Local governments and research institutions work on reducing caffeine in green tea

TOKYO, April 9 — As drinks with less caffeine attract attention, efforts are made to develop green tea products with reduced caffeine.

Research institutions, such as those affiliated with local governments, are working to determine low-caffeine tea varieties or the harvesting time when tea leaves contain less caffeine, as well as establishing their own processing technology to reduce caffeine content.

They are aiming at seeking new demands and expanding exports.

There are some low-caffeine green tea products, but the lineup has not taken root as such items require designated facilities and knowhow to produce, and their flavor and color change when caffeine is taken out.

Many prefectures are attempting to solve the issues.

Starting in the current fiscal year, the Shiga Prefectural Government is working to reduce caffeine in organically grown green tea.

As well as researching the harvesting time and varieties, they are developing technology to lower the caffeine content using tea processing machines, such as by changing the level or the way of applying stream pressure.

“If growers can process (low-caffeine green tea) with the tea producing machines they already own, production (of such products) will become much more familiar,” said an official of the Shiga government’s tea business guidance center.

The Shiga government allocated 3 million yen in the fiscal 2023 budget for the project to produce low-caffeine organic green tea to differentiate their products from others.

In an effort to develop products fit for exports, the Mie Prefectural Government worked with a private company in fiscal 2022 to conduct trial productions of sencha middle-grade green tea, kabusecha shade-grown green tea and matcha powdered green tea whose caffeine content is reduced using supercritical carbon dioxide.

They are analyzing foreign needs by holding tasting events in France and the United States.

“Although overseas demand is brisk, there are no standards for caffeine content in green tea (to classify products as low-caffeine) so the markets are yet to be explored,” said an official of the Mie government’s agriculture and horticulture department. “We hope to increase exports (by promoting low-caffeine green tea) as a new option.”

The National Agriculture and Food Research Organization and the Shizuoka Prefectural Government are also working on nurturing low-caffeine green tea varieties.

“If we can establish technologies and varieties, our products will appeal to people who have not been choosing green tea in order to avoid caffeine,” said an official of the Shizuoka government’s green tea promotion division aiming to boost consumption of green tea.

According to Japan Management Association Research Institute, the market for so-called “decaf” beverages — drinks that originally contain caffeine but are made almost caffeine-free — is expanding.

The institute estimates that the sales of decaffeinated drinks in the market for beverages in plastic bottles will total 13 billion yen in fiscal 2025, doubling from fiscal 2019.

Such drinks are attracting attention among pregnant women and people who want to avoid taking something with stimulant effects, but the products are mostly coffee or tea.

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