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19 February 2010

PG Tips Decaffeinated - Not Such a Good Choice

Some of you will know that I had to give up caffeine about a year ago because I discovered I was sensitive to it and it was the cause of chronic indigestion. Having given it up I thought everything was fine, no more indigestion and I had found some decaf products I was perfectly happy with. That is until someone mentioned to me that certain methods of decaffeination were actually harmful to health. I took this initially with a pinch of salt but decided to research it for myself anyway. Wikipedia was most helpful on this listing all the various ways caffeine could be extracted from tea and coffee http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decaffeination and true enough there were some very bad ways as well as healthy ways such as the Swiss Water Process.
Next I decided to look at the labels on my products. For instant coffee I use Nescafé Gold Blend Decaf and I was very relieved to see they proudly claim to use the water process for removing the caffeine from their beans. Full marks to Nescafé but I only have one cup a day of that so it wasn't the most important. In the evenings after my main meal I have a cup of ground coffee and for that I use Lavazza Decaffeinated Caffe Espresso. There was nothing on the label about the decaffeination process and nothing on their web site. As there is no e-mail contact information I have had to write to them for details. I'll let you know if they reply.
The most important drink for me however, is tea. I drink 6 mugs of tea a day, two mugs at a time made from 1 bag so 3 tea bags a day. The brand I used was PG Tips Decaf as that had the best flavour, hardly any difference from the non decaf version. Once again there was nothing on the packet to say how the tea was decaffeinated and nothing on their web site. There was a contact form on their web site so I e-mailed them asking about the process. This was the initial response -

Dear Sally,

Thank you for your email.

The solvent extraction process for decaffeination involves the tea leaves being 'washed' in a solvent that removes almost all of the caffeine. The tea leaves are then dried and packed in the ordinary fashion.

If steam treatment is used to remove the caffeine, it is inevitable that some of the other water soluble components will be removed at the same time, notably the water soluble antioxidant flavonoids which contribute to the taste and the leaves' antioxidant activity. We intend that the black tea leaf blend in PG Decaf provides you with a tea infusion that has the taste you would expect to find in cup of standard PG tips tea. Similarly, we intend that PG Decaf continues to give you a brew that is rich in antioxidant flavonoids. While taste is obviously a matter of personal preference, we know we could not make any claim about antioxidant flavonoids if the caffeine had been removed from the leaves using a water based steam treatment.

As I am sure that you will appreciate, the exact process carried out by PG is commercially sensitive but I do hope that this gives you a better understanding of the methodology and our reasoning.

Kind regards,

Zaheed Khan
Careline Advisor


I then e-mailed back asking them which solvent was used in the process and the reply was as follows -

Dear Sally,

Thank you for your continued correspondence.

I can confirm that the the typical solvent of choice for PG tips is Dichloromethane.

If I can be of any further help or assistance, then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards,

Christopher Fortune
Careline Advisor


Dichloromethane is a carcinogen. There are loads of references to it so it seems strange that they would use it to remove caffeine on the grounds it saved the anti-oxidants when at the same time it could potentially cause cancer itself. I am now searching for a new brew and would welcome any suggestions. In the mean time I will revert to normal tea and try steeping the bags for 30 seconds to remove the caffeine myself, throwing that water away and re-steeping the bags to make my tea.

In fairness, at least PG were honest and did reply; I've yet to hear from Lavazza.

References...
http://healthmad.com/nutrition/why-buying-decaffeinated-tea-bags-may-not-be-the-best-choice/
http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/consumer/faq/decaffeinating-coffee.shtml
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methylene_chloride
http://teahousekuanyin.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/
http://www-teahousekuanyin-comearl-grey-decaffienated-htmlfeinating-tea/
http://imsdd.meb.uni-bonn.de/cancernet/600316.html
http://www.teeccino.com/decaf.aspx
...the list goes on and on.

P.s.
I tried the seeping method as a DIY method for removing caffeine from normal tea at lunchtime today and so far it seems to have worked...no indigestion...yet!

