SpontaneiTea

A casual tea blog by Alex Zorach

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Republic of Tea’s Caffeine-Supplemented Teas: No Thanks

February 3rd, 2014 · 7 Comments · Uncategorized

I’ve recently seen a few promotional items about a new line of “high-caffeine” teas from Republic of Tea.  But be warned, these are not teas that have been chosen to be naturally high in caffeine, they are teas that have been supplemented with isolated, pure caffeine.  These teas have been gathered together under the HiCAF label, a (currently unregistered) trademark of the company.  These teas also contain green tea extract, an ingredient which I am cautious and skeptical of including in any product.

Screenshot of Republic of Tea's website, showing their new line of HiCAF teas

Republic of Tea’s HiCAF Teas

These teas are marketed as having a whopping 110mg of caffeine per serving, which the company compares to 50mg a cup for “premium black tea”.  This is not a hugely excessive amount of caffeine; it’s a lot less than some of the stronger coffee drinks you can order in a typical coffee shop.  But it’s the fact that this tea has been supplemented, rather than being made with whole ingredients, that makes me a bit uneasy, and would keep me from buying or drinking a product like this.

I also think it’s a little misleading that Republic of Tea is marketing these as “High Caffeine Teas” rather than “Caffeine Supplemented Teas”.  There are lots of naturally-occurring teas that are high in caffeine, and when I first saw the headlines being put out by the company, I was not sure whether or not they were referring to naturally high-caffeine teas, or supplemented ones.  I had to read the fine print to find this out.  I think that because supplements are a bit unnatural and have some health concerns, it would be important to very openly market the teas like this.

The Case For Whole Foods and Against Supplementation or Extracts

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a pretty strong conviction that it is much healthier to eat whole foods, rather than processed foods that have been supplemented with refined ingredients.  There is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting this conviction, with a pretty strong consensus now that green tea supplements are harmful.  This article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives explains how there is evidence that while heavy consumption of tea itself (a whole food), as much as 10 cups a day, shows no evidence of harmful effects, there is significant concern about potential negative health impacts from the consumption of green tea supplements.  Even Vitamin supplementation is now beginning to be considered unnecessary and harmful; this Op-Ed in the NY Times, Don’t Take Your Vitamins, explores these issues.

With supplementation with pure caffeine, there are more concerns.  Caffeine is a drug, but in high doses, it is also a poison.  There is at least one documented death associated with caffeinated mints (in someone with impaired liver function), and there are also some nasty interplays between caffeine and other drugs, like how caffeinated alcoholic drinks can lead people to stay awake past when they would normally pass out, and be more likely to die of alcohol poisoning.  This 2009 journal article in Drug and Alcohol Dependency explores this issue in more depth.

Caffeine pills

Caffeine pills are widely known to be dangerous and warrant caution.  Supplementing food or drink with caffeine seems to me to be moving in the direction of these pills.  Photo by Ragesoss, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

There are no such known risks associated with consumption of tea or coffee, even in large quantities.  The more dire health risks appear only in the case of supplementation.  I think this is in large part because coffee and tea are strong-tasting foods which have many other substances, and are naturally bitter.  I think it would be hard for people, even people with impaired liver function like the man in the study above, to drink a lethal dose of caffeine using tea or coffee.

I’m not saying that these teas, which are supplemented with both caffeine and green tea extract  are necessarily dangerous…just that I think that supplementation is something that can become dangerous, and that I think is best avoided.

What About High-Grade Teas?

There is another reason that I’m not a big fan of this newly-launched line of teas is that they’re unnecessary–and they are a bit distracting from what I think is one of the best ways to experience a high-caffeine kick from tea, which is to drink high-grade tea and brew it very strongly.

High grade tea, which contains a higher portion of tips or leaf buds, is naturally higher in caffeine than lower-grade tea.  It also tastes milder and smoother, which means that you can brew it much more strongly, using more leaf and longer steeping times, if you desire more caffeine.

Loose-leaf, high grade black tea

High grade black tea, like this SFTGFOP1, is naturally higher in caffeine.

