Many coffee lovers can’t stand the sight of decaf or decaffeinated coffee since they don’t consider it “real coffee.” But for decaf lovers, it’s both caffeinated beverages, so it counts as coffee.
But what really is the difference between regular and decaf coffee? Let’s take a look!
How Is Regular Coffee Prepared?
As we all know, regular coffee comes from roasting coffee beans harvested from coffee cherries. You can buy regular coffee in three different states.
- Green coffee beans that you need to roast and grind yourself
- Roasted coffee beans that you need to grind
- Pre-ground coffee beans
Roasting coffee beans doesn’t change the amount of caffeine in coffee beans, a common misconception among many. However, when you measure beans in a large volume, you’ll realize there’s actually less caffeine content.
The beans start swelling up during the roasting process, and that’s what makes them a bit heavier, not the excessive caffeine. If you measure the caffeine content of a single coffee bean, you’ll see that the amount is the same both before and after brewing.
How Is Decaffeinated Coffee Prepared?
As you can tell, decaf gets prepared by taking away the caffeine from regular coffee. The first attempt at coffee decaffeination was made back in 1820 by Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge.
After a long time and going through various changes, the first commercially successful decaffeination process got patented in 1903 by Ludwig Roselius.
Let’s check out a few decaffeination processes.
As the name suggests, this process uses several chemicals to eliminate the caffeine from the coffee. The main element is methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. It’s the same chemical that’s used in paint removers. The only difference is, here you’re removing the caffeine.
This chemical is either added to the mixture of coffee and water, or the beans are soaked in a chemical-infused solution. Once they’ve soaked for a certain time, the water is evaporated using heating methods. This takes away the caffeine content while keeping the flavor.
The Swiss water method is less risky than the chemical decaffeination method since this one doesn’t use any form of chemicals. Instead, charcoal filters take the caffeine out of coffee beans or readymade coffee.
Another process that doesn’t use any chemicals, but a gas instead.
Liquid carbon dioxide is mixed into the water. When the coffee beans get soaked in the solution, the liquid carbon dioxide dissolves the caffeine from the mixture. The coffee beans are then dried to make the water evaporate and keep fresh, decaffeinated beans at hand.
Though we could sit here and argue all day long that coffee is just coffee, there are quite a few factors that set regular coffee and decaf coffee apart.
Even when it comes to just regular coffee, the caffeine content differs a lot depending on the type of coffee bean itself.
Robusta beans contain double the amount of caffeine as Arabica beans. So if you are not a decaf fan but want a cup of coffee with less caffeine in it, Arabica beans should be your go-to choice.
Decaf coffee also has caffeine, which is surprisingly true. While the caffeine content is not as much as regular coffee, most of the time, it’s not exactly “zero-caffeine” as well.
A regular cup of coffee contains around 70-140 mg of caffeine per 6 oz, while a cup of decaf contains 0-7 milligrams of caffeine.
Though there’s a vast difference in caffeine amounts, the rest of the properties in regular coffee are also present in decaf.
The acidity levels of the coffee itself are determined by the beans that have been used to brew the coffee. As we mentioned, the decaffeination process only takes away the caffeine, but not other properties, including acidity.
In fact, decaf coffee can be more acidic than regular coffee. Since Robusta beans usually go through the decaffeination process, these beans have a really high acid count and caffeine.
So even after the decaffeination process, the coffee beans lose their caffeine but not their acidity, which places decaf higher than most regular coffees in terms of acidity.
Acidity is measured in pH levels. For example, decaf coffee made from Robusta coffee beans contain as much acid as regular coffee, measuring at 5.0 to 5.1 pH levels, whereas Arabica bean coffee measures far less.
There’s not much of a difference considering antioxidants or other biological elements in both regular coffee and decaf.
The main two types of antioxidants that you can find in both coffees are Polyphenols and Hydroxycinnamic acids. These antioxidants can prevent type 2 diabetes and various heart diseases.
Another helpful antioxidant, Ferulic acid, can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease by reducing brain inflammation.
But decaf loses some of these helpful elements when going through the decaffeination process because of the different chemical reactions.
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Though there are certain differences in terms of contents present in regular and decaf coffee, they can still provide you with many health benefits regardless. Any regular coffee drinker can easily enjoy the various benefits of both coffee types, but the outcome may not be the same for decaf and regular coffee.
Both regular and decaf coffee can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, thanks to the antioxidants present in them both.
Though the effects of decaf aren’t as well-studied as regular coffee, it still has proven to reduce liver enzyme levels that can prevent future liver failures by increasing functionality.