Tuesday 2nd March 2010 - Tetley and Typhoo Decaf Teas
I've been checking around for other brands of decaf tea.  most manufacturers don't say how they process their tea on the packets so it is a matter of contacting the companies concerned and asking them direct.  today I got replies from Tetley and Typho who also both use the same solvent as PG.  Here is their response to my enquiry.

Tetley
Dear Sally

Thanks for your email.  In answer to your query, we decaffeinate our teas using dichloromethane, which is removed by heating the tea leaves to 40°C.  It's checked by our labs and the level of residue left is well below 5 parts per million, the level required by legislation. We believe this method delivers the best tasting decaf blend.

Dichloromethane is still widely used in the food and drink industry because it can so effectively be removed from products due to its volatile nature. Product safety and consumer concerns are a top priority for us at Tetley and we regularly review our methods and look at alternative processes of decaffeination.

Kind regards

Sue
Tetley GB Consumer Services


Typhoo
Dear Ms Turner

I am writing in response to your query regarding the decaffeination method that we use.

Typhoo currently use the widely used method known as Methylene Chloride for decaffeination. During this process the tea is 'washed' with Methylene Chloride, which is highly selective for caffeine, and is therefore thought to give a better flavoured decaffeinated tea than by using some other methods.

The caffeine is dissolved into the solvent. Tea is treated to remove the solvent by gentle heating - Methylene Chloride has a low boiling point of approximately 41 C and is therefore evaporated off and collected separately. Caffeine can be recovered from this solvent and purified for re-use.

All teas are made with hot water (70 C-80 C or more), ensuring that any minute traces of solvent remaining in the decaffeinated tea (normally less than 1 mg per kg of dry tea) will evaporate before the tea is drunk.

Recent research has shown that the healthy antioxidants in tea are not removed during decaffeination using Methylene Chloride.

Kind Regards

Lynsey
Consumer Relations Advisor


N.B. Dichloromethane and Methylene Chloride are the same thing. The references listed above say that this chemical cannot be fully removed from the tea and so will be ingested.

On the plus side I have discovered, but not yet tried, a decaffeinated tea by Taylors of Harrogate who claim their tea is decaffeinated using CO2, perfectly harmless.
I am currently trying Clipper Organic Decaf Tea Having e-mailed them asking about their decaffeination process they informed me they use CO2 aswell. Here is their reply.

Thank you for contacting clipper

It was good to hear that you are interested in our Decaffeinated products and would like to know which process we use to decaffeinate them.

The information is as follows:

How is Clipper tea and coffee decaffeinated?

There are essentially two types of decaffeination process: one that uses solvents such as ethyl acetate, and one that uses harmless carbon dioxide gas and water.  All Clipper decaffeinated products use natural spring water and supercritical Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - the same natural gas used to add bubbles to mineral water, but pressurised.  This method does not use any harmful chemicals and is approved by the Soil Association.

Thank you for contacting us; if you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us again

Kind regards
Penny Knapman
Customer Relations
Tel: 01308 863344
Fax: 01308 861249


Thursday 4th March - Response from Lavazza Coffee

Lavazza got back to me today to say they use the CO2 method of decaffeination. This response was via a scanned document so instead of attaching the e-mail I've inserted an image of the document sent to me here. Just click on it to see it large.

28 comments:

Hal said...

Sally
I was very glad to find your interesting research on decaffeinated tea. I hope you will continue it, as it would be good to find a mainstream brand that uses a process without harmful chemicals.
Keep up the excellent work!
Hal

Stephanie said...

Hi Sally,

Thanks so much for posting this information about decaf tea. I've just gone off caffeine as part of a fertility diet but have really missed my tea. I've tried roibois but it's not such a great substitute! I find that some of the decaf teas taste just like regular tea (I use Marks and Spencers) but I've been quite concerned about the process used to decaffeinate them. I was doing some research when I found your very helpful blog. I suspect that Marks use the same method as PG tips, Tetley and Typhoo, but I'm going to e-mail them to find out. It's great to know that Clipper and Taylor's have what seems to be a good alternative.
Thanks for your investigating and thanks for sharing the info on your blog.

