Is decaf coffee bad for you?
If you google the term “is decaf…”, the first thing google suggests is “is decaf coffee bad for you” suggesting that this is a question on a lot of people’s minds.
So, is decaffeinated coffee bad for you?
The answer is a categorical No.
In fact, we founded Decadent Decaf Coffee Company with just that mission in mind: to change hearts and minds one cup of decaf a time. Decaf coffee has changed and the stereotypes and myths need to be challenged.
Why do people think that decaffeinated coffee is bad for you?
The reason is that decaf coffee has had its fair share of scandals over the years. It mainly hinges on how decaf coffee used to be manufactured...
And to do that, we need to get out the history books on decaf coffee’s origins.
So, here's a little history lesson on decaffeination (we'll try and keep it brief!):
Pure caffeine was first extracted from coffee beans in 1820 in Germany, but it wasn’t until 1903 that the first commercially successful decaffeination process was invented by Ludwig Roselius again in Germany. He accidentally stumbled upon this method when his coffee beans was soaked in sea water and lost much of its caffeine without losing much taste.
Back then, the original decaffeination process for consumers involved steaming coffee beans with acids then using benzene as a solvent to remove the caffeine. It was sold as Kaffee HAG after the company name Kaffee Handels-Aktien-Gesellschaft and later as the Sanka decaf brand in the USA.
Now, it’s important to note that solvents like benzene are no longer used in any decaf processes today as it is proven as a carcinogen.
Today, the solvents most used to decaffeinate coffee are Dichloromethane and Ethyl Acetate - a substance that is found naturally in fruits and vegetables such as bananas and apples.
Another method of decaffeination is called the indirect organic solvent method, which instead of treating the beans directly, water resulting from the soaking of beans is treated with solvents and the process goes on until equilibrium is reached without caffeine in the beans.
The use of chemicals like solvents have, as a result, caused the public to perceive decaf coffee as potentially hazardous for your health, but it must be strongly stated that that solvents used today as natural solvents, which are often extracted from natural sources such as fruit juice. Having said that, it must also be noted that ethyl acetate is mildly toxic, but the residues of the solvent are minuscule.
Is there decaffeinated coffee that's made without chemicals?
Yes, decaf coffee has really come of age with the Swiss Water Decaf process, which uses solely water and osmosis to decaffeinate beans.
The use of water to decaffeinate coffee was originally pioneered in Switzerland in 1933 and developed as a commercially viable method of decaffeination by Coffex in 1980. In 1988, the Swiss Water Method was introduced by The Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company in Canada.
Another popular process of decaffeination that has become increasingly popular is called the CO2 process, or the "sparkling water method", which uses supercritical carbon dioxide as a means of decaffeination. Developed by the Max Planck Institute, it uses liquid CO2 to extract caffeine and circumvents the use of solvents.
So, you can understand why the public don’t trust decaffeinated coffee. On the face of it, decaf coffee looks like it could be bad for you.
But, like so much in this world, things have changed a lot since the old days, but the coffee world has been reticent about publicising that decaf technology has moved on by leaps and bounds. Perhaps because by drawing attention to decaf’s clean tech improvements, they would draw attention to the past?
Whatever the reason, decaffeination is still shrouded in mystery and it’s time to update the world on how decaf coffee technology has changed for the better, particularly in the past fifteen years.
Decadent Decaf only roasts Swiss Water Decaf coffee and the reason for this is that the Swiss Water Decaf method of decaffeination has revolutionised decaf coffee - in terms of both the safe and healthy process and the incredible coffee taste that it leaves behind for all to enjoy.
So, if you’re reading this post because you wanted to find out if decaf coffee is bad for you, we assure you that no, Swiss Water Decaf, is categorically safe for your health – from both a chemical use point of view (only water is used) and a caffeine % (Swiss Water Decaf is 99.9% caffeine free).
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world. In fact, it’s at the top with the two other beverages: water and tea.
Decaf coffee has been growing in popularity recently, driven by a move by millennials to avoid stimulants and the crash associated with caffeine. In Western Europe, 12% of all coffee consumed is decaf, while in the United States, it’s 15%.
The biggest question for many who want to drink decaf coffee is: Is decaf coffee bad for you?
Decaffeinated coffee is not, in itself, bad for you, but some of the processes used by processors can be problematic.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the less desirable methods of decaffeinating coffee. We will also look at the Swiss Water Process for decaffeinating coffee. So, let's dive in?
Why is decaf coffee such a source of debate?
Decaf coffee is the source of a surprising amount of debate. While many people are attempting to avoid caffeine in their lives, experts and others have expressed concerns about decaf as follows:
“Decaf can give people headaches.” For those who are sensitive, a lack of caffeine can cause headaches. That’s why caffeine is included in over-the-counter headache medicines like Anadin Extra or Excedrin. Switching from caffeinated coffee to decaf can cause people to get headaches.
“Cholesterol levels can rise because of decaf.” There have been several studies that indicate that decaf coffee can increase your LDL (bad cholesterol).
There is some debate as to why, but the expert conclusion seems to be that the coffee studied was Robusto coffee, a higher-fat coffee species, whereas most coffee consumed in the world is Arabica. The correlation is real, but it’s not immediately apparent what causes it.
“Decaf can cause stomach upset, nausea, and other side effects.” Some of this might be due to the lack of caffeine effects. Also, consuming too much of any kind of coffee will make you feel unwell. Decaf tends to be slightly less acidic than regular coffee, but the acidity level that might upset your stomach is more based on the type of bean and the processing than the natural levels in the coffee itself.
