Want to know which decaf coffee to buy? Read our guide from coffee expert Celeste Wong below, then check out which instant coffee to buy. Looking for artisan beans to make your coffee? Explore Celeste’s tried-and-tested list of the best coffee beans and best coffee machines.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in coffee beans, as well as other foods such as cocoa beans and tea leaves. Decaffeinating coffee means that the caffeine in coffee beans has been removed. Some people are sensitive to the invigorating effects of caffeine so prefer to drink coffee without it. Other times you may want to switch to decaf coffee if you’ve had your daily quota of regular caffeinated coffee or if it’s later in the day or evening.
How much caffeine is in decaf coffee?
Decaffeinated coffee ranges from 96-99.9% caffeine-free.
How is decaf coffee made?
Coffee is always decaffeinated as a green bean, before it has been roasted. Caffeine is water soluble, so water is used to decaffeinate the beans. In order to minimise the water stripping out the other desirable compounds that coffee has, decaffeinating agents are added to the water with the beans to speed up the process. There are different ways of doing this:
- Ethyl acetate method – This is the most common method that we have encountered. Ethyl acetate occurs naturally in nature (found in the fermentation of fruits, most often in ripe bananas), but can also be synthetically produced. This method retains flavour well and is safe in trace amounts.
- Methylene chloride method – The FDA has deemed any residue of this chemical left on the beans totally safe and would likely be burned off in the roasting process.
- Swiss Water Method – This chemical-free process uses the concepts of solubility and osmosis to draw the caffeine out of the beans using carbon filters. It is environmentally friendly and good flavour remains. This process is regularly audited to ensure it’s 99.9% caffeine free.
- C02 method – a generally expensive process, so mostly done on large commercial/supermarket decaf coffees
Is decaf coffee acidic?
Decaf coffee isn’t as acidic as caffeinated coffee because it loses some acids during the process of decaffeination. However, I would argue that how light or dark the decaffeinated coffee is roasted afterwards might affect perception of the coffee’s acidity. Though a lighter roasted decaf coffee may provide slightly more flavour.
What are the benefits of decaf coffee?
If you’re a person who is sensitive to caffeine, prone to anxiety, nervousness or generally naturally has a lot of energy, then decaf is a great alternative because you can still enjoy the experience of drinking a delicious coffee without the jittery effects from the caffeine. For more on the health benefits of coffee, check out our How much caffeine should I drink? health guide over on our sister site BBC Good Food.
Overall, decaffeinated coffee won’t necessarily taste as complex or as well processed as roasted speciality coffee, but if the coffee is good quality and the decaffeinating process is gentle and done well, then there’s no reason why you can’t still find great decaf coffees.
Best decaf coffee at a glance
- Pact, from £8.95
- Mission Coffee Works, from £9.90
- Full Court Press, from £13
- Caravan, from £9.50
- WatchHouse, from £12
- Coffee by Tate, from £8
- Modern Standard, from £8
- Ozone Coffee, from £9.75
- Broomfield Coffee Company, from £11.15
- Date Coffee Co, from £6.50
The best decaf coffees to buy in 2021
Pact change their decaf offerings often, but often have multiple options to choose from. I tried their El Diamante, a Columbian sugar cane processed decaf with hints of dark chocolate. It is medium roasted but towards the darker side, which makes for a bold-tasting espresso. They recently launched a decaf from Asomuprisma Women’s Association, a female coffee producers group in Colombia, which should last until the end of the year.
Buy Pact decaf coffee from Pact
Processed using the sugarcane decaffeination process, this coffee received a two-star Great Taste Award in 2021. The recyclable packaging has fun illustrations and tactile stickers.
All the information is well laid out and they helpfully recommend that their decaf can be used in all brew methods. Tasting notes are milk chocolate, raspberry and praline. Available in 250g or 1kg bags.
Coffee beans from Villamaria, Colombia, processed using the sugarcane decaffeination method. It is ‘omni roasted’ so you can brew both espresso and filter coffee with these beans. The coffee is available in 250g or 500g bags, with green beans sourced from a great quality, progressive supplier – Raw Material.