Stephanie

Matt K said...

How could you be ingesting it? Dichloromethane boils at under 40 degrees C - so even if there was some trace amount left on the leaves, it would evaporate once you plunged the teabag into boiling water.

Sally T said...

True but there is still a residue left, however tiny, and as there is no safe amount for the human body and considering I drink 6 cups of tea a day, I would rather avoid it all together.

Camo said...

Thank you, this is exactly what I was looking for. I was going to buy PG Tips Decaff but wondered what the decaff process involved when I found this.

Sally T said...

I have since found some more good decaffeinated teas although they are quite specialised and not all easy to find. Tetley, Twinings and Tesco all produce a tea called Red Bush. This is made from a naturally caffeine free plant that grows in South Africa. It's slightly stronger than normal decaf tea which can be a little weak.

mein said...

Hi Sally
found that really helpful as I've been drinking Typhoo since 1998. thought you might find this interesting also

"Methylene chloride received a great deal of attention when it was found to be an animal carcinogen when given by inhalation. Yet, the administration of methylene chloride to mice in drinking water (which more closely resembles human exposure through coffee drinking) resulted in no adverse health effects."

http://pol.spurious.biz/dev_zero/caffeine.html

Sally T said...

Thanks mein, it is interesting how different substances effect different species differently, however, mice don't live very long. I would be more interested if the study had been done on pigs (not that I really condone such studies unless they are for medical advancement) as pigs suffer the same illnesses as us more then mice.

There are now more brands of safe caffeine free teas. Go for any of the Red Bush Teas. This is tea made from a plant that is naturally caffeine free from the start. Typhoo, Twinnings and Tesco all have their own brands.

Elleni said...

You get the same reply from PGTips that I did, but I did not press them on the specific method. Good for you! Boy, it does taste like the real thing, though. I'll have to try some of the other brands you suggest. Thanks.

Camo said...

If you like Red Bush, try Tick Tock Organic Rooibos.

Skaneateles Jewelry said...

Sally I discovered a decaf tea Bewleys from ireland, but have know idea on the processing. thanks for the info. cindy davis

paulhummerman said...

Matt K is quite right, the dichloromethane cannot survive storage and boiling, and it's absurd to say that "trace" amounts remain and will have harmful effects. The toxicity of any substance depends on both its intrinsic toxicity (per mole) and its concentration, and if the concentration is vanishingly small, so will be the toxicity. It seems to me that the reply from PG Tips was prompt, professional and correct, and I am going to order their decaff bags asap.

Sally T said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sally T said...

I hear what you say paulhummerman, the toxicity will be small but there is no published safe level for this toxin, small, tiny or otherwise.
Still, it's a free country and if you are happy, at least you now know more about the decision you are making.

Besides, I'm sure you must have had some concern to be looking it up anyway. Unless, of course, you are connected with BrookBond and was just out to hunt down and stamp out any opposition :-) (Unlikely I think)

kirk_m_h said...

This has been a really useful piece of worker - power to the informed!Please do read the info in the following link about the myth of steeping your caffeinated tea for just 30 seconds to remove the caffeine yourself - apparently the research says you would have to do it for 15 minutes to remove it all and that doing it for just 30 seconds would remove less than 10% of it. Here's the link - thanks again. Kirk (Chesterfield UK)
http://chadao.blogspot.com/2008/02/caffeine-and-tea-myth-and-reality.html

hfhealy said...

Thank you for your research! I drink PG tips decaf everyday and didn't even consider the decaffeinating process! I'm glad I read your article and I think I will try just steeping regular PG Tips for 30 seconds or try a new tea. Thanks!

Steve Large said...

Having just read the Wikipedia article, I believe that Dichloromethane is perfectly safe for the use in the decaffeination process. It is only harmful to humans when inhaled as a gas. And this is the reason why there are no safe levels guidelines when consumed. As it has a boiling point of 39.6C then all traces of DCM will be gone when used to make a a cuppa at 70-90C.

stella07 said...

