Decaf coffee – whether you love it or you hate it, you’ve got to admit that it’s here to stay. We often get questions about decaf, so we thought we’d explain everything you’ve ever wanted to know about what makes the best decaf coffee, including how decaffeination works and why our decaf coffee subscription is head and shoulders above the rest!
What is decaf coffee?
You’d think that decaf coffee is simply coffee that doesn’t have any caffeine in it. But this isn’t strictly true. While decaffeination methods (which we discuss below) will take most of the caffeine away, decaf coffee cannot be 100% decaffeinated. Depending on the method that is used, decaf coffee is between 99-97% decaffeinated. So if a regular 250ml cup of coffee has between 95 to 200 milligrams of caffeine, decaf will have between 2-15 milligrams.
It is very unlikely that you’ll be able to feel the effects of 1-3% caffeine, but if you’re sensitive to caffeine, or trying to cut it out completely, this is definitely worth knowing!
How do you decaffeinate coffee?
There are a few different ways to decaffeinate coffee. All of these methods happen before the coffee is roasted, when the beans are green, and involve soaking the beans in water before adding any other solvents or gases, or before passing through a filter. This is because the water will open the pores in the coffee beans. These larger pores allow the caffeine to diffuse out of the beans.
Method one: Using a solvent
One of the most common ways to decaffeinate coffee is with a solvent such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. First, the coffee beans are soaked in water, and then covered in a solution containing one of these two solvents. The caffeine is then drawn out by these solvents. The water that has the solvent is then reused over and over until it is packed with coffee flavourings and compounds. By this stage in the process the beans are soaked in a concentrated coffee essence, so they don’t lose too much flavour.
These sound a bit scary (methylene chloride is used as a paint stripper and a degreaser, and ethyl acetate is used to make nail polish remover), but only trace amounts are left at the end of the decaffeination and roasting processes.
Method two: Using water
There is also the Swiss Water method, where the coffee beans are soaked in water. The solution is then strained through activated carbon, which captures the caffeine. People tend to like this method because it doesn’t involve solvents. However, the beans will still lose a small part of their flavour and aroma because they are treated with hot water and steam, which take away some of the beans’ delicious oils.
Method three: Using carbon dioxide
Finally, there’s also the supercritical carbon dioxide decaffeination method, which uses carbon dioxide to extract the caffeine. This is a particularly interesting method. Experts like it because carbon dioxide is an easily removable, non-flammable and non-toxic solvent. It is also better for the environment, and the caffeine obtained from the beans is reused in pharmaceuticals, soft drinks, and cosmetics. However, it is also very expensive, as it’s a cost-intensive process.
Do these processes change the flavour?
In short, yes. As we discussed, water is involved in all of these methods, which will remove some of the natural oils of the coffee bean, which contribute to that great coffee flavour. Also, one of the biggest challenges when comes to decaffeinating coffee is that you want to remove the caffeine, but also try to keep the other chemicals as untouched as possible. This is a difficult task, as coffee beans contain around 1000 different chemicals which all add to the flavour and aroma. However, you will not be able to taste any chemicals from the decaffeination process.
Another way that the flavour of the coffee might change is from the roasting process. Unlike normal coffee beans, are green when they arrive at the roaster, unroasted decaf beans are brown. This makes them much more difficult to roast, because it’s more difficult to tell when they are done, and they tend to roast faster than normal coffee. However, you will only be able to taste the difference in flavour if the roaster has done their job badly. Make sure to avoid dark roast decaf coffees, and you’ll be fine.
Why to drink decaf coffee?
There are many reasons why decaf coffee can be a great option for you:
Cutting back on caffeine – if you find that caffeine makes you feel jittery, gives you headaches or causes other health problems, then it’s probably best that you cut down on it a bit! Try changing one or two of your daily coffees to decaf, and see how you feel.
Late night coffee – decaf is also a fabulous option if you like to have an after-dinner coffee. This is a lovely treat, but if you drink caffeinated coffee at night, you might find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night! This is because caffeine has a half-life of around five hours, so it’ll continue keeping you awake for around five hours after consumption.
Why does decaf get a bad rep?
You may have heard the phrase ‘death before decaf’. Why does decaf coffee have such a poor reputation?
Flavour – as you can see from the processes we described, decaffeination generally gets rid of some of the subtle flavours that we so enjoy in coffee. This becomes a problem when the beans themselves aren’t very high quality. Take instant coffee as an example. It already doesn’t taste great, because they tend to use low-quality robusta coffee. Decaffeinated instant coffee will therefore taste even worse. Unfortunately, decaf coffee beans have gained a reputation of not tasting very good, simply because most people have only tried low-quality, instant decaf.
Price – because decaf has extra processing steps, this means that it is sometimes a bit more expensive than normal coffee as well. People don’t tend to like paying higher prices for a coffee that they think won’t taste as good!
Culture – this might sound silly, but there is a real culture around coffee. It’s seen as a substance that will drive people to work harder and for longer hours, rather than a delicious drink that can also give you a short-term energy boost. You’ve probably seen those Instagram posts that say ‘rise and grind’ with an image of a coffee. For people who drink it simply for the caffeine, decaf is seen as a lesser product. If you’d like to read an in-depth discussion about this, here’s a great article about the culture behind caffeine.
But is decaf’s poor reputation warranted? We don’t think so.
Try the best decaf coffee
To put it simply: our decaf coffee tastes just as good as our normal, caffeinated coffee. We have specifically sourced incredible, speciality-grade coffee beans to use in our decafs. This ensures that the coffee will still taste amazing, even after it has gone through the decaffeinated process. And our customers agree:
Our decaf coffees are full of the same delicious flavours as our caffeinated ones – for example, one recent decaf was a smooth Brazilian coffee with chocolate notes with golden syrup and a pear acidity. It worked perfectly with or without milk, making it a great all-rounder that tasted just as good as any of our other Brazilian offerings!
If we’ve convinced you to give our decaf coffee a try, just head to our shop to see what decafs we currently have in stock. Trust us when we say that our speciality-grade coffee will always taste great – you almost wouldn’t know that our decaf is caffeine-free at all.