Best Decaf Coffee: Whole Bean & Ground
Decaffeinated coffee polarizes opinion.
For many, it’s long been viewed as a necessary evil. Perhaps you can’t stop drinking coffee but you’re fully aware it keeps you up at night so you switch to decaf instead.
Others won’t touch it for any reason considering it almost sacrilegious.
One thing unites both groups…
That’s the idea that low caffeine drinks are weak, bland and a waste of time and money.
The thing is, that idea might once have held some truth but the landscape has changed and decaf today can be rich, robust and absolutely brimming with full-flavor beans even if it’s stripped of pretty much all the caffeine.
Today, we’ll kick off with a shotgun summary of 13 of the very best decaffeinated coffees on the market. Our focus today is on either whole beans for you to pop in your grinder or pre-ground coffee suitable for your machine, French press or any other brewing method of your choice. (Don’t worry, though, we’ll be looking at instant decaf later in the week if you insist on something straight out the can.)
We’ll also be taking a look at how, precisely, the caffeine is removed from the beans along with an honest look at the upsides of drinking decaf.
Without further ado, we’ll launch into our capsule reviews then we’ll double down on some more information and the answers to the most frequently asked questions about decaffeinated coffee so you can invest in the best without wasting too much of your precious time.
I. Best Decaf Coffee: Whole Bean & Ground
1) Don Pablo Decaf
This refined decaf from Don Pablo uses the fabled Swiss Water Process to ensure you’ll get a smooth, vibrant drink that’s 99.9% caffeine free.
Just because you’re doing without that caffeine kick, it doesn’t mean you need to take a hit on the taste front. This punchy Colombian Supremo tastes just like the real thing but it won’t keep you up all night or leave you jittery so why not lay some in for those early evening coffees you’d otherwise go without?
This decaf is medium-bodied and very low in acidity so you’ll get no taint but a deep and rich taste that teases the tastebuds, redefining your perception of decaffeinated coffee.
Read More: Best Instant Decaf Coffee
2) Kicking Horse Fair Trade Decaf
One of the main reasons people shy away from decaf is the fear it won’t deliver like the real thing. Kicking Horse disabuse you of that notion with a caffeine-free drink that kicks like the proverbial mule.
You’ll get an enticing chocolatey aroma undercut with a subtle burst of nuts. When you drink your piping hot mug of Fair Trade decaf, those hazelnuts come fully to the fore along with the rich chocolate.
In terms of brewing, you get a nice range of choice. This decaffeinated coffee works well in a French press or as espresso. You can also opt for the more elaborate pour-over method and you can even enjoy it as cold brew coffee but stripped of the caffeine that would otherwise keep you from sleeping.
3) Lavazza Decaf Espresso Ground
Next up in our decaf coffee reviews is an entry from the industry heavyweight Lavazza. Better known for their coffee machines, they also do a mean ground bean which in this case is delightfully caffeine-free.
You can still get all the enjoyment of your morning espresso much later in the day with this variant, and while it’s ideal for use as espresso, you can pop it in just about any coffee machine fuss-free.
A sweet and medium roast with a flavor that lingers long after your cup is dry, you’ll get outstanding value into the bargain. This coffee comes as a pack of 4 cans (8oz), so you won’t need to hustle out for a refill any time soon.
4) Koffee Kult Decaf Colombian
The chemical-free water process that removes the caffeine from Koffee Kult’s Colombian and the rich, dense beans give you a coffee that won’t molest your sleep and won’t damage those precious rainforests either.
Arabica beans give you all the flavor and aroma you could hope for and you can drink with a clear conscience knowing you’re doing your part for the environment without compromising the drink in your mug.
You’ll get these decaf beans whole so make sure you’ve got a grinder at your disposal. While they come in a resealable bag, we’d recommend you store them in an airtight container anyway.
5) Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC Decaf Sumatra
If you love grinding your own fresh beans at home – the perfect way to get that golden cup of coffee every time – this 2-pound bag of Sumatra from Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC gives you a robust medium roast without any caffeine so you can sup it down any time of the day or night.
For a decaf, this coffee tastes amazingly strong and it’s got earthy tones with a hint of chocolate and a delicate creaminess to offset that boldness and balance things out perfectly.