Of course, this blog is somewhat old, but as I stumbled across this looking for the amount of caffeine in Lavazza's decaf coffees, I thought you might like to know there are teas (white and green) that have about the same, or less caffeine as decaf black tea. They are naturally low in caffeine. Green tea having about 5-10% the caffeine of an average cup of coffee and white tea having only 1%. They are not decaffeinated, so you should be safe on the carcinogen intake. Of course South African Rooibos (also known as Red tea or Red bush tea) IS entirely caffeine free if you want to avoid it altogether. You can also make your own caffeine free herbal infusions though (using herbs, fruits, nuts, etc)

I used to work at an American loose leaf tea retailer. I am not sure if Teavana will ship internationally everywhere yet, but they will soon I am sure. You can look on their website if you are interested. www.teavana.com

Hope this helps!
hannah

stella07 said...

Of course, this blog is somewhat old, but as I stumbled across this looking for the amount of caffeine in Lavazza's decaf coffees, I thought you might like to know there are teas (white and green) that have about the same, or less caffeine as decaf black tea. They are naturally low in caffeine. Green tea having about 5-10% the caffeine of an average cup of coffee and white tea having only 1%. They are not decaffeinated, so you should be safe on the carcinogen intake. Of course South African Rooibos (also known as Red tea or Red bush tea) IS entirely caffeine free if you want to avoid it altogether. You can also make your own caffeine free herbal infusions though (using herbs, fruits, nuts, etc)

I used to work at an American loose leaf tea retailer. I am not sure if Teavana will ship internationally everywhere yet, but they will soon I am sure. You can look on their website if you are interested. www.teavana.com

Hope this helps!
hannah

Ruth Moog said...

Great research Sally. I only drink redbush/rooibos now because it is naturally caffeine free.
I can't tolerate the caffeine left in decaf teas, it gives me terrible headaches. In my experience the packaging doesn't say how much caffeine is in decaf products, but I believe in some cases decaf coffee actually has less caffeine than decaf tea!

There is a brief chapter on caffeine levels in various drinks in this book, Tea Chings by Republic of Tea ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/TEA-CHINGS-Republic-Tea/dp/B004ETCWEA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1345109800&sr=8-1 )

Scoffer said...

Is there any link that shows that the evaporation method doesn't work for getting rid of Dichloromethane?

larisa tasker said...

Just wanted to say thanks for doing thus research, as pregnant have been advised to cut back my tea/ coffee intake, so switched to decar, wish I had not now! But breast feeding now so going to switch brands - thank you :)

hamwic81 said...

Brilliant, you've saved me allot of time/effort doing the same research that you've already greatly done, thank you. I think regardless of whether Dichloromethane is safe for decaffeination or not, I personally would want to steer clear of any chemicals used in my tea (just MHO). I'd recommend Taylors or Harrogate, taste seems to be as good as the non-decaf variety.

hamwic81 said...

Brilliant, you've saved me allot of time/effort doing the same research that you've already greatly done, thank you. I think regardless of whether Dichloromethane is safe for decaffeination or not, I personally would want to steer clear of any chemicals used in my tea (just MHO). I'd recommend Taylors or Harrogate, taste seems to be as good as the non-decaf variety.

Clairehp said...

Great research. It's only from looking at my new nutrition book that I knew about the chemical process involved in making the tea decaf. I also found that if the chemical method has been used then only 35 per cent of polyphenol remains versus 95 per cent using the effervescence method. So although the chemicals may/may not affect us the fact that it has less polyphenol could. Polyphenol is thought to prevent against stomach cancer.

Seattle Greyhounds said...

Thank you so much for your research, I also started doing my home work into decaf alternatives for my tea drinking as I'm pregnant.

I'm glad to know what teas to avoid. Disappointed in Typhoo... it's so tasty, but not worth the chemicals.

Laura said...

Thank you for you research. Think I may switch to Taylor's of Harrogate now.

Sally Heatley said...

It's a shame that the coffee and tea manufacturers aren't obliged to state their decaffeination process on their products. Then consumers could make an informed choice