Coffee basics: decaf vs regular
Regular or decaf? The pros and cons of regular and decaffeinated coffee.

Many people drink coffee for the pleasant jolt of the caffeine it imparts. However, coffee is also available in decaffeinated varieties. Since caffeine is an element naturally present in coffee, how do they remove the caffeine and what does it do to the flavor? Read on to get the scoop on regular and decaffeinated grounds.

Coffee beans contain caffeine. Caffeine is a natural mood elevator and it combats the effects of fatigue. All good, right? However, too much caffeine can have negative effects. Over-consumption of caffeine can make people nervous, jittery and impede sleep patterns. Some people even report racing heartbeats associated with caffeine use. Drinking large quantities of unfiltered coffee – more than 5 cups per day brewed with a French press – has been associated with rises in cholesterol levels. In addition, caffeine consumption in pregnant women has been shown to have adverse effects on developing fetuses. So, people who enjoy the rich, dark flavor and aroma of coffee but would like to avoid the effects of the caffeine seek the decaffeinated variety.

Coffee can be decaffeinated using one of several methods. With direct process decaffeinating, solvents such as formaldehyde are used to absorb the caffeine from the coffee in order to remove it. Water decaffeinating uses water to remove the caffeine by soaking the beans prior to roasting. Since water method decaffeinating does not use any chemical additives, some people prefer coffee decaffeinated with this method. A less frequently used process decaffeinates the beans with carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, whichever process is used, some of the coffee’s flavor can be lost. The flavor of the chemical method coffee is generally considered superior; however, it leaves some chemical residue that can have negative health effects especially in those with allergies to the solvents used. In addition, many coffee suppliers use inferior grades of coffee for their decaf product, since they assume flavor will be lost anyway.

Regardless of which method is used, the decaffeinating process does not remove all of the caffeine from coffee. An average cup of brewed coffee has around 100 mg of caffeine in it; a similar cup of brewed decaf only has around 4 mg of caffeine. Drip coffee usually has more caffeine per cup; instant coffee usually has less. In order to be labeled decaffeinated, coffee must have had at least 97 percent of its caffeine removed.

About 10 percent of all of the coffee sold in the world is decaffeinated. Scientists are working on genetically engineering coffee beans that grow with less caffeine. They theorize this would result in a more flavorful decaf coffee. In the meantime, many people who enjoy decaffeinated coffee find that the flavored varieties of coffee make the drink more palatable.

Looking for a way to justify keeping the caffeine? Caffeine has been shown to have a pain-killing effect and some research has linked it to prevention of Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and gallstones. For those who have problems with heartburn or irritated stomachs, decaf will not make much of a difference; it can cause the same effects as its caffeine-laden cousin.