For most of us, caffeine is the greatest thing about a morning cup of coffee, and also the most troublesome.
In moderate doses, caffeine is healthy and beneficial. However, if you’re one of many who grow nervous, jittery, or anxious after too much, you’re not alone. Caffeine can exacerbate anxiety disorders, and the heightened state of unease it puts you in is one reason why decaffeinated coffee is so popular.
Problem is, decaf coffee, done right, is a difficult accomplishment. The caffeine has to be taken out of the beans, and the beans themselves preserved. The beans have to be ground correctly. Any misstep along the way returns the caffeine to the bean, and ruins the taste.
If you want a good cup of morning coffee, complete with aroma and flavor, and without the jittered anxiety, you need to choose the right kind of decaf. You’ll also need to know how to prepare it. We can help with both.
Why is Decaf Coffee Difficult?
Every coffee enthusiast knows that making good decaf coffee is almost always harder than its regular counterpart. The reason is simple: the caffeine is natural. Every raw coffee bean contains caffeine, and quite a bit of it – a small handful of beans has roughly 3 and ½ times the caffeine of an average cup of coffee.
Brewing a caffeinated pot leaves much of the caffeine itself behind in the coffee grounds. (This is why the grounds are excellent fertilizer after brewing – the leftover caffeine stimulates the plants.) Taking the caffeine out of the beans before brewing is just as difficult as taking any other natural chemical out of the beans. If it’s done wrong, you’ll have nothing but bad coffee.
Consider the earliest example: a German named Ludwig Roselius, who tried his hand at making the first decaf coffee in 1905. He extracted the caffeine in the same way that most chemists of his day extracted chemicals – soak the item in water, and then use a second chemical to draw out the first. Roselius soaked the beans, and then added his second chemical to extract the caffeine.
He used benzene. If that chemical sounds even remotely familiar, it’s because it’s one of the main ingredients in gasoline, and just as flammable. The coffee beans lost the caffeine and soaked up the gas. It wasn’t an ideal recipe. We have, thankfully, gotten much better at decaffeinating coffee, but it’s still a difficult process.
What Should I Look For in Decaf Coffee?
Consider four things before selecting your decaf – cost, caffeine and Swiss Water, rice preparation, and aroma/taste.
This one might seem obvious, but the decaffeination process adds a layer of difficulty. The best beans will use methods that don’t use chemicals, which means most mass-production is off the table. That, of course, means good decaf will be more expensive. Shop carefully before you buy.
2. Caffeine, and Swiss Water
If you were puzzled by our mention of ‘caffeine’ above, pay close attention – no coffee, anywhere, is completely caffeine free. It’s physically impossible to get all the caffeine out of coffee beans. Furthermore, the more you remove, the harder it gets to go further – the first 50% is much easier than, for example, the last 10%.
You won’t have near the jitters with a cup of decaf, but if you’re extra sensitive to caffeine, make sure you pick a blend with the right qualifications. The best choice is something called the Swiss Water Process.
The idea behind the trademarked method is simple – instead of soaking coffee beans in chemicals, soak them in what is essentially decaffeinated coffee. The caffeine will flow from the beans to the decaf until it’s distributed evenly throughout the mix. Then remove the beans, start with new decaf, and start all over.
Granted the actual process is a tad more complicated than that, but the basics of it are accurate – if you soak coffee in coffee, you won’t absorb any bad chemicals, or lose any coffee flavor. This method, done right, removes nearly all the caffeine in the bean. Any decaf blend that’s Swiss Water Processed will be safe to drink for even the most caffeine-sensitive coffee lovers.
3. Rice and Preparation
This consideration is really an extension of #2. Since all beans contain quite a bit of caffeine, you can bet there’s caffeine residue on your coffee grinder if you’ve been brewing regular coffee. That residue is more than enough to give you the morning anxieties.
Cleaning the grinder with water, furthermore, isn’t nearly enough. Soap will ruin the taste. Your best bet is rice – a handful, ground and then thrown away, will soak up the oil, moisture, and residual caffeine from the blades. Any leftover rice pieces won’t affect the taste.
4. Taste and Aroma
Here is where good decaf coffee shines. Without caffeine, the only remaining qualities of decaf are aroma and taste, and you can bet that good coffee makers know this. Well-brewed decaf coffee is delicious, stimulating, and refreshing. Anything less, and you may as well toss it aside.
