Is Decaf Coffee Really Caffeine-Free?

Photo: Alisdair/Flickr.

Coffee is the bitter dark cup of brew that keeps us in the Northwest going through the rainy season. We especially like to read the many studies affirming the positive impact of coffee on our health. However, it can be addictive because of the caffeine and some prefer to keep their caffeine intake low. Others, such as those with kidney disease or anxiety disorders, may need to avoid caffeine all together.

Whether you are avoiding caffeine on doctor's orders or for personal reasons — if you love coffee, you may be wondering whether decaf is a good choice for you.

The first and most important consideration is whether or not decaf coffee still contains caffeine. While there is some variance in coffee, decaffeinated coffee certainly does contain caffeine – just in lower amounts.

One study found that while a single cup of coffee contains around 85 milligrams of caffeine, decaf servings ranged from 3 to 15.8 milligrams of caffeine. On the positive, decaf coffee is far lower in caffeine than regular. On the negative side, if you have strict doctor's orders to avoid all caffeine, decaf coffee is not for you. And, if you are someone who is drinking coffee throughout the day, those milligrams can add up.

Dr. Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, reported that "Carefully controlled studies show that caffeine doses as low as about 10 milligrams can produce reliable subjective and behavioral effects in sensitive individuals."

If you are sensitive to caffeine, note that many decaffeinated coffee brands will contain more caffeine than you can handle without effect. Plus if you find caffeine addictive, you may find that even the small amounts of caffeine in decaf enough to create an addictive relationship.

But if you are just looking for ways to reduce caffeine, decaf coffee is a great choice. I would just recommend that you choose water-processed decaf coffee, as many decaf coffees go through a chemical process that I view as far from natural.