I really enjoyed this coffee a lot as a filter. It was very pleasant to drink: clean, light and bright with some good acidity to it. Tasting notes: mandarin oranges first, then black grapes and a shortbread finish.
Buy Villamaria Decaf from Full Court Press
Caravan say they aim to redefine the standards of decaf, overturning previous low-quality decaf offerings. I think their decaf does this. Caravan also belong to onepercentfortheplanet.org which contributes to better sustainability.
I tried their Colombian Decaf which uses coffee from the El Carmen Association and is decaffeinated in Colombia using sugarcane decaffeination. I really enjoyed using their decaf for both espresso and pour-over coffee. I preferred the result from grinding coffee beans fresh rather than buying pre-ground. Tasting notes are chocolate, caramel and nutty. They also do free shipping for orders over £20.
Buy El Carmen Sugarcane Decaf from Caravan
This comes in a compact little box, with a chic, modern and minimalist design to the packaging. The coffee is another Columbian decaf that uses the sugarcane decaffeination process. The coffee comes in 250g bags but there is also an option for subscribing, which gets a discount.
The beans can be ground for any brew method. Tasting notes of orange, milk chocolate and biscuit.
Buy Villamaria – Decaf from WatchHouse
Tate Collective recently had an open call for 16-25 year olds to create art for Coffee by Tate’s labels. Each entry was inspired by Coffee by Tate’s values of quality, community and gender equality. This striking label, titled ‘The Hills’, was designed by Imogen Crossland.
Expertly roasted, this decaf comes from Monte Bonito, Colombia, in 250g or mega 1kg bags. The coffee had tasting notes of peach, orange and milk chocolate. I found this coffee really smooth and pleasant to drink. A mild coffee that has been roasted really beautifully.
Buy Monte Bonito Decaf Coffee from Tate Shop
This decaf comes from Pijao, Colombia and is decaffeinated using the sugarcane process. There’s plenty of great information on the back of the bag with a QR code that will take you to a website with comprehensive pour-over filter instructions or espresso demo, plus recipes.
This coffee is great value for money and has a very balanced taste that is bold but not too heavy. Good for espresso or filter coffee. Tasting notes: chocolate, citric acidity and sweet toffee. They also belong to onepercentfortheplanet.org, which is great.
Buy Mellow Decaf from Modern Standard Coffee
Another great cafe/roaster offering delicious decaf coffee. Ozone are known for good consistent coffee (as well as their breakfasts if you haven’t tried!). I only recently discovered their decaf and have been drinking it regularly at night when I feel the urge for a cheeky flat white, as I found their decaf to be best suited to espresso coffee, although it is omni roasted so you can also drink it as a filter coffee. Their El Yalcon coffee comes from from Huila, Colombia (with free delivery if you get a subscription). Tasting notes: milk chocolate, orange, brown sugar sweetness. The coffee is nicely roasted and very pleasant to drink as espresso or with your choice of milk.
Buy El Yalcon Sugarcane Decaf from Ozone Coffee
The only coffee on this list that is processed by the Swiss Water Process and is not Colombian. This decaffeination method is exclusively done in Vancouver, Canada, which is why it might not be as common to find compared to the sugarcane process, but there are many roasters in the UK who do offer coffee decaffeinated using this method.
This Honduran decaf is scored highly by the prestigious Speciality Coffee Association with 83 points (anything above 80 is very good quality). It was roasted slightly darker than I would prefer, but it was definitely rich and nutty, and great as an espresso with milk. Tasting notes: rich, nutty, chocolate and praline, mellow body.
Buy Swiss Water Decaf from Broomfield Coffee Company
This is not technically coffee, but an interesting option if you’re looking for ‘coffee’ without the caffeine. This is made from dried and roasted date seeds, and you can grind them the same way you do coffee beans.
Whilst the stones may look similar to coffee, the taste is naturally not the same, reminding me more of a sweet tea. It is worth a try if you’re looking for a new late-night, caffeine-free hot drink.