Decaf (or decaffeinated) coffee is simply coffee with a very small amount of caffeine in a serving size. While almost all decaf coffee has some caffeine content, it is a small fraction of a normal cup of coffee’s caffeine level. This makes it popular for people with restrictions and sensitivities to higher caffeine levels, or for individuals trying to remove caffeine from their diet completely. We are going to have a look at the pros and cons of decaf coffee for you to decide which one you would prefer.
Related: How decaf coffee is different.
What Is Decaf Coffee?
Decaf coffee can come from the same raw coffee beans as any regular cup of coffee. The difference is in the process the beans undergo to remove the caffeine content. Decaf coffee beans are soaked or repeatedly rinsed in some kind of solvent, either organic or chemical, until all or most of the caffeine from the beans is absorbed or rinsed away by the solvent.
Chemical-based decaffeination processes use methyl chloride as the solvent to remove the caffeine from coffee beans. Water-based methods soak the beans until saturated, and often perform multiple rinses after soaking. Carbon Dioxide can be used with water methods to help filter the caffeine when rinsing the coffee beans.
Decaffeination is often done before the beans are roasted or ground, but caffeine removal sometimes takes place after the beans have been steamed or roasted. The decaffeination process removes over 90% of the caffeine from the coffee beans, with the caffeine in a cup of decaf ranging from 3 to 15mg of caffeine.
After processing, the grinding and brewing methods of decaffeinated coffee beans can be identical to normal coffee beans. The process of removing caffeine does not change the brewing qualities of the beans, so they are versatile in use. However, decaf coffee is usually lighter in flavor and may not have as strong of a taste as regularly processed coffee beans.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of decaf coffee.
Pros of Decaf Coffee?
While fully caffeinated coffee does not pose any immediate health risks for most individuals, anxiety, pregnancy, caffeine sensitivity, or a number of other factors may inspire some coffee drinkers to switch to a decaf coffee option. Decaf coffee offers a variety of benefits, including:
- The main benefit is that the coffee contains a very small amount of caffeine, which is helpful for individuals attempting to limit their caffeine intake.
- Decaf contains limited or no side effects that are associated with traditional coffee. Those side effects include insomnia, headaches, anxiety, and others.
- Decaf coffee can also limit digestion issues that some experience from regular coffee intake. This is partially due to the lower levels of acid in decaf coffee.
- Decaf can be consumed easier along with medications. While the caffeine levels in regular coffee may lessen the effectiveness of some medications or increase the risks of side effects, decaf coffee can minimize these impacts.
- Like regular coffee, decaf coffee contains antioxidants that assist the immune system.
- Decaf increases liver enzyme levels and overall liver health.
Cons of Decaf Coffee?
- Decaf coffee is often made with lower-quality coffee beans. These beans often have a higher fat content, which can be unhealthy when consumed in larger quantities. High-fat beans can increase cholesterol over extended periods of time.
- Some decaf coffee is decaffeinated through chemical processes. Trace amounts of chemicals can remain on the beans, damaging the flavor of the coffee. Trace chemicals can also be harmful when consumed regularly, including neurological effects.
- Naturally decaffeinated coffees can be more expensive since natural decaf processes are more time-consuming.
- Some studies suggest that decaf coffee can increase inflammation. This can be especially harmful for individuals already experiencing inflammatory diseases, including forms of arthritis.
How to Choose the Best Decaf?
Just like standard coffee varietals, there are factors to consider when choosing the best decaf coffee. The roasting of the beans can impact the coffee just like regular coffee. Decaf coffee still contains trace amounts of caffeine and roast types can impact how large that trace is. Lighter roasts of decaf coffee may contain a higher caffeine level when compared to darker roasts of decaf.
Choosing an organic decaf coffee reduces or eliminates potential chemical exposure. Since organic decaf coffees use water-based decaffeination methods, these coffees will not cause long-term exposure of trace chemicals. Ultimately, it is still important for each coffee drinker to find a coffee that they enjoy in addition to considering the various health effects.
Decaf coffee can share some of the same tasting notes, bean characteristics, roasting differences, and brewing methods as regular coffee. However, there are additional processes and health factors to consider when choosing a decaf coffee for everyday use. No matter what, coffee can be an extremely beneficial beverage and a great start to the morning. The higher the quality of the decaf coffee, the better the taste and safer the decaffeination process of that bean will be.
The Final Sip
Ultimately, there are pros and cons to everything in the coffee world and life as it happens. It will come down to your personal preferences in taste and quality at the end of the day. However, it’s always worth knowing the pros and cons of decaf coffee, the good and the bad, so you can weigh up your decision.