For the purest Arabica beans with no additives or adulterants that’s roasted in an eco-friendly fashion, give this hard-hitting decaf Sumatran a try and you won’t need to worry about whether or not you can down a cup without spoiling your sleep.
6) Eight O’Clock: The Original Decaf
Labeled The Original Decaf, Eight O’Clock delivers a caffeine-free pack of beans that lives up to this bold claim giving you all the taste you’d expect from coffee with none of the downsides of a caffeinated drink.
Kosher and an enduringly popular choice throughout the US, Eight O’Clock now has a legion of global fans to add to its American cohort.
With 150 years in the trenches, these whole beans stick firmly to the tradition that coffee is best when you grind the beans directly before brewing. For a balanced medium-roast that gives you no bells and whistles just rock-solid decaf that tastes just like the real deal, we can’t recommend these beans highly enough.
7) Starbucks Caffe Verona Decaf
It seems impossible to curate a list of the best decaf coffees without the industry giant Starbucks entering the fray. This pack of 6 bags (12oz) represents remarkable value without stiffing you on the taste front.
The darker roast means you’ll get a drink that’s strong and full without feeling out of balance
As long as you obey storage instructions and you use fresh, filtered water, you should get the best out of this coffee for a long time to come.
If you want the pleasure of Starbucks without the stiff bill or needing to leave the comfort of home, why not treat yourself to a batch of this freshly ground coffee instead?
8) Peet’s Coffee Mocca-Java Decaf
Next up in our decaf coffee reviews is a superb Mocca-Java from Peet’s Coffee.
If you’re a dark roast fan, you’ll revel in the chocolate complexity of this Javanese Mocca from a company literally obsessed with bringing you the very finest beans without bankrupting you.
It seems almost unbelievable that you could get a coffee this tasty that’s caffeine-free but Peet’s has performed miracles and achieved exactly that. Their attention to sourcing their beans with one eye on the communities that do all the hard work allows you to enjoy your cup of joe with none of that caffeine and no pangs of guilt about workers hustling for slave wages.
9) Jo Decaf
For anyone looking for a mouth-watering decaf that manages to be fruity and full-bodied at the same time, Jo Decaf is the obvious solution.
With smooth milk chocolate counterbalanced by blueberries, the only thing you’ll struggle with is believing this is not fully caffeinated coffee. You can pick up this whole bean Arabica in single or multi-packs. Whichever you choose, you’ll get outstanding value with no compromise on taste or quality.
Swiss Water Process certified and Fair Trade organic, there are no boxes that Jo doesn’t tick and treating yourself to some of this decaf will let you enjoy the holiday season without worrying about sleepless nights.
10) Wild Coffee Lonestar Decaf
Wild Coffee has a magnificent decaf in the form of the legendary Lonestar that’s well worth popping on your shortlist. If you imagine decaf to be bland and tasteless, check out this single origin Arabica and you’ll quickly change your mind.
The potent aroma and oily beans give you a delicious cuppa without that jolt of caffeine that can help you in the morning but ruin your night if you drink it too late in the day.
This eco-friendly Fair Trade coffee also allows you to do your bit for the farmers and the environment while still enjoying the fullest low caffeine drink.
11) Stone Street Swiss Water Decaf
For a medium roast adhering to the Swiss Water Process, Stone Street pitch up a decaffeinated central American coffee in whole bean form. If you prefer it pre-ground, they’ve covered there, too. You can also opt for a half-caffeine version making this just about the most flexible drink on our list.
There are no frills here and you’ll get a restrained aroma along with a crisp, clear taste that won’t leave you wondering why you didn’t roll with a fully caffeinated alternative.
The finest decaf from this Brooklyn micro-roaster will leave you scratching your head that they’ve only been in the game a bare decade.
12) Kirkland Signature Decaf
Another dark roast as we edge to the end of our decaf reviews with the Kirkland Signature blend.
The fine grind makes this ideal for espresso and the 48-oz bumper can represents sterling value.
From our testing, this coffee responds best if you use a drip machine. That said, this unleaded coffee works well with other brewing methods too so don’t be shy about experimenting.
Made from 100% Arabica beans, you’ll get all the advantages of a full and robust regular coffee without any of the drawbacks caffeine can bring to the table.