“Decaf coffee doesn’t have the same health benefits as regular coffee.” Depending on the processing, this might be true. With chemically processed decaf, some of the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds have been stripped out. This would make decaf less healthy, but again, the decaffeination process is more to blame than the lack of caffeine.
“There are bad chemicals left in the coffee from the decaffeination process.” This is true for some methods used. We’re going to look at this issue much more closely in this article.
What is decaf coffee and how is it made?
Caffeine is an oily compound found in coffee, tea, and several other plants. It acts as a mild stimulant in the body.
Note that coffee naturally has relatively low levels of caffeine. If one is unaccustomed to it or consumes too much, it can produce jitteriness. For millions around the world, however, caffeine is a slight stimulant that helps one to wake up, be more aware, and feel more engaged.
The caffeine levels in some energy drinks can be excessive for many. While a standard cup of Arabica coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine, some energy drinks contain 300 mg.
Not only are they three times the caffeine, but because they are cold and flavourful, they are much faster and easier to drink. There have been some health side effects and even deaths from people unaccustomed to caffeine consuming several high caffeine energy drinks quickly.
Coffee naturally contains caffeine. Decaffeinated coffee has most of the caffeine removed. The average cup of decaf has 2 mg of caffeine versus the 95 mg found in regular coffee.
How is decaf coffee made?
First, the green coffee beans are soaked in water.
This is where the process diverges.
Most decaf is made using chemical solvents. Originally, benzene was used, but that’s been replaced because benzene is a carcinogen. Today, most decaf manufacturers use ethyl acetate or methylene chloride. These chemicals strip out the caffeine.
The concern on the part of many is that some of these chemicals are left in the coffee. While in Europe and the United States, there are guidelines on how much of these chemicals can be allowed in coffee, some are still there. Methylene chloride is a particular concern because high levels of exposure to this chemical are known to be toxic.
The Swiss Water Method: The Chemical-free Way to Decaf
A better, safer method for removing caffeine is the Swiss Water Process.
Ok, chemistry purists, we know water is also a chemical, but you know what we mean.
The Swiss Water Method might be called the patient decaf method. Coffee beans are soaked in a water solution for just over 8 hours. The solution saturates the compounds in coffee, except the caffeine.
This creates a liquid called green coffee bean extract. This extract can then be passed over more green coffee beans. The caffeine in the beans will migrate quickly to the liquid as it seeks equilibrium.
The green coffee is now caffeine-free. It’s dried and bagged for shipping as decaf.
The green coffee extract that’s soaked in caffeine is filtered through a carbon filter to remove the caffeine. The carbon filtration traps the caffeine.
The carbon is then sent to a furnace where the caffeine is burned off. The carbon is then reused.
The process used only water and a little patience. No chemical compounds are used to do the extraction, so there are no harmful residues. There are no toxic chemicals left behind in the coffee.
Most people feel the Swiss Water Process also leaves coffee tasting better since it doesn't strip out other compounds as harshly as chemical processing.
The Effects of Chemical Caffeine Extraction
Many people have expressed concern that using toxic compounds to extract caffeine is ultimately harmful to people. The real concern is not likely to come from a single cup of decaf, but from decades of exposure to a harmful chemical.
Of course, since methylene chloride is toxic, there are some environmental effects. The chemical does not simply disappear after the processing. This leads to massive quantities of a toxic chemical needing to be stored or destroyed.
The environmental effects, while not widely discussed, are potentially disastrous since millions of tonnes of the chemical are used worldwide annually.
The Effects of the Swiss Water Method
Obviously, the water itself is non-toxic.
The carbon filter removes the caffeine from the water. The water is reused.
The carbon itself is reprocessed in a furnace, where the oily caffeine is simply burned off. The carbon is then reused.
Overall, the side effects of the Swiss Water Method are extremely minimal. There are no toxic wastes, and the process uses no more energy than chemical processing.
As a bonus, many of the healthful compounds are left in the coffee, so the positive antioxidant benefits are still in the coffee to reduce inflammation and help you feel better.
What decaffeination method was used for my coffee?
Unless it’s on the label, there’s no way to know. Most mass-produced decaf will use chemical processing. The companies are in a rush to get the coffee processed, so they will put those chemicals on the coffee and get rid of the caffeine as quickly as possible.
Most Swiss Water Processing companies are proud of their decaffeination method, so they will display that information prominently.
Sadly, some of the world's largest coffee companies, even the ones that claim to be environmentally conscious, use chemical methods simply because they're more expeditious.
In short, if it doesn’t say right on the bag or can that a non-chemical process was used, you will probably have no idea what chemicals were used.
So, is decaf coffee a good option for you?
In conclusion, there is no evidence that decaffeinated coffee is bad for you. The key factor to getting the most from your coffee is that it’s made from Arabica beans, and the caffeine is extracted using the Swiss Water Process.
“Traditional” methods, using harsh chemicals, leave some of the chemicals in the coffee you’re drinking. While in small quantities, this doesn't appear to be a concern, the long-term or large quantity side effects can be toxic.
Swiss Water Process decaffeinated coffee might be slightly less expensive, but that’s because the process takes time. It’s an all-natural way to remove caffeine. It’s better for you and the environment, and it makes a better cup of decaf. It’s worth it.
If you’d like to learn more about Decadent Decaf’s Swiss Water Process coffees, please message us.
You’re invited to taste a great cup of decaf coffee from Decadent Decaf.
IMPORTANT: This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. Nothing in the content or products should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs.