Decaffeinated coffee often gets a bad rap in specialty coffee circles. I myself felt very snobby towards it. I didn't consider decaf coffee to be 'real coffee'. It seemed pointless to me; kind of like alcohol free beer. This was until a customer and friend of mine started suffering from chronic headaches and was only able to consume trace amounts of caffeine. Then all he could drink was decaf. He is quite the coffee snob so this was a disaster. Suddenly, I was extremely grateful for decaf coffee. It allowed my friend to still drink the thing he loved most.
I hadn't considered that people might want to drink decaf for health reasons, or because of a caffeine intolerance. Perhaps they suffer from acid reflux. Some might just want to monitor their caffeine intake in the evenings, so their sleep won't be affected. Whatever the reason, the benefits of decaf coffee can be amazing for coffee lovers.
Even I have my dose of decaf sometimes, but it's only in the afternoon. Sometimes, I can't refuse myself an espresso after a heavy meal in the afternoon. Those days I resort to a double shot of decaf espresso to avoid late nights up.
Those that think decaf is pointless (like I did) are just plain wrong. Decaf coffee still contains antioxidants, such as chlorogenic acid, and offers the health benefits associated with regular coffee, just without the adrenaline spike.
However, the decaf world is a minefield. The method of decaffeination makes a massive difference to the quality of the cup and the health properties associated with it.
This is a list of our favorite decaf coffees, to enjoy great flavorful decaf joe. The list also shows the decaffeination method, for the health conscientious.
The Best Decaf Coffee
This list contains our favorite decaf coffee brands to buy. The coffees on this list are the healthiest, the best quality, and the best price. But before getting to the list, let's see which decaffeination method is the best, so you know what to buy.
Which is the Best Decaffeination Process?
But first, let's run through the different methods of decaffeination. In the end, the decaffeination method will determine the quality of the beans, and the amount of trace chemicals left after removing the caffeine.
With some decaffeination methods we get a better price, with other methods a better taste, and with some we get a decent price and great taste, but less variety.
Chemical-Free Swiss Water Process
This is the gold standard for decaffeination. Only spring water is used to extract the caffeine from coffee beans, compared to another decaffeination process that uses chemicals. The caffeine content in SW processed decaf beans is extremely low.
All official Swiss Water processed coffee is decaffeinated by a company near Vancouver in Canada. All beans decaffeinated in this way are organic and kosher coffee beans.
The method involves soaking beans in hot water then passing them through charcoal filters.
The problem with this method is that it is expensive. It is normally reserved for organic decaf coffee.
Chemical decaffeination - Direct Solvent Process
For this common method, the beans are rinsed repeatedly in either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate to decaffeinate them. The beans are then steamed to remove any residue chemicals. This method is quick, and cheap. Coffee processed this way tastes pretty good, and it retains most of the original coffee flavors and properties.
The most common concern about this method is that the solvent is not completely removed from the
Indirect Solvent Process
For this method, the beans are first soaked in water for decaffeination. This water is then treated with either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate to remove the caffeine. Afterwards, the beans are reintroduced so that they can reabsorb the coffee flavors and oils from the water.
The indirect solvent process is what gave decaf a bad reputation. Much of the flavor is lost during processing.
The concern regarding trace amount of chemicals being left in your coffee is not as big as the direct solvent method.
The CO2 process is another of the chemical-free methods. For this method, liquid carbon dioxide is forced into the coffee in an extraction chamber. CO2 gas binds selectively to caffeine and leaves behind most of the coffee properties.
Based on my purchases, the CO2 method is the best tasting and the healthiest. In fact, my favorite decaf is the Dek from Lavazza. The beans are an average blend, but the decaffeination method makes all the difference.
The disadvantage with the CO2 method is that due to the cost of this method, it is often reserved for large scale, commercial coffees. You will not see small batch coffees decaffeinated with the CO2 method.
The List - Best Decaffeinated Coffee Beans
Volcanica Coffee Company - Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Decaf Coffee
Volcanica Coffee is an American company with heritage from Costa Rica in Central America. They roast a delicious Ethiopian Yirgacheffe decaffeinated with the Swiss water process. This amazing coffee has a fruity flavor profile with a mellow taste which makes the taste buds go absolutely crazy. It is a light roast coffee, a great single origin decaf, and one of my favorites.
It is really difficult to find a a great single origin decaf. The reason is that the Swiss water decaffeination process is not as easy to nail. It's very easy to extract a bit more trying to get that caffeine content as low as possible. When you extract more than you should, you remove flavors.
Volcanica's Yirgacheffe is one of the best decaf single origin, and you can't tell by its taste that it is decaf.
Apart from the Yirgacheffe decaf coffee, Volcanica also offer a delightful Brazilian decaf. These beans are also decaffeinated using water but offer a bolder profile with rich flavors of dark chocolate, notes of caramel, and a smooth body.
Lavazza Dek Whole Bean Coffee Decaffeinated Blend
The decaf coffee beans from Lavazza are a great option for drinkers who love the classic espresso taste.
The Lavazza Dek blend is roasted slowly for longer than most other blends which creates the perfect flavor profile for decaf espresso.
This espresso blend is naturally decaffeinated using the carbon dioxide process. While Swiss water processing is optimal, natural decaffeination using CO2 is the other great natural decaffeination method to ensure we are not getting any traces of chemicals in our beans. (It is my favorite decaffeination method.)