With that, let’s review the best decaf coffee on the market.
The Top 10 Best Decaf Coffee Blends
We’ve reviewed online favorites, barista recommendations, and reviews to come up with our top choices. Read their qualifications carefully – for some, you may need your own grinder, or bulk ordering, or special preparation. You don’t want to buy and get excited about a coffee you later discover that you can’t properly prepare.
We’ve rated each blend on a scale of 1 to 5, based on caffeine content, taste, cost, and ease of preparation.
- Dark roast, whole bean: Swiss water process. Decaffeinated coffee should be exactly like every other one of our blends:...
- Tasting notes, brew method: Roasted hazelnuts, chocolaty balanced body and a long lasting finish. Recommended methods:...
- Origin Central & South America: Grown in a socially and environmentally responsible way, by farmers with sustainable...
The brewers at Kicking Horse know and love their coffee, and they’ve got the brewing recommendations to prove it – right down to the grinder and the level of coarseness. Kicking Horse decaf dark roast has both chocolate and hazelnut undertones.
Like many top decaf blends, it uses the Swiss Water method to decaffeinate. Multiple cups shouldn’t be a problem for the anxiety-prone coffee lover. $11 gets you a 10 oz. bag. For its taste, and because it’s one of the few dark roast decaf blends around, we give Kicking Horse 5 out of 5 stars.
- WORLD BLEND: A rich, ancient blend of Java and Ethiopian Mocca makes this a water-process decaf for the discerning...
- OBSESSED WITH FRESH: From the beginning, Peet's Coffee has roasted the best coffee beans we can find with quality in...
- BREW LIKE THE BEST: Brewing the best cup of coffee starts with finding your favorite roast or blend. Whole beans or...
Peet’s Coffee company has long been a staple of the bean aficionado but pay close attention – only the Mocca-Java decaf uses water process for decaffeination. Peet’s other decaf blends still use chemical methods, which, although vastly improved from their benzene beginnings, can still leave an acidic taste in your morning coffee.
The Mocca-Java decaf, however, is delicious. This medium dark roast has hints of chocolate and has turned more than one coffee lover towards the benefits of decaf. Peet’s is one of the more affordable brands available, and $19 will get you a 1 lb. bag. We give the Mocca-Java 5 of 5 stars.
- NO FUN JO DECAF PROFESSIONAL CUPPING NOTES: SWEET BLUEBERRY | MILK CHOCOLATE | COMPLEX | FULL BODY | NO FLAVORING ADDED...
- Each batch of this fresh roasted organic coffee is hand-crafted, by artisan coffee roasters, in our micro-roastery.
- Available in 12 oz or a 2 lb money-saving package, both packaged with resealable tin-tie for convenient storage. We...
Jo’s medium dark roast decaf coffee has one quality that shines above most other brands – it’s about as decaffeinated as you can get. People with acute sensitivities to caffeine love this coffee and can drink more than one cup without getting the jitters.
The No Fun Jo Decaf has hints of berry and chocolate, melding for a rich flavor that won’t leave you anxious. It’s decaffeinated using the Swiss Water method, so you won’t be tasting anything but coffee each morning. $12 will get you a 12 oz. bag, and if you buy from the Jo’s Coffee website, you can get free shipping if you purchase multiple bags. We gave No Fun Jo Decaf 5 of 5 stars.
- All Natural Swiss Water Process decaffeinated Colombian Supremo
- Natural carmel and cocoa with a hint of citrus. Smooth, clean finish with low acidity
- Medium-Dark Roast - Whole Bean Arabica Coffee - GMO Free
Café Don Pablo’s Colombian Decaf is a medium-dark Arabica blend, with a hint of sweetness. The company is based in Colombia (hence, of course, ‘Don Pablo’ Escobar), which gives it access to some of the best and purest coffee beans in the world. Don Pablo removes the caffeine with nothing more than patience and water – no chemicals, which means the beans’ natural flavors are preserved.
Café Don Pablo is easily the most affordable decaf on the market. $15 will get you a 2 lb. bag. Be sure to follow brewing instructions if you want to preserve the flavor and avoid bitter decaf coffee. We gave Café Don Pablo 4 of 5 stars, due to occasional reports of inconsistent roasts.
Koffee Kult’s medium roast is, by all accounts, delicious, and very affordable - $15 will get you a 1 lb. bag. This decaf is Swiss Water processed, giving you taste without jitters. Its standout feature, however, is it’s aroma – this is one of the few decaf blends around with hints of cinnamon. You might end up brewing it just for the morning scent.
Few people have anything bad to say about Koffee Cult. We give the Colombian Decaf 5 of 5 stars.
- Sumatra Mandheling Decaf Coffee version of this fine single origin coffee that is that is delightfully smooth with a...
- Decaffeination by the Swiss Water Process: 100% chemical free process that delivers coffee that is 99.9% caffeine-free...
- Medium roasted whole beans allowing the true flavor characteristic to come through for a remarkable taste.
This medium roast is heavy, lingering just on the edge of sweet. It’s decaffeinated using the Swiss Water method, so the only flavor left is the earthy undertones of the jungle. Volcanica’s Sumatra Mandheling is exceptionally decaffeinated, so you should have no problem with more than one cup. $18 will get you a 1 lb. bag. We give the Sumatra Mandheling decaf 5 of 5 stars.
- 100% Arabica Medium Roast Coffee, Decaf Blend
- Enjoy the Tim Hortons taste you love at home, one delicious cup at a time
- The secret to our great tasting coffee comes from using our own special premium blend
It’s tempting to think that large coffee companies can’t make good coffee – too much mass production ruins quality. The truth is, sometimes the biggest names make the best products. Tim Horton’s Coffee has been a staple in the business for nearly 80 years.
This medium roast decaf is Swiss Water processed, so you won’t feel anxious with more than one cup. At $19 a pound, it’s a better bargain than some of its more elite counterparts. Mass producing a quality decaf isn’t easy, and Tim Horton’s does a fine job. We give the medium roast 5 of 5 stars.
Watch the name on this coffee – Koa Coffee Plantation is the company, but Kona coffee is the product. The latter name comes from the Kona region on the island of Hawaii, where most of the state’s coffee farms are located. Lots of companies sell Kona coffee, but none are Koa Coffee Plantation. It’s easy to order the wrong coffee with a simple typo.
Koa’s Swiss Water Decaf is a medium roast, with no chemical processing. True coffee aficionados will recognize a distinctly full-bodied Hawaiian flavor. This is a more expensive blend – $55 will get you a 1 lb. bag – but if you can afford it, the taste is worth it. We give Koa Swiss Water Decaf 4 of 5 stars.
- Premium 100% Arabica beans with just the right flavor profile
- Medium roasted coffee
- Delivers sweet and fruity notes with a well-balanced finish
Calling yourself the ‘original’ is a tough gamble in any business, much less one as old as coffee making, Eight O’Clock has a legitimate claim – this company, after all, stretches back to 1859.
The company’s longevity is both good and bad for this medium blend. It’s been a staple of coffee drinkers for a few generations now, and we’re willing to bet your parents and grandparents remember it from grocery store shelves. It’s method of decaffeination hasn’t changed much, however, and Eight O’Clock still uses the methylene chloride method.
This doesn’t mean the coffee is bad – the solvent method of decaffeination has improved a great deal in the past century – but it’s still a small step below the Swiss Water method. Per affordability, Eight O’Clock does better than most – $12 gets you a medium roast 24 oz. bag. We give Eight O’Clock 3 of 5 stars.
- Seattle's Best Coffee has a new look but the same premium beans, specially roasted for a smooth taste
- Decaf Signature Blend No. 3 is now Decaf Portside Blend
- Decaf Portside Blend is a medium roasted, decaffeinated coffee with a well-rounded and smooth flavor
We couldn’t review decaf coffees without discussing Seattle’s Best. Coffee lovers might know it’s owned by Starbucks, but even the coffee giant itself knew enough to let Seattle’s Best keep its name and recipes intact.
The company itself doesn’t reveal how the medium Portside Blend is decaffeinated, so it’s unlikely that the Swiss Water method is used here. The taste and quality are chemical free and consistent, however. $10 to $12 will get you a 12 oz. bag, placing the Portside right in the middle of our pricing options. We give the Portside Blend 3 of 5 stars.
Why Should I Make the Switch?
Most people drink coffee for the caffeine. True decaf drinkers want the taste. Switching to decaf doesn’t mean terrible coffee – quite the opposite. There’s more than enough variety, flavor, and aroma to keep you busy for years to come. Drink what you like and enjoy a good morning.