The difference between decaf and caffeinated coffee

Difference Between Decaf & Caffeinated Coffee [An Inside Look]

The debate between decaf and caffeinated coffee has been raging for as long as I can remember. As coffee drinkers, we're still not clear which one we should opt for. The allure of our favorite beverage is such, that chances are whichever way you drink it, you'll be back for more. 

Both have key benefits for your health, depending on your consumption profile. So before holding the line at your favorite coffee shop to ask the barista what they would recommend, we have prepared the simple guide below to help you finally understand the main differences between the two.

What is decaf Coffee?

DECAFFEINATION is the name given to the process of removal of caffeine from coffee beans, cocoa, tea leaves and other materials caffeine-contained. Decaffeinated drinks may have up to 20% of its primary content of caffeine, however they typically have between 1 – 2% of the original amount.

The decaffeination process may be done by a few different methods, that range from using organic solvents as dichloromethane and ethyl acetate, highly critical CO2 or simply water to extract caffeine from the coffee bean even before it's roasted, while maintaining its taste as original as possible in the process.

Below you will find the most common methods used for decaffeination:

DIRECT METHOD: Uses solvents like dichloromethane, ethyl acetate, or methylene chloride to extract caffeine, steaming the unroasted green beans first. The process is repeated until content meets the required standard.

INDIRECT METHOD: In this variation beans are first soaked in hot water, just like a strong pot of coffee, then removed, and remaining liquid is treated with solvents to extract caffeine from water. Caffeine is separated by evaporation. The cycle is repeated until desired result is achieved.

SWISS WATER PROCESS: No organic solvents are used in this process. GREEN COFFEE EXTRACT (GCE) is a solution containing the water soluble components of green coffee except for the caffeine, obtained by soaking green coffee beans in hot water, then filtering using a charcoal filter to remove caffeine molecules. This saturates the GCE with other water-soluble components of green coffee, making only the caffeine molecules migrate to GCE. Then, the solution is passed through the activated carbon filters again and again, in a process that may take up to 10 hours to meet the final result.

TRIGLYCERIDE PROCESS: First, the fresh green coffee beans are left to soak in a mixed solution of hot water and coffee, bringing the caffeine to the beans exterior. They are then transferred to another recipient and soaked in coffee oils obtained from coffee grounds and left immersed in high temperatures for long hours. This process is known as a direct-contact method of decaffeination, and the taste is not removed.

SUPERCRITICAL CO2 PROCESS: Uses a high pressure vessel to steam green coffee beans and dissolves caffeine into the CO2.

Is Decaf Coffee Bad For You?

In the past, decaf coffee was most popularly obtained through a process that used BENZENE, which is a potent chemical solvent linked to many side effects on people, from drowsiness to cancer. Today, for health reasons, manufacturers have switched to the methods mentioned previously, which are a lot safer for the public.

In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded through an exhaustive study that the trace amount of the solvents used to extract caffeine are too minuscule to affect your health. The regulation states that only 10 parts per million should be present in the final product.

Since decaf is considered safe according to the regulator agency, this brings us to questioning if decaf coffee has the same health benefits as the regular one. In 2014, a study conducted from researchers from Harvard claimed that consumers who drank six cups of coffee per day were one third less likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes, and no distinction was made between caffeinated and decaf.

Another study, published in 2008 by the Annals of Internal Medicine, mentions that drinking coffee was not linked to any higher risk of death, however decaf drinkers were slightly less likely to die from any cause. It is important to point out that it is possible that decaf drinkers may have been improving other habits, so the results are inconclusive and need more research.

Although there is still a lot to be studied when it comes to coffee benefits, it is clear that those experiencing issues such as insomnia, headaches, anxiety, irritability or high blood pressure, among a few others, should reduce their caffeine intake and consider decaf as a healthier option.

Now that you know what decaf coffee is and whether it is good or bad for you, we are going to explain what the main 10 differences are between decaf and caffeinated coffee.


10 Differences Between Decaf & Caffeinated Coffee

Decaf verses caffeinated coffee

1. Quantity of Caffeine

Although the name “decaf” may lead us to think our beverages described as such are totally caffeine-free, the truth is that decaffeinated drinks contain typically 1-2% the original caffeine content. Studies suggest that 10 cups of decaf coffee hold 10mg of caffeine, while a regular cup of coffee has 85mg of caffeine.

