Coffee is enjoyed by people all over the globe predominantly for its unique and comforting flavour, as well as for its stimulating effects. Drinking coffee is linked to increasing alertness and helping concentration, this is largely due to the caffeine content it contains.
While normal, caffeinated coffee comes with many health benefits, it's also generally known that consuming too much coffee, and as a result too much caffeine, can have some negative health effects.
For this reason, some people prefer to stick to a decaf brew. This way they are able to enjoy the delicious taste of coffee, without taking in huge amounts of caffeine. Aside from the lower caffeine content in decaf coffee, people aren't too well versed in what decaf coffee actually is.
In this guide, we break down what decaffeinated coffee is, how it stacks up against normal coffee and the pros and cons of consuming it.
What is decaf coffee?
Decaf coffee is basically coffee that's had a lot of its caffeine content removed. It's not actually possible to grow coffee beans that are caffeine-free, the caffeine must be extracted from raw, unroasted beans.
While it's generally assumed that decaf coffee is completely caffeine-free, this is not the case. Decaf coffee still contains caffeine, but around 97% of the content will be removed. So, a typical cup of decaf coffee will have around 2mg of caffeine in it.
Water decaffeination is the most popular process used to remove caffeine from coffee beans. However, a chemical extraction process or carbon dioxide process is sometimes used as an alternative.
How caffeine is removed from coffee beans
Water decaffeination process
The water decaffeination process is the most popular and the most favoured process for removing caffeination. This is because it's a natural technique and it has the ability to retain the natural flavour of the bean. It involves soaking raw and unroasted beans (otherwise known as green coffee beans) in high pressure, very hot filtered water to being the caffeine removal process. The beans will need to soak for at least eight hours to remove an adequate amount of caffeine.
After eight hours or so, the water will be highly infused with coffee essences. So, the beans are removed and the coffee water is run through a filter that traps and removes caffeine particles, but not the coffee flavours.
Fresh, unroasted coffee beans are then immersed in this caffeine-free coffee extract liquid. Since the liquid is already infused with flavour, flavours won't be extracted from the bean but will instead just the caffeine will be removed. The result is decaffeinated beans that are dried and re-bagged for roasting.
Other caffeine removal processes
A chemical extraction process or a carbon dioxide process are occasionally used to remove caffeine from coffee. However, neither of these processes are natural, they are highly technical and involve chemicals. For the best and healthiest cup of decaf coffee, we would recommend sticking to consuming beans that have been decaffeinated via the water decaffeination process
The pros and cons of drinking decaf coffee
Pro: decaf coffee still contains a high level of antioxidants
Both decaf and regular coffee are jam-packed full of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that fight off free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that damage cells inside the body and are linked to a lot of serious illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Coffee is a potent source of antioxidants, in fact, scientists have recognized approximately 1,000 antioxidants in unprocessed coffee beans. Both decaf coffee and regular coffee contain a high amount of anti-oxidants. However, decaffeinated coffee may have up to 15% less than regular coffee due to the decaffeination process.
Con: missing out on the numerous health benefits caffeine provides
Caffeine certainly isn't the only health-boosting substance found in coffee. But, it does have its own health benefits. Obviously, when caffeine is removed from coffee, the health benefits that are directly linked to it will be removed too. The most commonly known benefits of caffeine include increased alertness and improved focus. However, the consumption of the ingredient has also been found to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Pro: You can enjoy the taste of coffee without any stimulant effects
Consuming too much caffeine in a short amount of time can lead to a range of negative health effects. Some of these negative side effects include headaches, nausea, diarrhoea, anxiety and high blood pressure.
Some people are sensitive to caffeine and suffer side effects even when consuming even a small amount. In these cases, decaffeinated coffee will allow those sensitive to caffeine to still be able to enjoy the taste of coffee, without negative side effects.
Con: You may risk raising your cholesterol levels
It's important to note that while raised cholesterol levels have been linked to the consumption of decaf coffee in some studies, there are other studies that have shown there is no link between the two. The findings are still considered inconclusive, but if you suffer from high cholesterol, it's best to check with your health practitioner before consuming too much decaffeinated coffee.
Pro: Decaf coffee allows you to enjoy the taste of coffee when you've hit your upper limit of caffeine
Studies have found that most adults can safely consume up to 400mgs of caffeine without negative side effects. This is equal to around six cups of coffee with a single serving of espresso in each. To find out how much caffeine is in different variations of coffee, you can check out our guide here [insert link to other article].
If you adore the taste of a cup of joe and love to drink coffee all day long, then you may end up consuming over the recommended amount of caffeine in a 24 hour period. If this is the case, you can easily switch to decaf coffee, after a few mugs of normal coffee - and still enjoy the comforting taste without any negative health effects.
Con: you'll likely be limited for choice
Head to any coffee shops or coffee bean retailers and you'll likely find a bunch of different selections when it comes to caffeinated coffee. At many coffee bean retailers, you may be graced with a large variety of caffeinated beans with different taste profiles and levels of roasting. However, the decaf section is often a lot bleaker with only a couple of choices.
Due to lack of availability, a decaf option won't allow you to explore as many exciting and indulgent flavours as caffeinated beans do.
Pro: small amounts of decaf coffee can be consumed when pregnant
Consuming coffee when pregnant is a bit of a grey area: some doctors say it's fine as long as the intake is limited, others recommend that breastfeeding or pregnant women shouldn't drink coffee at all because of its caffeine content. Because decaf coffee has less than 3% of the caffeine content of regular coffee, it's much safer to consume than regular coffee. However, if you're planning to consume coffee when pregnant you should always consult your GP first.
Is decaf coffee or caffeinated coffee better?
Regular coffee comes with a range of health benefits, it can help improve heart health, prevent diseases and improve physical performance.
However - like all good things - it should be taken in moderation. Consuming cup after cup of coffee could to a high level of caffeine consumption. Too much caffeine intake can cause some negative health effects. Excessive consumption of caffeinated coffee can cause increased heart and breathing rate, raise blood pressure, cause stomach upset and nausea and increase your risk of heart disease.
On the other hand, the caffeine component of coffee does have specific health benefits, benefits that are removed when the caffeine is removed. Plus, when caffeine is removed from coffee beans, other compounds, such as proteins and sugar may also be removed in the process.
Health benefits that come strictly from caffeine include improved memory, increased alertness and heightened cognitive function. When caffeine is removed from coffee, so too are these benefits.
The question of whether it's better to drink decaf coffee or regular coffee really comes down to what the drinker is trying to achieve with their cup of joe. If they're looking for an energy hit then a caffeinated coffee would be the preferable choice. However, if they're looking to simply enjoy the aromatic taste of coffee, without any stimulant effects, the decaf is the better option.
Where can you buy high-quality decaf beans?
Decaf coffee beans are a lot more niche than regular beans and sometimes it can be hard to find high-quality decaffeinated beans. However, we have two delicious options for decaf beans at Glass House Mountains Coffee. La Perla Coffee Beans are a great choice for those looking for a rich flavour in a decaf version. If you prefer a sweet and fruity taste, Premium Roasted Swiss Water Decaf is a lighter decaf coffee choice.
Does decaf coffee taste different from regular coffee?
The taste difference between decaf and regular coffee of the same bean is barely noticeable. The main flavour difference in coffee comes from the actual bean that's used. The taste profiles vary depending on a multitude of reasons, including where the bean is growing, the climate it's grown in and the altitude it's nurtured at.
Do all coffee beans have the same amount of caffeine in them?
No, different coffee beans have varying levels of caffeine in them. For example, an arabica bean contains around 6mgs of caffeine, while a single robusta bean has about 10mgs of caffeine. The amount of caffeine depends on the actual bean itself. If the amount of caffeine isn't noted on the bag you're purchasing, you can ask the roaster directly.
Are there any side effects to drinking too much decaf coffee?
Decaf coffee is generally pretty safe. However, there are a few mild side effects you may experience if you drink copious amounts of it. One of the main ones is an upset stomach. Like normal coffee, decaf coffee increases the production of gastrin in the gut. This is a hormone that triggers the release of stomach acid, causing you to digest food fast. As a result - like normal coffee - you may find yourself going to the toilet shortly after consuming a cup of decaf coffee.