To De-caf or Not to De-Caf 

Hug in a mug

One of the first things I do on a morning is make myself a cup of coffee. A well-known brand of instant coffee granules and splash of skimmed milk, then I settle in my armchair to debate the morning’s news. It helps me wake up and enables me to face the day ahead, especially during the week, when the day ahead entails doing good deeds! It dawns on me that I’m using caffeine to kick start my day, but would de-caf coffee do the same? Is there any difference between fully caffeinated or de-caf? Which is better for you? Lets take a closer look.

Background to Coffee in The UK

The first coffee house to open in the UK, was in Oxford, England AD 1652. Later the same year one opened in London and from there onwards, they became fashionable places to meet, conduct business,  and ‘see and be seen’.

A cup of coffee cost a ‘penny’ and coffee houses soon became known as ‘penny universities’. In London alone, by 1739, there were over 550 coffeehouses, however by the end of the same century tea became the new fashion and coffee became less popular.

London Coffee House in the 1700’s

The Temperance Movement during the reign of Queen Victoria brought back to life coffeehouses as a suitable alternative to public houses for working class people to meet and socialise and so coffee regained popularity. It was not until the late 20th century that coffee houses took on the status we know today with the rise of companies such as Costa, Starbucks and Coffee Republic, (info taken from Ben Johnson, Historic UK).

The British Coffee Association states in the UK, we consume approximately a whopping 95 million cups of coffee a day (I think I drink about half of those Lol! – Stephen). 80% of UK households buy instant coffee for in-home consumption, whilst 80% of people visit coffee shops at least once a week and 16% visiting them daily. 

Background to De-caf

That’s a lot of coffee!  Coffee beans that have had at least 97% of their caffeine removed is referred to as decaffeinated. The first known de-caffeination process is known to have been invented by Ludwig Roselius, a German coffee merchant in 1903 with him patenting the process in 1906.

The Roselius Process” involved rinsing coffee beans with a water / salt solution, (brine) and Benzene. Benzene is no longer used as it is highly toxic and known to be carcinogenic.  There are 4 main decaf processes, all of which continue to use water. 

Direct Solvent Based Decaffeination Process involves steaming unroasted coffee beans before rinsing them in a solvent, usually either methylene dichloride or ethyl acetate extracting the caffeine whilst leaving the other ingredients unharmed. The process is repeated until the desired amount of caffeine remains to meet the required standards to enable the product to be named de-caff (Ramalakshmi and Raghavan, 1999). In Europe, soluble/instant coffee must contain a maximum of 0.3% caffeine to enable it to be labelled as de-caf.

Indirect Solvent Based Decaffeination Process involves soaking coffee beans in hot water for several hours to extract as much of the caffeine from the beans as possible. The beans are then removed from the water before Methylene Chloride solvent is added to the liquid in order to bond with the caffeine which form a compound which is skimmed from the surface of the mixture. The coffee beans are re-introduced to absorb the de-cafeinated liquid, (Kencaf, 2016).

Swiss Water Process involves combining green coffee extract, (GCE a solution containing the water-soluble components of green coffee which has had the caffeine removed) and caffeine rich green coffee. Gradient pressure forces caffeine molecules to migrate from the caffeinated coffee to the green coffee extract.

Once the green coffee extract is caffeine rich, carbon absorbers are used for percolation in order to attract the caffeine molecule from the GCE. Once GCE is once again lean of caffeine it is then used to remove additional caffeine from the green coffee and the whole process is repeated with a new batch. The process takes around 8-10 hours, (Emden, 2014)

Carbon Dioxide Decaffeination Process involves steaming green coffee beans. The beans are then added to a high-pressure vessel that is sealed and liquid Carbon Dioxide, (Co2) forced into the coffee at pressures of 1,000 pounds per square inch to extract the caffeine, (Lorenzo 2014).

Carbon dioxide aids the dissolving of caffeine drawn from the beans. The caffeine laden CO2 is then transferred to another container where the pressure is released and the CO2 returns to its gaseous state, leaving the caffeine behind. The caffeine free CO2 gas is pumped back into a pressurized container for reuse (Ramalakshmi and Raghavan, 1999).

Caffeine is it good or bad for you?

Kick starting the day with a large cup of coffee is not just a hug in mug, it literally does help wake us up. Caffeine helps open our airways allowing increased blood flow to muscles which tighten in readiness for action. Caffeine also increases our blood pressure, the liver releases sugar into the bloodstream thus giving us a surge of energy. In a complex physiological process, caffeine helps the body prepare for upcoming activity, pretty similar to the way the body responds to “fight or flight” response to danger. 

Cappelletti, et al (2015) claim after water, coffee worldwide, is the most consumed beverage with  people drinking approximately 1.6 billion cups a day.