Lavazza decaf is a budget friendly, bold cup of coffee, at the right price. Do not get fooled by the low price, the coffee tastes really good.
I also love that they sell it in small bags, so you can mitigate better the oxidation. When you open a 2 pound bag, you will get stale coffee after the first half, if you don't store it in the freezer. So buy a bag, or two, it's all the same. Their packaging is perfect, it is meant to keep the beans fresh for a long time. and you can keep the bag unopened for months.
In this video you can see a shot pulled with a naked portafilter using the Lavazza Dek. You can’t “see the taste“, obviously, but all visual indicators point to a great blend.
Kicking Horse Decaf Dark Roast
Another dark roast option is the blend from Kicking Horse Coffee makers. This option is a little pricier, but for good reason, as it is Fair Trade and organic decaf. Kicking Horse use the Swiss water method for decaffeination, ensuring maximum quality. This organic coffee company is also part of the Rainforest Alliance. This means this delicious coffee is ideal for the environmentally friendly coffee drinker.
The blend is a combination of various South and Central American coffees, with natural flavor notes of chocolate and roasted hazelnuts - perfect for discerning coffee lovers.
I love Kicking Horse's beans, and these are great beans too. You might get slight variations though, from batch to batch. Something worth noting.
If you are just trying to cut off some of the caffeine, and not completely, the best option is to try their Half Ass - half decaf blend, which is absolutely fantastic.
San Francisco Bay Decaf Espresso Blend Whole Bean
If you prefer to shop a little more locally, the all American Medium Roast coffee from SF Bay Coffee is a great option. Buying your beans from a local roaster means that you are always buying fresh coffee.
This blend is also Swiss water processed, and so has only trace caffeine content. Amazon reviews consistently state how delicious this decaf blend is, and we 100% agree. It is sold as decaf ground coffee or as whole beans.
The blend is a full bodied, medium-dark roast, with notes of dark chocolate and smoky brown spice, a classic espresso blend. You will notice the beans are covered with an oily shine, which is a good thing. We have a dedicated article where we explain in more details why are beans shiny. If you use a fully automatic, you might want to stay away from this blend, otherwise you'll love it.
Eight O'Clock Whole Bean Decaf Coffee
Another popular American company, with perhaps the best value decaf beans on this list, is Eight O'Clock. Eight O'Clock are a 150 year old coffee company that really know their trade. They are extremely versatile and offer a variety of coffees.
This coffee is a Colombian blend medium roast. You can use it in your super automatic espresso machine, for a drip coffee, Moka pot, or even French press.
Their decaf process is not natural but their methods comply strictly with all food health and safety guidelines.
If you are looking for an affordable and tasty cup of decaf, Eight O'Clock is a great choice.
Starbucks Decaf - Pike Place
If you are looking to recreate your decaf Starbucks order from the comfort of your own home, you're in luck. Starbucks offer a wide range of decaf options for home brewing, such as the Pike Place and their Verona blend decaf coffee.
I am not a huge fan of their brewed coffees and milky beverages, but their beans are great. Pike place is one of my favorite blends, and their decaf Pike place is as good as the caffeinated beans.
Starbucks ethically source their coffee and always treat their coffee producers fairly. This coffee giant has been providing a consistent product for years now and the fact is: sometimes you just can't beat a Starbucks!
One note on their decaffeination method though. At the moment of this writing, they use the direct contact method of decaffeination with methylene chloride as the solvent. This is a very safe method, there are no trace amounts of methylene chloride in the roasted beans. However, some people prefer it that no chemical touches their beans.
Our Top Decaf Picks
Most Affordable Great Decaf - Lavazza Dek
Our best pick for the most affordable decaf is the decaffeinated coffee beans from Lavazza Dek. These are very economic, are decaffeinated without using chemicals and boast some very balanced flavors. If you are looking for an exotic coffee, this is not it. It's a classic espresso blend that tastes great and it is extremely affordable.
Healthiest Decaffeinated Coffee - Kicking Horse
If health is your main priority, Kicking Horse Coffee wins the day with its Swiss water processed beans. Kicking Horse are also the most environmentally friendly option on this list so they are a great pick for those worried about the carbon footprint of the coffee industry.
If we are being honest, all Swiss Water and CO2 decaffeinated beans are equally healthy. We just love the fact that Kicking Horse thinks about the planet's health as well.
Best Overall Pick - Volcanica Yirgacheffe
The clear overall winner is in our eyes the Volcanica's Yirgacheffe. The light roast in combination with the Swiss water processing results in some of the best-tasting decaf coffee we had, all these at a very low caffeine content. We also love that Volcanica is a small, family run business and provides a strictly monitored, high quality product.
There is no reason to compromise just because you drink decaf. The exotic single origin from Ethiopia will amaze you with some great floral and fruity notes and a pleasant acidity.
We really recommend giving decaf a try with one of the amazing coffees on this list. Drinking decaf means that you don't have to monitor the coffee per day that you drink. If your caffeine intake is too high, there is no need to suffer and go cold turkey. Switching to decaf will cut your caffeine consumption, without feeling like a sacrifice. Or maybe you just need your load of antioxidants in the afternoon. You don't have to trade your night sleep for that cup of antioxidants.
If decaf is still too much for you, (let's not forget that there is still some caffeine in a decaf coffee), maybe you need to look at coffee alternatives that give you energy.
Or if you need just a drink to simulate coffee taste but you have no need for the energy boost, these Healthy Coffee Alternatives that Taste Like Coffee are a good start.