Decaf coffee may not be the golden child of coffee, but it certainly has its place in the coffeesphere. It packs all the usual antioxidants of a normal cup of coffee without the jittery effects of caffeine… and it can be quite tasty!
In this article, we’ll give you the skinny on decaf: the benefits of decaf coffee, how decaf coffee is made, and how to switch to decaf.
Why Switch to Decaf?
Why do people drink decaf coffee? There are all sorts of reasons people opt for a cup of joe sans caffeine over a standard cup. Here are three primary reasons that you’ll find dominate the conversation with decaf drinkers:
- Pregnancy. The reason is simple: a baby can’t metabolize caffeine the way a mother can. It also stimulates the baby as much as it does the person drinking it and increases blood pressure. As a precaution, pregnant women are recommended to consume approximately, no more than 95 mg to 200 mg per day. That essentially amounts to one cup of regular coffee per day, or decaf consumed in moderation.
- Sleep. Considering it can take six hours for even some of the caffeine to exit the body, it’s not uncommon for late-afternoon coffee drinkers to have trouble sleeping when it’s time to hit the hay. Otherwise, these folks find themselves waking up earlier, or in the middle of the night. Or, even if that late-day latte isn’t keeping you awake in bed, it encourages a later bedtime and wrestles with the body’s internal clock.
- Anxiety. The same stimulant in coffee that creates the productive buzz so many enjoy can also cross a threshold into anxiety. Jitters suddenly turn to an increased heart rate and, in some people, a sense of panic. Coffee doesn’t necessarily cause anxiety, but it does exacerbate anxiety for those already living with it.
How is Decaf Made?
The decaffeination process is a scientific challenge to retain the components of a coffee bean that make it delicious, while stripping as much caffeine as possible. This is done using a combination of water and either methylene chloride, activated charcoal, CO2, or ethyl acetate.
There are two main methods for accomplishing the decaffeination: a solvent-based process and a non-solvent-based process.
The solvent-based decaffeination process involves using a chemical to eliminate the caffeine—though it’s not always the case that the chemicals actually touch the bean at all.
The non-solvent based decaffeination process is popular in Europe. The beans are soaked for hours in near-boiling water, washed with a chemical like methylene chloride, and then reintroduced to the liquid that contains coffee oils previously taken from the bean.
Organic decaf, meanwhile, strictly uses the Swiss Water Process, which uses no chemicals and only hot water. The beans are soaked in hot water, taking out the caffeine and all the flavor components, but leaving behind a sort of coffee extract. Fresh beans are then soaked in that water to strip them of caffeine while simultaneously infusing them with the flavor of the previous beans.
Is Drinking Decaf Coffee Good For You?
There are health benefits of decaf coffee—a handy fact to carry around when critics ask what’s the point of decaf coffee at all. Drinking decaf means less anxiety and improved sleep, both of which boast their own array of health benefits and are immeasurably helpful for those who live with conditions related to either. Beyond that, decaf retains the antioxidants that naturally make up a coffee, believed to protect against everything from heart disease to Type 2 diabetes.
Methods to Make Switching to Decaf Coffee Easier
The switch to decaf can be almost as painful as cold turkey. Anywhere from 12 to 48 hours after your last consumption of a higher dose of caffeine, and the withdrawal headaches will set in. Especially if you’re someone who consumes more than three cups per day.
The easiest way to start the switch to decaffeinated coffee is to first evaluate how much caffeine you’re currently consuming, on average.
For example: Although 8 ounces is the standard measurement for a cup of coffee, most coffee shops do not pour in that size—they pour in standard sizes of 12- and 16-ounce cups. So, you’ll want to adjust the math according to what “a cup of coffee” actually amounts to in terms of actual ounces.
While it’s hard to estimate exactly how much coffee is in an 8-ounce cup, because it truly does depend on how the bean was roasted and brewed, it’s safe to estimate a typical 8-ounce cup of coffee as having 100 mg of caffeine.
Once you have a rough idea of how much coffee you normally drink, begin adjusting your consumption slowly. If you have three cups per day, start by bringing that down to two. After a few days, narrow that to one, or adjust the size of the second cup. Then introduce decaf as the second cup. Keep dwindling the regular coffee consumption until your body has adjusted to the lower caffeine intake, and decaf is suddenly feeling like enough to give you the tiny boost to get through the morning or afternoon slump.
Of course, flavor will be a factor here. If you drink coffee black, your greatest bet for the best tasting decaf coffee is to seek out decaf coffee blends. Odds are, these blends have been carefully curated to blend coffees from growing regions that go well together, even without the flavor-enhancing qualities of the caffeine. This is not to say that single-origin decafs are all unpalatable, but it is a bigger gamble and even the best decaf coffees score among the lowest-rated of professionally cupped regular coffees.
Otherwise, those who prefer milk and sugar in their coffee can rejoice in the knowledge that it’s not terribly uncommon for a good decaf to have a chocolate-like quality to it, meaning it will blend nicely with most milks, creamers, and syrups.
If you’re planning to switch to decaf, there are still plenty of tasty options that will give you what you need for your coffee cravings and reduce the amount of caffeine you consume on a daily basis.