Maryna Gray • April 20, 2021
Did you know caffeine is a natural means of pest control for coffee plants? It’s also been found to increase the efficacy of pollinators—honeybees! Coffee plants are self-pollinating, but bees are drawn to their fragrant white flowers. And just like us, bees receive a small “buzz” of caffeine through the pollen, exhibiting better memory and greater productivity for a short time following!
Caffeine is essential to coffee plants, which is why decaffeinated coffee is actually caffeinated—but not by a lot. Why is this, and exactly how much caffeine is in decaf coffee? Can decaf coffee keep you awake? And what about decaf tea? Using our own coffee expertise, along with insight from medical professionals, we've answered the most common questions around decaf coffee.
Most roasting processes remove about 97 percent of the caffeine (sometimes more). Overall, "the amount of caffeine in decaf coffee is dietetically insignificant," says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND.
According to legend, decaffeinated coffee was “discovered” when a batch of green (unroasted) coffee was submerged in salt water during shipment. Today, most methods of decaffeination involve soaking the unroasted beans in water (or steaming them) and using a variety of nontoxic solvents to extract the caffeine. Mountain Water and Swiss Water are two companies that decaffeinate coffee using this method.
Ethyl Acetate (EA), also known as the Sugar Cane Method, is another popular process for decaffeinating coffee. It uses a byproduct from sugar cane to produce a solvent that extracts caffeine from the coffee. It’s popular in areas that grow and process sugar cane, and a lot of artisan roasters seem to be buying sugar cane decaf coffees these days.
None of these methods can extract all of the caffeine, which is why decaf coffee still contains a small amount of caffeine.
Certain people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. The older you are, the more sensitive to caffeine you are. And enjoying coffee with food helps mitigate the effects of too many refills. However, most “normal” people (that is, without health conditions that cause them react to caffeine) won’t be affected by the small amount in a cup of decaf. As a general rule, caffeine’s effects peak after about an hour and stay in your body for about six hours. So as long as you avoid that after-dinner cup of Joe, you should be able to enjoy a cup of delicious decaf in the morning and sleep like a baby when bedtime rolls around.
No, and there's not much difference between caffeinated coffee and decaffeinated coffee since the antioxidant compounds are about the same. "The decaffeinating process will reduce the antioxidants and phenolic compounds by about 10 to 15 percent," says Ayoob. "But that still leaves A LOT of antioxidants available."
Also, research suggests there may be more benefits to decaf coffee than we know. "This study found that coffee polyphenols (the good compounds) had anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, but that caffeine could sometimes antagonize these benefits (e.g. the caffeine may have benefits, but also some potentially negative side effects, particularly on the cardiovascular system)," explains Ayoob. "They concluded that decaf coffee deserves more investigation for its potential benefits."
There are two types of decaf tea: one is real tea that's been decaffeinated, and the other is herbal tea, which doesn't have caffeine from the start. Tip: If you make a cup of tea, dump it, and use the same tea bag a second time, you'll get almost all of the tea flavor and only a fraction of the caffeine.