When it comes to food and drink, generally the more natural the better is seen as preferable in terms of flavour, health benefits, sustainability of production and so on. It is this school of thought that has perhaps led some to look unfavourably upon decaffeinated coffee. However, this needn't be the case as there are many myths flying around that should be debunked.
Myth 1: Decaffeination means you lose the health benefits of coffee
This is simply not true – drinking decaf coffee does not mean you will be missing out on the health benefits of coffee. The majority of these in fact come from the polyphenols in coffee, which have an antioxidant effect – and which are still present, whether the caffeine is or not.
There have been many studies which have associated coffee-drinking with substantial health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart failure. While some of these may not have distinguished between caffeinated and decaffeinated, other research has.
For example, a study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggested that decaf may actually improve brain energy metabolism associated with type 2 diabetes. With studies having taken into account tea and caffeinated drinks, this has led scientists to believe that it is not all about caffeine, but also the other antioxidants and magnesium, for example, that these drinks can contain.
Myth 2: All decaffeinated coffee contain chemicals
While there are decaffeination processes that are widely used which do indeed use chemicals in order to extract caffeine from the bean, this is not a prerequisite of the decaffeination process.
For example, the Swiss Water decaffeination process uses 100 per cent water from the mountains of British Colombia and no chemicals to draw the caffeine from the bean. This has led to it being acceptable by organic certification standards – although if a coffee is not organic to begin with, it will not 'become' so having gone through this process; it must have already been organic in the first place.
Nevertheless, the use of the solvent methylene chloride for decaffeination – often referred to as MC Decaf with the MC pertaining to the chemical – shouldn't necessarily send you running for the hills. The FDA has confirmed it safe for this process, which is heavily regulated and used worldwide. However, there are moves to try and ban it from being used in food production.
Myth 3: It will keep me up at night
The only amount of weight carried by this statement is the fact that, yes, decaf coffee isn't 100 per cent caffeine-free as the name might suggest. However, it is 99.9 per cent so, meaning that it certainly shouldn't keep you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed throughout the night.
This standard is heavily scrutinised, with European legislation stipulating the 99.9 per cent benchmark in order for a coffee to market itself as a decaf product, meaning that you know what you are buying.
Nevertheless, especially if you are older or perhaps more susceptible to the effects of caffeine, it may help to be aware of the fact that there could still be trace amounts in your coffee.
Myth 4: Decaf coffee tastes bad
Back when decaffeination first came into being, the flavour was indeed altered by the processes used to remove the substance. However, these very methods have been refined and honed over the years, so that the bean now retains as much of the flavour as possible, even when subjected to having its naturally-occurring caffeine stripped away.
Of course, different procedures will have varying effects on the final cupping profile of the coffee, so you may wish to speak to your retailer or roaster about this – or better still, taste samples that have been decaffeinated using different techniques so that you can make up your own mind.
At DR Wakefield, we believe that the 100 per cent chemical-free Swiss Water decaffeination process gives the best results.