If you’re looking for a caffeine kick it’s pretty easy to get it from tea.  I’m actually feeling pretty wired right now, as I write this; I just drank two rather strong cups of the Ceylon Estate from Octavia Tea.  This tea is pretty outstanding and I recommend it highly–it’s a very complex, rich black tea.  And to get back to Republic of Tea, I currently have one of their teas in my cupboard right now, Temi SFTGFOP1 First Flush Black Tea, which is quite high is caffeine, and which is mild and smooth enough to brew very strongly if you want a real caffeine kick.  I also recommend that tea.

Not The Only Example Of Such Teas

Lastly I want to point out that, for better or worse, Republic of Tea is not the first tea company to try supplementing their teas with additional, refined caffeine.  Celestial Seasonings Fast Lane tea is a black tea supplemented with caffeine, also 110mg per serving, and it’s been around for quite some time.

What do you think?

  • What do you think of this new line of HiCAF teas?
  • Have you ever tried any caffeine-supplemented tea?  How did you feel after drinking it?
  • Are you skeptical of supplementing teas or other food or drink with pure, isolated caffeine?  Do you think this may pose any health risks, relative to consuming tea as a whole ingredient in food  or drink?
  • Would you, like me, prefer people to focus on high-grade teas that are naturally high in caffeine, rather than caffeine-supplemented tea?

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Avatar of thedevotea thedevotea

    Aimed at the Red Bull market. Huge here. Prove your manhood by drinking as many as you can. It’s apathetic. I think Republic of Tea will damage their brand with this stunt. It remains to be seen whether the serious tea drinkers they lose will be compensated for by the witless demographic they are chasing.

    • Avatar of cazort cazort

      You may be right that it could damage their brand.

      I will say that, for me, it isn’t going to damage their reputation. I buy products, and companies have to do something egregiously unethical or damaging for me to boycott or avoid the brand. Carrying a product that I think is unappealing or even marginally unhealthy is not enough to push me over the edge.

      Example: Herr’s pretzels used to make tortilla chips that had trans fat in them. I avoided the chips, but still ate the pretzels.

      Example: Teavana’s sales practices crossed a line for me. They also crossed a line by having overt misinformation about the caffeine content of white tea on their website. I generally avoided buying their tea, not completely, but I bought less than I would have otherwise, because of these practices, and not just because I don’t want to deal with a salesperson being pushy with me.

      Back to Republic of Tea though…they carry some top-notch loose-leaf teas and I would be no less likely to recommend or buy them because of this new product.

      If Republic of Tea is doing anything that crosses an ethical line for me, it would be their misinformation about caffeine They have a page on their site that has some misinformation about tea and caffeine, and I’ve notified them about it (well over a year ago, probably a couple years ago at least, and multiple times) and they haven’t updated it or taken it down. That crosses a boundary for me, and I think that has mildly soured my impression of them. But only mildly.

  • Avatar of xavier xavier

    Why supplement tea with caffeine? This is the first question.

    • Avatar of cazort cazort

      Thedevotea offers a possible explanation in his above comment.

      I do think people often want more caffeine. I rarely do, but I’ve had those moments where I really want a cup of coffee and not a cup of tea. Perhaps they’re going for that market.

      On a practical level, there’s also the grade / cost issue. You can get more caffeinated tea by getting higher grade tea, but that’s more expensive…so on some level it may be a cost-cutting measure.

      I still am skeptical of whether or not there’s much demand out there for tea with more caffeine. I think the lower caffeine content is often a selling point of tea, and it’s one reason that I drink tea and not coffee most of the time.

      I actually love the taste of coffee…the main reason I don’t drink it is the extra caffeine. In general, if I wanted something highly caffeinated, I would strongly prefer turning to coffee than grabbing a tea like one of these.

      • Avatar of xavier xavier

        I do agree with you regarding the tea with more caffeine approach.
        Usually, people think that tea has less and this is one of the reasons these people drinks tea.

  • Steph W

    Not for me either!

  • Avatar of liberteas liberteas

    I’ve tried one of the HiCaf offerings from Republic of Tea and I liked it alright … and I’ve been drinking a lot of Zest Tea which is also “high octane”/extra caffeine. I like them and they’re especially nice on the mornings when I’m babysitting because I need to WAKE UP on those days.

    I don’t consume large amounts of the extra caffeine teas, though, I limit myself to one cup a day. I feel a little more energy and more alert after consuming a cup of these teas, but I also like that I don’t feel strung out the way I would if I had a red bull or coffee … plus I don’t get that sickly feeling that I feel after a cup of joe.

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