Caffeine problem

I don’t know what all the things in tea which make it bitter, but I know that one important component of that is caffeine, which is supposedly quite bitter on its own.

When I make aged oolongs (and to a lesser extent, well aged puerhs) no matter how long you brew it, it’s hard to get any sort of bitterness out of the tea.

If I put one and one together, does that mean that these teas contain very little caffeine? That the caffeine, over time, broke down into some other things? What happens to that stuff? What else makes tea bitter? Obviously, none of those things are present in their original form anymore in these aged teas. New oolongs can be quite bitter if overbrewed, but aged ones don’t. Roasted oolongs tend to be less bitter, and I guess the heat has a lot to do with it.

Does that mean that when I drink a tea a day, and I’m only drinking aged oolong, I am actually drinking very little caffeine?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions in any conclusive manner. They are mere speculations. But it’s something worth thinking about…. any knowledge welcomed!


Caffeine problem — 10 Comments

  1. Good question . . . I’ve wondered that too. But I do notice that I don’t get a headache when all I drink is aged teas (or cooked puer, for that matter). This, to me, indicates that there is some caffeine in these types of teas since going 24 hours without caffeine generally leaves me feeling nauseous and headache-y.

  2. Caffein in itself isn’t bitter.

    Water Joe is caffeinated water. It does not taste bitter.

    Hmm, I’ll just have to assume that WJ has no sweeteners, because I refuse to run Flash just to view their homepage.

    But more importantly, if a caffeine solution doesn’t taste bitter to you, I’m still not ready to conclude that caffeine isn’t bitter. For you’re a tea lover – otherwise you wouldn’t be reading MarshalN – and I think tea lovers are self-selected bitterness tolerators. It would be interesting to try some of that stuff on a friend who finds “normal” tea bitter, though…

  3. @walt – 

    From what I understand caffeine itself is definitely bitter. Exactly how bitter, I don’t know.

    I’m going to guess the makers of water joe did something so that the bitterness is not noticeable.

  4. Caffeine in itself is indeed very bitter. However (going along with the speculation) I would surmise that the lack of bitterness in the aged oolongs could be attributed to the formation of sweetness rather than the degradation of bitterness. I notice this in pu-erh quite frequently; the later infusions are prevailingly sweet due to the vast majority of the caffeine being extracted in the first several infusions (caffeine is very water soluble and is often one of the first compounds to be completely removed from the leaf into your cup). Also, caffeine is somewhat difficult to break down within the body, and has a rather long shelf-life in pure form – how this corresponds to degrading within tea, I don’t know. I’ve been looking for another good chemistry article to write, perhaps this will be something I will look in to.

    There are plenty of other things that correlate to how bitter a tea may be – many of the antioxidants that are so praised by the health nuts tend to be very bitter as well. In black tea for instance, thearubigens and theaflavins are present in high concentrations and are very bitter, while green tea is high in ascorbic acid (vitamin C) which also tends to be bitter.

    As for the lack of bitterness in the water, my guess would be that the caffeine is in low enough concentrations that its actual taste is not present. Again, its just speculation.


  5. @tb. – 

    TB, thanks for your reply. One thing though — aged oolongs, sufficiently aged, that is, are not bitter even in the very first infusions. I suppose I can try to overbrew it and see… but the bitterness is very very low, which makes me think that much of the whatever it is in the tea that made it bitter has largely been destroyed/degraded into something else. Just a thought….

  6. Bitterness. comes from many sources.

    It may come from caffeine, tannins, xanthines or other substances within tea. Caffeine itself is a xanthine, along with theobromine and theophyline (cocoa), all of which are bitter.

    Roasting definitely reduces caffeine content and surely breaks down many tannins. Darker roasted coffees contain less caffeine than lighter roasted.

    Aging of pu-erh, I am not sure of. I would suspect time would break down caffeine.


  7. Polyphenol is the main cause of bitter flavor in tea. It can be oxidized by aging or transformed by heat, therefore less bitter. Greener a tea is, the higher level of polyphenol there is. It also varies by season, varietal and other growing condition.

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