Love the taste of coffee, but not the caffeine? That probably makes you a decaffeinated coffee drinker.
Known for being (quite literally) mud in a cup, its reputation is awful. But there's a decaf revolution happening all over the world, right now! Given this 'decaf-quake' rumbling below, it’s only fair to cast some light over the caffeine-free drink and see what it's all about.
Learn all about decaf's health benefits, caffeine content, process of production and its comparisons with regular coffee.
Let the caffeine-free fun begin…
What is decaf coffee?
Decaf coffee (short for decaffeinated coffee) is essentially the same as regular coffee but without the caffeine. Decaf coffee still contains traces of caffeine but the levels are significantly lower. The coffee is put through a process to remove the caffeine, turning it into 'decaf'.
5 benefits of drinking decaf coffee
Whilst drinking decaf may seem like a futile gesture to some (the caffeinated coffee lovers), its associated health benefits aren't worth a total dismissal. We've picked out the top 5 health benefits to drinking decaf coffee...
1. Heaps of antioxidants - Decaf coffee can be a great source of antioxidants in our diets. It's literally packed full of the stuff, which has some great health benefits for us. Reduced risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer are just some of the associated benefits of this antioxidant boost.
2. Improved sleep - Caffeine is a stimulant and well-known for keeping us alert and awake. Regular coffee is full of the stuff, whereas decaf isn't. By drinking a cup of decaf coffee, you'll be able to get the great coffee taste without the caffeine injection. If you're having trouble sleeping, try reducing your caffeine intake by drinking decaf instead of regular coffee.
3. Loaded with vitamins - Just like with the antioxidants, decaf coffee is loaded with essential vitamins. By having just one cup of decaf coffee, you'll be enriching your body with 2.4% RDI of magnesium, 2.5% of vitamin B3 and nearly 5% of potassium. If you're having a few cups per day, then you're easily topping up your recommended daily intake of vitamins through your coffee intake.
4. Better brain health - Studies done on decaf's effects have shown that it's associated with improved brain health. It's been found that decaf coffee may help to protect the neurons in the brain. This means that neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's could be less likely to develop as a result.
5. Reduced heartburn - Drinking regular coffee can produce nasty heartburn or acid reflux in some people. Coffee is quite acidic, so it's no surprise that this is sometimes the result of drinking coffee. Studies have seen some relationship between decaf coffee and reduced heartburn. If you suffer from heartburn, consider switching up your coffee to decaf.
How much caffeine is in decaf coffee?
A 125ml cup of decaf coffee contains just 3 mg of caffeine, on average. For comparison, a 125ml cup of filter coffee contains an average of 85 mg of caffeine. Whilst not all the caffeine can be removed from decaf, the amounts are so low that the effects of caffeine are non-existent.
For decaf coffee to be considered 'decaffeinated', the caffeine content can't be anymore than 0.1% of the coffee. For soluble decaf coffee, this number is a little higher at 0.3%. So, yes, whilst there's still caffeine in decaf coffee, it's a very, very low amount.
Can you drink decaf coffee whilst pregnant?
Yes. The significantly low levels of caffeine in decaf coffee means it's ok for pregnant women to drink it. Health officials often encourage regular coffee drinkers to switch to decaffeinated coffee once pregnant.
How is decaf coffee made?
Ever had a question about decaffeinating coffee in a pub quiz and not known the answer? No? We haven't either, but it's good to prepare for all eventualities! It's a fascinatingly scientific process, so sit back and let us explain...
It's all down to the coffee beans. The caffeine is removed when the coffee beans are green and not after roasting or grinding. Decaffeinating later in the process will greatly affect the taste, turning it from sweet roasted coffee to burnt wood. Not ideal.
There are three main methods to decaffeinate coffee. These are the direct solvent process, supercritical carbon dioxide process and Swiss water process.
1. Direct solvent process
This process uses direct solvent application to decaffeinate the coffee beans. Either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate is used for this. The former is often used as a paint stripper, whereas the latter is a fruit ether, found in vinegar. Don't worry, they're both safe! The solvent solution is heavily diluted so any risk of poisoning is very, very low.
For the process, the coffee beans are soaked in water and then coated in the solvent, which slowly extracts the coffee. This happens repeatedly for roughly 10 hours before it's finally washed and ready for the cup.
2. Supercritical carbon dioxide process
We think anything with a name like this should live up to an exciting expectation, which it does! This process of decaffeination uses pressure and carbon dioxide to extract the caffeine. The soaked coffee beans are placed into a pressurised pot, with pressure around 250x greater than what we're used to. Liquid carbon dioxide is poured into the chamber, where it binds to the caffeine in the beans. Once completed, the liquid carbon dioxide is placed into another chamber and the coffee beans are left caffeine-free.
3. Swiss water process
This decaffeination process is seen to be the most natural because its only component is water. It begins by (once again) soaking the coffee beans in a water and green coffee extract solution. The solution is then filtered through activated charcoal, which stores the caffeine. This process is completed over and over again until the caffeine content is just 0.1%. Many organic coffee sellers prefer the Swiss water method to decaffeinate coffee beans because it's considered the most 'pure'.
Each of these processes are very careful to keep the coffee flavour. No process is better than the next and it's all down to personal preference. Cost and ease of process are the biggest determiners for decaffeinating coffee. Most of the coffee's flavour derives from the beans used, rather than the decaffeination process.
Decaffeinated coffee vs caffeinated coffee
Decaf coffee's reputation is infamously bad compared to regular coffee. Many believe there's a huge gulf in quality between the two coffees but is this really true? Let's take a look at the taste and product quality of decaf coffee...
Taste - It's only until recently that the taste of decaf coffee was revolutionised to taste like... coffee (it really used to be that bad). Back in the day, decaf coffees were significantly inferior in taste compared to regular coffees. However, there's been a real effort made by decaf producers to focus on the taste. Nowadays, sacrificing the caffeine doesn't mean sacrificing the taste.
Blind taste tests have proved this to be the case. Put in front of those who love to drink coffee, a cup of decaf coffee and a cup of regular coffee had no difference in taste. Not only does this disprove the myth of decaf coffee tasting bad but it also proved it's all in our heads!
Quality - The decaffeination process, whatever it may be, doesn't affect decaf's quality. We can't guarantee that there won't be some very subtle differences, but we challenge you to point them out! If you're drinking coffee regularly, then you'll probably be more sensitive to the coffee brand, than how much caffeine is present. The quality lies in the coffee bean and roasting process, not in the caffeine.
Crazy for coffee? Then take a look at our EBS Barista Course and discover your coffee calling!