Regular and decaf coffee possesses antioxidants that have a protective effect on the neurons of your brain, and can prevent several neurodivergent diseases, most importantly Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The protective nature of these antioxidants comes from the chlorogenic acids in coffee rather than the caffeine itself, but hey, it’s good for you, and that’s what matters.
Decaf can actually help you lose weight! This is because 97% of the caffeine gets removed from the coffee beans during the decaffeination process, but since they still have caffeine, you can enjoy the weight loss benefits from regular and decaf coffee.
But consider that while decaf coffee can help you with fat burning, the effect won’t be as significant. Of course, you can increase the amount of coffee you consume every day, but it’s still a long-term bet you don’t want to place.
Decaffeinated coffee contains no calories in a standard 8-ounce serving. This is another reason why decaf is preferred for weight loss. In addition, when you regularly intake zero-cal coffee, your body builds up a calorie deficit over time, which results in weight loss in the future.
If you drink decaf for 5 days a week and for a whole year, you can shave off at least 8 pounds off of your total body weight.
Decaf can’t win simply because of the lack of caffeine when it comes to overall benefits.
Caffeine in coffee isn’t just a quick energy boost. There are several other benefits that caffeine can provide you. Unfortunately, decaf lacks in this criteria since decaf has next to zero caffeine.
Here are a few benefits you can get only from regular coffee:
- Improved mental state and mood
- Increased memory function and reaction time
- Increased metabolism
- Enhanced performance in physical activities (i.e., athletic performances)
- Reduced depression and suicidal tendency rate
- Lower chances of contracting liver cirrhosis
Now, do take note that I’m not trying to discredit decaf coffee here. All these facts have been researched and revealed over a long time.
It’s reasonable to think that removing caffeine from coffee can provide numerous health benefits. But, even when the caffeine is removed, the materials already present in the decaffeinated coffee (which didn’t get removed during the decaffeination process) can cause some unwanted effects.
Here are the most common side effects of decaf coffee.
Decaf coffee increases the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood. With excessive cholesterol in your bloodstream, you can face different heart complications.
As discussed earlier, even when decaffeinated, decaf coffee can still be highly acidic. High acidity levels can cause several issues in your body, including:
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Mineral loss
- High cortisol levels
If you recently switched from regular coffee to decaf coffee, there’s a high chance you’ll face this issue.
Since decaf coffee contains much less caffeine than regular coffee, you can face caffeine withdrawal effects. The most prominent two of these side effects are high headaches and a constant feeling of drowsiness.
Though the question of this cancer can be “personal preference” easily, it all comes down to caffeine tolerance and metabolic rate in the end.
Some people can fall asleep even after an hour of drinking coffee due to their high metabolism. But others can’t tolerate a cup of coffee without feeling one or more physical side effects due to having a lower metabolism.
If you belong to the latter class but still want to enjoy and savor the flavor of a fine cup of coffee, you should switch to decaf immediately.
The effects of drinking coffee with a low tolerance aren’t just limited to physical effects. Coffee can have anxiogenic effects, meaning you can feel restlessness or high anxiety at any time after drinking coffee.
Another reason to pick up a cup of decaf coffee is if you are trying to quit caffeine intake for good. Going cold turkey instantly can trigger caffeine withdrawal side effects, and if you aren’t strong enough, they can be devastating.
To avoid this incident, it’s better to get yourself used to lowering caffeine counts with a decaf cup before quitting it overall.
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Coffee lovers have always debated that decaf doesn’t count as real coffee. As we can see the difference between decaf and regular coffee, both these coffee types have their unique benefits and side effects. The final choice is yours to make, based on your personal preferences.
Whether you are a fan of regular coffee or decaf, enjoy your cup of coffee.
The decaffeination process is how caffeine present in coffee beans is taken out.
Decaf coffee can be processed in multiple ways, but the most popular is the chemical decaffeination method which uses a few acids and chemicals to dissolve the caffeine.
In the case of regular coffee, 400 milligrams of caffeine(4 cups of coffee) is the safe limit of coffee consumption for a healthy adult. Though decaf has next to zero caffeine, it’s better not to drink 2-3 cups of decaf per day.
If a person is sensitive to caffeine, but wants to experience the taste of coffee, then switching to decaf is a reasonable choice. Decaf is also a good choice to cut back on excess caffeine intake.
Despite the benefits of decaf coffee, you can feel a few side effects such as headaches, drowsiness, high cholesterol levels, high acidity, high blood pressure, etc.