the tips below.
Use A Tea Blend
Black tea contains more caffeine than green or white. The Kombucha culture prefers variety when it comes to tea, so use mostly green and/or white (80%) to reduce your caffeine content by about half over black tea alone.
Use Herbal Teas/Tisanes to Blend
There is a common misconception that herbal or flavored teas cannot be used to make Kombucha. In fact,teas such as Rooibos and Hibiscus make a delicious, flavorful and healthful fermented tea. However, the flavorings in these herbal teas must be natural and not from oils or other synthetics as these will kill the bacteria and therefore your brew.
Also, it is best to blend in 25% Camellia sinensis for the long term health of the Kombucha culture. Alternatively, you could brew every fourth batch with real tea to reinvigorate the SCOBY.
Sugar and caffeine content both reduce as the ferment continues. Brew for a longer cycle, then dilute with some juice if needed to cut the sour flavor.
Steep & Dump Method
Just as it sounds, steep your tea for 30-60 seconds in a cup or two of very hot water. Dump the liquid and use the tea once again to make the Kombucha. Anywhere from 50-80% of the caffeine will leech into the water leaving truly naturally decaffeinated tea leaves.
Look for my video tip on
naturally decaffeinating your tea later this week!