Caffeine and tea: it’s complicated

Caffeine and tea: it’s complicated

Every so often, I think that I should cut back on caffeine. The Food and Drug Administration recommends a limit of 400 milligrams a day. The problem for tea drinkers is difficulty figuring out how many milligrams of caffeine we consume. Counting milligrams of caffeine in tea is not as simple as consulting the label on a package to count calories.

I drink black tea, hot and iced, throughout the day. I could count the number of cups on an average day, but translating that number into milligrams of caffeine is tricky. A cup of black tea can have between 40 and 120 milligrams of caffeine, according to The amount varies with the variety and grade of tea, the age of the tea leaves, where and how the tea was grown and processed, how long it is steeped, and how hot the water is. Plus, I drink loose-leaf tea, which releases caffeine more slowly than bagged tea, and I reuse the tea leaves. (More on that below.) 

Considering that a tablespoon of loose-leaf black tea averages 50 milligrams of caffeine, and that’s all I add to the pot on any one day, it seems I’m well under the recommended limit. The answer about whether I’m overdosing on caffeine may be whether I feel any side effects. I can drink tea before bed and fall asleep readily. When I’m irritated or nervous, caffeine isn’t the reason.

Every time I’ve looked into the risks of caffeine, I’ve concluded that it’s not something to worry about. Yet I haven’t been able to shed the thought that it’s a bad habit. Caffeine is a stimulant, a drug, to which I’m addicted. Don’t the healthiest people drink only herbal teas, fruit juices, and water? The best I can tell myself is that it’s one vice I don’t have to cut out. 

Maybe I could try to think of caffeine as healthy. Some studies have found benefits beyond improving cognition and alertness and relieving fatigue. According to Medical News, these include protection against cataracts, kidney stones, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and certain kinds of cancers. 

However, there are also arguments for cutting out caffeine. Medline lists more efficient absorption of some vitamins and minerals, better balance of hormones and brain chemistry, healthier digestion, whiter and healthier teeth, and better skin, along with lower blood pressure, less anxiety, and better sleep.

It’s a wash. I’ve been mixing a loose-leaf herbal tea into black tea, but I don’t expect to give up caffeine entirely.


Of course, caffeine isn’t only in tea. If you’re a coffee drinker, you’re likely consuming more caffeine than a tea drinker. Caffeine is also in chocolate, cola, and a growing number of other products such as energy drinks and snacks. 

Scientific American has reported that the increasing number of products with caffeine, and the increasingly large doses of caffeine in those products, has the FDA considering whether it should regulate the drug. 


I learned a few new things about tea in my latest look into caffeine:

• Loose tea leaves can be reused up to a half-dozen times. I thought it was a cheapskate’s habit of mine, but Asians have reused loose tea for centuries, and restaurants do it. There are differences of opinion about reusing teabags, but frequent tea drinkers who don’t let bags dry out should be able to use a bag two or three times.

• When all types of real tea — tea from the tea plant – are brewed under similar conditions, they generally extract similar amounts of caffeine. The reason green and white teas are thought to have less caffeine than black is that ideally they are not brewed in boiling water, and black tea is. 

• It’s largely a myth that you can decaffeinate tea by throwing away the first brew after 30 seconds. That technique is particularly ineffective for loose tea, which releases caffeine more slowly than bagged tea. True, there is less caffeine (and less flavor) with each steeping, so each subsequent cup or pot should be steeped longer. I read the suggestion to steep the first pot five minutes and subsequent pots two to three minutes longer than the previous one, but as with all things related to tea, judge by your own taste preferences.


Welcome to ChicagoNow.

our bloggers,

post comments, or

pitch your blog idea.

Subscribe by Email

Completely spam free, opt out any time.

Meet The Blogger

Marianne Goss

A retired university publications editor and journalist, I live in the South Loop and volunteer as a Chicago Greeter. Getting the most out of retired life in the big city will be a recurrent theme of this blog, but I consider any topic fair game because the perspective will be that of a retiree.

Recent posts

Caffeine and tea: it’s complicated »

Marianne Goss on Retired in Chicago
Posted today at 8:42 am

Still riding the “L” »

Marianne Goss on Retired in Chicago
Posted Monday at 9:04 am

Where is the line between frugal and cheap? »

Marianne Goss on Retired in Chicago
Posted March 28, 2022 at 7:33 am

Reading the book after watching the adaptation »

Marianne Goss on Retired in Chicago
Posted March 21, 2022 at 8:56 am

Shed the mask, get a cold »

Marianne Goss on Retired in Chicago
Posted March 14, 2022 at 2:50 pm

Recent Comments

Yes, I agree the buses seem to be a little bit better. And don’t forget your masks.
Read the story | Reply to this comment
In reply to Margaret H. Laing:
I ride the buses, too, and agree that they are more pleasant. Depends on how quickly I want to get…
Read the story | Reply to this comment
In reply to schultz:
Thanks for writing, Sue. I’m trying to give the homeless the benefit of the doubt, at least until that’s proven…
Read the story | Reply to this comment
I prefer the bus system because of a factor you didn’t mention: train stations. I enjoy train travel in general,…
Read the story | Reply to this comment
I take the Blue Line, sometimes during the day, I have to change cars just to avoid pushy people asking…
Read the story | Reply to this comment

Monthly Archives

April 2022
March 2022
February 2022
January 2022
December 2021
November 2021
October 2021
September 2021
August 2021
July 2021
June 2021
May 2021
April 2021
March 2021
February 2021
January 2021
December 2020
November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016


Uncategorized (254)
Current events and social commentary (118)
Life lessons (77)
Chicago (50)
Retirement (49)
Health and fitness (48)
Reading (37)
Consumer matters (36)
Entertainment (35)
Consumer and money matters (35)


Read these ChicagoNow blogs

Cubs Den

Chicago Cubs news and comprehensive blog, featuring old school baseball writing combined with the latest statistical trends

Pets in need of homes

Pets available for adoption in the Chicago area


It’s like the couch potato version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

About ChicagoNow



Recent posts RSS

Privacy policy (Updated)

Comment policy

Terms of service

Chicago Tribune Archives

Do not sell my personal info

©2022 CTMG – A Chicago Tribune website –
Crafted by the News Apps team

Read More

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.