Herbal Teas Containing Caffeine


Last Updated: Jun. 5, 2014
The terms herbal tea and the synonyms tisane and herbal infusion are very broad terms, as they encompass all beverages made of hot water infusions of any plants other than the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.

Cocoa, cacao, or chocolate

The cocoa plant, Theobroma cacao, contains low amounts of caffeine, and much larger amounts of the related chemical theobromine. Cocoa products are sometimes included in herbal teas. The amount of caffeine in these blends is usually very low to the point of being negligible; however, some caffeine is present, which can be a matter of concern to people with a medical sensitivity to caffeine.
Yerba mate is one of three caffeinated species of holly commercially cultivated to make an herbal tea. Photo © oliver.dodd, CC BY 2.0.

The caffeinated hollies: yerba mate, guayusa, and yaupon

Yerba maté is the best-known caffeinated plant after tea, coffee, and cocoa/cacao (which just contains traces of caffeine). The scientific name for yerba maté is Ilex paraguariensis, denoting that it is in the Ilex, or holly genus. Although many hollies do not contain caffeine, there are a number of other species of hollies that contain caffeine and that are used to produce herbal teas and other beverages. These include guayusa, Ilex guayusa, and , the only caffeinated plant native to North America, with the unflattering scientific name Ilex vomitoria. The name vomitoria is misleading; An infusion of yaupon leaves does not induce vomiting; this name comes from the belief that yaupon was one of the ingredients in the so-called "black drink", a drink historically consumed by certain Native American tribes, containing many ingredients (sometimes including yaupon) in a ritual which included vomiting.

As a word of caution, although while the leaves of many hollies can be used to produce herbal teas which are generally safe to drink, other parts of the plant, such as the fruit, are poisonous. The fresh leaves are also poisonous: the plant must be fully dried before it is safe to consume.

Guarana Plant (Paullinia cupana), Leaves and Fruit, © Bernard Dupont, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Guarana

Guarana, Paullinia cupana, is plant native to the Amazon rainforest. It is a climbing plant, and is in the maple family. Guarana is sometimes included in herbal teas and, in Brazil, also in soft drinks.

Coffee as an herbal tea

Although, technically, coffee could be used as an ingredient in herbal teas, it is rarely used for this purpose. This is probably due to the fact that most brewing processes for coffee tend to be very different from those for brewing tea. However, one can brew an infusion from coffee leaves, which also contain caffeine. The resulting brew is called coffee leaf tea, and is not widely available commercially.

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