Drinking coffee in the afternoon or evening and then not being able to fall asleep? Many know the problem because the caffeine in coffee makes us awake. “Decaffeinated” coffee offers a natural alternative. Only it is officially not “decaffeinated” but actually decaffeinated. Why this is so and what advantages decaffeinated coffee offers is in this article.
The most important facts about decaffeinated coffee
- Ludwig Roselius, the founder of the well-known coffee brand “Kaffee HAG”, produced decaffeinated coffee for the first time in 1903.
- Nowadays, solvents make decaffeinated coffee, which releases the caffeine in the coffee beans.
- During pregnancy, you should not consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine a day. If you want to be on the safe side, you can use decaffeinated coffee.
- Although the coffee is called “decaffeinated,” it is never wholly caffeine-free.
Why use decaffeinated coffee?
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, increases the heart rate, constricts the blood vessels, and increases blood pressure. Those who can tolerate caffeine become more alert, attentive, and focused.
However, if you have too much caffeine or are intolerant to caffeine, the effect can turn negative: tremors, sweating, racing heart, and stomach problems can result. People with high blood pressure, heart problems, and sensitive stomachs can be advised to use decaffeinated coffee!
Decaffeinated coffee: useful or unhealthy?
Decaffeinated coffee is a welcome alternative for those people who do not want to forego the taste and aroma of the coffee, but cannot tolerate the caffeine it contains. How healthy the hot beverage is ultimately decided by the method with which the coffee is treated.
Does decaffeinated coffee contain caffeine?
Decaffeinated coffee, as it is officially called, still has a caffeine content of 1 g per 1000 g of roasted or green coffee. The term decaffeinated is laid down in the coffee regulation. That means “caffeine-free” is not the right name, because coffee is not completely free of caffeine and therefore should not be called that.
In common parlance, the term “caffeine-free” is still common and is also used. For other foods such as beer, the term “alcohol-free” is used and generally tolerated. Why is that?
“Decaffeinated coffee” is not “caffeine-free”, but it can be assumed that 0.1% caffeine does not trigger any physiological effects in the body. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an intake of 400 mg caffeine per day is considered safe for the healthy, adult general population, which corresponds to approx. 4 cups of coffee.
How much caffeine do other foods contain?
Here is a small overview of the caffeine content of various foods and drinks:
Drink/food average caffeine content (mg)
1 cup of decaffeinated coffee (150 ml) 3
1 cup of coffee (150 ml) 50-100
1 cup of espresso (50 ml) 15-90
1 cup of black tea (150 ml) 20-60
1 cup of cocoa (150 ml) 2-8
Milk chocolate (100 g) approx. 20
Semi-dark chocolate (100 g) approx. 75
Cola (330 ml) 32-60
Energy drinks (250 ml) approx. 80
What is certain is that the tolerance of caffeine differs from person to person. If you are very sensitive to caffeine, you should also notice reactions after consuming other caffeine-containing foods.
What are the benefits of decaffeinated coffee?
The biggest advantage is quickly said: No caffeine! In short, “decaffeinated” coffee can be drunk around the clock. Nothing stands in the way of afternoon coffee with a piece of cake for those who are sensitive to caffeine. However, caffeine in higher doses can not only lead to insomnia, other possible consequences are tremors, sweating, and palpitations. These consequences naturally do not occur when consuming decaffeinated coffee.
Decaffeinated coffee is particularly suitable for people who cannot tolerate caffeine so well, but also for pregnant women. Because there are again separate limit values for pregnant women. So if you don’t want to do without coffee, we recommend decaffeinated coffee, because it is better than its reputation.
Decaffeinated coffee in older people
Older people in particular swear by decaffeinated coffee because they assume that they can no longer tolerate caffeine as well as they get older. After consuming caffeinated coffee, they often complain of high blood pressure and heart problems. However, the bitter substances could also be a reason why the coffee is perceived as incompatible.
If older people were actually so sensitive to caffeine, they would probably also have problems with or after consuming chocolate and cocoa, because these foods also contain caffeine – albeit in lower doses. But decaffeinated coffee is also popular in other phases of life, for example during pregnancy.
Does decaffeinated coffee make sense during pregnancy?
For many expectant mothers, pregnancy means doing without a number of things that could harm the child. The same applies to caffeine – but is the fear justified?
In fact, studies on the subject of “caffeine and pregnancy” do not come to a clear conclusion. Some believe that there is a statistical connection between impairments in the newborn and the mother’s caffeine consumption; others do not see this connection. The question has not yet been finally clarified. However, if you don’t want to take any risks, you can use decaffeinated coffee.
Our tip: especially during pregnancy, choose decaffeinated coffee that has been awarded an organic seal.
For those who cannot or do not want to do without caffeinated coffee completely, doctors have given a rough guideline up to which caffeinated coffee should also be harmless to the newborn child. Because there is one thing women should know during pregnancy: The caffeine always reaches the baby via the placenta – whether the caffeine causes damage here or whether the baby can break down the caffeine very well has not been conclusively clarified.
So if you want to be on the safe side despite caffeine, you should not consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine a day. The specified amount is to be understood as the total amount. This means that other foods that contain caffeine must also be included in the bill. These include, for example, chocolate, black and green tea, and cocoa.
Some medications can also contain caffeine. Therefore, if possible, pregnant women should keep a precise plan of what foods they consume every day and discuss this with their doctor.
How is coffee decaffeinated?
There are different ways to decaffeinate coffee. Basically, the caffeine is removed from the coffee before it is roasted. In the direct process, the manufacturer uses solvents such as dichloromethane or ethyl acetate as an aid. The caffeine is selectively withdrawn from the bean and the aromas are retained.
Another option is the so-called water process. The major disadvantage of this process is that large amounts of drinking water are required and, unfortunately, not only is the caffeine removed from the coffee but many aromas are also lost. The CO2 process is considered to be a very energy-intensive process.
Some processes that use solvents to decaffeinate decaffeinated coffee have had a bad rap.
Risks of decaffeinated coffee
In the current process, the coffee beans are first treated with steam and then soaked in the solvents dichloromethane or ethyl acetate. This flushes out the caffeine, and then the beans are dried and roasted like normal coffee beans.
However, the dichloromethane method is not without risk. The substance is suspected of being carcinogenic. The variant with ethyl acetate is better. This substance is natural and also occurs in fruits and vegetables.
A better and solvent-free way of decaffeinating coffee beans is the carbon dioxide process. In this method, the coffee beans are subjected to high pressure and at the same time rinsing off with liquid carbon dioxide. In this way, the caffeine can be bound in the carbon dioxide and removed from the bean.
To date, it has not been conclusively clarified whether the substances that are used are dangerous to health or not. There seems to be evidence that at least one solvent, dichloromethane, is potentially carcinogenic.
How dangerous is dichloromethane in decaffeinated coffee?
The health hazard, however, remains a theoretical one. This is because strict limit values must be adhered to during the decaffeination process. For example, a kilo of coffee may contain a maximum of two milligrams of the controversial dichloromethane. A limit value that, according to experts, is usually well below that. Nevertheless, a certain health risk cannot be completely ruled out.
Coffee without caffeine using healthy methods
Even if it has not yet been clarified whether the solvent dichloromethane is actually unhealthy or even carcinogenic, there is also a decaffeination process that is guaranteed to be harmless – and is therefore mainly used for organic coffees. The coffee beans are not rinsed with a solvent, but with so-called supercritical CO2, which has the properties of gas and liquids at the same time. However, the process is more complex, which is reflected in the price.
On the other hand, more flavorings are also retained – good for the taste. In some cases, the caffeine is removed from the beans using the natural solvent ethyl acetate.
Decaffeinated coffee – what else you should know
- Although the coffee is called “decaffeinated”, it is never completely caffeine-free. From a purely chemical point of view, it does not seem to be possible to filter caffeine out of the beans down to the last residue. Coffee with a caffeine content of up to 0.1% can still be declared decaffeinated coffee.
- Decaffeinated coffee is not necessarily healthier. As we have already seen, what really matters is the method that is used to remove the caffeine from the coffee. Under certain circumstances, for example, the coffee becomes less digestible than it would be with caffeine. The stomach-friendly effect in particular is then a thing of the past.
- Organic decaffeinated coffee seems like a better choice. Because with organic coffee no chemical solvents may be used to rid the bean of the caffeine. So if you are afraid of dichloromethane, you should use organic decaffeinated coffee. Because this is usually decaffeinated using the CO2 method.
- Decaffeinated coffee also seems to grow naturally. In 2004, scientists discovered a naturally decaffeinated coffee plant in Ethiopia. Since then, attempts have been made to grow a coffee plant that bears caffeine-free fruit in a more natural way, namely through selection and crossbreeding, but so far the coffee plants are not high-yielding enough for naturally produced decaffeinated coffee to be commercially available in the near future.
How much caffeine is in decaf coffee?
Q I have a question about decaf coffee. How much caffeine can this coffee contain? Is there a limit? Could it be that you get palpitations even though you have only drunk decaf coffee?
A According to the regulation on coffee and chicory extracts, decaffeinated coffee may contain a maximum of 0.1 percent caffeine. As with “non-alcoholic” beer, decaffeinated coffee can also contain a small amount of caffeine.
Is decaffeinated coffee unhealthy?
Coffee that does not wake you up can contain unhealthy ingredients. In most cases, decaffeinated coffee from the supermarket is treated with the solvents benzene or dichloromethane – and these are at least suspected of being carcinogenic. For more information if decaffeinated coffee is safe, read this article.
Is caffeine bad for me?
Too much caffeine can lead to sweating, tremors, and nervousness. EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) recommends that adults consume a maximum of 400 mg of caffeine per day, which corresponds to around 3-5 cups of coffee. A correspondingly lower dose applies to pregnant women, children, and adolescents.
Conclusion: Decaffeinated coffee in brief
- According to the coffee regulation, it is called decaffeinated and not caffeine-free.
- Coffee is considered decaffeinated if it contains less than 1 g of caffeine per 1000 g of coffee.
- There are no side effects such as poor sleep when consuming decaffeinated coffee.