Thursday, September 1, 2011

You ain't decaffeinating at home

Have you noticed the evenings are colder now that September is here? Autumn starts on the 23rd of this month and already I can feel the chill in the air. The trees notice it too as the leaves are already colouring. Oh this is wonderful tea weather; I can sit down for tea in a golden afternoon, or have a hot cuppa late at night before I go to bed.

 Just because tea has a lower amount of caffeine doesn't mean that it won't keep you up late. My mother has had this happen a few times when she drank the Snowflake tea last holiday season.
Many of my decaf teas are also dessert teas. That is, teas which are rich in flavourings. These are perfect after-supper teas, which are far better for you than actual desserts. Unfortunately I have some dessert teas that have caffeine in them, which will keep me tossing for a little longer than I'd like.
These teas are usually from specialty shops or for limited time only, so there isn't much chance to get them in a decaffeinated state.
Oh, if only there was a way to turn caffeinated teas into decaffeinated teas!

So, how do the professionals do it? Commercial tea companies change regular tea into decaf in a few different ways: using CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), Methylene Chloride, or Ethyl Acetate.

Ethyl Acetate (a natural occurring solvent you find in glue and nail polish remover, but originates in fruits) is used in one method, but it takes out antioxidants and leaves a bit of a residue. Methylene Chloride also uses a type of solvent that the caffeine attaches itself to, but this solvent is a little more dangerous.

The Carbon Dioxide method, also known as effervescence. Mixes CO2 with water and tea, and the CO2 draws the caffeine out of the leaves. This has been the favoured method, and still pretty new in the decaffeination world.

Well that doesn't really help us here at home does it? Then again, you might have seen the hot water method around the internets? Where, if you put your tea bag in hot water for 1 – 3 minutes, the highly soluble (in hot water) caffeine will be sucked out of the tea leaves. Then you just dump the hot water, the caffeine goes along with it, and *poof* you have yourself a cup of newly decaffeinated tea. Sounds so wonderful that even I partook in the magical decaff myth.
Yes, I did just call it a myth.

You see, hot water will take out a large amount of caffeine from tea leaves, just not -your- tea leaves. Well, not unless you are using freshly picked tea leaves. That's right, before leaves are steamed (for green) or “fermented” (for black), the fresh leaves can have the caffeine boiled out. The myth, from what I can figure, came from the fact that there are privately owned tea companies in poorer districts of China, India and etc. These small businesses can't afford the price of the regular three decaff processes, either the materials, ingredients or facilities. So they boil the fresh green leaves and the caffeine is sucked out of the tea (caffeine is highly soluble in hot water.) Then they dump the first batch of water, and poof, decaf!
So why doesn't everyone use this super cheap method of decaffeination? Well, it removes a lot of the good stuff from tea, including the antioxidants. It also removes a lot of the taste, which would make it a very low quality tea. For the folks that don't have any other method, this will work. It just isn't the best.

Yet there has been so many online sites and articles claiming the hot water at home will work, there are still people saying it does do something.
So, will putting a tea bag in hot water, then throwing the water out do anything? Well yes, of course. It will get you a weaker tea.
It will also reduce the caffeine a TINY bit, but you'll have to put it in absolute boiling water, and leave it in there for a good 3-5 minutes. Not worth it. Just go out and buy yourself a good decaffeinated tea. I did, and it is Stash's Vanilla Nut Cream.

This tea is a super smooth dessert tea, and I think I know why: the vanilla. It seems all the teas that have Vanilla in it (Earl Grey Cream, Coconut Cream Banana, or Trader Joe's Cinnamon Vanilla Black tea) have been very smooth.
This tea also has vanilla and vanilla nut flavourings.
Yeah...I had to go take a look because I had no idea what the difference was. So far I've read in one place that vanilla nut is a vanilla and hazelnut mixture? I called Stash and inquired but they could only tell me it was an extract, and that's it. I'm waiting for someone in the know to call back, but I don't know if they will. I have found out that Stash uses the CO2 method to make decaf, which is the healthiest of the methods.
Update: They never called back. So I sent an email. They never emailed back. Perhaps they are ASHAMED of creating up some magical ingredient.
Update#2: They finally emailed me, and this is what they had to say :

"It's a flavor blend. All ingredients in the flavor blend are natural and there are no nuts or nut products in the flavor. They use other natural ingredients and are able to create a profile similar to a vanilla/hazelnut flavor profile without actually using anything that would have nut properties."
Well, so vanilla nut means it tastes like hazelnut, but doesn't have hazelnut in it.

Anyways, besides black tea, vanilla, and ?vanilla nut?, this drink also has sarsaparilla! Some might know this as the basis of root beer and I was very surprised to see this labelled. I didn't taste it at all, but it must be doing something good as this is one delicious tea.

So the next time you feel the nip in the evening air and you want something decadent to drink, I would recommend this tea, because hey, you probably have work early tomorrow morning.

Available in Safeway and other large grocery stores.