August 29, 2022

Don’t Dread the Decaf: The Best Decaf Coffee on the Market

Decaf? Decaf?? Decaf??? WHY??

Hey, we all know that decaf has a terrible reputation. Journalists, line cooks, and Lorelai Gilmore would laugh you out of town for even considering the red-headed-step-son of the coffee industry.

Buttttttt… (and we have to say it) – the older we get, the harder it can be to pound caffeine the way we used to. There are countless reasons, both medical and mental, why caffeinated coffee can be challenging to consume. If only there was a decaf that tastes as good as its peppier sibling, we could all sleep at night AND enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.

So, we set out to discover, what is the best decaf coffee?

First off, what’s with caffeine, anyways? Did you know that caffeine is nature’s pest control for coffee plants. The caffeine keeps the critters away. It’s there for 2 reasons. 1) To make sure it gets to maturity so that you can enjoy the flavor AND 2) The buzzzzz.

First of all, what is decaf coffee?

Decaf coffee just means de-caffeinated. Meaning the caffeine is removed from the bean. There are three primary methods for decaffeinating coffee. Each method has its own effect on the decaf coffee’s flavor. We’ll go through each method and decide which method produces the best decaf coffee.

Does Decaf coffee contain caffeine?
The answer, sadly, is yes, but very little. It has to be at least 97% caffeine free to be considered decaf coffee, but all decaf coffees have a tiny bit of caffeine.

How is decaf coffee, ahem, decaffeinated? There are several methods, each with its own ups and downs.

Method #1: Chemical Process Decaf.

The original method, and by far the most common way to make decaf coffee is called the chemical process. In the chemical process, a solvent called methlyene chloride is used to break the bond of the caffeine from the coffee. Chemical Process Decaf Coffee can be done using the direct or the indirect method.

In the direct method, the raw, green beans are steamed directly with the chemical solvent, and the solvent breaks the caffeine’s bond from the rest of the bean, then the chemical and the caffeine are rinsed away, leaving only the tiniest trace of caffeine and chemical. This method tends to produce dry and fairly mild decafs. A little generic in flavor.

In the indirect method, the chemical never actually touches the beans. Instead the raw beans are soaked for hours in water, then the beans are removed and the chemical agent is added to the soaking water to remove the caffeine. Then, the decaffeinated bean water is reintroduced to the bean, which also reintroduces flavor and oils. This method tends to produce decafs with a wider array of flavor and more oil. Better for redline espresso, especially.

Chemical processed decaf coffees as a category often taste a little metallic but otherwise pretty balanced in flavor - often more so than the other methods. It’s worth noting, however, that the use of chemicals in the decaffeination method means that chemical processed decafs can’t be certified organic, even though the chemicals are well below any level that might be considered dangerous.

We feel chemical processed decafs are the best decaf for espresso.

Method #2. Water Process Decaf

Water process decaf coffee, first called Swiss Water Process Decaf Coffee, was invented in Switzerland (duh) in the 1930s, then brought to market in a big way in the 80s. The water process doesn’t use any solvent to remove the caffeine. Instead, the raw coffee is soaked in hot water, then the hot water is passed through a filter to catch all the caffeine particles. Then the beans are reunited with the extract water. This process is repeated over and over again until the beans reach their target decaffeination level.

Water process coffees can be considered organic if the underlying beans are certified organic. Their flavors are mild and sweet, and the decaffeinated beans they take a roast very well. We think water processed decafs are the best decaf coffee for drip and for the best decaf coffee for dark roast.

Method #3. Sugar Cane Process Decaf.

Ethyl Acetate is derived from cane sugar, hence the name “sugar cane processing.” Essentially the process uses sugar cane to purge the caffeine from the bean without any excessive heat or pressure that could strip the flavor. 

Sounds pretty cool, right? Here’s the in-depth version: 

  • Green, unroasted coffee is steamed with very minimal pressure
  • The steam opens the pores of the coffee, which allows the caffeine to be extracted
  • The coffee and the EA solution are then combined until the coffee is fully saturated 
  • This process is repeated many times over (around 8 hours) until the coffee has been fully decaffeinated 
  • The coffee is then steamed again until no traces of EA are left. 

EA decaf often tastes mildly sweet - a little like the sugar cane used to decaffeinate. Many believe the EA process produces the best decaf, however we find it a little artificially sweet to our taste. That said, EA can be certified organic if the underlying coffee is also certified organic.

Method #4. CO2 Process Decaf.

In the carbon dioxide decaffeination method, raw coffee is soaked for hours, opening its pores, making it easier to remove the caffeine. Then the raw coffee is exposed to supercritical CO2 (CO2 that acts both like a gas and a liquid) to remove the caffeine from the bean. Then the caffeine is removed from the CO2 using carbon filtering. This process keeps the proteins and sugars intact, theoretically maintaining the flavor of the bean.

This method may well be the best decaf coffee, but it is very expensive and thus out of reach for many consumers.

Why Should I Switch to Decaf Coffee? 

Swapping to decaf fully is between you, your doctor, and those at the other end of your road rage. But even if you don’t make the change full-time, there are multiple reasons why adding decaf coffee into your routine might be beneficial. 

Decaf coffee is an excellent option for those with caffeine sensitivities, anxiety, severe heartburn, insomnia, digestive problems, and more. Also, 

How To Switch to the Best Decaf Coffee 

We recommend starting with something you love – find a blend that aligns with your usual, full-caffeine coffee preference and start by switching one or two cups a week. If you’re a multiple-times-a-day kind of coffee drinker, start by switching those afternoon cups with a flavor-forward decaf option. 

The Best Decaf For Decaf Drip Coffee

Our favorite? The Decaf Xeno FTO. It’s certified fair trade and organic – because you know how we do! – and offers a sweet, toasty, comforting flavor profile. It’s the perfect entry point to decaf because of its robust nature. We HIGHLY doubt a caffeine drinker could pick it out of a lineup. Doesn’t a blind taste with your friends sound fun?

We LOVE this review from Lizbeth P.

“When you have to stay away from caffeine (doctor’s orders), you want to find the tastiest decaf possible—for me, that’s Xeno. I’ve been drinking it for years and never tire of those lovely notes of chocolate and almond. The flavor is full and rich with no bitterness or burnt taste, and of course, there’s no chemical undertaste because Xeno is water-process decaffeinated. I hated having to give up regular coffee, but with Xeno, I don’t feel deprived at all. Please, never change a thing about my favorite coffee!”

The Best Decaf for Decaf Espresso

Our favorite? The Decaf Redline. It’s the decaf version of our famous and flagship Decaf Redline. This blend pulls delicious and balanced shots of decaf espresso. You will hardly miss the caffeine.

We LOVE this review from Sheila A.

“It is my favorite on the market. The flavor is clean and yet nuanced.”

To Sum it All Up: Decaf Gives You Options.

Don’t dread the decaf, friends! Stick with us, and we’ll have you refreshed and ready to convert the doubters in no time. Still not sure if Xeno fits your needs? Try our free coffee quiz and get matched to your perfect coffee companion.