Tea is a popular beverage worldwide, but you may be surprised to learn that it contains nicotine.
Nicotine is an addictive substance naturally found in some plants, such as tobacco. Trace levels are also found in potatoes, tomatoes, and tea.
Despite being present in tea, it’s absorbed differently than the nicotine in cigarettes and poses very little risk to your health.
Still, you may wonder about its safety.
This article reviews nicotine in tea, including how it’s absorbed and whether it affects your health.
Tea contains trace levels of nicotine
Tea leaves, alongside a few other fruits and vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes, contain nicotine — but only in small levels (1Trusted Source).
Studies note that black, green, and oolong teas, including instant varieties, may harbor up to 0.7 mcg of nicotine per 1/2 tablespoon (1 gram) of dry weight (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).
However, this is an extremely small amount, as 0.7 mcg is equivalent to 0.000007 grams.
Furthermore, one study revealed that brewing tea for 5 minutes released only about half the amount of the nicotine in dry tea into the drink (3).
Fresh, dried, and instant tea contain trace levels of nicotine. Yet, research indicates that only 50% of this nicotine is released into liquid tea during brewing.
Nicotine in tea is absorbed differently
Nicotine in tea is absorbed differently than the nicotine in cigarettes and other inhaled tobacco products, making it less harmful and addictive.
The nicotine in liquid tea is broken down via your digestive tract. This process can last several hours depending on how much you drink, as it takes approximately 45 minutes for 1 cup (240 ml) of liquid to empty from your stomach into your small intestine (4Trusted Source).
Meanwhile, the nicotine in inhaled tobacco products like cigarettes is absorbed via your lungs. This pathway delivers nicotine to your brain almost instantaneously — within 10–20 seconds of taking a puff (5Trusted Source).
Because it’s present in trace amounts and absorbed via digestion, the nicotine in tea is not considered to be capable of producing the same immediate, addictive effects as nicotine that’s inhaled into your lungs.
The small amounts of nicotine in tea are absorbed via your digestive tract via a process that can take a significant amount of time — whereas the nicotine in cigarettes affects your brain almost immediately.
Nicotine in tea is not addictive
Due to its extremely low levels and slow absorption rate, the nicotine in tea is not addictive.
It does not cause nicotine cravings or trigger nicotine addiction, nor will it cause any side effects. Thus, tea is safe for people who are trying to quit tobacco products.
In fact, emerging research in rats shows that the antioxidants in green tea may help treat nicotine toxicity, which is cellular damage to the heart, lungs, kidney, and liver caused by excessive nicotine intake (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
However, as this research is ongoing, it’s unclear whether green tea would provide the same effects in humans.
The small amount of nicotine in tea has no side effects and will not cause or worsen nicotine addiction.
The bottom line
Tea harbors some nicotine but at extremely low levels. Plus, it’s absorbed very slowly and isn’t fully released into liquid tea.
You can rest assured that the trace amounts of nicotine in tea are not harmful or addictive.
As such, it’s perfectly safe to drink tea — whether you’re limiting your use of nicotine products or trying to quit them altogether.