13) Tim Horton’s Arabica Decaf
Last but not least, the Tim Horton’s Arabica we tried just this morning. While we normally kickstart our day with a choice espresso, in the spirit of today’s article we popped to the local Tim Horton’s and opted for the medium-roast decaf.
You can buy this in bulk to enjoy at home in pre-ground form and you’ll get a pure Arabica that tastes a treat any time of the day in your coffee maker of choice.
Swiss Water decaffeinated and using Horton’s own proprietary blend, if you don’t fancy popping to the coffee shop, why not bring it home to you at a fraction of the price?
With our decaf coffee reviews put to bed, it’s time to explore the chief advantages of low-caffeine coffee.
II. Benefits of Decaf Coffee
We’re not here to convince you to try decaf if you don’t think it’s the right drink for you. If you wonder what the point is of drinking coffee with pretty all of the caffeine removed, no kind of balanced pros and cons list is likely to make you change your mind.
We all know there’s no caffeine kick and that some degree of taste and aroma will be sacrificed with decaf so rather than laboring those points, we’re going to laser in now purely on the benefits of decaf coffee.
1. You’ll Get Plenty of Nutrients and Antioxidants With Decaf
While coffee often gets a bad press, the brown elixir actually provides a rich seam of antioxidants. While you’ll get slightly fewer of these in decaf – a loss that occurs during decaffeination – you’ll still get more than enough to help your body neutralize potentially damaging free radicals.
“So what?” we can hear you asking.
Well, the net result of taking enough antioxidants on board is a lowered risk of heart disease and cancer so we’re talking about some serious health benefits if you opt for plenty of decaf. And let’s face it, even though you might get slightly fewer antioxidants in low-caffeine coffee, chances are you’ll be drinking a lot more so it kind of evens out.
You’ll also get a handful of nutrients in decaf, although admittedly in pretty small quantities. A single cup of decaf will deliver traces of magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B3. Even though you’ll only be getting small amounts of these nutrients, multiply that by a good few cups each day and there’s definitely something to be gained on this front.
2. Less Chance of Heartburn
If you put away lots of full-fat coffee, you might have experienced that horrifying feeling of acid reflux kicking in just as you ease into bed. You can physically feel that hot acid rising and in some cases it feels uncomfortable enough to cause you to vomit.
You’ll experience far less chance of this nightmare scenario unfolding if you skip the caffeine without foregoing your favorite drink.
You may be wondering if this is really a worthwhile benefit of decaf. If you’ve ever suffered from a full-blooded case of acid reflux, you certainly wouldn’t be feeling that way.
As an inbuilt bonus on an even grander scale, studies have shown supping as little as a couple cups of daily decaf can reduce your chance of rectal cancer by a whopping 48%.
So why not keep on chugging down the coffee without that caffeine? At least minimize the amount of leaded coffee you take on board since even cutting down can lower your chances of heartburn. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
3. You Won’t Have Problems Sleeping After Drinking Decaf
The obvious and perhaps leading advantage of going the decaf route is the fact you won’t disrupt your sleep like you assuredly will with regular coffee.
A stimulant, caffeinated coffee also has a surprisingly long half-life so drinking it any time after early afternoon can and will molest your sleep patterns.
Drinking coffee to excess can certainly help you get over those sluggish periods in the day when you need an extra kick, but the net result of this artificial high is the inevitable crash along with a your body’s circadian rhythms being interfered with and a difficulty in falling asleep when you need to.
Again, we’re certainly not suggesting you ditch the regular coffee altogether, but switching to decaf after lunch is a smart move if you still want that satisfying and comforting taste but you don’t fancy clock-watching all night when you desperately need to sleep before work.
4. Can Reduce Risk of Diabetes
A number of scientific studies, one in particular by the American Diabetes Association, have linked consuming coffee, both caffeinated and decaf, with a reduced risk of diabetes.
As well as lessening the oxidative stress your body is put under – see above for the way in which you’ll get antioxidants from your morning cup of joe – drinking decaf also has positive glucose metabolism effects for the double-win.
Rich in magnesium, this is another powerful way in which you can slash your chances of developing diabetes without needing to cut back on your beloved coffee.Alongside this, you’ll also experience better cardiovascular functioning and your brain can sharpen up, too.
5. Decaf Can Be Good For Liver Health
As if all those health benefits weren’t enough, downing a decent amount of decaf can also promote enhanced liver health. In the interests of accuracy, these same benefits can be achieved with all coffee whatever the caffeine content.
