Decaf Coffee-Friend or Foe?


For many people who love the taste of coffee but are sensitive to the effects of caffeine, decaf coffee can be a healthy alternative. There are a lot of misconceptions around decaffeinated coffee these days so I wanted to clear the air. First off decaf coffee does actually have some small amounts of caffeine in it. Secondly not all the processes used to produce decaf coffee are harmful. Lastly decaf coffee if produced in the proper way can retain all of the flavor compounds and health benefits of its caffeinated brothers. 

There are 3 main ways in which decaf coffee is produced:

1) Toxic solvents- this method uses chemicals such as dichloromethane and ethyl acetate. These chemicals bind directly to the caffeine in the beans and are then washed away. The beans are then tested to make sure the toxic residue has been removed and many producers claim they are safe to drink. Although these solvents are toxic and known carcinogens they are allowed to be used as decaffeination agents by the US Food and Drug Administration if the residual solvent tested in the beans is less than 10 parts per million (ppm). 

2) Swiss water process- this method uses water and concentration gradients to remove the caffeine from the beans while leaving the flavor molecules intact. A batch of green, un-roasted beans are boiled in water until everything is removed; the flavor compounds and the caffeine. The beans are then discarded and the super saturated water is passed through a filter where only the caffeine is removed. Fresh beans are then added to the super saturated water mixture that has had the caffeine removed. Because of the magic of osmosis and concentration gradients only the caffeine is pulled out of these new beans and the flavor compounds are retained. These beans are now 99% caffeine free and ready to roast.

3) Co2 extraction-Supercritical Co2 is passed over green coffee beans and caffeine is preferentially targeted and removed. This process although effective can be expensive, is newer and is not used by producers as much.

Of the 3 processes the one that is non-toxic, cost effective and leaves the most flavor components in the coffee beans would be the Swiss water extraction method. It can be difficult to ascertain if the decaf coffee you are getting at a restaurant or cafe has been extracted using the Swiss water method but you should always ask.

The following is a list of producers that use the Swiss water extraction method:

  • Nespresso

  • Bullet Proof Decaf Blend

  • Seattles Best Organic

  • Allegro Coffee

  • Coava Coffee Roaster- Inza Columbia blend

  • Onyx Coffee Roasters- Kenya Mbumi

  • Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Co- Terra Linda

  • Portola Coffee Roasters- Summatra Manheling

  • Milk and Honey Roasters

  • Joe's Coffee Roasters

  • And many more. Check out to find out more information