Decaf gets a bad rap in the coffee world.
Over the years, many of us have come to expect a flat, chemically-tasting coffee from decaffeinated beans.
However, thanks to the evolution of science and technology over the last 100 years, we are now able to happily enjoy a good cup of coffee without the caffeine.
We’ve rounded up our picks for the best decaf coffee beans this year, but first, let’s jump into to ‘Who, What, and Whys’ of decaf coffee.
No decaf coffee is truly free of caffeine.
Depending on the method used to remove the caffeine from the beans, decaf coffee may have anywhere from 97%-99.9% caffeine content.
So while that is not a significant amount of caffeine at all, it’s good to be aware that it’s not technically caffeine-free.
There are four main methods of removing the caffeine from raw, green coffee beans:
In this processes, coffee beans are soaked in water and then directly flushed with a chemical solvent.
Methylene chloride is most commonly used in this method to draw out the caffeine from raw, green coffee beans. The beans are then flushed again to rinse away the chemical before roasting.
Another chemical decaffeination method similar to the direct-solvent process, this method first soaks green coffee beans in hot water. Then, the beans are removed and the water is treated with ethyl acetate to remove the caffeine.
The decaffeinated flavored water is added back to the beans through another soaking and drying method.
Finally, the beans are rinsed to wash away traces of the chemical.
Methylene chloride and ethyl acetate are used in both solvent methods, though methylene chloride is more common in the direct process and ethyl acetate is more common in the indirect process.
This is a chemical-free method of reducing 99.9% of the caffeine in green coffee beans and results in the only certified organic decaf coffees.
The process relies on a Green Coffee Extract (GCE) and the basic science of equilibrium to draw the caffeine out of the coffee beans and into the GCE during a water soaking process.
This is a patented process developed by Swiss Water and focuses on small batches of specialty coffee. It is the only decaffeination facility certified organic by both OCIA and Aurora Certified Organic and is certified Kosher by the Kosher Overseers Association.
Watch a video of the Swiss Water Process below.
This is the newest method of decaffeination.
Water-soaked coffee beans are placed in a sealed, stainless steel container and blasted with liquid CO2 at pressures of 1,000 pounds per square inch to extract the caffeine. The CO2 flows into another chamber where it is depressurized and returns to its gaseous state.
This is an expensive method, so it’s most often used for commercial-grade coffee you might find in the grocery store.
Original decaf coffee was just “low-caffeine” and used only chemical methods of decaffeination, hence the bad reputation for a lack of flavor and bad aftertaste.
Over the years, the process of decaffeination has advanced enough that there are a few decaf coffees on the market that produce truly wonderful cups of coffee and rival some of the best regular roasts out there.
Most decaf coffee is produced using a solvent-based method, though most small-batch, artisanal roasters use the Swiss Water Process.
All of the coffees on our list and most decaf coffee are produced using Arabica beans because of their lower caffeine content.
While we clearly believe that the coffee pros outweigh the coffee cons, we understand that high levels of caffeine intake are not good for everyone.
In fact, there a number of reasons why limiting your caffeine intake can be a good idea: sleep troubles, blood pressure issues, anxiety, upset stomach, etc.
Reducing caffeine consumption is particularly important for pregnant women. Decaf coffee is also lower in acidity than regular coffee, which is what causes heartburn or stomach pain in some people.
Keep in mind during your decaf coffee bean search that the ultimate factor in your decision is your personal taste (and health needs, if that applies to you).
Decaffeinated coffee beans are notoriously difficult to roast: they respond more erratically to heat than regular coffee beans and tend to roast faster and darker. This is one of the main reasons that finding quality-tasting decaf coffee is so difficult..
However, finding a decaf coffee that you enjoy should be much like finding any coffee roast that you enjoy. We’ve done the legwork for you, so read below to find out what we think are some of the best decaf coffee beans out there and why we think they’re so fabulous.