Some benefits of caffeine include:

Improved Mood, reaction time, memory and mental function (Nehlig, et al 1992)

Increased metabolic rate and fat burning, (Bracco et al, 1995)

Enhanced athletic performance, (Doherty and Smith, 2004).

Benefits of De-caf      

In the west, coffee is the largest source of antioxidants according to Liang and Kitts (2014). One of the things to understand is de-caf is not 100% caffeine free, however, generally it tends to be milder in taste and smell than regular coffee. Despite its reduced caffeine content, Buscemi et al (2010) claim de-caf coffee still contains similar amounts of antioxidants, albeit slightly lower in volume.


Antioxidants help combat free radicals which are basically waste products from physiological chemical reactions within the body, when these reactions build up on the bodies’ cells, it can lead to oxidative damage. Oxidative damage has been linked with health conditions such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. (Healthy Options, 2019)

Is there much difference healthwise between the two?

Studies seem to indicate both caffeinated and de-caf coffee may have similar health benefits when it comes to health conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, Liver Function Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases, whilst decaf is noted as being more beneficial with reducing reflux acid and risks associated with rectal cancer, (Bjarnadottir, 2017).

Does Caffeine have the edge?

Whilst de-caf has a massively reduced caffeine content, it is only natural the benefits of caffeine will be more prevalent in fully caffeinated products. But then again there has been more research done around the health benefits of caffeine over de-caf !

Some people’s central nervous system can become overwhelmed with too much caffeine, thus experience anxiety, restlessness or heart arrhythmia, so those with chronic heart disease should probably tend to limit caffeine intake, (McCusker et al, 2006)


There is simply no denying coffee is a firm favourite with the nation and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. From what I can see in reality I don’t seem to think either de-caf or caffeinated coffee have much difference to them in terms of health benefits. I can always remember years ago watching a documentary showing the process for stripping caffeine from coffee beans and thinking probably safer to just drink normal coffee!!

Although I must admit doing the research for this blog has given me a better understanding of the de-caf process and I will look towards the de-caf variety again moving forward. But for now, I’m going to pop the kettle on and make a cuppa whilst I ponder further. Care to join me?

There are lots more interesting coffee facts here
from our good friends at Happy Barista

By Lisa Watson, Co-author of, How to Thrive in Professional Practice: A Self-care Handbook – click here


Ancient Pages (No date) Picture of London Coffee House 23.03.2020

Bjarnadottir, A, (2017),Decaf Coffee: Good or Bad? accessed 19.03.2020

Bracco, DFerrarra, J.M., Arnaud, M.J.,Jéquier, E and Schutz, Y (1995) Effects Of Caffeine On Energy Metabolism, Heart Rate, And Methylxanthine Metabolism In Lean And Obese Women  in The American Journal of Physiology 1995 Oct;269

British Coffee Association (No date) Coffee Facts accessed 23.03.2020

Buscemi, S., Batsis, J.A., Arcoleo, G. and Verga, S. (2010) Coffee And Endothelial Function: A Battle Between Caffeine And Antioxidants? in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010 Oct;64(10):1242-3. accessed 23.03.2020

Doherty, M. and Smith, P.M. (2004) Effects Of Caffeine Ingestion On Exercise Testing: A Meta-Analysis in International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2004 Dec;14(6):626-46. accessed 23.03.2020

Emden, Lorenzo. “Decaffeination 101: Four Ways to Decaffeinate Coffee” Coffee Confidential. Retrieved 29 October 2014.

Healthy Options, (2019) What Are Free Radicals? accessed 19.03.2020

Johnson, B, (no date), English Coffeehouses, Penny Universities accessed 23.03.2020

Kencaf, (2016) KVW – The Most Common Decaffeination Process accessed 23.03.2020

Liang, N. and Kitts, D.D.(2014) Antioxidant Property Of Coffee Components: Assessment Of Methods That Define Mechanisms Of Action in Molecules. 2014 Nov 19;19(11):19180-208.

McCusker, R.R., Fuehrlein, B., Goldberger, B.A., Gold, M.S. and Cone, E.J. (2006) Caffeine Content Of Decaffeinated Coffee in Journal of Analytical Toxicology (2006) Oct;30(8):611-3.

Nehlig, A., Daval, J.L and Debry, G. (1992) Caffeine And The Central Nervous System: Mechanisms Of Action, Biochemical, Metabolic And Psychostimulant Effects in Brain Research Brain Research Reviews. 1992 May-Aug;17(2):139-70 accessed 23.03.2020

Ramalakshmi, K. and Raghavan, B. (1999). “Caffeine in Coffee: Its Removal. Why and How?” in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition39 (5): 441–56.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please reload

Please Wait