- Wedding: April 2013 - Rhode Island
I have done a lot of research about tea because I absolutely LOVE it! A really great resource is Steepster.com, which is an online community of tea lovers and bloggers. The biggest concern with tea is twofold: caffeine and herbals. I’ll address herbals first ’cause it’s easier.
In general, herbal teas are not teas. That is, all tea is produced from the same plant: camellia sinensis. Literally almost all tea comes from this plant: white, green, oolong, black, etc. The thing that makes tea so awesome, is that it’s the way you treat the leaves before/after picking that makes different types of tea. There are literally endless kinds of tea, especially once you introduce added flavorings. So what is herbal tea? It’s not from camellia sinensis. There are a couple other bushes used to make tea leaves: honeybush and rooibos. But some herbal teas don’t even have those types of leaves in them. They’re just a blend of dried fruit, berries, nuts, and added flavorings. Honeybush and rooibos are both naturally caffeine free and therefore excellent choices to enjoy during pregnancy. With other herbal blends, you just want to check the ingredient list to make sure you recognize all the things on it. Anything you don’t recognize as a fruit, berry, nut, or natural flavoring may be harmful and should be Googled before consuming. Some common ingredients in herbal teas that should be avoided during pregnancy are: chamomile, dandelion, rose hips aka hibiscus, red raspberry leaf in the first trimester, kava kava, lime blossom, catnip, nettles, alfalfa, and yellow dock.
Now about caffeine. General guidelines say consuming 200-300mg daily is safe. However, there is a lot of controversy over caffeine during pregnancy at all because it has been proven that the developing fetus can’t metabolize it the way that an adult can. So you’ll have to decide for yourself how you feel about it. Women who consume caffeine have been found to be twice as likely to miscarry, so I’ve avoided it 100% during the first trimester just in case. But again, you’ll have to decide for yourself what you think is a safe amount. I definitely would not consume more than 300mg a day though and I also try to spread out my consumption throughout the week. It can take 48 hours for the fetus to metabolize caffeine, so if I do drink it, I try not to have it every day.
The amount of caffeine released into tea depends on many factors. First, stay away from crushed or minced tea leaves like those often found in teabags. Mincing the leaves like this releases a lot more caffeine into the tea. Instead, go for whole leaf teas. It is super easy to brew and you can get a lot of different brewing utensils according to what you like. I recommend a steeping/infuser basket because they are cheap, reusable, don’t affect the flavor of the tea, and are large enough to allow the tea leaves to grow and drift as they steep.
What can you do to lower the caffeine content in tea? Lots of things! Brew it in colder water. This is called coldbrewing. You can literally put leaves in cold water and store it in the fridge for 12-24 hours, then remove the leaves and enjoy cold. This releases less caffeine into the water than traditional hot brewing. If you want to enjoy a tea hot, I recommend the 1st infusion dump method. You may not know this, but high quality loose-leaf teas can be brewed over and over again using the same leaves. Depending on the type of tea, you can get up to 20 infusions from the same leaves. Talk about cost effective tea drinking! The easiest way to get rid of the majority of the caffeine in tea is to steep it in boiling water for 30 seconds, then throw away this first infusion, and re-steep the leaves. This works because most caffeine is released during the first 30 seconds of an infusion. If you don’t drink that, then the subsequent cups will have much lower amounts of caffeine.
This method isn’t always the best choice though because some teas are too fragile to handle boiling water. Water temperature is very important for brewing a delicious cup of tea. Black and oolong teas are fine at boiling. But green and white teas are too fragile for such hot water. If you do it anyway, the leaves will scorch and release a lot of bitterness and astringency, which tastes terrible. For green tea, it’s best to steep the leaves in about 175-180 degrees F. White tea is best at 155-160 F. You can get a tea thermometer at Teavana or other tea retailers. If you don’t want to invest in one (they’re about $20) then you can boil water, pour it into an empty cup, and then wait 1-2 minutes before adding leaves (1-1.5 mins for green and 2-3 mins for white).
Green and white teas are naturally lower in caffeine than blacks. These are also much better tasting when cold brewed than black tea (in my opinion). The only exception is matcha, which is a Japanese tea where they pulverize green tea leaves into a powder. Since you’re actually consuming the whole leaf in matcha, it has much higher caffeine than regular green tea. I don’t recommend matcha during pregnancy. Also, in general the more leaf you add to tea, the more caffeine it has. So try brewing tea using only 1 tsp of leaves in 8 ounces of water. If you don’t like the flavor and want it to be stronger, then go up to 1.5 or 2 tsp.
Other quick tips: green tea should be avoided during the first trimester as it can inhibit folic acid absorption. Although Teavana has great brewing equipment, their teas are actually very low quality, extremely overpriced, and generally avoided in the tea community. My favorite tea companies are: 52teas.com, ButikiTeas.com, DAVIDsTEA.com, Teavivre.com, and VerdantTea.com.