Don Pablo is a family-owned business with a heartwarming backstory that roast coffee beans in small batches for optimal freshness and quality.
While their beans are not fair trade, they do have their own Sharing Certified program and work closely with Colombian farmers.
This medium-dark roast has a full-bodied flavor with notes of caramel, cocoa, and a hint of citrus.
This is a USDA Organic Certified and Fair Trade Certified coffee with a full, rich flavor.
It’s a gourmet coffee made with Arabica beans and is an excellent choice for a chemical-free coffee that is good for the environment and for coffee farmers around the world.
No Fun Jo has notes of blueberry and milk chocolate and should be almost indistinguishable from regular coffee. It’s also a great option for anyone looking for a coffee that is lower in acidity.
This is another great coffee out there proving that coffee can be decaf, organic, environmentally friendly and still have a full body and satisfying taste.
Fresh Roasted Coffee, LLC goes to a lot of trouble to ensure that their coffee is grown in harmony with nature and with justice to the farmers who work the land. The result is a bold medium roast with cupping notes of earthy, creamy, and baker’s chocolate.
This single-origin roast is bright and well-balanced with chocolate undertones. Perhaps the most striking part of this coffee is the smooth finish and low acidity.
Volcanica is another company focusing on making great-tasting, gourmet coffee sourced ethically and sustainably.
Though we always recommend whole bean coffee that you grind yourself, Volcanica offers their coffee in three different grinds: drip, espresso, and french press.
This is exactly the kind of great coffee you would expect from Canada’s number one whole bean coffee seller.
Operating out of the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, Kicking Horse consistently sells some of the best coffee on the market.
This blend from Central and South America is no exception: the dark roast has a nice aroma of chocolate and nuttiness and brews well with a variety of coffee makers.
The tasting notes for this coffee are roasted hazelnuts and a chocolatey balanced body. Kicking Horse is a bold coffee, so if you prefer lighter roasts then this is likely not the coffee for you.
As the name might suggest, Koffee Kult has a dedicated following of customers enchanted with the gourmet, small-batch roasts that come out of their environmentally-friendly roasting facility in Florida.
This single origin from Colombia has a heavy body with a bright, floral finish and an incredible aroma. While this is a medium roast, it is definitely on the bold side.
Eight O’Clock is the most affordable and readily-available option on our list. It also the oldest operating coffee company on this list as it was originally founded in 1859 as the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company.
This is a coffee name that you likely recognize if you grew up in the United States and makes an excellent option for a no-frills, everyday brew.
The rich, smooth medium roast produces a mild flavor.
A Brooklyn-based, artisanal coffee roaster, Stone Street partners with an organization called Sweet Unity to improve the economic livelihoods of rural coffee farmers.
The company is a favorite among native New Yorkers and this coffee roast is one of three decaffeinated options they sell.
The Mayan is a medium roast blend from Central America and delivers a smooth, low-acidity taste that is fairly mellow.
This premium coffee brand comes with a higher price tag but delivers on taste and quality.
This is a blend of light and dark roasted beans from Central and South America, resulting in a fresh, low-acid taste without bitterness. Wild Coffee also prides itself on being “mold-free” which gives their coffee a fresh flavor.
It’s important to note that while Wild Foods markets the coffee as “Decaf” on the bag, they actually refer to it as “low-caffeine” on their website.
Picking the “best” coffee is difficult when so much depends on individual tastes and preferences. Generally, all of the coffees listed here are high-quality roasts that cater to a variety of individual needs.
If we had to name a favorite, it might be the bold taste of the Kicking Horse.
The company has made a name for itself over the years by consistently producing excellent whole beans using ethical and sustainable methods of sourcing and roasting.
What we especially like about Kicking Horse is that it comes with all of the buzzwords of an artisanal roaster—fair trade, organic, kosher, Swiss Water processed, small-batch—but is actually fairly affordable. Of course, we wouldn’t say no to a good Koffee Kult or Volcanica roast either.