It is important to note that regulatory agencies around the globe act in accordance to their rules in place, and may tolerate slightly different amounts depending on the location. For example, the standard for the United States requires that 97% of the caffeine needs to be removed, while in the EU the standard is 99.9%.

2. Quantum of Anti-Oxidants

During the roasting process, the decaf coffee and the regular coffee both suffer from a mild loss in anti-oxidant compounds. Anti-oxidants are beneficial for the body. However, when you look at decaf coffee, you will realize that the loss of anti-oxidants is on the higher side. It's due to the process which it goes through to reduce the caffeine content.

When it comes to the presence of anti-oxidants, you can be sure that caffeinated coffee is a better choice.

3. PH Levels

Another factor which most of us are not aware of is that decaffeinated coffee is more acidic. During the soaking process, the taste and the pH level of the decaffeinated coffee go through some drastic changes. That is why, if you do not prefer acidic beverages or coffee altogether, you should avoid consuming decaf coffee.

When you look at the pH levels of decaffeinated coffee, it is around 5. Substances having pH levels of less than 7 are considered to be acidic. When you look at the pH of caffeinated or regular coffee, it is between 4 and 4.5. It reflects that decaffeinated coffee is much more acidic than the caffeinated ones.

That is why, if you’re prone to acidity or acid reflux, it is advisable to avoid decaffeinated coffee altogether.


Hand holding a cup of decaf coffee

4. The Taste

Since decaffeination uses a chemical extraction process to reduce the caffeine levels, other properties in the coffee bean like aroma and flavor are reduced as well.

That is why, if you prefer the balanced taste of regular coffee, you will not find the same in the decaffeinated one. It has an acquired taste, which at the start, may seem abnormal to your palate.

5. Stimulation

Everyone knows that caffeinated coffee is famous for providing you with a shot of energy. That is why, when drinking coffee before bed, might leave you wide-awake. On the other hand, when speaking about decaffeinated coffee, it has no such property.

Since the caffeine content is on the lower side, neither will you experience a burst of energy nor it will leave you wide-awake. That is why, if you want to enjoy coffee as a beverage, decaf is the best option for you.

Decaf is a great option for those who wish to enjoy the beverage before bed without impacting their sleep.

6. Metabolic Activity

Caffeine can speed up your metabolic activity. As a result, the nutrients are better extracted from your food, and toxins are flushed out pretty well. As a result, it can reduce the pace of fat deposition in your body as well.

On the other hand, decaffeinated coffee has no impact on your metabolic activity. That is why; if you want to tap into the metabolic benefits of coffee, caffeinated coffee is the way to go.

7. The Safe Threshold for Consumption

Despite having multiple health benefits, excessive caffeine consumption may cause side effects. For that reason, it is recommended that if you drink more than three cups of coffee per day, you should go with decaffeinated coffee.

8. Extraction Process

Many coffee connoisseurs think that decaffeinated coffee is unnatural. That is because; the caffeine levels in decaffeinated coffee are artificially reduced using chemical process. Due to this very reason, they do not prefer to drink it. While it might be true to a certain extent, but since there is no addition of artificial ingredients, it cannot be called unnatural coffee.

On the other hand, regular coffee beans can undergo vast processing before being converted into coffee powder. That is why; none of them can be called unnatural.

Pregnant woman sitting on the edge of bed drinking coffee

9. Effect on Fertility

Caffeine in large quantities can reduce fertility. According to research, it is advisable to limit the consumption of caffeine when you’re pregnant. You can drink caffeinated coffee in limited amounts, but you have to be very careful.

When it comes to decaf coffee, since; the quantity of caffeine is on the lower side, consumption is comparatively safer. These days, with the advanced decaffeination processes, the amount of caffeine can even be reduced by 99.9%, which means that consumption is relatively safe for even pregnant women.

10. Hydration Levels

Anything less than 300 mg of caffeine has no impact on hydration levels in the body. However, if you go through multiple cups of caffeinated coffee throughout the day, there might be some water loss. It can dehydrate you if you consume more than 300 mg of caffeine throughout the day.

On the other hand, the decaffeinated version does not have any such dehydration effect. That is why; it is better to switch over to decaffeinated coffee, especially during the summer months. It will prevent any loss of water levels in the body, which will help you maintain proper energy levels as well.

Final Thoughts

As presented above, both caffeinated and decaf coffee have beneficial impacts on your body and overall health. It is important to keep in mind all the differences mentioned and consider what is best for you when deciding which type of coffee is the perfect fit for you.

Leave a Comment: