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How Much Caffeine There Is in Decaf Coffee

If you love coffee but need to reduce your caffeine intake, then decaf sounds like a good way to go.

But here is the thing, decaf is not one hundred percent free of caffeine. The various decaffeination processes like Swiss Water, Direct Solvent-Based, and Indirect Solvent-Based don’t completely remove caffeine. This, however, does not mean that one cup of decaf is enough to give you a caffeine hit.

The fact that decaf contains caffeine may feel like a betrayal, especially if you were planning to wean yourself from caffeine with the help of decaffeinated coffee. Having said that, let’s find out how much caffeine is in decaf and any associated benefits or possible side effects.

What Is Decaf Coffee?

This refers to coffee that has had most of its caffeine content removed, and along with it the stimulant effects of the beverage. There are a few different ways of removing the stimulant, either by just soaking it in water or by adding some chemical (solvents).

But sadly decaffeination usually removes more than just the caffeine from the beans. More specifically you will be removing everything from the beans in addition to caffeine, including oils and flavor.

That’s why the ultimate prize in decaffeination technique is how to remove the caffeine without removing the flavor — take out drug but keep the pleasure.

Are There Any Benefits of Drinking Decaf?

Here are some of the top benefits of drinking decaffeinated coffee:

Improving Sleep Quality

woman sleeping

Decaffeinated coffee can effectively improve sleep quality as it allows you to enjoy the aroma of your favorite drink without sleep deprivation. It is highly unlikely for a small amount of caffeine (2 to 12 milligrams) to affect your sleep. Not unless you are planning to drink many cups of decaf in one night.

Removing Any Feelings of Discomfort

If you want to enjoy your cup of coffee without experiencing caffeine-related discomfort and tension will normally switch to decaf. The limited amounts of caffeine in decaffeinated coffee aren’t strong enough to induce tension and discomfort.

Caffeine Sensitivity

If you have caffeine intolerance, you might be suffering from specific side effects of the product. So, it is only natural to switch to decaf. This unique type of coffee also allows you to maintain your routine without worrying about caffeine.

Lowers the Risk of Type II Diabetes

Drinking decaf might reduce your risk of developing type II diabetes. This is a condition in which your pancreas doesn’t provide sufficient insulin or your cells don’t respond to the hormone insulin. Type II diabetes can increase your risk for other health problems, including heart disease, chronic inflammation, and kidney dysfunction. Recent research found out that taking a higher intake of decaf can help lower the risk of type II diabetes compared to non-drinkers.

Helps Digestion

Decaffeinated coffee can effectively help improve food digestion in your digestive tract. This helps reduce your gut’s workload. Research has shown that taking decaffeinated coffee can help you avoid any occurrence of dietary carcinogens.

Prevents Gallstones

Research suggests that people who drink decaf are less likely to suffer from gallstone disease. This is probably so because the beverage alters the cholesterol level of the bile your liver produces.

Helps Prevent Neurodegenerative Disorders

Studies on human cells show that decaffeinated coffee may help protect neurons in your brain. So, decaf could help prevent the onset of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Is Decaf Coffee Healthy?

man drinking coffee

There have been reports in the media claiming that some of the methods of removing caffeine from coffee involve substances that are bad for people.

Health concerns are linked to methylene chloride because this colorless liquid doesn’t occur naturally in our environment and is used in industrial products like paints, pesticides, and adhesives. If you inhale small amounts of methylene chloride, it can affect your attention, slow down your central nervous system. You might also cough and feel drowsy.

Doesn’t sound good, right? Why are we allowed to use it? FDA does consent methylene chloride to be used but the final decaffeinated coffee must not contain residual methylene chloride that exceeds 0.001 percent. Research that has looked at data from over two hundred observational studies did not find any harmful health effects linked to decaf.

Possible Side Effects of Decaf

Increase the Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in your joints. This means that your immune system starts attacking your body’s tissues. This leads to red, swollen, painful joints. Drinking more than three cups of decaf in a day may risk the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

Increase Metabolic Acidity

Increased metabolic acidity means there is too much acid in your body or you don’t have enough base. When this happens the blood becomes more and more acidic because the kidneys are not giving enough base to compensate. Drinking many cups of decaf may lead to overstimulation of gastric hormone, which may cause excessive production of gastric acids. Decaf may also cause inflammatory bowels, stomach ulcers, heartburn, urinary tract infections, as well as gastroesophageal reflux.

Causes Nausea, Drowsiness, and Headaches

These common side effects are usually associated with methylene chloride. In very severe cases, this substance can lead to memory loss. So, decaf that is made using a direct solvent-based process may not be the best option if methylene chloride is used.

Increased Bad Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, soft, odorless substance made by your liver. It also comes from foods (such as decaf) you consume that are then packaged into particles referred to as lipoproteins. Your body needs this waxy substance to produce vitamin D, hormones, and bile. There are two types of cholesterol, high-density (good) and low-density (bad) lipoprotein. Decaf consumption is associated with increased levels of low-density lipoprotein, which can build up around your blood vessels leading to coronary artery disease.

How Is Coffee Decaffeinated and What Percentage of Caffeine Is Removed?

There are various ways of making decaf, which include the following:

Swiss Water Decaf Process

This is a chemically-free decaf process. It does not use any chemicals like methyl acetate or methylene chloride. It is a water-based process and it is organically certified.

The coffee beans are cleaned and pre-soaked in water. This helps to expand the beans and open up the pores which allow for caffeine extraction.

The green beans are then immersed in the green coffee extract (GCE). As the green beans are sitting in this fluid, the caffeine migrates from the beans into the fluid. Once that is done the fluid passes through carbon columns, which are caffeine-specific. The carbon extracts the stimulating agent out of the GCE fluid.

Once the fluid is freed of the stimulating effects it goes back into the green beans and cycles back and forth until a certain target of caffeine is removed. The target may be approximately 99%. So, 1% of caffeine remains after the swiss water decaffeination.

Indirect Solvent-Based Process

Some solvents like methyl acetate and methylene chloride are the most widely used chemicals in this process. Some of these ingredients like methyl acetate can be sourced from natural ingredients. It can also be made synthetically.

The process starts with green beans being soaked in hot water for several hours. This step causes the flavor and caffeine of the beans to get dissolved in hot water.

The green beans and hot water are separated. Once that is done caffeine is removed from the water using either methyl acetate or methylene chloride. Then the water which still has the flavor of coffee in it is added back to the green beans so that they reabsorb the flavor. This ensures the beans are decaffeinated without stripping away the flavor.

Note: This process is capable of removing 96% to 98% of the caffeine. This means 2% to 4% of caffeine remains after decaffeination.

Direct Solvent-Based Process

Unlike the indirect solvent-based process, in this process, the green beans come into contact with the solvent.

The green beans are moistened. The solvent, which can be methyl acetate or methylene chloride, circulates through the beans. This process step removes caffeine from the beans.

The green beans are then rinsed with water and steamed once more. This process helps to evaporate all the residual solvent.

Note: This process has the potential of removing 96% to 98% of the caffeine. You’ve got 2 to 4% caffeine remaining after decaffeination.

Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Decaf Process

Decaffeination of coffee with supercritical carbon dioxide has received a large amount of research as well as development effort over the past few years.

The green beans are moistened to open up the pores for effective decaffeination.

The green beans that are being decaffeinated are inserted into an extractor. Then pressurized supercritical carbon dioxide is used at two hundred and fifty to three hundred times its normal atmospheric pressure. The carbon dioxide takes a form of a fluid, which is passed through the green beans. The carbon dioxide attracts the caffeine.

The caffeine-rich carbon dioxide goes through a filter where the caffeine is reabsorbed for reuse.

Note: This process can remove 96% to 98% of the caffeine. This method leaves about 2 to 4% caffeine in the decaf.

How Much Caffeine Is In a Cup of Decaf?

It is a fair question considering that all the aforementioned decaffeination processes don’t remove 100% of caffeine. But a percentage that is usually less than 100%.

  • Swiss Water Decaf Process – Removes up to 99%
  • Indirect Solvent-Based Process – Removes 96% to 98%
  • Direct Solvent-Based Process – Removes 96% to 98%
  • Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Decaf Process – Removes 96% to 98%

While 1% to 4% of caffeine isn’t enough to give you the stimulating effects of coffee, the percentage doesn’t effectively answer the question. A more decisive answer depends mainly on the type of coffee you like drinking and how it is prepared.

Instant Vs. Brewed Coffee

Drinking instant coffee has always been the easy choice for most people because it is incredibly fast to make a cup. All you have to do is add a spoon and water to come up with a tasty cup of coffee.

Brewed coffee, on the other hand, requires you to use coffee beans with a coffee maker like a French press, a coffee percolator, or a coffee machine. Looking closely at these two methods, it is obvious that brewed coffee has more caffeine and other health benefits compared to instant coffee. So, this tells us that brewed decaf will have a slightly higher remaining percentage of caffeine compared to instant decaf.

According to research conducted by Mayo Clinic, brewed decaf contains around two to twelve milligrams of caffeine, single-serve varieties decaf contains about two to four milligrams of caffeine, and instant decaf contains approximately two milligrams of caffeine.

The aforementioned figures tell us that people who drink brewed decaf are the ones who are exposed to a higher percentage of caffeine that usually remains after decaffeination.

Consumer Awareness

It is comforting to know that the processing standards of decaf are dependable and the quality controls of the decaf facilities are superior.

The FDA requires that decaf must have 97% of the caffeine content removed from the raw green beans. When you are shopping for decaf, check to confirm if it is a robusta or an Arabica blend. Depending on the type of blend or bean, the amount of caffeine that remains in the decaf can vary significantly.

The amount of caffeine in one hundred percent decaffeinated robusta coffee will be normally higher compared to the one in one hundred percent decaffeinated Arabica coffee. This is so since robusta beans have almost twice as much caffeine in their natural form as do Arabica beans.

In most cases, superior robusta beans are selected for decaf because they produce a higher caffeine by-product that is usually sold for soft drinks and medicinal purposes. But more Arabica beans are being decaffeinated for their amazing finished flavor and aroma.

If you drink five to ten cups of decaf in a day, the caffeine dose could easily amount to the level that is present in a single cup of caffeinated coffee. So, you see this can be a concern if you are planning to cut your intake of caffeine. Especially if the directive is given by a physician due to medical complications like anxiety disorders and kidney disease.

Find out how long caffeine stays in the body.

Will Decaf Help You Withdraw from Caffeine?

As a former caffeine addict, I understand your dilemma. Great pleasure is obtained from using caffeine. A great number of people drink caffeinated coffee for its stimulating properties, which may end up causing undesirable effects later in life.

Withdrawal from caffeine is perceived as fatigue as well as dull thinking. It is always followed by a headache and even body aches. The headache may be experienced several hours after the last cup of coffee. But it may be very evident after a few days without caffeine. Apart from an irritating headache, other possible withdrawal signs are depression and irritability.

You can confirm that your symptoms are the outcome of withdrawal by drinking a cup of caffeinated coffee. Switching to decaf may not bring immediate relief. Instead, you will end up drinking lots of decaf cups to get the relief you so desperately seek because of the small amount of caffeine that exists in decaf.

Final Thoughts

You need this information because you want to know whether or not decaffeinated coffee contains caffeine. I understand your concerns, considering that decaf brands rarely admit that their products are not one hundred percent caffeine-free. This is specifically stressful for people who are turning to decaf as a way of avoiding caffeinated coffee because of different health complications.

To help you understand exactly what decaffeination is all about, I discussed the various methods used to remove caffeine from coffee. According to what I have found, the Swiss water decaffeination process is the most effective with a removal rate of up to 99%, which means only 1% of caffeine remains.

But the other remaining decaffeination processes range from 96% to 98%, leaving you with about 2% to 4% of the caffeine in decaf. As you can see, any brand that claims its decaf is 100% caffeine-free is seriously misleading you. Not to mention that robusta coffee (both caffeinated and decaffeinated) have a higher caffeine content than Arabica coffee.

On average, a cup of Arabica coffee generally has about 1.5% caffeine, while a cup of robusta coffee has around 2.7% caffeine. The same rates apply for the decaf.

While there are various benefits of drinking decaf, such as improving sleep quality, removing any feelings of discomfort, lowering the risk of type ii diabetes, and preventing gallstones, some decaffeination processes are associated with some possible health complications like increased bad cholesterol and increased metabolic acidity. You may not experience the possible side effects, which are arguable. But you will certainly be exposed to caffeine, even though it is in small amounts. So, the best way to avoid caffeine is to avoid coffee altogether.

You may also want to know: how much caffeine is in choco-covered espresso beans?


Born in Italy but currently brewing from the UK, Giada is a highly-caffeinated coffee expert with a soft spot for espressos. She worked in cafés for years and has recently fallen in love with the practical Kalita Wave (just don’t tell her Italian moka pot!).

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