Coffee Basics: What is Decaf Coffee?

Slow Motion Decaf
As you might imagine, at Counter Culture Coffee, we talk about coffee a lot. We’re passionate and sometimes use industry terms to convey complicated concepts. That said, we also want to make sure that we talk about coffee in a way that anyone can understand. To that end, we’ve started a new series that aims to shed light on coffee subjects in an accessible way.

The second topic for our Coffee Basics series is about caffeination and decaffeination.

Coffee beans, which are the seeds from a fruit of a tree, are naturally caffeinated and have been used for their invigorating quality for centuries. So what’s the difference between caffeinated coffee and decaf? And how does our coffee compare in caffeine levels? We’ll try to answer some of those questions in this Coffee Basics post.

How much caffeine is in Counter Culture coffee?
Historically, Counter Culture hasn’t done any official testing of caffeine levels. In the past, it was thought that lighter roasts maintain slightly more caffeine than darker roasts, but now most people believe that caffeine is pretty stable throughout the roasting process and differences in caffeine most often come down to brewing. For example, coffee made in a French press—where the grounds continue steeping in water after the primary brewing cycle is finished—will have more caffeine than a small espresso shot, although the shot of espresso is more concentrated.

On average, coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine per 8 oz cup.

What is decaf coffee?
While the levels of caffeine can vary based on brew and roast levels, it is also possible to remove the naturally occurring caffeine from the beans, aka decaffeination.

There are three general methods to extract caffeine from coffee: using organic chemical solvents (methylene chloride or ethyl acetate), carbon dioxide, or the water method—also known as the Swiss Water method. Resulting coffees have a fraction of the amount of caffeine that regular coffee has, with at least 97 percent of the caffeine removed.

Our decaf coffees—the year-round Slow Motion and single-origin La Voz—are both decaffeinated through the original Swiss Water Process, a water-only process that uses pure water and proprietary carbon filters to remove caffeine. We prefer this process because it results in coffee that is 99.9 percent caffeine-free and it tends to accentuate the body of the coffee.

How do you remove the caffeine from coffee?
In the Swiss Water Process, un-roasted or “green” coffee beans are washed and hydrated in pure, local water and then introduced to what is known as green coffee extract or GCE. The caffeine then ventures out on its own, away from the coffee beans and into the GCE and then the caffeine gets trapped in carbon filters and is separated from the GCE.

Swiss Water Decaf Process
Swiss Water Decaf Process

To watch a video on the Swiss Water Process, visit our Resource Center here.

Is decaf coffee or regular coffee better for you?
Findings have been contradictory as to whether or not coffee has any specific health benefits, and results are similarly conflicting regarding the potentially harmful effects of coffee consumption. This goes for decaf coffee, as well. Too much caffeine consumption can lead to elevated heart rate, anxiety, depression, and difficulty sleeping at night. However, caffeine also has benefits including boosting energy levels and lowering fatigue.

At the end of the day, we believe that decaf coffees deserve to be just as enjoyable as regular coffee, especially because decaf drinkers are more than anything drinking coffee for its flavor. We hope you enjoy our decaf coffees as much as any of our other offerings.