Aflatoxin is a malevolent toxin that can attack and damage your liver. Coffee has a protective umbrella effect against this.
The oils in coffee can also boost the way your liver functions helping with bodily detox into the bargain.
Now you can see just a few of the benefits of drinking decaf, how do coffee producers ever manage to get rid of the caffeine without ruining the taste of the drink completely?
III. How They Produce Decaf Coffee Beans
Before looking at how decaf coffee beans are produced, it’s wise to firm up the definition…
The word decaffeinated should only be accurately used to refer to drinks that have had the caffeine content removed. You should also be aware that many decafs can still have anywhere up to 20% caffeine content although it’s usually far lower at anywhere from 0.1% to 2%.
Pure caffeine was first isolated from coffee beans way in the early 1800s but it wasn’t until the start of the 1900s that the Germans invented the first commercially viable process of producing decaf beans. This crude early process relied on acids and benzene, unthinkable today but not then a known carcinogen.
That said, this early process is still prevalent in a slightly different form with ethyl acetate now the most commonly used solvent. Organic solvents are also becoming more popular in today’s environment-conscious society.
The Swiss Water Process (SWP) came into being in 1979 and it’s named not because of the water itself but for the country in which the method originated. With this approach to removing the caffeine, nothing more than water and osmosis are used. How exactly is this achieved, though?
Firstly, the beans are left to soak in some Green Coffee Extract (GCE) containing no caffeine at all. This step allows all the flavor to remain in the beans while the caffeine seeps out and into the solution. This extract is then treated with activate charcoal so the caffeine is again removed and can be used for the next batch. Once the beans are dried out to their former glory, they can be bagged with the result being coffee that’s fully 99.9% caffeine-free.
Many other approaches to decaffeination result in a caffeine extract that can be sold on again, so reducing the costs of the decaf as this indirect saving can be passed on to the customer. That’s not possible with the SWP since no solvents are used so expect to pay a little more for the privilege.
Another notable drawback is that flavor can be diluted and differ slightly due to this re-use of the solution for multiple batches. You can also experience a degree of flavor cross-contamination when coffees of different origins are used.
The indirect method of removing the caffeine from beans involves an initial soaking of those beans in hot water for a good few hours. After this period, the caffeine is extracted using either the old favorite ethyl acetate or sometimes dichloromethane. Once this has taken place, evaporation separates the unwanted caffeine from the organic solvent so it’s a natural and easy method of extraction. As with the SWP, the solution is used again with subsequent batches. This carries the same disadvantages outlined above. The presence of water in that initial stage leads to the indirect method also being known as water-processed decaf.
Another option for getting decaffeinated coffee is labeled the triglyceride process. This starts out with green coffee beans soaking in a mixture of hot water and coffee in order to bring the caffeine right to the surface of the beans. Once shifted to another container and dunked in coffee oils, they’re left to soak again. Although a good stint at high temperatures is enough to draw out the caffeine, it does nothing to spoil the flavor. After separation and drying, the caffeine that’s been removed by this direct method is used to infuse another batch. And so the cycle continues.
As you can see, when it comes to removing the caffeine from coffee beans, there are a range of methods used by manufacturers but ultimately the real difference is in the caffeine content in the finished drink. If you’re really looking for an ultra-low caffeine drink, look out for those brands that use the Swiss Water Process.
We’ll address some of the most frequently asked questions pinged to us here at Fourth Estate so we can share that knowledge with you and help you to see at a glance the main basics you might want to know but are still unsure about…
1) How many cups of decaf are advisable each day? Is there any sensible limit?
Before you get carried away and think you can mainline decaf like it’s on an IV drip, you need to be reasonable. We’d recommend perhaps 2 to 3 cups a day as a sensible guideline, and this assumes you’ll still be drinking some regular coffee on top. If you find the idea of this restrictive, why not turn it to your advantage and use it as an opportunity to get more water down you? We all know we should be drinking at least 2 liters of water a day to stay properly hydrated so grab a bottle of Evian instead of instinctively reaching for your coffee cup. Remember: everything in moderation.
2) Who should use decaf instead of regular coffee?
