What is the Point of Decaf Coffee? 5 Potential Health Benefits

by TobyApr 11, 2024

For most of us, the whole point of drinking coffee is the caffeine. Whether it’s a straight shot of espresso, an Americano, or cappuccino, the caffeine hit from that first cup of coffee in the morning is what gets us up and running.

If this sounds familiar, you might then be wondering what’s the point of decaf coffee – why have a cup of coffee with all the caffeine (or most of it anyway) taken out? If you normally drink caffeinated coffee, the chances are you’re unlikely to suddenly choose to drink decaf coffee instead – but are there any benefits of decaf coffee that might make you change your mind?

What is Decaf Coffee?

To most of us, coffee is just coffee. We know there are lots of different types of coffee drinks, and even different types of coffee beans, but typical coffee drinkers may not even know the exact difference between regular and decaf coffee.

Picture showing decaf coffee beans.

Decaffeinated coffee is pretty much what it sounds like, where the coffee beans are put through a process that removes almost all of the caffeine (typically around 97-99%). With most of the caffeine removed, the beans are then ground and used to make coffee.

Where Did Decaf Coffee Come From?

If you like your coffee with caffeine, you might wonder what possessed someone to go to the trouble of inventing caffeine-free coffee. You have to go back to the early 1900s to discover where decaf coffee came from, and specifically to a German called Ludwig Roselius.

Keen to create tasty coffee without the caffeine, after believing too much caffeine had killed his father, he was actually trying to invent decaf coffee but discovered it quite by accident. After a crate from his coffee bean shipment was submersed in seawater, he realized after it was brewed that the water had removed the caffeine. From this discovery, he went on to develop a process for decaffeinating coffee, which continues to be used today.

How is Decaffeinated Coffee Made?

There are various different ways of removing the caffeine content from coffee beans, although today there are four main processes used – two making use of solvents, and two that don’t.

Direct Solvent Process

The direct solvent method involves soaking the coffee beans in a solvent like methylene chloride or ethyl acetate, which removes the caffeine from them. The decaf coffee beans are then steamed, dried, and roasted.

Indirect Solvent Process

This is a similar process but one where the solvents never actually come into contact with the beans, hence the indirect. Instead, the beans are washed with water, which soaks up the caffeine and flavors from the beans. This is then separated off and treated with solvents to remove the caffeine, with the water, and all the flavors, put back in with the beans, and the whole process is repeated until most of the caffeine, and less of the flavors, are removed.

CO2 Process

Like indirect solvent decaffeination, the CO2 process aims to remove less of the flavors of the coffee beans along with the caffeine. When under high pressure, the CO2 can remove the caffeine without impacting these flavors, with the caffeine removed from the CO2 using water so that it can be used again in the process.

Water Processes

There are variations among the main water processes that remove the caffeine from the beans, you might have heard about the patented Swiss Water process, but they essentially go about the decaffeination in a similar way. The beans are soaked in water to remove the caffeine, with the water reintroduced to the beans at some point, in order to add back in the flavors that were also removed as part of the process.

As you might expect, the water processes that don’t use solvents/gas are generally felt to be a better way to get your decaf coffee, and the CO2 and Swiss Water processes are thought to leave the coffee beans with more of their flavor.

Should You Be Drinking Decaf Coffee?

The different processes for creating decaf coffees can have varying degrees of success when it comes to creating coffee that tastes just as good as regular coffee. If you happily drink coffee the way it comes and don’t have any issues, you might not feel the need to switch to decaf. However, if you have some health issues, or are maybe just looking to improve your health and feel reducing your caffeine intake could help, then switching to decaf coffee might be a good idea. So what are the health benefits that might lead you to choose decaf coffee instead of your regular cup of Joe?

Possible Health Benefits of a Cup of Decaf Coffee

Reduce your caffeine intake

If you need to watch how much caffeine you’re drinking, but love your regular cup of coffee, then choosing decaf can give you the best of both worlds. Too much caffeine can cause issues with sleep, your stomach, and potential issues during pregnancy, so switching to decaf could offer some health benefits worth consaidering.

Intolerance for caffeine/GI issues

If you enjoy coffee but are sensitive to caffeine, then switching to decaf is a no-brainer. But hile perhaps not having an active intolerance to caffeine, some people may suffer from GI issues including acid reflux from drinking coffee. These effects have been shown to be reduced when drinking decaffeinated coffee, so switching may be a good way to settle your stomach and still enjoy your daily brew.

Sleep better

Maybe you have trouble sleeping, or you would just like to sleep better, either way, your intake of coffee (and caffeine) could be the issue. Adenosine is a substance that helps with sleep regulation, and caffeine has been shown to block it. Switch to decaf and you can still enjoy your coffee during the day, but you might find you sleep a lot better at night.

Enjoy health-improving antioxidants

Coffee is packed full of antioxidants, which help to keep us healthy, but if you are looking to avoid caffeine but still wouldn’t mind a boost of these helpful polyphenols to reduce the risk of illness and disease, you could get the same health benefits from the antioxidants decaf coffee contains.

Mums to be

Too much caffeine for pregnant women might not be advisable, and most doctors would probably advise moderate caffeine consumption while expecting. If you would rather not limit your coffee intake to stay under your caffeine limit, then switching to decaf coffee may be a good way of safely enjoying extra cups.

The Last Drop

Can Decaf Make Good Coffee?

With some positive health benefits from switching to decaf coffee, you might be tempted to give it a try. But if you’re a coffee lover who hasn’t tried decaf already, you might be forgiven for thinking that there’s no way the decaffeination process is going to end with a cup of coffee that tastes as good as a regular coffee.

The good news is that, as with the boom in specialty roasters and coffee makers, there has been a growth in the number of producers who’re making decaf coffee that tastes as good as, if not better than regular coffee. Decaf coffee can also taste less bitter, which may even mean you enjoy it more, particularly if you enjoy different kinds of drinks, like iced coffee.

So with the likelihood that you will enjoy a cup of decaf as much as normal coffee, and the possible health benefits of switching, it seems there is a point to decaf after all, and it makes a good argument for giving it a try.