If you’re having difficulties sleeping, analyze your caffeine intake and try to assess whether that’s at least partially responsible. If your energy levels are flagging and you want to escape the false peaks and troughs regular coffee can bring about it, it’s also a sound idea to introduce some decaf into the equation. If you’re seeking any of the health benefits outlined above, it might also be time to moderating the amount of leaded coffee you take on board while increasing the amount of decaf. Pregnant women can also gain from cutting down on caffeine and decaf will allow you to do just that without foregoing the taste completely.
3) Isn’t all decaf weak and flavorless?
In a word, no! Some of the truly shocking decaf coffee produced over the years has led to a fairly well deserved reputation for dull and weak drinks with an uninteresting profile. As with most products, constant experimentation and advances in technology have combined to make 21st century decaf coffee capable of rivaling the full-fat alternative. We dare you to try any of the decaf options we’ve reviewed in a blind taste test and complain about the taste.
4) How do you prepare decaf coffee beans?
Unless you’ve got yourself some beans decaffeinated with Swiss water, you’ll want to soak them in some cold water first. Reject the hot water that some will suggest since it tampers with the flavor. It’s then often worth roasting your beans in a roasting machine or by harnessing the frying pan method. You then need to grind your beans but make absolutely certain the grinder is fully cleaned and sanitized unless you never use it for regular coffee beans. The last thing you want is to unintentionally re-caffeinate your beans at this stage! Once you’re done, just roll with your favorite brewing method and you’re away laughing.
5) Is there any caffeine at all in decaf?
Yes, there certainly is. In the best scenario, you’ll still get small traces of caffeine even with Swiss Water. While a normal cup of coffee has roughly 150mg of caffeine, decaf generally contains less than 5mg so we’re not talking about much. Any FDA-certified decaf is limited to 3% caffeine content so you’re in pretty safe hands. Bottom line, unless you’re absolutely prohibited from taking any caffeine onboard, the amount of caffeine is decaf is negligible.
6) How about half-caf coffee? Is that worth trying?
We would strongly advise against bothering with this since it’s more or less a marketing trick. Since you’re highly likely to find this “half-caf” has as much as 50% of the caffeine of regular coffee, it really seems like little point taking half measures. We’re not to tell you what to do but in all honesty, we really wouldn’t waste our time on half-caf.
7) Is there any truth to the idea that decaf coffee can be bad for your heart in any way?
There is some degree of truth, yes. The fact that caffeine-free coffee often relies on beans with an elevated fat content can lead to an increase in cholesterol levels. In turn, this is not ideal for your heart. Balance this out against the potential positives to your cardiovascular health that decaf can deliver and we’d urge you not to worry about this while still remaining aware of the fact.
8) Is decaf coffee a diuretic?
Absolutely not. In the interest of fairness, caffeinated coffee is actually only a very mild diuretic but when you’re considering the low-caffeine alternative, there’s only about the same diuretic effect as you’d find in water.
9) Is decaf really bad if you have stomach ulcers?
Again, while we don’t like to be the bearing of bad tidings, we’re also here to give you the truth. Decaffeinated coffee is not for you since coffee, whatever its caffeine content, is by nature pretty acidic. You should seriously consider switching to another drink altogether if you’re blighted by stomach ulcers. It really isn’t worth the risk.
10) If you find coffee has a laxative effect, can you avoid this by drinking decaf instead?
That’s up for debate. If you find coffee tends to go straight through you, it might be tempting to place the blame on caffeine but that’s not necessarily accurate. In fact, since tea or Coke contains caffeine but doesn’t tend to provoke this same laxative effect, that’s a hint that it might not be the caffeine content causing you to hit the head minutes after polishing off your morning coffee. It’s coffee itself and to be honest decaf can be even worse in this respect. You have been warned!
We trust you’ve enjoyed this comprehensive look at why you should consider drinking more decaf for the sake of both your health and your sleep patterns.
Choosing the best coffee is intensely personal but you’ve now got a solid string of options to work from if you’re looking for the best low-caffeine coffee and you don’t want an insipid, uninspiring drink as your penance.
Don’t worry if you’re a fan of instant coffee or K-Cups…
We’re hard at work testing these but there’s only so much coffee we can drink! We’re almost done, though, and we’ll have those with you later this week so come back soon if you want even more ideas and help in finding the most delicious decaf to suit your palate in all its forms from beans and grinds to granules and capsules.